Go Mailbag Awesome: December 3

By RossWB on December 3, 2021 at 9:00 am
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© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to Go Mailbag Awesome, where we answer your questions about Iowa sports. Technically these are tweets, not letters or emails or other mail-related items, but "tweetbag" is an unpleasant word. Just say it out loud... gross. So we're going with mailbag instead. We'll try to do this on a weekly basis. And if the bird app frightens or disturbs you, you can always email questions to ross-at-goiowaawesome-dot-com.

The mailbag returneth! 

All Pottebaum, All The Time? Sure, why not. The Big Ten ain't ready for that much neckroll. 

We will never again see either the offense from the 2017 Ohio State game or the sweet-ass alternate uniforms from that game. Why? No one knows. They will be but a sweet, cherished memory to look back at fondly... Also, maybe Brian Ferentz won a bet with Kirk to be able to call the offense the way he did in that game. You never know. 

A sellout seems like a big ask, given how large Carver-Hawkeye Arena is, how many it seats for wrestling, and the fact that women's wrestling is a pretty niche sport. That said, Iowa fans love wrestling and they love setting attendance records and there will be a lot of novelty around the first women's wrestling dual meet, so I'd say it's not a completely far-fetched proposition. 

It seems odd to discuss a potential national championship dynasty before Iowa has recruited a single athlete to the program, but if Iowa is able to assemble the sort of team that we expect them to, they should be heavily favored to win national championships once enough programs have added the sport to enable the NCAA to create an official national championship tournament. That said, it could also depend on what other programs follow Iowa's lead into the sport; if some other well-heeled Big Ten programs (like, say, Penn State, Ohio State, or Michigan) also add women's wrestling and throw a lot of resources behind it, they may be able to put together teams good enough to compete with Iowa's (totally hypothetical and completely imaginary at this point) roster. 

Good question. On offense, Iowa is set to lose Kyler Schott, who's a senior. Tyler Linderbaum is a junior, but I think we'd all be astonished (but quite grateful!) if he opted to return to Iowa for another season in 2022. He seems to be a guaranteed first round draft pick in the next NFL Draft, so it would be quite a shock to see him turn that down. Tyler Goodson and Sam LaPorta are also juniors and figure to have NFL Draft decisions to make. Given the incredibly short shelf life of running backs in the NFL, it would probably make sense for Goodson to move on if he gets a decent NFL Draft grade from experts. Better to get paid for another year of wear-and-tear rather than do it for free. LaPorta hasn't quite had the season he (or anyone) expected in 2021, so it would be less surprising if he decided to return to Iowa in 2022 to try and boost his stock. Charlie Jones is also a senior, but I believe he could use the COVID extra year of eligibility to return in 2022 and there's been some talk of him actually doing that; it would certainly be a massive boost to Iowa's special teams if he did return for another season. 

The defense is set to lose a lot more in terms of leadership and production than the offense next year. Zach VanValkenburg has been the leader of Iowa's defensive line, but he's a senior and will be gone next year. Similarly, 75% of Iowa's regular starting secondary this season (Matt Hankins, Riley Moss, and Jack Koerner) are seniors and will be moving on before 2022. Dane Belton and Jack Campbell are juniors but may have NFL Draft decisions to make; I'd lean towards expecting both to return in 2022. But the entire non-ZVV defensive line should return, which is bodes well. If Campbell returns, the entire linebacker corps should also be back; that's a lot of experience in the front seven. There will be a lot of new(er) faces in the secondary, but... In Phil We Trust, right? Phil Parker has 23 years of wizardry as a defensive backs coach at Iowa on his resume at this point; we're not going to start doubting him now. 

Iowa's special teams could get an extreme makeover next season as well, unfortunately. As previously noted, Charlie Jones could be gone next season, which would necessitate finding some new weapons in the kick return game. Iowa will also be without the services of Caleb Shudak at placekicker in 2022. Shudak bided his time at Iowa, but he's put together a superb senior season in 2021 and his presence will be definitely be missed. 

