IOWA CITY, Iowa – If you like reading lists that feature and rank former Iowa football players under Kirk Ferentz, then check out this column.
I’ve ranked the top five Iowa football players in 10 different categories, including the five most heralded recruits who proved to be as good as advertised in college.
Another lists ranks the top five recruits who seriously considered attending Iowa before signing with another college. You’ll probably notice that Cedar Falls offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher, who now plays for Alabama, isn’t on that list. That’s because Pierschbacher is only a sophomore and hasn’t had a chance to make a significant contribution yet.
Former Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki, who gets my vote as the best player under Ferentz when healthy, was considered for three lists and made two. He made the top five most heralded recruits who were as good as advertised in college, as well as the top five comeback players. He also was considered for the top five careers that were derailed by injuries.
I went the positive route with Moeaki because he overcame his injuries to make first-team all-Big Ten as a senior in 2009, helping Iowa to an 11-2 record.
To avoid being too harsh, I didn’t include the five biggest busts or the five biggest flame outs under Ferentz because why highlight somebody else’s misery?
Now for the lists:
Five biggest fish that got away: 1. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin; 2. Sean Lee, LB, Penn State; 3. Chris Leak, QB, Florida; 4. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, Southern California, 5. Jack Allen, C, Michigan State.
Summary: All five of these players gave serious consideration to attending Iowa and would’ve looked good in black and gold, but especially Gordon because he was the difference in Wisconsin’s 26-24 victory over Iowa last season. The teams were evenly matched except for at running back where Gordon shredded the Hawkeyes for 264 total yards and two touchdowns. The fact that he also was previously committed to Iowa adds to the frustration of him getting away.
Five biggest fish that were hooked: 1. Bryan Bulaga, OL; 2. Matt Roth, DE; 3. Tony Moeaki, TE; 4. Adrian Clayborn, DE; 5. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE.
Summary: In order to make this list, a player had to be ranked as either a 4- or a 5-star recruit coming out of high school and made first-team all-Big Ten. The list shows the importance of recruiting in Illinois, considering that Clayborn, a St. Louis native, is the only one among the five who isn’t from Illinois.
Five biggest over-achievers on scholarship: 1. Bob Sanders, DB; 2. Robert Gallery, OL; 3. Chad Greenway, LB; 4. Brandon Scherff, OL; 5. Mitch King, DL.
Summary: This was by far the toughest list to compile because of so many worthy candidates from which to choose. In order to make this list, a player had to be ranked as a 3-star recruit or lower coming out of high school. The players who didn’t make the list include defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux, Karl Klug, Howard Hodges and Matt Kroul; defensive backs Micah Hyde, Tyler Sash, Jovon Johnson and B.J. Lowery; linebackers Pat Angerer, Abdul Hodge, Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, offensive lineman Riley Reiff, receiver Marvin McNutt, kicker Nate Kaeding and tight end Brandon Myers among others.
A strong case could be made for all of those players, but at whose expense in the top five?
Five best walk-ons: 1. Dallas Clark, 2. Bruce Nelson, 3. Kevin Kasper, 4. Brett Greenwood, 5. Mark Weisman:
Summary: Clark, Nelson and Kasper all came to Iowa under Hayden Fry, but starred under Ferentz. Clark and Nelson both made first-team all-Big Ten in 2002, while the other three players on the list were second-team selections. Clark also was the recipient of the 2002 John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top college tight end.
Weisman, who transferred from the Air Force Academy, came to Iowa as a walk-on fullback and left as a three-year starter at running back.
Greenwood became a starter at free safety as a freshman in 2007 and never gave up his spot. At one point, he started 29 consecutive games for the Hawkeyes.
Other players that were considered include linebacker Grant Steen, offensive linemen Matt Tobin and Rob Bruggeman and kicker Mike Meyer.
Five best players whose careers were derailed by injuries: 1. Jermelle Lewis, RB; 2. Alex Kanellis, DE; 3. Chris Felder, OL; 4. Dace Richardson, OL; 5. Darian Cooper, DL.
Summary: Cooper still is waiting for medical clearance after injuries to both knees caused him to miss all of last season. Felder’s once-promising career was cut short by a back injury.
We saw flashes of Lewis’ brilliance before a knee injury sidelined him permanently in 2004. The same with Kanellis, who saw considerable action at defensive end before concussions ended his career.
