Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz troubled by record number of early departures for NFL
CHICAGO – This spring, a record 106 underclassmen declared early for the NFL draft and were eligible to be selected. Thirty-seven of those underclassmen weren’t drafted, and to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, the dean of Big Ten coaches, the trend is one to watch.
“Unfortunately, there were guys who entered who shouldn’t have entered,” Ferentz said Tuesday at Big Ten football media days.
Ferentz lost two underclassmen to the NFL, and the coach was fine with their decision to leave early. Center James Daniels was a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears, and cornerback Josh Jackson also went in the second, to Green Bay.
“Both of our players had good choices to make. I certainly wouldn’t second-guess, and I support their decisions,” Ferentz said. “… They’re great success stories, and I’m happy for those guys.”
Ferentz could have another player leave early after the upcoming season. Tight end Noah Fant, a 6-5, 241-pound junior, has the frame that NFL teams. He caught 30 passes and had 11 touchdowns last year.
“Hopefully, he’ll be here [at Big Ten media days] next year at this time with us,” Ferentz said.
Buckeyes vs. Spartans
Ohio State’s main rival always will be Michigan, but the Buckeyes have developed a spirited rivalry with Michigan State. The Buckeyes hold a 4-3 edge in the past seven meetings, with four of the games decided by three points or fewer.
“There’s an incredible history there,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “… Our players have so much respect for that team.”
Seeking a closer
Indiana coach Tom Allen sounded a lot like Gophers coach P.J. Fleck when describing why his team fell short in close games last year. The Hoosiers, who were 5-7 last year, led Ohio State at halftime before losing and took Michigan to overtime before falling.
“That has been the big focus of my offseason evaluation — to be able to finish all those games we were so competitive in and fighting late in the game,” Allen said. “Depth was the thing that kept surfacing as we were evaluating, and fatigue would set in late in the games.”
Defending his turf
Lovie Smith’s rebuilding job at Illinois has been a big challenge, with the Illini posting 3-9 and 2-10 records in his two seasons. Recruiting, especially in the Illini’s home state, is a priority.
“We’ve lost a few guys here in our state, but the University of Illinois is the right place for a lot of people. We’ll get our share,” he said. “And in time we need to be able to keep the guys in our state here as much as anything.”
Maryland coach DJ Durkin opened his news conference by remembering offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died of heatstroke in June after an offseason team workout. “He was loved by everyone,” Durkin said. “We’re working through the grieving process together. … We’re a team playing for Jordan this year.’’