He had one in the womb. 

(Jack McCaffery is the youngest son of Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery and just starting his freshman year at Iowa City West. Oh, and he's already 6'8". Again, as a freshman. #CaringIsCreepy and all, but... get hype, y'all.) 

I am enjoying the hell out of this year's team and Keegan Murray's ascendance has been breathtaking to watch, but... no. Definitely not. Last year's team seems like a matchup Chernobyl for this year's team. Who on this year's roster defends Luka "National Player of the Year" Garza? How does he not put a up a 40-20 line on this year's team? Additionally, who on this year's team defends Joe Wieskamp? The way that the 2021 season ended for Iowa men's basketball was an extremely bitter pill to swallow, but we shouldn't let that obscure the fact that they were a really, really, really good team. 

Retirement is a hot topic this week and understandably so. Kirk Ferentz is 66 years old, he's at a potential career zenith, and seemingly everything is making him cry right now. If -- and it's a pretty big if -- Iowa beat Michigan to win an outright Big Ten championship, which would Ferentz's first-ever and the program's first since the hallowed 1985 season, and Iowa went on to also win the Rose Bowl, exorcising Ferentz's demons in that game and winning Iowa's first Rose Bowl since, uh, 1959, then I think he could be very tempted to retire because he would have achieved a peak that would be nigh-impossible to top. That would be a textbook example of riding out on top and I have to think doing so would be extremely tempting for him if he finds himself in that precise scenario. 

That said... I still am not expecting him to retire after this season. He's 66, yes, but every indication is that his health is great and he's in pretty excellent shape for a guy his age. He still seems to love what he does -- he loves coaching, loves teaching, loves being around the players. He doesn't seem tired or burned out by recruiting or the off-field things that can be a drag on the head coaching job; in fact, he's had some of his best recruiting classes in recent years. Again, if the stars align on Saturday and again in Pasadena, I could definitely see him having a difficult decision to make and perhaps choosing to leave on virtually the highest note possible... but if I was betting money on it, I'd bet on him lining up on the Iowa sideline next September and for a few more seasons beyond that as well. 

My favorite bar food was always Mickey's, I still believe you can't beat Hamburg Inn No.2 for breakfast, and I was a fan of Three Samurai if it was a fancier occasion. But I also admit that the culinary options have leveled up in Iowa City since I was a student there (many, many years ago); Iowa Chop House is excellent, Shorts serves a tremendous burger, and the breakfasts at Bluebird are no slouch, either. 

This is a great question. It's also a terrible question, because it's so damn hard to answer. Iowa has been blessed beyond reason with incredible players at multiple sports over the last several seasons. And, really, "incredible players" sells them short; Iowa has been blessed with multiple players for whom "all-time great" or "best in program history" would not be inaccurate. Luka Garza in men's basketball. Caitlin Clark and Megan Gustafson in women's basketball. Spencer Lee in wrestling. Tyler Linderbaum, Tristan Wirfs, and A.J. Epenesa in football. ("Best in program history" may be a stretch for those guys given the rich history of Iowa football, but they were all still incredibly special talents.) Even Jake Adams in baseball, if we go back a few years. There have been incredible players in some of Iowa's less-heralded sports, too, like Anthe Nijziel in field hockey, Wayne Lawrence in track, and Laulauga Tausaga in track and field. We have been immeasurably blessed as Iowa fans to be able to watch all of these astounding athletes compete in black and gold over the last few years. 

As a wrestling guy, I have to admit that I lean towards Lee as the answer to my "favorite" of that list of stupendous talents. The things he's able to do on the mat are simply astonishing. Plenty of amazing wrestlers have come through Iowa City and donned that iconic black and gold singlet, but few have ever been able to do what Lee does -- or make it look so effortless as he's done more often than not. His ability to control opponents on the mat and tilt them and/or pin them is extraordinary. There will be other good wrestlers at Iowa after Lee -- there will be undoubtedly be great wrestlers after Lee is done here -- but there will never be another guy like Spencer Lee. 

