After one of the more tumultuous seasons in recent memory, Iowa finishes with eight wins, five losses, and a boatload of questions. Tuesday night's Insight Bowl win answered some questions and created some others. Your Iowa offseason priorities, in no particular order.
Change at the Top. The first order of business is the coaching staff, which is one bootleg pass away from being in a strangely precarious position. Before Tuesday's Insight Bowl, and in the immediate aftermath of the Adam Robinson arrest, there was renewed criticism of Kirk Ferentz's handle on his players. This was coupled with the usual questions surrounding defensive coordinator Norm Parker's health and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe's track record. Had O'Keefe's final playcall not worked, had Iowa turned the ball back over to Mizzou and given up a late score to lose the game and finish 7-6, Robespierre would be warming up the guillotine for at least one head.
That's not to say the proletariat would get their blood, mind you; the King still holds virtually all power here, and as long as Kirk Ferentz is secure, ain't nobody be goin' nowhere. O'Keefe apparently has the sort of lifetime appointment usually reserved for Supreme Court justices, Parker is apparently returning, and it's all systems go for a coaching staff that has remained largely intact for 12 years. There could be additions; even Kirk has to admit that his strategy of pawning off special teams as a part-time gig for his running backs and linebackers coaches has contributed to the constant erosion of special teams performance, and Bloodpunch can certainly find a few thousand dollars to hire a full-time special teams coach if Ferentz deems it necessary.
There is also the possibility that someone jumps ship for a better opportunity. In particular, defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski looks like a prime target: He turned down overtures from Notre Dame last year, and yet was the only defensive assistant not publicly tapped for playcalling duties when Norm was hospitalized. With Ferentz clearly looking elsewhere for Parker's eventual replacement, three starting defensive linemen graduating, and bags of money being thrown his way, Kaz might not pass on outside opportunities this year. There's also an outside chance of offensive assistants (especially wide receivers coach Erik Campbell) moving on, given that there is virtually zero chance of any of them advancing to the offensive coordinator spot in O'Keefe's lifetime.
Wherefore Art Thou, Adam Robinson? The 500-pound gorilla in the corner of the room is the Adam Robinson situation. For Ferentz, it's a lose-lose: Keep him on the team, and he'll be pilloried for being soft on drug use just weeks after his star wideout was arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana. Cut him, and any enterprising reporter is going to ask why Robinson was cut loose for charges that, in a legal sense, were less than those of players who received one-game suspensions on DUI or public intoxication arrests (one of said players being his son). From a PR standpoint, Robinson should probably be dismissed; as the press reports and subsequent commentary showed, putting the words "marijuana" and "arrest" in the same headline sets off a bomb in this state, even if the eventual criminal charge carries all the weight of a speeding ticket. On the other hand, Ferentz has rarely been one to take action only because columnists say he should, and Captain Kirk loves few things more than a reclamation project.
Next Man In. This May, Ferentz will graduate his largest senior class since 2005; with potential early entrants into the NFL Draft, it could be the most significant depth chart attrition in his tenure. There are nominal question marks at quarterback (where everyone assumes junior-to-be James Vandenberg is the crown prince) and wideout (the time is now, Keenan Davis), and honest-to-God position battles at tight end, offensive guard, defensive end, weakside linebacker, and free safety (and potentially strong safety, split end, and cornerback). We saw something from potential replacements this year (in particular Nolan MacMillan and Adam Gettis at guard, Shane DiBona at WLB, and Greg Castillo at corner), but not enough to make them overwhelming favorites. Over the years, we've learned that there's no sense trying to determine who will start until after spring practice, and even then it's a coin flip at best. Put this one in the back of your mind for April.
Caring Is Creepy. Which brings us to recruiting, just in time for the final sprint to the February finish. Iowa currently has 19 verbal commits according to Rivals, including some help in the places where it can best be provided by true freshmen: Halfback and safety. The news of Rodney Coe's commitment last week was almost as important to turning the page on a horrible 2 months as the Insight Bowl victory, and Coe will almost certainly be expected to play immediately regardless of the coaches' final determination on Adam Robinson. Possibly more important, though, is Marcus Coker's breakthrough performance Tuesday; Iowa has plenty of lines in the water in Coker's old Maryland stomping grounds, including a real opportunity to land two of his high school teammates: Cyrus Kouandjio (consensus national #1 offensive line prospect) and Darian Cooper (four-star defensive tackle with the frame to play early). Also look out for decisions from Anthony Pierson (ATH, East St. Louis, IL), Curt Maggitt (DE, West Palm Beach, FL), Delvon Simmons (DT, McKeesport, PA), and Raymon Taylor (ATH, Detroit, committed to Indiana but reopened after Bill Lynch was fired).
I Am Legend...or at Least Until They Get Better Names. Possibly the biggest shift will come with expansion and realignment, as we adjust to a world where the Big Ten is divided and Nebraska football suddenly matters. Incredibly premature predictions have Iowa in the bottom half of the Big Ten West in its inaugural year, with Michigan State and Nebraska particularly poised to conquer in year one. Gone are the days of co-champions. In their place comes talk of division titles. It's a brave new world, one in which the stodgy Big Ten finally finds itself but in which it doesn't yet seem to have a paddle. There will be pronouncements from upon high in the next nine months, as Jim Delany tries to drag the conference into the 21st Century while still doing everything in his power to protect the Rose Bowl (including clearing the decks of Big Ten bowl games by playing four at the same time, just so the Rose can have the afternoon to itself). And for the uninitiated: Get ready for Nebraska's obnoxious bellicosity. It's inevitable now.