Discover more from VolumePigs
CFF Series - I'm a buyer of the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2023
And no, Brian Ferentz didn't have a gun to my head when I published this article...
Is this heaven?
"No, it's Iowa."
- Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams (1989)
Welcome to the heartland of America — otherwise known as the land of corn mazes and tight ends. Here you'll find a state that knows how to combine the art of farming with the science of effectively executing 12-personnel on a cold Saturday afternoon. A place where hogs and Hawkeyes equally share the limelight (just as God intended it). It's a state with a personality as colorful as its autumn foliage, and when it comes to football, the Iowa Hawkeyes are no exception. They're like the cornstalks that stand tall in the fields — unyielding, strong, and lacking offensive creativity—err… I mean ready to take on any opponent.
Jokes aside, something I’ve always admired about programs like Iowa is the consistency in philosophy and staff. Programs such as the Hawkeyes, the Badgers of Wisconsin, or the Utes of Utah, all have definitive identities that any college football fan can identify. They are tough, physical, and they want to establish the run and play elite defence. Except — and unfortunately for the Hawkeyes — they have not had the same success on the offensive side of the ball that some of its contemporaries have had recently. It’s a long running joke in the college football community — the Iowa offence, that is. And who else to blame but the coach’s son — Brian Ferentz, who joined his father on staff all the way back in 2012! (See what I’m saying about the staff continuity…) Perhaps in this instance the consistency and continuity of coaching has been a detriment; at least, that’s what it looks like from the outside.
Ferentz first joined the program as the Offensive Line coach after spending four seasons with the New England Patriots. He was promoted to OC in 2017. In the 2023 offseason, something changed. Something that signalled that Iowa football would not tolerate the poor performance on offence anymore — a stipulation was placed into Brian’s contract. This stipulation stated that the offence must average at least 25 points per game by season’s end… or else. He also took a pay cut. The monetary aspect isn’t as important for our purposes as is the new threshold Ferentz must clear to keep his job. I’m going to call this contract stipulation the Field of Dreams (FoD) clause for simplicity going forward.
In fantasy football, you might often fantasize (no pun intended) about taking control of the coach’s play calling in games to benefit your players (how sweet it would be, right?). ‘If they would just keep their foot on the gas pedal at all times’, you tell yourself, as the team your player plays for starts running out the clock midway through the third quarter with a 21 point lead. Well, in this case, our prayers might have just been answered via the new contract. Like a little voice inside Ferentz’ head, the ghost of Nile Kinnick will be telling him all season: if you build it, he (Iowa’s next Heisman winner?) will come. Is 2023 the year that we witness the world’s first TE Heisman? Dare to dream, baby, dare to dream…
Thinking more pragmatically, if you were Ferentz — assuming you actually wanted to keep your job and that your dad would indeed fire you (I have my doubts) — how would you approach this task? I don’t know about you, but the first thing I’d do is look at the schedule, and circle in double thicc highlighter the ‘duck’ games—games where we can run up the score to provide some wiggle room on that point threshold.
From my perspective, these games would include the Sept. 2 matchup vs. Utah State, the Sept. 16 game vs. WMU, and Nov 4. and Nov 11. vs. Northwestern and Rutgers, respectively. There are also fringe duck games vs. Michigan State on Sept. 30, and vs. Purdue on Oct. 7, depending on how things shake out this season. So there’s at least four games in there where Iowa will most likely be peddle to the meddle on racking up points, and potentially as much as six.
Tougher opponents include Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa State. It’s going to be tough to even move the ball in some of those games, so Ferentz would be wise to feast as much as he can on the weaker foes.
The Hawkeyes will be without their starting QB from a year ago—Spencer Petras, however, as he is nursing a shoulder injury and will be out for the year. He will remain with the program and mentor whoever is up next. I don’t necessarily see this is a bad thing, Petras wasn’t very good last season; and sure, that might not have been entirely his fault, but he also deserves blame for the poor performing offence.
Even without the contract stipulation, Iowa has always been a goldmine for CFF relevant TEs. That should only continue and may even be better this season. But will there now also be value at other position groups? Well, you better buckle up your overalls, because we’re about to head down to Iowa City and take a look.
