Perhaps the most surprising recruiting development took place at Iowa, where coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff put together the first top 10 recruiting class in school history. The Hawkeyes signed five Chicago-area players ranked among the top 10 in the country at their respective positions. Quarterback Jake Christensen (6'1", 205 pounds; Lockport, Ill.) was the first to announce his intentions, last summer, and he was followed last month at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl by tight end Anthony Moeaki (6'4", 235; Wheaton), defensive end Ryan Bain (6'2", 260, Bolingbrook) and offensive tackles Dan Doering (6'7", 290; Barrington) and Dace Richardson (6'6", 300; Wheaton). "They all helped recruit each other," says Eric Johnson, Iowa's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. "Jake had as much impact as anybody. He wanted to find guys who could block for him."
In his first three seasons in Iowa City, Ferentz had a combined record of 11--24. But over the last three years Iowa has gone 31--7, shared two Big Ten championships and finished No. 8 in the AP poll each season. The Hawkeyes have won two straight January postseason games, including last month's thrilling last-second victory over LSU in the Capital One Bowl. Impressively, Ferentz has done all that without ever landing a recruiting class that was ranked higher than 35th by SuperPrep. "Six years ago we weren't able to grab the interest of top prospects," Ferentz says. "Recruiting is certainly critical, but overall our focus has always been on the guys we've had on campus."
Few college coaches are better at developing talent than Ferentz, especially along the offensive line. Instead of blue-chip prospects, the coach has gone after "football players"--by his definition, kids who are tough, smart and self-motivated. Under his tutelage such lightly touted prospects as tight end Dallas Clark and tackle Robert Gallery blossomed into All-Americas and first-round NFL draft picks. Indeed, five Hawkeyes have been snapped up in each of the last two drafts. Aside from wins and championships, there may be no statistic more important to a recruit. "Almost every senior starter we've had in the last two years has had an opportunity to play pro football," says Johnson.
Though this year's recruiting class may be longer on talent than usual, the coach insists they're all his kind of guys. "Players of our personality tend to gravitate toward this program," says Ferentz. "They're all willing to do what it takes to get better. I don't think any of these kids picked Iowa because they liked our helmets best."