Big Ten takes, picks: As Brian Ferentz prepares to exit, how drastic will Iowa’s changes be this offseason?

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The inevitable has happened. Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is done, or at least he will be at the end of the season, as the school announced Monday that Ferentz won’t return next year but will remain with the program through the Bowl Season. 

It’s the only logical conclusion that could be reached as the Iowa offense has once again proven to be one of the worst in the country. While injuries have derailed things to an extremely low point this year, the fact the results don’t look too much different than what Iowa’s offense had accomplished during Ferentz’s entire tenure is a pretty damning statement on how the relationship worked out.

The timing of the decision also makes sense for Iowa so that it can avoid the endless questions about Ferentz’s status … and the endless talking and writing about the Iowa offense … and the stipulation put into Ferentz’s contract following last season that the team needed to score 325 points. That last point is key seeing how it’s painfully clear through eight games that Iowa will not meet that threshold.

It also keeps Big Ten rivals from being able to use this against the program in recruiting, whether to flip current commits or steal away potential new ones. There is some question why Iowa wouldn’t replace Ferentz now instead of letting him coach through the rest of the year, but my best guess is there are two reasons. The first is that interim athletic director Beth Goetz wants to do everything in her power to respect longtime Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, who, no matter the situation, cannot be happy to see what’s taken place with his team and how it’s affected his son. The other reason is that who would want to assume control of the Iowa offense in its current condition? At this point, there isn’t anybody who can come in and fix things, so any interim playcaller would likely only tarnish their reputation in the process.

Of course, now that the younger Ferentz is on the way out, the logical question centers around where Iowa turns to find his replacement? Hawkeyes fans dream of prying Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb —  an Iowa native who played college ball in the state at Buena Vista College — away from the Huskies. He’s been at the helm of one of the most dynamic and explosive offenses in the country, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll leave the purple and gold of Seattle for the black and gold of Iowa City. There were rumors last offseason that Alabama made a run at him for their vacant offensive coordinator position, but he preferred to remain at Washington. If Alabama couldn’t lure him away, it’s hard to believe Iowa will succeed.

Besides, can we be sure Kirk Ferentz would want Grubb? His style of play doesn’t exactly fit the complementary football mold on which this Iowa program is built. While we can’t be sure who the new Hawkeyes offensive coordinator will be, odds are the offense they run won’t look drastically different than the current Iowa style. The hope is that they’ll find somebody more effective in implementing it.

Still, the landscape of the Big Ten will change drastically this offseason. Big Ten West teams will no longer be able to shelter under the division’s branches and avoid Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State as easily. Plus, USC, UCLA, Oregon and Grubb’s Washington will join the league next year. It will be a lot harder to stack up seven, eight and nine-win seasons in the new-look Big Ten.

If there was ever an offseason for Kirk Ferentz to reimagine what Iowa football is, this is probably the one during which to do it. Will he? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Be still my heart

I think I’m falling in love with the Wisconsin Badgers, a turn of events I was not expecting. I rewatched Ohio State’s 24-10 win over Wisconsin with the intention of seeing what more I could learn about the Buckeyes after what I believed to be one of their best offensive performances of the season. It was, but I didn’t learn anything extraordinary. The long and short of it is TreVeyon Henderson is very good and capable of turning 1-yard gains into 10-yard gains in a way that Ohio State’s other backs aren’t, and that makes things a lot easier on an offense.

My more significant takeaways came from the Wisconsin players, even in defeat. I’d already developed a crush on cornerback Ricardo Hallman but was hesitant to call it love until I saw him against receivers like Marvin Harrison Jr. and the rest of the Buckeyes. Hallman was great on Saturday and did as good a job as can be asked of anybody against Harrison, let alone somebody giving away 5 inches to him. He even had an interception, though I put it more on Kyle McCord than Hallman. Still, good corners tend to usually be in the right place.