Probably not a whole lot. There haven't been a lot of rumors about the assistant coaches on Iowa's staff being talked up for new gigs elsewhere or being looked at as possible head coaches themselves. The most significant Iowa-related move may have been Mark Stoops getting an extension to stay at Kentucky. His stock as a possible Ferentz replacement has risen in the last few years given his success in Lexington, but if he had cashed that success in to get, say, the LSU job, it would be hard to envision him leaving a gig like that to take over at Iowa. It's certainly very possible that he still might not leave Kentucky to go to Iowa, but the odds of that seem better than the odds of him leaving LSU to go to Iowa. 

First off, good to hear from you, Floyd. I'm glad you're saying in Iowa City for another year. I think it will be regarded as one of the better second-tier Big Ten jobs. The Cadillac jobs in the Big Ten will always be Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, but Iowa will probably be considered one of the best gigs on the tier below those jobs. The recruiting situation is obviously pretty challenging (although the local talent in Iowa has been very strong in recent years), but Iowa's central location gives it easy access to a lot of surrounding states, including some larger markets like Chicago and St. Louis. The Iowa job also brings with it good facilities and a strong fanbase that's very supportive. The Iowa administration has proven that it's not afraid to spend pretty big to support a coach, both in terms of facility upgrades and coaching salaries. It's also an administration that's proven to be extremely patient, as evidenced by the fact that it's been over a decade since Iowa has had to hire a new coach in football, men's or women's basketball or wrestling, the four biggest sports here. So I think Iowa has a lot to offer as a job whenever Kirk Ferentz decides to step down. 

Spooky. Here's another spooky coincidence: the last time Iowa won an outright Big Ten title was 1985... when they also had to beat a #2-ranked Michigan team in order to claim that championship. OoooOOOhhh. 

At most, I think Ferentz's comments may have impacted Hogan's timing to announce that decision more than the decision itself. I don't think Hogan made the decision to enter the transfer portal because of an awkward joke that Ferentz told at a post-game press conference. Do I think he might have decided to announce that decision during Iowa's week of preparation for the Big Ten Championship Game because he was a little miffed by what Ferentz said? I suppose, maybe. But Iowa beat writers or observers like Chad Leistikow and Jon Miller have mentioned that Hogan's decision had seemingly been in the works for a while, which seems more likely than him deciding to transfer over the weekend because of an off-the-cuff remark from Ferentz. 

As for Ken O'Keefe, the development (or lack thereof) of Iowa's quarterbacks is an issue worthy of much more discussion and this mailbag has already cracked 2000 words. Let's table that one for a future talk. 

Yes and no? Barring another shocking decision by Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa's going to be without the anchor of the offensive line and the best damn offensive lineman in the entire Big Ten next season. Linderbaum's departure will leave a gaping hole to fill at center. That said, Iowa has done a marvelous job of plugging in centers in recent years; rolling from Austin Blythe to James Daniels to Tyler Linderbaum at that position is a pretty spectacular progression. So while Iowa won't have an all-world center next season, we can probably rest assured that they're likely to get pretty solid play there, based on recent history. 

But Iowa should return all of this year's offensive line regular contributors minus Linderbaum and Schott. If we assume that they'll be another year older, wiser, and stronger, that should be a good thing. Plumb, Richman, Colby, DeJong, Britt, etc. have all taken a lot of lumps this season, but the hope is that it pays off in the future. We'll have to wait and see if that's the reality or not. Still, it would be hard to imagine Iowa's offensive line play being much worse than it was for long stretches this season. I'm not sure the pieces are there for Iowa's OL to turn into world-beaters by next fall, but it does feel like the unit as a whole should be at least a little bit better than what we saw from them in 2021. 

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