RB Kaleb Johnson — 6’0, 220
Kaleb is the one everyone in the CFF community is excited about, isn’t he? It’s easy to see why. The former three-star out of Ohio broke out in 2022 as a true freshman—rushing 153 times for 774 yards and six scores (9.1 FPG) in 13 games. He also caught four passes on seven targets for 27 yards.
While the overall season average may not facilitate the raising of one’s eye brows, he did have single-game bests of 24 points vs. Nevada, 29.7 points vs. Purdue, and 16.9 points vs. Nebraska. See what I’m saying about feasting on ducks? His best game—the 29.7 performance vs. the Boilermakers, was a game in which Johnson carried the rock 22 times for 200 yards and a score. This was also his single-season high in receiving—catching two passes on three targets for 17 yards.
Johnson will be one of the sharpest offensive weapons at Ferentz’ disposal this autumn, and he’d be wise to bludgeon weak run defences with their star sophomore repeatedly until submission is achieved. Throw in the odd TD pass off play-action to our boy Luke Lachey and now we’re cooking on some Ray Liotta from Goodfellas type-ish. Dare I say, Duke Slater Field may have to be re-named to… (drum roll)… The Field of Dreams in 2023. With a painted logo of Ray Liotta’s face at midfield over the Hawkeye, anything could be possible.
While normally with a player like this I’d suggest that they are more a value in a bestball scoring format, but in Johnson’s case I think you’ll know exactly when you want to play him and not. His ADP on Fantrax currently sits around 100, which is about the eighth round. I’d prefer him a little lower, given that he’s probably unplayable in a large portion of his games, but I’ll probably still own some shares at that price.
TE Luke Lachey — 6’6, 253
I’m sure we all remember one of the most quotable quotes from the movie Field of Dreams: The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been [Iowa’s productive TEs]. Iowa has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But [their propensity for producing productive TEs] has marked the time.
Terence Mann, if he were a real person, undoubtedly would have been a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes. He would have appreciated their consistency in featuring the TEs, and the fact that their ability to develop this position across different staffs stands the test of time.
Iowa’s Luke Lachay is the next guy up in what is an illustrious line of Iowa TEs. Standing at 6’6, 253 pounds, he should have the requisite size to dominate both as a receiver and as a blocker—keeping him on the field at all times. In fact, in 2022 Lachey actually finished second on the team in receiving, behind only starting TE Sam Laporta, with 28 receptions (44 targets) for 398 yards and four TDs. The rising junior out of Columbus, Ohio also caught eight passes for 133 yards as a freshman in 2021.
Something I like about Lachey is that he finished 2022 strong—he caught TDs in his final two games vs. Nebraska and Kentucky in the bowl game. Over his final three games, he finished with 12.7, 21.9 and 12.6 points (1-ppr). He also had a notable performance vs. Michigan—catching four passes on five targets for 84 yards and a score (18.4 points).
Last year’s TE1—Sam Laporta, leaves behind a production vacancy of 58 receptions for 657 yards and 1(?) TD. I was a bit perplexed at how Laporta only managed to score once last season, but then I realized this was under pre-Field of Dreams Ferentz. Now, with the ghost of Niles Kinnick (and CFF managers) whispering in his ear “keep your foot on the peddle and light that f***cking scoreboard up” (paraphrasing), the TD production of the starting TE should easily eclipse one solo score a season.
Lachey’s ADP is not far behind Johnson’s at around 130 on Fantrax (about the 10th round). This is another I’d prefer later, but I get the appeal. The question mark with Iowa in 2023 is the QB play (then again—when is it not?).
Quarterback & Wide Receiver
I’ll spare the reader the trouble here, I don’t think there will be value in these positions from the Iowa program this fall, even despite the FoD clause coming into effect. I know Iowa brought in Cade ‘Mac Daddy’ McNamara from Michigan, but he doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade from Petras. He is better, which should benefit the TEs, but I don’t know that he’s that much better to warrant any kind of fantasy provision.