Richardson deserves credit for overcoming chronic knee problems to make first-team all-Big Ten as a senior in 2009. Sadly, though, he suffered yet another knee injury in the eighth game of the 2009 season against Michigan State and never played again for the Hawkeyes. He made first-team all-Big Ten despite missing the last four conference games.
Five best junior-college transfers: 1. Brad Banks, 2. Marshal Yanda, 3. Derrick Pickens, 4. Nathan Chandler, 5. Tyler Luebke.
Summary: It was hard leaving receiver C.J. Jones off the list, but again, at whose expense would you add him to the list? Before you say Luebke, remember that in 2004 he started at defensive tackle for one of the greatest defensive lines in school history, and for a team that won a Big Ten title and finished 10-2 overall. The other three starters were Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux and Dereck Robinson.
Neither Banks nor Yanda need an explanation for making the list because their success speaks volumes.
Pickens, on the other hand, didn’t gain as much notoriety in college, but he was a key piece to the initial rebuilding phase under Ferentz. Pickens started at defensive tackle for Iowa in 2000 and 2001.
Five greatest individual moments: 1. Drew Tate to Warrren Holloway at the 2005 Capital One Bowl; 2. Daniel Murray’s game-winning field goal against Penn State in 2008; 3. Ricky Stanzi’s game-winning touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt on the final play against Michigan State in 2009; 4. Nate Kaeding’s 47-yard field goal with 44 seconds remaining that defeated Texas Tech 19-16 in the 2001 Alamo Bowl; 5. Brad Banks gaining 44 yards on a quarterback draw to keep a drive alive in the closing minutes against Purdue in 2002.
Summary: All five of these moments will be etched in the minds of Hawkeye fans forever, or at least they should be. Banks’ quarterback draw was the only moment that didn’t result in points, but it rescued Iowa from deep in its own territory late in the fourth quarter.
Five greatest individual offensive performances: 1. Shonn Greene rushed for 217 yards and scored four touchdowns against Wisconsin in 2008; 2. Ed Hinkel caught four touchdown passes against Minnesota in 2005; 3. James Vandenberg completed 31-of-48 passes for 399 yards and one touchdown against Pittsburgh in 2011; 4. Drew Tate completed 26-of-39 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Ohio State in 2004; 5. Marcus Coker rushed for 219 yards and scored two touchdowns in a victory over Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.
Summary: Scott Mullen’s 426-yard passing performance against Indiana in 1999 also was given serious consideration. It ultimately was left off the list because Iowa lost the game and Mullen didn’t throw any touchdown passes and he threw 24 incomplete passes.
Five greatest individual performances against Iowa: 1. Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace led a dramatic second-half comeback against Iowa in 2002 by gaining 190 of his 361 passing yards in the final two quarters; 2. USC quarterback Carson Palmer completed 21-of-31 passes for 303 yards and one touchdown in the 2003 Orange Bowl; 3. Melvin Gordon finished with 264 total yards, including 200 rushing yards, in last season’s game at Kinnick Stadium; 4. Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz accounted for 321 yards and two touchdowns during a 44-41 triple-overtime victory over Iowa in 2011; 5. Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El had 298 total yards, including 187 rushing yards and two touchdowns, during a 45-33 victory in 2000.
Summary: Wallace and Randle El would get my votes as the two best offensive players to face Iowa during the Ferentz era.
Five best comeback stories: 1. Running back Shonn Greene transferred from Iowa to a junior college and then back to where he won the Doak Walker Award in 2008; 2. Defensive back Amari Spievey transferred from Iowa to a junior college and then back to Iowa where he made first-team all-Big Ten in 2009; 3. receiver Clinton Solomon transferred from Iowa to a junior college and then back to Iowa where he made second-team all-Big Ten in 2004; 4. tight end Tony Moeaki overcame a rash of injuries to make first-team all-Big Ten as a senior in 2009; 5. offensive lineman Brian Ferentz overcame a staph infection that nearly caused his leg to be amputated to be a starter in 2004 and 2005.
Summary: These five players refused to quit despite facing ongoing adversity. They stayed the course and finished on a positive note. Running back Albert Young also deserved strong consideration for this list. He overcame two leg injuries to rush for 3,173 yards and 23 touchdowns at Iowa.