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1. It's not that bad ...
It could be much, much worse.
Since peaking at 11-2 and seventh in the polls in 2009, Iowa under Kirk Ferentz has settled into a groove that is more satisfactory than satisfying.
The Hawkeyes have been to four bowls in five years (with a 4-8 dud in the middle), winning either seven or eight games alongside each. They haven't been ranked since late in 2010, no, and despite the Big Ten having approximately 17 January 1 bowls, they have only once played on January 1 in this span. They beat three 10- or 11-win teams in 2010-11 but have only done so once since (and that was NIU).
Things aren't wonderful in Iowa City. But they aren't as bad as we tend to make them seem. They're better than what Ferentz inherited in 1999, for one. They're better than what predecessor Hayden Fry inherited, too.
Before Fry set the bar, and before Ferentz did a decent job of raising it, Iowa was a wasteland for two decades. In a conference that features downside -- each of the first five Big Ten teams previewed so far has spent at least one season ranked below 70th in the F/+ rankings, and four have spent time below 80th -- Iowa's floor seems higher. The Hawkeyes have been in the 60s twice and in the top 50 three times since 2010. Plus, every time we think this is it for Ferentz, that there's no coming back, he responds by putting a much-improved team on the field.
A free fall, this is not. But still ...
It's not hard to see why Iowa fans are frustrated. When the Hawkeyes fail, they fail in the same fashion, over and over. They have produced a top-40 offense (in terms of Off. S&P+) once since 2006 and haven't ranked in the top 60 since 2010. Their leading rusher has averaged better than five yards per carry once since Shonn Greene left, and that was only barely (5.1 in 2012). And when Ferentz felt the need to liven up the unit, he chose the most uninspiring candidate imaginable in former Texas O.C. Greg Davis. The offense bottomed out the next year before rebounding slightly.
Iowa's "run the ball and play good defense" ways have been hampered by an inability to run the ball, but the defense hasn't helped. The Hawkeyes managed one top-30 defense (in Def. S&P+) in four years. The 2013 unit broke through to 10th with an experienced cast, then collapsed to 67th.
2014 was a missed opportunity; coming off of a bounce-back season, the Hawkeyes faced not a single team that ranked better than 24th in F/+, and the only two regular-season opponents that ranked better than 37th came to Iowa City. But they still barely finished above .500, ceding major ground to Minnesota. A top-30 team would have won 11 games or more. Iowa was 63rd, the third-worst showing of the last decade.
Ferentz set a high bar in winning nine or more games five times and registering four top-10 finishes between 2002 and '09. There has been little reason to hope another top-10 surge is possible, but Iowa still averaged 67,512 in home attendance last year. There's little reason for the athletic director to seek change. Yet.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 63|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|Points Per Game||28.2||71||25.6||52|
2. Withering away
Iowa had a decent passing game, run defense, and 2014 start. A home dud against Iowa State didn't have anybody spizzed up about a great year, but the Hawkeyes still started 6-2, handling Northwestern and Purdue with ease and pulling off a fun comeback at Pitt.
They weren't taking full advantage of a weak schedule, but they were looking at another nine-win season and top-50 final ranking. And then the last five games happened.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 8 games): 61% (record: 6-2)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 33% (record: 1-4)
Over the final five, Iowa got shoved around, allowing at least 5.9 yards per play in four games and giving up at least 37 points in three. A thin defense -- five linemen, five linebackers, and four defensive backs took most of the snaps -- couldn't maintain its edge.
The offense had exciting moments against Illinois and Wisconsin (combined: 7.3 yards per play) but came up empty against Minnesota, Nebraska, and (when it mattered) Tennessee.
After playing at a top-50 level for eight games, Iowa barely played top-90 ball thereafter.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.1%||87||Succ. Rt. +||96.1||82|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.5||77||Def. FP+||103.0||33|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||59||Redzone S&P+||95.3||78|
|Q1 Rk||91||1st Down Rk||78|
|Q2 Rk||77||2nd Down Rk||80|
|Q3 Rk||87||3rd Down Rk||97|
3. Figure out what you're good at
Greg Davis took some hints. With an awful run game and a decent passing game, Iowa threw more normal. After rushing 68 percent of the time on standard downs and 35 percent on passing downs in 2013, those numbers fell to 61 and 31. Strangely, the Hawkeyes threw quite a bit when up big and ran quite a bit when down big, but this was still more pass-happy than an Iowa offense tends to be.
