Michigan State has blatantly stolen Iowa's perpetual DISRESPEKT claims and made DISRESPEKT into a cottage industry, but Iowa looks set to restart the DISRESPEKT arms race in 2016. The starting point: Extremely early preseason polls that have a 12-2 Hawkeyes team that brings back just about everyone barely ranked.
It's also college football's silly season, as evidenced by new rollouts of top 25 rankings for the 2016 campaign that is just almost four months away.
And Iowa's too-early standing is a blend of respect and disrespect.
The Hawkeyes are tabbed the No. 23 team in college football by ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and No. 24 by FoxSports.com's Stewart Mandel. On the surface, it seems like a slight for a program that returns most of its top talent off a 12-2 team that ended up No. 10 in the final Associated Press poll.
Ferentz-era Iowa has never dealt particularly well with heightened expectations -- LACK OF DISRESPEKT doesn't play as well for motivation -- so this is probably a good thing. And while Ferentz refuses to take the DISRESPEKT bait publicly, you'd better believe it's playing out in the weight room right now.
Of course, the DISRESPEKT leveled at Iowa pales in comparison to that suffered by Michigan State, which was ranked 16th despite losing the program's all-time winningest quarterback and like half the roster.
There's no question the Spartans are facing a lot of questions in several key areas next season, but the notion that there are 15 teams better than them is a bit of overkill. I just can't make a case for Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Notre Dame all being better than MSU.
This isn't just little brother complex from Michigan anymore. This is full-on Napoleonic.
(Yes, I want the Iowa-MSU/Ferentz-Dantonio thing to reignite like a forest fire.)
Underhanded and Undermanned
Six years removed from the retirement of Gayle Blevins, Iowa softball is in a bad place. The Hawkeyes just finished their season with a 13-39 record and 3-20 Big Ten mark (by way of comparison, Blevins never posted a losing record in 23 seasons). Iowa hasn't had a winning season since 2013. Head coach Marla Looper now holds a 132-183 record in six seasons and has never made the NCAA Tournament.
Now the press is taking notice. Both Scott Dochterman at The Gazette and Pat Harty of AllHawkeyes took dead aim at Looper this week, in the wake of a mercy rule-aided 12-run loss to Minnesota on Senior Day:
Under blue skies and blanketed by 80-degree temperatures last Friday night, Iowa softball fans filled Pearl Field for the final regular-season series against Minnesota.
The juxtaposed match-up showcased an ocean-like competitive gulf between the border rivals. The Gophers outscored the Hawkeyes 35-5 in a three-game sweep, with the outcomes crystallizing their differences as much as their final records. Minnesota, the Big Ten runner-up at 19-3, finished 38-12 in regular-season play. Iowa placed last in the 14-team Big Ten with a 3-20 league mark and 13-39 overall.
There's also the matter of recruiting, which was supposed to be Looper's strength. Blevins had built her program largely on in-state recruiting; Looper, a longtime Texas assistant coach, promised to supplement Iowa talent with inroads into the South. Instead, Iowa has cut ties with in-state high school coaches to futilely chase out-of-state recruits. That leads to, among other things, a Pleasant Valley grad hammering Iowa in a Minnesota jersey last week
[M]any of the state's best softball players are leaving for Iowa's rivals. Dwyer's former Pleasant Valley teammate, Chloe Miller, posts Wisconsin's second-best batting average. The Badgers have four Iowa natives on their roster and two play prominent roles. Northwestern has two Iowans on its roster. Missouri's top pitcher — Paige Lowary — twice was the state's player of the year at Dallas Center-Grimes.
Iowa, which signed two instate players — Iowa City West catcher Taylor Libby (daughter of gymnastics coach Larissa Libby) and Ankeny pitcher Allison Doocy — continues to fall behind its border rivals in recruiting Iowans. Minnesota signed Ankeny Centennial star and current senior Kendyl Lindaman, who already owns the state's single-season (24) and career (56) home run records. The Gophers also inked Benton Community's Amber Fiser, who allowed four earned runs in nearly 173 2/3 innings with 313 strikeouts last year.
There are inherent difficulties in recruiting the state of Iowa that Blevins balanced but Looper has struggled with. Iowa is one of an extremely small minority of states that play high school softball and baseball as summer sports. That changes recruiting significantly, as most recruits (who play spring and fall high school seasons) spend the summers in California and Texas with showcase club teams. And if you believe that the best talent is not in Iowa -- which Looper diplomatically sidesteps in Dochterman's post -- it becomes very easy to lose the state entirely while recruiting those camps.
Dochterman also reports what we all believed: That Looper is going to be back next season, not because of her lackluster record but because another female coach firing could look bad to federal investigators. Griesbaum's firing remains the story that affects all other stories.
Fran Doesn't Get the Point
Iowa's last-ditch attempts at landing another point guard with the scholarship vacated by Andrew Fleming fell short, leaving the Hawkeyes with sophomore Christian Williams as the presumptive starting point guard next season. Incoming freshman Jordan Bohannon will likely back him up as the only other point guard on the roster. And that doesn't bother Fran McCaffery at all.
McCaffery told The Gazette he's confident both Williams and Bohannon can handle the position in his system despite their limited experience.
"If you're running set plays continuously, you kind of need that guy," McCaffery said about a primary point guard. "Otherwise everybody's driving and kicking and making plays. If we're going to be a transition and motion team primarily, you have to have multiple people who can make a play off the dribble. You can't be, ‘All right, everybody get the ball to the point guard and go get to your spots.' That's not how we play anyway.
"If you look at the collective ball handling of our team, our guards can handle it. Our forwards, a guy like Nicholas Baer, handles it well, I'm not worried about it."
I'm all for putting a positive spin on things, but McCaffery can't possibly believe that quote. Even if it is true that Iowa isn't heavily reliant on the point guard to operate its half-court offense, there's like a whole other half of a court that must be navigated, and anyone who believes that bringing the ball up is simple didn't watch Iowa pressure Purdue's lackluster backcourt into oblivion this season.
Williams could certainly be good -- his play in March showed some serious growth -- and Bohannon could be ready from the first day. If so, all of this is moot. But if they're not prepared by that point, Iowa's problems with point guard recruiting are the most likely reason that the new run of NCAA Tournament appearances could end.
Austin Blythe's high school wrestling career gets some love from Indianapolis media. The hidden point in that article: Former Iowa offensive line coach Joe Philbin, now the offensive line coach for the Colts, saying that the Iowa line tradition he helped build is strong.
We have yet another map purporting to show the college football allegiances of every county. Unsurprising: Iowa dominates the state of Iowa. Surprising: The Rose Bowl was apparently a South Dakota Civil War.
It's at least the third time one of these maps has been published, and I'm not sure of the methodology for any of them goes beyond "who sends the most tweets to the guy making the map."
Purdue fans think that they don't get prime time games because they don't have permanent lights at their stadium. On the list of things that are keeping Purdue from prime billing, a lack of lights is just below "too many big drums".
A man has sued the University of Nebraska to stop their traditional balloon release after the first score of a home game. Tommy Armstrong's attempts to kill the tradition by throwing the ball to nearby defenders to preserve shutouts wasn't enough, apparently.
In other Nebraska football news, the entire state is buzzing over the big-name NFL coach that the Cornhuskers almost hired...in 2003. In related news, Nebraska's biggest fear is an irrelevance that it already inhabits.
ESPN NFL Draft boob Todd McShay put Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner in the first round next season in his first mock draft of 2017. Minnesota fans react by mocking his draft.
Aw, hell. Let's have a beer, and let's start with a pilsner.