SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
7/21/2006 11:38:00 AM
Why Not The Hawkeyes?
Could a national title be on the horizon for Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes?
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
It is my firm belief that at least one of the participants in this year's national championship game will be a team from outside the preseason top 10 that takes the nation by storm, a la Oklahoma in 2000, LSU in '03 and Auburn (though it didn't actually reach the title game) in '04. To that end, I'm finding myself increasingly enamored with a team no one's talking about but really should: Iowa.
Apparently, one 7-5 season -- even when it follows three straight top-10 finishes and two Big Ten championships -- was enough to send the Hawkeyes back to the realm of national afterthought. But that would be a mistake. Last year's team got off to a rocky start due to the fact it was breaking in almost entirely new offensive and defensive lines, but by the end of the year, they looked like a typical Kirk Ferentz team, winning at 10-3 Wisconsin and throttling Minnesota. Their last three losses were to Michigan in overtime, to Northwestern by one point on a miracle comeback and to Florida by a touchdown in the Outback Bowl when a questionable offsides call cost them a recovered onside kick in the last two minutes.
Fast forward to this year. Last year's question marks, the O-line and D-line, will now be strengths. The offense should be extremely balanced behind former all-conference QB Drew Tate and 1,300-yard rusher Albert Young. Iowa's two concerns going into the season will be replacing starting receivers Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon and star linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. I don't know much about the returning receivers, but an opposing Big Ten coach who watched tape of the Hawkeyes recently told me, "They're not going to miss a beat at linebacker -- No. 44 is going to be special." No. 44 is junior Mike Humpal, the new starting outside backer.
But what intrigues me most about Iowa is its schedule. In the past, Ferentz's teams have been notoriously slow starters. This year presents two huge games in the first month of the season, Iowa State and Ohio State, both at home. You've got to think those will go a long way toward determining whether it's going to be a truly special season -- i.e. a return to the BCS for the first time since 2002 --- or one that ends in another trip to Tampa.
It seems former all-world recruit/convicted felon Willie Williams, who's been seeking a transfer from Miami because the 'Canes have yet to automatically turn over one of their starting linebacker positions to him, isn't garnering as many suitors as he might have thought. Two schools reported to be at the top of his list, West Virginia and Tennessee, have publicly declined interest. You know a guy's got serious issues when Tennessee won't even take him.
Williams is the latest and arguably most visible example of some of the negative consequences created by our ever-increasing fascination with the recruiting world. As you may recall, Williams was the guy whose Miami Herald diary entries about his extravagant campus visits -- steak and lobster in Tallahassee, cheerleaders chanting his name at Auburn, etc. -- prompted the NCAA to invoke restrictions on such things. But taking a 17-year-old kid to Morton's isn't the problem here. The way recruits are fawned over by coaches, recruiting writers and fans from the time they first become known, it’s often a shock to their system when they finally get to school and find out they actually have to put in work.
Anyone who's ever spent time around Williams marvels about what a great kid he is, how he's actually very bright, how he's been misunderstood. That may all well be true. But word around the Miami program is Williams, the nation's top-rated linebacker in 2004, expected stardom to be handed to him on a platter. After failing to pass up returning starter Jon Beason on the depth chart this spring, Williams stopped showing up for voluntary workouts. Now he apparently wants out, which is actually fairly stupid considering he's already used up his redshirt year and would lose a season of eligibility by transferring. He might as well use that season at Miami getting more experience and putting himself in position to win a starting job next season.
There were so many potential choices for my inaugural Blog topic, but one was just too juicy to resist. According to an article in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times, James Filson, a Big Ten referee for 13 years, has sued the conference for violating the federal disability act when it fired him 2005. Filson's disability? He only has one eye. He lost vision in the other one in 2000 when he slipped and hit a corner of his desk.
Despite what you might think, the point of this post is not to make the obvious one-eyed ref jokes. First of all, that would be mean, and secondly, plenty of people function perfectly well with one eye. Like Dick Vitale. (Well, maybe that one's debatable). And Filson, who according to the article informed his employer of his condition at the time it happened, apparently did just fine for five seasons. He was even selected to officiate the Orange Bowl.
So, what caused his downfall? According to the article, a reporter told the "University of Michigan's head football coach" about his eye, and the coach tipped off Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who "allegedly urged Filson's firing." Strangely, the article does not mention the coach's name. Most likely this is because the writer is a federal court reporter who doesn’t know said name (she also misspelled Delany), but, just possibly because of legal ramifications, in which case, I'm not mentioning it either.
However, if it's the perpetually grumpy coach we all think it is, the scenario described by Filson is almost laughably predictable. Over the years, we've watched said coach complain a litany of grievous injustices, about officiating, about his team's schedule, about bomb-sniffing security dogs at Ohio Stadium. After years of happily accepting New Year's bowl bids over often more-deserving teams because of Michigan's fan appeal, he cried foul when the same thing relegated his team to the Alamo Bowl last year. Why am I not surprised he was the one to throw a hissy fit about the one-eyed ref? What do you think? Should the guy have been fired? Or was this simply another case of Lloy ... er, Michigan's coach, working himself up over nothing.