So what does that mean moving forward? Iowa has suffered from attrition issues at the skill positions, and while there appears to be talent, exactly what is Ferentz intending to do (or let Davis do)?
There is a belief, real or perceived, that Ferentz is not interested in playing the most talented players, opting for hard-working strength program guys and intangibles. It was a hypothesis reinforced by the Rudock/Beathard debate last year, the continued use of Mark Weisman at running back, and tine increasingly heavy use of walk-ons at important positions.
Iowa could potentially start six walk-ons, an unsustainable amount of non-scholarship talent on a Big Ten roster, especially when those walk-ons are at left tackle and weakside linebacker. For a rebuilding program, useful walk-ons are a key way of protecting young scholarship talent. For a program with a 16-year head coach, each walk-on represents a recruiting and/or development failure. In Iowa's case, many of those are the result of players transferring out and leaving a hole.
Continuous use of Weisman really did confuse me. At 230-plus pounds, Weisman should have been a nice efficiency back, but his efficiency numbers were awful, and he didn't make up for it with explosiveness. He had two good games in 2014 (he had 212 yards at 6.4 yards per carry against Maryland and Illinois) and otherwise averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Of course, there weren't superior candidates. Jordan Canzeri averaged 4.2 yards per carry until erupting for 120 yards in the bowl game. Akrum Wadley showed potential against Northwestern and Minnesota (24 carries, 174 yards) but fumbled twice in 33 total carries and had just nine rushes for 12 yards in the final four games. Jonathan Parker had outstanding averages but somehow managed to fumble three times in 16 carries.
Iowa would be smart to lean on the pass again, but with turnover atop the depth chart, it will be interesting to see if Ferentz leans more on players with high ceilings or those with high floors. Assume the latter.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|C.J. Beathard||6'2, 209||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8359||52||92||645||5||2||56.5%||4||4.2%||6.4|
|Tyler Wiegers||6'4, 222||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8727|
|Ryan Boyle||6'2, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8477|
|Drew Cook||6'5, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8313|
|Jordan Canzeri||RB||5'9, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667||102||494||0||4.8||5.3||32.4%||0||0|
|Akrum Wadley||RB||5'11, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7683||33||186||1||5.6||5.0||45.5%||2||2|
|C.J. Beathard||QB||6'2, 209||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8359||24||182||0||7.6||8.2||45.8%||1||1|
|Jonathan Parker||RB||5'8, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7852||16||141||1||8.8||15.7||37.5%||3||2|
|LeShun Daniels, Jr.||RB||6'0, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8093||15||49||1||3.3||2.1||46.7%||0||0|
|Derrick Mitchell, Jr.||RB||6'1, 212||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8398|
|C.J. Hilliard||RB||5'10, 195||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8488|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Tevaun Smith||SE||6'2, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8289||70||43||607||61.4%||16.4%||50.0%||8.7||83||8.5||70.4|
|Jake Duzey||TE||6'4, 248||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8479||54||36||392||66.7%||12.7%||53.7%||7.3||-40||7.5||45.5|
|Matt VandeBerg||WR||6'1, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7848||25||14||256||56.0%||5.9%||60.0%||10.2||82||10.0||29.7|
|Jacob Hillyer||SE||6'4, 212||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8323||21||11||105||52.4%||4.9%||52.4%||5.0||-34||4.8||12.2|
|Jordan Canzeri||RB||5'9, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667||11||9||123||81.8%||2.6%||45.5%||11.2||19||12.6||14.3|
|Macon Plewa||FB||6'2, 244||Sr.||NR||NR||7||7||38||100.0%||1.6%||71.4%||5.4||-41||5.1||4.4|
|Andrew Stone||WR||5'11, 175||Sr.||NR||NR||4||3||48||75.0%||0.9%||75.0%||12.0||13||14.8||5.6|
|Henry Krieger Coble||TE||6'4, 250||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8529||4||3||28||75.0%||0.9%||50.0%||7.0||-7||7.1||3.2|
|George Kittle||TE||6'0, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8107|
|Jay Scheel||WR||6'1, 195||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8833|
|Jon Wisnieski||TE||6'5, 247||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8722|
|Jerminic Smith||WR||6'1, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8274|
4. A passing game with potential
Jake Rudock wasn't that bad. He played in 12 games and produced a passer rating of at least 128 in seven. He was terrible against Minnesota and Tennessee, but everybody was terrible in those games. He completed 62 percent of his passes, he had a solid 1.4 percent interception rate, and he averaged the same yards per pass attempt (6.4) as backup C.J. Beathard.
