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Overreaction Monday: How The Iowa Hawkeyes Have Taken Advantage of College Football’s Early Signing Period

They say an old dog can’t learn new tricks. In some regards that may be true, but for Kirk Ferentz, the new recruiting rules have meant a new bag of tricks.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Mississippi State vs Iowa
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is old school. But he’s taken advantage of new recruiting rules.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In case you’ve somehow missed it, the Iowa Hawkeyes are in the midst of a recruiting tear. They won’t be challenging the Alabamas, Clemsons and Georgias of the world any time soon, but the Hawkeyes landed ten commitments in the class of 2020 in the month of June. And that’s just the class of 2020. Iowa also pulled in a pair of 2021 commits and even one for the class of 2022 (for those doing the math, that’s a player who will be a high school sophomore this season).

If that seems like a lot, it is. It’s also early. Like, really early. In fact, the 10 commitments in the 2020 class for June take the total class to 20 commitments already. For context, Iowa took only 22 total commitments in the class of 2019. At the end of June, they only had 13 verbally committed. The class of 2018 was pretty similar with 22 total commitments but only 10 verballed by the end of June.

In fact, this is the earliest the Hawkeyes have gotten to 20 commitments since Rivals came into existence in 2002. Often, Iowa only takes 20 commits total with a number of those coming over the last week or so before the spring signing period begins.

This year’s class figures to end with somewhere between 22 and 24 members depending on any roster movements between now and the final signing period next February. So, for all intents and purposes, Iowa is full with the exception of a couple spots. And we are a full 5 months away from the new early signing period and 7 months from the traditional one.

And that’s what really is driving all this. Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has long said his staff views a recruiting commitment much like a marriage. An offer is commitable, but once a player commits, they should be all in. they shouldn’t need to take any other visits or date any other schools. Get all that out of the way before you make up your mind and commit to Iowa knowing it’s the place you want to be.

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona State
Current Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin is perhaps the most high profile example of Iowa’s no-visit policy.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Now, there’s an avenue to lock in those commitments with a letter of intent two months earlier than in the past with the advent of the early signing period in 2017. Since that time, the Iowa staff has taken advantage of the rule changes by speeding up their recruiting timeline and looking to do exactly what they’re doing this year - filling up early.

That’s been helped out not only by the early signing period, but also the 2018 rule change allowing juniors to take official visits. Since that change, the Iowa staff has pushed aggressively for earlier visits knowing that once they get a prospect on campus, their likelihood of success goes up significantly.

To help increase those chances, the Hawkeyes have seemed to prioritize getting some key prospects locked up early to aid in the recruitment of others. For 2020, that effort has been led by Texas 4-star QB Deuce Hogan.

Hogan committed last June, becoming the first member of the 2020 class only 2 weeks after the Hawkeyes landed their 2019 QB Alex Padilla. That came in large part because Iowa now has a full time QB coach devoted to identifying his prospects. Ken O’Keefe has done well in identifying his targets and focusing his attention on a select few. Having them commit early gives him more time to evaluate prospects in future classes and begin building those relationships early.

That’s theme across the board for the Hawkeyes. Identify talent early, start building a relationship and then utilize current commits to help build some momentum. When the train gets rolling, work for the official visit.

But the staff is being a bit more wily than simply bringing guys in for a visit when they can. Instead, they’ve earmarked the weekend of Iowa City’s annual block party as their big official visit weekend.

It’s something that’s been growing since the rule changes and this year we saw the culmination. The big weekend included 22 total visitors from the class of 2020. It was comprised of 10 previously committed players as well as 12 of Iowa’s top targets.

The composition of visitors looks a lot like what the Hawkeyes used to do in December after the end of the college football season and a few months before signing day. The obvious difference is now Iowa has the class half filled by the time the big weekend rolls around. That and the big weekend is 6 months earlier.

The obvious purpose is to reassure those current commits they’ve made the right choice, but more importantly to allow them to show the remaining prospects just how great things are going to be if they join them. The purpose is so obvious, the staff was actually able to telegraph the message to commits such that a number pushed to squeeze in visits ahead of the official visit weekend.

The result? Iowa landed four commitments in the nine days leading up to the weekend. That’s more than they landed in the aftermath of last year’s event.

Coming out of the weekend, the Hawkeyes landed 6 of the 12 uncommitted prospects who were on campus and they aren’t done yet. They’re poised to add a couple more starting as soon as this afternoon.

By any reasonable measure, the weekend was a massive success. Iowa is entering the month of July with only a handful of spots to fill in the class of 2020 and it hasn’t come at the expense of quality recruiting. The class is currently ranked 3rd in the Big Ten behind Michigan and Ohio State respectively and 14th nationally according to Rivals.

The staff has locked up their top target at QB, the aforementioned 4-star Hogan, as well as a handful of other near 4-stars. But they’ve also moved up their timeline for some of their under the radar targets we’ve historically seen them save for later in the process. There are a couple of schools which have historically followed Iowa in offering prospects and thus the Iowa staff has often kept a couple of their less highly touted targets warm as long as possible hoping to lock them up just before signing day. This year, they’ve jumped in with surprise visits and offers early in the process and secured commitments before Independence Day.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa
George Kittle was once a late addition to the recruiting class of 2012. Now, the staff is searching for that type of recruit early in the cycle.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

While that may seem like settling to the untrained eye, it’s quite the opposite. These commitments aren’t from fallback recruits and the Iowa staff isn’t taking commitments from players lower on their board just to fill up spots. Instead, they’re loading up on talent they’ve had the opportunity to evaluate and have found something they like.

Perhaps just as importantly, landing those prospects early allows the staff to focus the remainder of this cycle on a select few of their top priorities. There are very few seats left on the bus and no real need left in the class. The staff can fill the remaining spots with the best available players and those players are well aware of the limited space.

So while in the past the staff may have spent the fall evaluating senior film to identify the late bloomers they intend to offer late in the cycle, this year they’ll be spending the fall evaluating junior film on the guys Iowa intends to have committed by the end of next June. They can narrow their universe of prospects and focus their resources on building relationships with the players who have the talent and the personality to prosper in Iowa City.

Now that the Hawkeyes are ahead of the chains, so to speak, in terms of the 2020 class, their strategy of speeding up the timeline should pay dividends for years to come. Iowa can put themselves in a similar situation for next season by simply following the same strategy they did this season. Being able to get in on targets earlier in cycles, build those relationships longer and focus attention on top targets down the home stretch is a recipe to continue climbing the national rankings from the mid-50s into the 20s and 30s. More importantly, it’s a recipe to fill up the locker room with the guys who will succeed in the Iowa program.

Thus far, the staff has made all the right moves to adjust to the new rules and turn them to their advantage. The results have spoken for themselves on the recruiting trail. Now Hawkeye fans will have to wait and see if they speak for themselves on the field.

Happy Monday. Take advantage of the week.

Go Hawks