Well, this one hurts.
Ross Pierschbacher, the four-star offensive linemen ranked by recruitniks as the best player in the state of Iowa and, at least by ESPN, as the nation's best offensive guard prospect, revoked his verbal commitment to Iowa Sunday and announced he'll join the Alabama Crimson Tide. According Blair Sanderson at Hawkeye Report, Pierschbacher sent an email to various recruiting services Sunday evening:
"The past few weeks there has been speculation of my commitment to the University of Iowa Football program. I would like to end the speculation as I prepare to enter my senior season so that I may focus my attention to my team." "I would like to thank Coach Ferentz, his coaching staff, and the University of Iowa for the offer to be part of Hawkeye Football. They have a great tradition, outstanding people and a top notch program." "After considering many different options and things important to me, my family, and my future career, I am excited to announce that I have decided to play my collegiate career for Coach Saban and The University of Alabama." "This has been a very humbling experience and I would like to thank everyone that has helped me along the way."
Sanderson also says that Pierschbacher has twice made the call to Iowa to let them know he was decommitting, but was talked out of it by the Iowa staff. They weren't so lucky the third time.
Pierschbacher's decommitment isn't necessarily horrible in a pure recruiting context. Iowa has struck out far more than they've succeeded with four-star offensive linemen in the past. Stretching back to five-star lineman Blake Larsen, and going through Chris Felder, Dan Doering, Dace Richardson, and now with Andrew Donnal, Ferentz has watched coveted line prospects flame out (in that same time, only Mike Jones and Bulaga have been unquestioned successes, while Raf Eubanks had a decent career). Iowa's had no trouble bringing in their typical handful of three-star in-state linemen for 2014. The world will not end.
For program perception, though, this is catastrophic. This marks the third time in eleven months that Iowa has lost a four-star verbal commitment to another program. The first two, David Kenney and Delano Hill, were out-of-state recruits who eventually chose to stay closer to home. Kenney, an Indianapolis native, had the added incentive of a father who was hired onto Indiana's staff. Hill jumped at a late offer from Michigan. Those hurt, but at least they were explainable.
Pierschbacher's defection, on the other hand, is a reflection on the current sad state of the program. Here's an in-state kid, a self-professed lifelong Iowa fan, playing at a position that is Ferentz's calling card. Four or five years at Iowa turned more than a few offensive linemen -- Gallery, Steinbach, Nelson, Yanda, Bulaga, Reiff -- into early draft picks with long pro careers. A glossy new football practice facility is in progress. Tuscaloosa is quite literally ten times as far from Cedar Falls as Iowa City. Nick Saban does not run an offense particularly distinct from that of Iowa; both programs exemplify a steadfast commitment to pro-style, run-first offensive strategy.
The only thing in Saban's favor is that his offense actually scores points, that his team wins SEC titles and national championships while Iowa yearns for the halcyon days of Florida bowl games. Iowa is ahead of or even with Alabama in every factor that could be relevant to Pierschbacher's decision except for winning, and when the odds of Iowa winning are so remote in the minds of top recruits that they trump literally every other factor, you've lost the war. Pierschbacher's decommitment is not just about 4-8. It's about just how far from 8-4 we really are.