Same deal with the WRs. I mean—we’re still talking about Iowa here. Yes, they will run more plays per game most likely, and they should score more just by virtue of keeping the foot on the accelerator late in games, but let’s not act like the Hawkeyes are going to be some kind of air-raid passing attack. They were probably trying to score as much as possible in many of their games last season too; they just didn’t have the ability to do so. Will they have more capacity to do so this season? I think so—the RB is going to be better in year two, the TE is likely to maintain the standard, the QB play should be better, the WR is a question mark.
I’m buying the Hawkeyes as an improved offence this season. Given that the bar is so low, the real question is: how much can they improve this season relative to 2022? I’ve given some preliminary thoughts on the skill players from a position by position standpoint, but another pivotal component — perhaps the most pivotal component — will be the offensive line play. My VP interns tell me the O-line play has not been trending in the right direction as of late (a disturbing thought for a proud Iowa program built on winning in the trenches). I will default to the good people over at blackheartgoldpants.com (they are undoubtedly more knowledgable of the Iowa program than I) on their assessment of where this group stands:
Iowa’s offensive line has statistically gotten worse the last three years in rushing yards per game and sacks allowed per game.
2020 171.0 (4.6 average); 1.4 sacks allowed per game.
2021 123.8 (3.4 average); 2.2 sacks allowed per game.
2022 94.8 (2.9 average); 3.0 sacks allowed per game.
There is no way to sugarcoat such a horrific downward trend. George Barnett, Iowa’s offensive line coach, is entering his third, and extremely pivotal, season. One age-old adage is “It’s not the X’s and the O’s, it’s the Jimmys and the Joes.” We’ll get to that later.
Iowa’s top seven returning offensive linemen have shown some positional versatility. Finding the right combination will be where the success, or lack thereof, of Iowa’s offense originates. Mason Richman, Connor Colby, Logan Jones, Beau Stephens, Nick DeJong, Tyler Elsbury, and Gennings Dunker have all gotten plenty of snaps under their belts. As stated earlier, in trying to find the right mix, the Hawkeyes have tried multiple players at both guard and tackle. This has been indicative of not having a very good line, but it also has allowed some of the players to learn multiple positions. Iowa ultimately tries to put its best five offensive linemen on the field, and being versatile is paramount. All of the above players have had success; consistently playing at a higher level, knowing assignments, and making blocks is what Coach Barnett is striving for from his student-athletes.
To go back to the earlier quote, the Hawkeyes hit the portal looking for some Jimmys and Joes. Help arrived in Rusty Feth and Daijon Parker. Both players have a very good chance to earn a starting spot up front.
That’s not exactly confidence inspiring, but it sounds like there’s only one direction this group can go relative to last season, so — optimist that I am — I am going to bet on this group to improve dramatically in 2023. While the O-line coach doesn’t have a FoD clause in his contract (as far as I know, at least), he seems to be on the hot seat, which usually evokes some urgency.
Coming back to our guy Brian Ferentz, as alluded to earlier, I don’t know if I buy that his own father would exile him from the program—hopefully that’s a path we don’t have to go down.
"Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?" — In the film's poignant climax, Ray has a moment of reconciliation with his deceased father, symbolizing the healing power of family and the game of baseball. Maybe a moment like this will happen between Brian and Kirk this season—as the Hawkeyes steamroll opposing defences on their way to a 30+ ppg average—well, at least that’s how it would go if this were a Hollywood movie. We’ll see how things play out in reality.
Now I know what you’re all thinking “VP’s lost his mind, Iowa… really?” But just remember come October who told you back in August these very words: CFF players will come. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for volume pigs on their rosters.
One last thought before this becomes a whole other article: if there’s one thing the movie Field of Dreams reminds me to do, it’s to appreciate your loved ones while you can. This is a message I try to take to heart whenever I’m reminded, and I hope the readers do the same. See ya’ll again soon!
Want to be featured in an article? Tweet (X?) where you like to read VP articles with a photo @VolumePigs
If you enjoy this content, I encourage you to join the Pig Pen (subscribing), and follow me on twitter.
Have questions? Find out what people are saying about VolumePigs here.
VolumePigs is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.