The Unexplainable Case of Iowa's Role as NFL Farm Team

By Kyle Rowland on May 19, 2014 at 8:30a

Ohio State. Michigan. Penn State. Iowa?

The first three are recognizable names throughout the country, brands that stand alone in college sports. They’ve won national championships, been led by some of the sport’s greatest coaches and play games in iconic stadiums.

Life as a Buckeye, Wolverine or Nittany Lion is of the silver spoon variety. Program success ebbs and flows, but the game’s titans have a built-in advantage. It’s felt every February on National Signing Day when the top programs welcome star-studded classes. It’s a constant cycle resulting in sizable NFL alumni.

So, where does Iowa fit in? Surprisingly, near the top.

Until Ohio State had six draft picks to Iowa’s three in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Hawkeyes were the Big Ten’s top producer of NFL players dating back to 2010. Consider in that same timespan Iowa’s overall record is 27-24 and it hasn’t won more than eight games in a single season.

The Hawkeyes have 22 draft picks versus Ohio State’s 23. Each school owns three first-round selections, second to Wisconsin’s four. The difference between Iowa and Ohio State – and even Wisconsin to an extent – lies in recruiting. Take one glance at the ratings and you’ll comprehend the rationale.

Hawkeyes in the NFL Draft, 2010–2014
Year Round Pick Player Pos Team
2014 3 65 C.J. Fiedorowicz TE Texans
2014 3 71 Christian Kirksey LB Browns
2014 4 119 Anthony Hitchens LB Cowboys
2013 5 159 Micah Hyde DB Packers
2012 1 23 Riley Reiff OT Lions
2012 4 132 Mike Daniels DT Packers
2012 5 141 Adam Gettis G Redskins
2012 5 156 Shaun Prater DB Bengals
2012 6 194 Marvin McNutt WR Eagles
2012 7 217 Jordan Bernstine DB Redskins
2011 1 20 Adrian Clayborn DE Bucs
2011 4 106 Christian Ballard DT Vikings
2011 5 135 Ricky Stanzi QB Chiefs
2011 5 142 Karl Klug DT Titans
2011 5 161 Julian Vandervele G Eagles
2011 6 198 Tyler Sash DB Giants
2010 1 23 Bryan Bulaga OT Packers
2010 2 63 Patrick Angerer LB Colts
2010 3 65 Amari Spievey DB Lions
2010 3 93 Tony Moeaki TE Chiefs
2010 4 119 A.J. Edds LB Dolphins
2010 7 216 Kyle Calloway OT Bills

How has a Midwestern school surrounded by vast stretches of emptiness and cornfields churned out so much NFL talent? Well, it turns out coaching and developing mid-tier and low-level recruits. In Kirk Ferentz’s 15 seasons as head coach, Iowa’s had 55 players drafted. Those numbers have turned into sales pitches in living rooms across the country.

“We certainly sell that, because that is something our guys have done a good job of,” Ferentz recently told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

There are just three cities located in Iowa with a population above 100,000. Des Moines, the state capital, is the largest with a little more than 200,000. Iowa City, home to Kinnick Stadium and the University of Iowa, is the state’s fifth-largest city – population: 70,133. One can quickly understand how it might be difficult to entice Floridians, Texans and even Ohioans to the Hawkeye State.

Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class, ranked 59th nationally, included only two four-stars based on the’s ratings. The Hawkeyes had thee times as many two-stars. The current eight-man class of 2015 has zero four- or five-stars and the players are from the state of Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota.

If you examine Iowa’s last 32 draft picks, which dates back to 2007, 26 – 13 each – have been two- and three-stars. Ferentz’s status as one of college football’s top coaches has been mocked, and with good reason when his salary is included in the discussion, but it’s hard to deny he and his staff’s ability at squeezing talent out of players during their careers at Iowa.  

“I think our guys get great support, and I think they receive excellent coaching. What we do is an NFL-style system,” Ferentz said. “But all that being said, the credit goes to our players. They have to put the energy and effort into it, too. And that’s what it takes.”

The statistics are a blessing and a curse for Ferentz. On one hand, sending recruits to the NFL helps replenish a roster. But the win-loss record doesn’t always indicate superior talent. Iowa’s won two conference championships under Ferentz with plenty of six-, seven- and eight-win seasons sprinkled in. It’s marvelous mediocrity. 

