Christmas in its truest sense is all about giving, but the receiving part certainly has its advantages.
A gift is supposed to enhance a person’s life, and here are 13 gifts that would surely do that for Iowa Hawkeye fans heading into 2013.
1. Fran’s clan in the dance: Making the NCAA Tournament is the next step in Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding of the Iowa men’s basketball program. He’s in his third season as coach and coming off a season in which Iowa advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. Another trip to the NIT wouldn’t necessarily be a step backwards, especially considering the strength of the Big Ten, but it wouldn’t be a step forward, either.
Iowa by winning 11 of its 13 non-conference games has given itself a chance to dance for the first time since 2006. The program has the kind of momentum under McCaffery that was non-existent during Todd Lickliter’s disastrous three-year reign and was few and far between under Steve Alford.
2. A vertical passing attack: The Iowa football team’s inability to throw down field under first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis was largely to blame for its 4-8 record this past season. The hope is that with more time to install his system Davis will expand his play calling. He’ll have to break in a new starting quarterback, but unlike previous starter James Vandenberg, the top three candidates already will have had a year of learning the system.
3. The emergence of a quarterback: Speaking of the quarterback candidates, having one of them emerge as a reliable playmaker next season would be hard to match in the gift department. None of Iowa’s returning quarterbacks have any game experience, but neither did Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at the start of this season, which saw him win the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman.
It’s highly unlikely that Iowa has a quarterback waiting to burst on the scene like Manziel did. Iowa just needs a quarterback to make plays on a consistent basis.
4. A playmaker at receiver: This could be somebody already on the team like Jordan Cotton or somebody new next fall. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is finding a receiver who consistently gets separation and makes plays.
5. A verbal commitment from the Big O: For those who don’t follow recruiting, the Big O is one of the nicknames given to high school offensive lineman Orlando Brown, who is big in every sense of the word. In addition to being listed at 6-foot-9 and 340 pounds, Brown also is on virtually everybody’s recruiting wish list despite only being a junior at Peachtree Ridge High School in Duluth, Ga.
Brown just recently trimmed his wish list to eight schools, including Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes. Say what you want about Ferentz, who has lost 17 of his last 29 games as the Iowa coach, but without him, Iowa wouldn’t even be on Brown’s radar. Iowa is the only team in Brown’s final eight that failed to win at least eight games this past season, and five of them won at least 10 games.
Somebody not familiar with Brown’s background probably would read his list of eight schools and wonder how Iowa made the cut, along with Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, South Carolina, Oregon and Florida.
It’s because of Ferentz.
Brown has a special bond with Ferentz because of how Ferentz treated Brown’s late father while serving as his offensive line coach in the NFL. The younger Brown said his father, who died in 2012 of complications from diabetes at the age of 40, often spoke highly of Ferentz and credited Ferentz for much of his success as an NFL player.
Orlando Brown Jr. now is showing his appreciation by giving Iowa a serious look.
6. A verbal commitment from Ross Pierschbacher: His offer list isn’t as extensive as Brown’s list, but is growing fast, with schools like Notre Dame and Oklahoma pursuing the high school junior offensive lineman from Cedar Falls. Pierschbacher grew up cheering for the Hawkeyes and it seemed as if Iowa was the team to beat for his services heading into the 2012 season. But that feeling isn’t as strong now with Iowa combining to finish 11-14 over the past two seasons.
7. A verbal commitment from a dual-threat quarterback: This isn’t to say that Iowa has to stop recruiting the traditional pro-style pocket passer; it’s just time to diversify. A dual-threat quarterback wouldn’t cure all that’s ailing the Iowa offense, but it would provide a new dimension and something else for which defenses have to prepare.
Ferentz apparently feels the same way because Iowa is recruiting a dual-threat quarterback from New Jersey named Damon Mitchell. He committed to Georgia Tech a while back as an athlete, but now is exploring his options, which Mitchell said, includes an opportunity to play quarterback at Iowa.
Iowa already has received a verbal commitment from Texas high school quarterback Nic Shimonek, although, he is considered more of a pocket passer.
8. A healthy offensive line: Iowa was 4-2 and 2-0 in the Big Ten when starting left tackle Brandon Scherff and starting guard Andrew Donnal suffered season-ending leg injuries against Penn State. The offense lost its identity as a power running team and never got it back. Scherff as a sophomore was showing signs of being Iowa’s next great offensive lineman when he was injured. His return will be one of the biggest keys to next season.
9. A healthy Iowa women’s basketball team: Lisa Bluder’s bunch has been bitten far too often by the injury bug, especially knee injuries. Can’t think of a better gift than an entire season in which everybody stays healthy.
10. An NCAA title in wrestling: Penn State’s rise to dominance in college wrestling has come largely at the expense of Iowa. Imagine the competitive fire that must be raging inside Iowa coach Tom Brands.
11. Big Ten realignment: This is more wishful thinking than making a prediction. The powers that be, namely Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, finally will get a clue and divide the conference by using geography. East and West makes way more sense and doesn’t sound as goofy as Legends and Leaders does.
12. A tougher non-conference schedule for men’s basketball: It’s fun watching the Iowa players dunk over vastly inferior opponents, but only for so long. Next year’s team will deserve better competition.
13. A verbal commitment from a Chicago-area basketball player: McCaffery has excelled as a recruiter since being hired in 2010. Establishing a recruiting pipeline to Chicago would take it to a new level.