But it has long been assumed by Iowa fans that Beathard's ceiling is higher. And with an offense that needed a boost, it became a source of frustration that Iowa trotted out the high-floor guy.
That's no longer a concern. Rudock transferred to Michigan. And Beathard better not get hurt because it's all freshmen and redshirt freshmen after him. Granted, RSFr. Tyler Wiegers was a four-star and could have plenty of upside, but this is Beathard's offense now.
In theory, he's got some nice weapons. The top two returning wideouts, Tevaun Smith and Matt VandeBerg, were the two best on a per-target basis, Canzeri is solid out of the backfield, and in theory, Jake Duzey and Jacob Hillyer could provide some big efficiency targets. The passing game seems to be in infinitely better shape than the run, even if it turns out that Beathard is more all-or-nothing than Ferentz would prefer (and even if the loss of his flowing locks saps his power).
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Brandon Scherff||LT||36||Outland Trophy; Unanimous All-American, 2014 1st All-Big Ten|
|Austin Blythe||C||6'3, 290||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8987||35||2014 2nd All-Big Ten|
|Jordan Walsh||RG||6'4, 290||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9325||23|
|Sean Welsh||LG||6'3, 288||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8575||10|
|Eric Simmons||C||6'2, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8307||0|
|Mitch Keppy||RG||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8372||0|
|Cole Croston||LT||6'5, 295||Jr.||NR||NR||0|
|Ike Boettger||RT||6'6, 300||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8097||0|
|Boone Myers||LT||6'5, 300||So.||NR||NR||0|
|Keegan Render||RT||6'4, 305||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8282|
|Lucas LeGrand||OL||6'5, 280||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8489|
|Ross Reynolds||LG||6'4, 300||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7906|
|James Daniels||OL||6'4, 290||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8909|
|Landan Paulsen||OL||6'5, 290||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8755|
|Levi Paulsen||OL||6'5, 290||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8745|
|Jacob Newborg||OL||6'3, 280||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8569|
|Brett Weechter||OL||6'5, 275||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8291|
5. Bad line stats with a top-five draft pick
Iowa had the Outland Trophy winner at left tackle, a fourth-round draft pick at right tackle, and a second-team all-conference performer at center. Iowa ranked 97th in Adj. Line Yards.
Rarely will you see something that incongruous. This tells you quite a bit about the quality of the running backs -- in terms of unadjusted stats, Iowa was top-50 in stuff rate (avoiding run stops behind the line) and power success rate but was just 87th in opportunity rate (carries of at least five yards), and if you wanted to pin the line's failings on the backs, that's a good place to start.
If Canzeri, Leshun Daniels Jr., and the fumble-prone sophomores are able to get upfield faster, that will help the line out. Of course, it might need the help: two tackles, including all-world first-rounder Brandon Scherff, are gone.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.2%||54||Succ. Rt. +||109.7||32|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.0||93||Off. FP+||100.0||65|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.5||81||Redzone S&P+||108.3||38|
|Q1 Rk||85||1st Down Rk||52|
|Q2 Rk||91||2nd Down Rk||68|
|Q3 Rk||39||3rd Down Rk||75|
6. An Iowa defense
With a coordinator named Parker, Iowa defended the run and attacked the quarterback on passing downs. This is what we've come to expect.