Chris Doyle, Iowa’s popular strength and conditioning coach, has contributed to the skewed numbers. His workouts and capacity for enhancing muscles and overall strength prepared under-the-radar players for professional football. Doyle may not carry the same cachet on a national level as Mickey Marotti, but he’s more than proven his worth.   

“Chris is a huge component of what we do,” Ferentz said. “Yet the guys who have benefited from it are the guys that invest in it and put the effort in.”

If college football mirrored financial securities, Iowa would be in the midst of a bull market.


Comments Show All Comments

chirobuck's picture

just imagine if they had some national relevancy


^ best post ever ^

+2 HS
TheBadOwl's picture

I'd love to see them get back to national relevance. A hard-nosed Iowa team would go along great with similar-styled Sparty and Wisconsin teams. And I'd love to see Nebraska get back to being a perennial top-10 team, too. Penn State is definitely on the upswing, and as bad as Hoke is, they are bringing in a nice recruiting class and they have some good young talent.

A strong B1G isn't just good for Ohio State, it's good for our sanity. I'd rather watch a battle between a good old school Iowa team and a similar Wisconsin team than having to watch Ole Miss vs Kentucky and hear the announcers circlejerk about the SEC.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

+1 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Hayden Fry isn't walking through that door - haha

Nice comparisons on the teams from the past Bad Owl - I agree

+1 HS
chemicalwaste's picture

Upvote for using the word relevance.

OSUpawn's picture

Past 2 years:

Ferentz - 4

Meyer - 9

He is just starting to develop his recruited players.

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+2 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Their NFL factory and Ferentz's aptitude for bloated contracts aside, I wish they were on Ohio State's schedule this year.

I miss Vodka Sam.

+4 HS
route4buckeye's picture

Being a Colts fan, I'm all too familiar with Iowa's NFL success. Thanks for Dallas Clark and Bob Sanders, Kirk Ferentz!

TheBadOwl's picture

As a Packers fan, who has enjoyed the play of Bulaga, Micah Hyde and Mike Daniels over the past few years, I'd also like to say Thank You Based Hawkeyes.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

-1 HS
route4buckeye's picture

Thank you based AIRBHG!



+3 HS
cinserious's picture

Maaaaavalous mediocrity! Just maaaaavalous!

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

+1 HS
Ethos's picture

Quad Cities have over 300,000 people.  Realize that is 4 cities and 2 are in Illinois, but still.  Never figured our area was the most populated in Iowa.



"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

+1 HS
hit_the_couch's picture

Iowa gets a lot of guys that other schools overlooked and play with a chip on their shoulder; some of these guys just need to bulk up a little, get some development and know it. I hope they keep producing.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

+1 HS
ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

You know, I'm not really all that shocked that this is the case.

Iowa plays that "bland, vanilla" style of football that seems to be more suitable for the NFL.  They've had some pretty good teams over the past decade or so...most notably the 2002 team (how great would an OSU/Iowa matchup have been that year!?), 2009 (when our matchup with them was for the B1G), and 2004 (when they fucked our shit up in Iowa City).  Hell, they weren't that bad last year.  They always seem to have a good player or two even when their team isn't all that good.

I know we have definitely mocked Ferentz's B1G COY awards and his salary, and maybe some of that is deserved, but it's not like he's a bad coach...he's actually a pretty solid coach. 

Class of 2010.

+2 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Affirms the underachievement of Kirk Ferentz. 

+1 HS
Nutinpa's picture

"A midwestern college campus surrounded by corn fields and vast emptiness"....describes Iowa, yes. 

And most every other Big Ten school, Kyle.  

I get a kick out of reading the smack talk on this site about the Iowa program.  Especially when recalling that in recent years, including the Pryor - Tress years....and last year....our victories were of the "oh shit, we gotta pull this one our of our asses" variety.  Yet....we talk shit about Iowa as if they were Eastern Michigan.  Right. 

Jpfbuck's picture

I get your point about Iowa not being as bad as we make them out to be but they are 1-13 against us in the last 14 tries. and only have 4 wins and a tie against us since 1963 ie 50 years and 39 games, ie 4-34-1 since JFK took office

and yes the most recent games gave been close, but we also beat them by 21 in 2006, 25 in 2005, 28 in 2000, 30 in 1999, 31 in 1998, 16 in 1997, 21 in 1995 and 23 in 1992

in fact since Ferentz arrived in 1999 they are 1-8 against us with an average score of 28-17 ie a double digit win

yes they are solid and often play good D, but until they start coming close to Wisconsin status, ie beat us a couple times a decade, then they are just the best of the 3rd tier in this conference