I also continue to be impressed by others on defense, such as safety Hunter Wohler and linebackers Darryl Peterson and Maema Njongmeta. On offense, right tackle Riley Mahlman took Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau out of the game. It was easily the least impactful I’ve seen Tuimoloau in any game this season.

Then there’s Braedyn Locke. He didn’t have a great game against the Buckeyes, but he has an edge I like as well as zip on his passes. I don’t know what the plan is for the rest of the year, and Wisconsin is still alive in the Big Ten West, but even if Tanner Mordecai is healthy I wonder if the Badgers are better off letting Locke get more snaps than trying to chase a division title.

All these players I’ve mentioned? Every single one of them but Njongmeta, a redshirt senior, should be back next season. It’s enough to make me think the Badgers will be much better in Year 2 under Luke Fickell than what we’ve seen in Year 1, but that’s no guarantee.

I expect the Badgers to be active in the portal this offseason, particularly in the wide receiver market. C.J. Williams transferred in from USC this offseason but hasn’t had much of an impact. While the Badgers have some serviceable players at the position, they don’t have the gamebreaker you need for their offense to achieve its maximum capacity.

There’s also the 2024 schedule that could get in the way. Not only will Wisconsin have conference games against Iowa, Oregon, Penn State and USC, but they also have a nonconference game against Alabama. It’s hard to envision a leap in wins with those games on the docket, but I like what I’ve seen from this team in 2023.

Keep an ear to the ground, Sparty

If Lance Leipold wasn’t already atop Michigan State’s wish list before beating Oklahoma, he better be now. Still, I don’t know if Leipold would be a lock to leave Lawrence, Kansas, even for a Big Ten job like Michigan State. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other solid options out there, though.

If I’m Sparty, I’m wondering if I sensed any frustration in the voice of NC State coach Dave Doeren following his team’s win over Clemson. What we all heard was Doeren telling Steve Smith (Utah’s Steve Smith, not Michigan State’s) to kiss his ass for calling NC State a basketball school. What I heard was Doeren possibly feeling slightly unappreciated in Raleigh, North Carolina.

He’s been there 11 seasons, and as so often happens, the locals are growing a little tired of winning eight or nine games every season. Perhaps he feels he’s being taken for granted and would be interested in starting over somewhere else in 2024.

I can see a similar situation playing out at Kentucky. The Wildcats have lost three straight and play three of their final four games on the road. The lone home game is against Alabama. If the ‘Cats finish in fifth or sixth place in the East, Mark Stoops might feel the same itch.

Stat of the week

Penn State has outscored opponents 94-0 in the third quarter this season. The only team with a better third-quarter margin? That would be Michigan, who has outscored teams 107-0 in the third. What I’m saying is the third quarter should be an interesting watch when these two play in two weeks.

Gut reads of the week

Every week I pick every Big Ten game against the spread based on nothing but my gut reaction to the number. No digging into numbers, just vibes, baby. I even track my record to embarrass myself publicly. Odds via SportsLine consensus.

No. 3 Ohio State at Rutgers: Welcome to a world where Ohio State and Rutgers are playing the biggest game of the weekend in the Big Ten. But if you haven’t been paying attention, Rutgers is pretty good! Not good enough to think they’re going to beat Ohio State, but pretty good nonetheless! My concern here for the Knights is, as I wrote earlier, Ohio State played its best offensive game of the season against Wisconsin, and the return of Henderson makes this team a lot more difficult to contain. Star wide receiver Emeka Egbuka should be closer to 100% as well. Rutgers might slow the Buckeyes down a little, but I can’t imagine they score enough to stay within this number. Pick: Ohio State -18.5

Wisconsin at Indiana — Wisconsin -9.5Nebraska at Michigan State — Nebraska -3No. 9 Penn State at Maryland — Maryland +10.5Illinois at Minnesota — Illinois +2Iowa at Northwestern — Northwestern +5Purdue at No. 2 Michigan — Purdue +32.5

Last Week: 3-2OveraLOL: 15-20-1


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