First, it was otherworldly coordinator Norm Parker, then Phil Parker (unrelated) took it from there. The philosophy has remained, but the talent and experience levels produce wildly differing results.
After producing its best defense in four years in 2013, Iowa was forced to replace all three linebackers and half of its secondary, and the reconfigured defense couldn't keep up down the stretch.
Ferentz did what he always does: employ a tiny rotation, keeping the starters on the field. That tends to mean good things when the experience levels are up to par, and it ensures the high floor, but it also tends to ensure a drop-off when the defense is too green. And in 2014, it also meant diminishing returns in November.
With freshmen and sophomores having turned into sophomores and juniors in the back seven, one can expect an improved pass defense, but there might be concerns up front, where three-fifths of the rotation and both starting tackles need to be replaced.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Drew Ott||DE||6'4, 272||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8266||13||41.5||6.4%||12.0||7.5||1||2||1||0|
|Nate Meier||DE||6'2, 252||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7585||13||37.5||5.7%||6.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Jaleel Johnson||DT||6'4, 310||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9184||13||6.5||1.0%||2.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Melvin Spears||DE||6'2, 268||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8495||4||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Nathan Bazata||DT||6'2, 284||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8119||9||2.0||0.3%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darian Cooper||DT||6'2, 282||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8983|
|Faith Ekakitie||DT||6'3, 290||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9197|
|Kyle Terlouw||DT||6'4, 288||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Brant Gressel||DT||6'2, 280||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8523|
|Matt Nelson||DE||6'8, 270||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8619|
|Parker Hesse||DE||6'3, 240||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8256|
|Terrence Harris||DE||6'3, 252||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7893|
|Brady Reiff||DE||6'4, 235||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8436|
|Michael Slater||DE||6'2, 265||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8345|
|Anthony Nelson||DE||6'6, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8337|
7. Wanted: tackles
Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, strong disruption stats for a defense that needed them. The return of end Drew Ott should ensure a pass-rushing presence, but tackles appeared to be the key to Iowa's decent run defense.
Trinca-Pasat and Davis provided cover for the two freshman linebackers behind them, and now the training wheels are off for Josey Jewell and Bo Bower, not to mention another sophomore, Ben Niemann, who played sparingly.
There is upside among the replacements in the middle. Juniors Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie are former four-star recruits, and Johnson showed hints of potential in reserve play. Sophomore Nathan Bazata finished the spring on the first string, and whatever the tackles produce in 2015, they'll probably produce even more in 2016.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Josey Jewell||MLB||6'2, 230||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7844||11||36.5||5.6%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bo Bower||WLB||6'1, 228||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||13||28.0||4.3%||5.5||1.0||2||2||0||0|
|Travis Perry||MLB||6'3, 234||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7400||10||13.5||2.1%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ben Niemann||OLB||6'3, 225||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7985||13||7.0||1.1%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Cole Fisher||OLB||6'2, 236||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8467||13||5.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Aaron Mends||WLB||6'0, 212||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8216|
|Jameer Outsey||LB||6'3, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8221|
|Angelo Garbutt||LB||6'2, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8404|
|Jack Hockaday||LB||6'1, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8332|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jordan Lomax||FS||5'10, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8504||13||68.0||10.4%||1||0||1||6||1||0|
|Desmond King||CB||5'11, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8330||13||53.0||8.1%||2||0||3||5||0||0|
|Greg Mabin||CB||6'2, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8224||13||44.0||6.7%||2||0||1||5||0||0|
|Maurice Fleming||CB||6'0, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8768||11||9.5||1.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Anthony Gair||FS||6'2, 210||Jr.||NR||0.8465||13||7.0||1.1%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Sean Draper||CB||6'0, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8469||12||6.5||1.0%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Miles Taylor||SS||6'0, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8377||13||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Solomon Warfield||DB||6'0, 180||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8519|
|Marcel Joly||DB||5'11, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8315|
|Jalen Embry||DB||6'0, 184||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8400|
|Omar Truitt||DB||5'11, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8489|
|Brandon Snyder||SS||6'1, 210||RSFr.||NR||NR|
8. Plenty to like about the secondary
Trinca-Pasat was also a unique pass rushing threat from the tackle position. He and Drew Ott were solid enough at pressuring the quarterback that Parker didn't have to blitz much to create passing downs advantages. And each of the four starters in the defensive backfield -- i.e., all four guys who actually played -- had between one and three tackles for loss and between six and eight passes defensed.
