It was a busy early signing day on Wednesday for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Over the last several recruiting cycles, we’ve come to know and love Iowa for their approach to the early signing period wherein they have things largely wrapped up well in advance.
But this year was not like any prior years for a number of reasons. With the COVID pandemic locking things down during most class of ‘22 prospects’ junior seasons, the Hawkeyes were unable to get those preps on campus until they were heading into their senior seasons. Relationship building was strictly over the phone or via video calls. So when Iowa finally got prospects on campus this summer, it left a positive impression, but was not the closing move it has become in recent years.
That, of course, led to a slow start to what was supposed to be a small class anyway. But the Hawkeyes got off to a hot start in 2021 on the field, which quickly created renewed momentum. That came to a head when Iowa hosted top-5 Penn State at home and emerged victorious.
It’s possible we look back for years on that game as a turning point for recruiting at Iowa. It was the biggest game day visit for the Hawkeyes in terms of sheer volume of visitors and the quality was perhaps as high as any other visit day in program history. It’s not that the weekend immediately churned out a bunch of commitments, but it solidified Iowa’s position in several prospect’s minds.
Ultimately, it helped keep the highest rated prospect in Iowa high school history in his home state as 5-star safety Xavier Nwankpa committed to Iowa a week before national signing day. Nwankpa had built a good bond with 4-star running back commit Kaleb Johnson and 3-star California defensive back target TJ Hall.
The pair of commits made it back to Iowa City the weekend before signing day to help the Hawkeyes make their final pitch to Hall, as well as several other remaining targets. The list included Michigan defensive backs Olando Trader and Koen Entringer, as well as Rock Valley, Iowa linebacker Landyn Van Kekerix.
On signing day, the Hawkeyes were as busy as they’ve been since the advent of the early signing period. Iowa ultimately hauled in commitments from all three of those targets defensive back prospects, as well as Van Kekerix and 4-star Illinois defensive lineman Brian Allen.
It was quite the haul for the Hawkeye staff and it transformed Iowa’s class in the context of the national recruiting scene. When Iowa started they day, they held 12 commitments and a class ranking in the low 40s nationally according to both Rivals and 247 Sports. Even that was boosted several spots by the addition of Xavier Nwankpa the week beefore.
But by the end of the day Wednesday, the Hawkeyes had jumped into the top-25 across both services. Rivals ranks Iowa’s class 24th nationally while 247 Sports has the Hawkeyes at 26th. That’s good enough for 6th in the Big Ten on both services and tops in the Big Ten West.
Notably, Iowa has managed to ink a top-25 class despite its small size. Recruiting services, in an attempt to not overvalue volume, only count the top-20 commitments for any team’s class. Except Iowa still doesn’t have 20 commitments given its limited scholarship availability. Only four teams ranked inside the top-40 nationally have fewer prospects committed than Iowa and only two of those are currently ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes - Oklahoma and Missouri.
So where do the Hawkeyes go from here? The simple answer is up. Given how few teams in the top-40 have fewer commits and the fact that less than a third of all teams in that range have fewer than 20 prospects signed, there’s a low probability of Iowa falling materially in the overall rankings. But should the Hawkeyes add new signees for the late signing period, they have room to move up.
That would be an historic feat if the staff can simply hold steady. The Hawkeyes have never put together back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes. In fact, Iowa has only had two top-25 classes since the national recruiting services began team rankings two decades ago. The high water mark remains the impressive 2005 class, which finished 11th nationally according to Rivals (247 Sports doesn’t provide data on team rankings before 2010). The only other top-25 class came just last year when the Hawkeyes finished 24th according to both Rivals and 247 Sports
It’s no coincidence that the two best stretches of Iowa recruiting have come immediately following the two best stretches of on-field performances. That incredible 2005 class came right after the Hawkeyes strung together three straight top-10 finishes in the AP from 2002-2004. Now the Hawkeyes are in the midst of a fourth straight top-25 finish and a third straight top-16 season.
The last time Iowa had this kind of success on the recruiting trail, we got a magical run from 2008-2009 where Iowa looked like a Big Ten title contender and won the Orange Bowl. Only time will tell if the latest round of success will help this developmental program take another step forward on their quest for their first outright Big Ten title in more than three decades.