Of course, playing a big load of bad passing offenses made the numbers look better. The pass rush was decent, and efficiency wasn't an issue, but while Iowa only allowed 34 passes of 20-plus yards (27th in the country), their opponent-adjusted big-play prevention ratings (IsoPPP+) were poor.
This wasn't a spectacular pass defense, but it had potential. And with Ott and three-quarters of the secondary returning, one can assume a slightly improved level. Someone like sophomore Miles Taylor or junior Anthony Gair will have to replace the production of leading tackler John Lowdermilk, but that's doable. Trinca-Pasat might be the trickiest player to replace.
The success of this defense could come down to the backbone.
In general, linebackers are the easiest players to replace on the defense. Or at least, losing your linebackers has less of a statistical impact than losing starters on the line or in the secondary. But Iowa's linebackers were as disruptive as almost any in the country in 2013; the three starters, all seniors, combined for 35.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, six interceptions, six break-ups, and six forced fumbles.
In 2014, five Iowa linebackers combined for 16 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, two picks, 10 PBUs, and two FFs. Those missing plays made the biggest difference in Iowa's decline. In theory, Iowa could return both starting DTs, all three starting LBs, and one of two safeties in 2016, creating a strong backbone for another good D. But it's hard to get a read on what this still-young spine might produce this fall.
|Dillon Kidd||6'2, 215||Sr.||46||38.5||1||19||12||67.4%|
|Connor Kornbrath||6'6, 242||Sr.||18||37.4||2||6||7||72.2%|
|Marshall Koehn||6'0, 200||Sr.||68||59.5||43||0||63.2%|
|Marshall Koehn||6'0, 200||Sr.||38-38||8-11||72.7%||4-5||80.0%|
|Mick Ellis||5'10, 180||So.||7-7||0-1||0.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Jonathan Parker||KR||5'8, 185||So.||24||22.1||0|
|Jordan Canzeri||KR||5'9, 192||Sr.||7||19.3||0|
|Matt VandeBerg||PR||6'1, 185||Jr.||12||6.8||0|
|Riley McCarron||PR||5'9, 186||Jr.||8||1.6||0|
|Special Teams F/+||104|
|Field Goal Efficiency||75|
|Punt Return Efficiency||44|
|Kick Return Efficiency||104|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||81|
9. Not enough on special teams
Iowa's special teams unit had some strengths: Marshall Koehn has a big leg, and Matt VandeBerg was able to consistently pick up yards on punt returns.
But punt coverage was a nightmare (yards per return allowed: 15.1, 123rd in the country and worst even in the returns-happy Big Ten), and Iowa was just about the only team in the conference not to have a dynamite kick returner. Koehn was a bit scatter-shot inside of 40 yards, but he's fine. The field position game needed a bit more work.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 S&P+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at Iowa State||86|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||11.4% (42)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||56 / 50|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-6 / -6.3|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+0.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (5, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||7.4 (-0.4)|
10. A top-40 team could win nine games
Once again, Iowa's schedule is manageable, with only one projected top-25 team and seven projected 60th or worse. If Iowa doesn't improve one iota, the Hawkeyes will go to another bowl, their 13th in 15 years.
But if you're an Iowa fan, 2009 is getting further away in the rearview mirror, and you'd like to know that Ferentz is building toward something better eventually. There's little proof.
In 2013, we thought the end was nigh, and Ferentz responded by fielding a top-30 team. It's not inconceivable that the same thing could happen -- the passing game clicks, the run game isn't terrible, the run defense is stable, the pass defense improves.
But a) while top-30 could be possible, top-20 or better seems impossible, and b) the smart money isn't on such a rebound. By focusing on the floor more than the ceiling, Ferentz has created one of the more stable programs in the conference, one less capable of collapsing than at least half of the rest of the Big Ten.