IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa Football has used a tried-and-true blueprint throughout Kirk Ferentz's 22 years as head coach. The Hawkeyes have been selective in recruiting student-athletes, overwhelmingly leaning on developing high school prospects.
They've dipped into the transfer portal more in recent years, landing starters Jack Heflin (Northern Illinois) and Coy Cronk (Indiana) last offseason. Ferentz has said they'd be active again but continue being choosy in making sure it's a cultural fit.
More and more student-athletes are entering the transfer portal annually. As of Monday morning, there were 43 uncommitted quarterbacks in there from a group that had reached 87 signal callers in total.
The trend is to move on if student-athletes feel they are not moving up fast enough in their current program. That creates a domino effect where schools dip into the portal after losing players to it.
Five Hawkeyes have entered the transfer portal since the start of the season. Of Shadrick Byrd, Julius Brents, Calvin Lockett, Yahweh Judy and Daraun McKinney only Byrd (Charlotte) has announced he'd found a new home.
Constructing a 2021 roster in college football will take some work. The pandemic allows student-athletes an extra year of eligibility. They will not count against the 85-man scholarship limit if returning to the program for which they played this fall, but they would count against their new school's total if they transfer.
So, Zach VanValkenburg, who announced he would be coming back to the Hawkeyes, means Iowa can be up to at least 86 scholarships for '21. Should Heflin, Cronk, Matt Hankins, Caleb Shudak, Max Cooper or any other Hawkeye senior from this past season choose to return, they wouldn't count towards the team limit of 85.
Those decisions and others made by underclassmen likely would impact what Iowa searches for in the portal. How much is hard to say.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the portal and some potential options for the Hawkeyes based on what we know about the roster to date. We'll go position by position:
QUARTERBACK: I've seen and heard fans and media wonder if Iowa would dip into the transfer market at this spot. The inconsistency of first-year starter Spencer Petras in '21 led them to speculate.
I'm not buying it. I think the coaches believe in Petras, his backups, Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan, and incoming freshman Joey Labas, and aren't looking to shake up the room even with just a one-year guy such as Wisconsin's Jack Coan.
If I'm off base and the staff would look into the portal here, Coan makes sense as a plug-and-play, proven Big Ten starter. North Carolina's Jace Ruder, a former four-star from Kansas, is someone Iowa briskly pursued before taking Petras. Sam Johnson is looking for a new home after choosing Boston College ahead of the Hawkeyes and others in the '19 Class.
RUNNING BACK: Starter Tyler Goodson returns but there is uncertainty behind him. Mekhi Sargent is preparing for his shot at the NFL and Ivory Kelly-Martin recently underwent knee surgery. True freshmen Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams are the only other scholarship ball carriers, and the program has not signed one in the '21 cycle.
It's recruiting Arizona prep Eli Sanders, competing with Iowa State and San Diego State for his services. The portal also could be an option.
USC's Markese Stepp, an Indianapolis native, picked up an Iowa offer early in his prep career. Northwestern's Isaiah Bowser has shown a bruising running style that could complement Goodson but he likely will be looking for a starting gig.
Former four-stars T.J. Pledger (Oklahoma), Deondrick Glass (Oklahoma State), Iverson Clement (Florida), Chris Curry (LSU) and Jordan Wilmore (Utah) are available. Notre Dame's Jafar Armstrong, North Carolina's Antwuan Branch, Mississippi State's Kareem Walker and New Mexico's Kentrail Moran are among the group reporting Iowa offers in high school.
RECEIVER: Starters Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette signed with agents and are off to the NFL. Nico Ragaini, Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones are proven veterans, and Cooper would bring experience if he returns. Beyond that trio lies unknowns.
Desmond Hutson and Quavon Matthews are other scholarship wideouts coming back. Keagan Johnson, Brody Brecht and Arland Bruce IV are incoming freshmen. Adding a plug-and-play option through the portal could make sense, especially with the amount of talent in there.
Illinois' Ricky Smalling, a Chicago native, is proven in the conference. Detroit's Rashawn Williams, who is departing Indiana, hails from a city that has been good to the Hawkeyes.
Michigan State's Tre'Von Morgan (Ohio) is on the open market after reporting an Iowa offer coming out of high school. Ezra Naylor, an Atlanta native, is leaving Kansas after a stop of Iowa Central.
TIGHT END: Shaun Beyer is taking his shot at the NFL but Iowa brings back a solid stable of tight ends led by starter Sam LaPorta. It doesn't have a prep signee in '21 so an addition here can't be ruled out.
Jacob Mathis (South Florida, Ole Miss) is someone Iowa reportedly offered coming out of the prep ranks. Jordan Allen and Jackson Lowe, both of whom are exiting Tennessee, are former four-star recruits. Louisiana-Monroe's Josh Pederson and Syracuse's Aaron Hackett are a pair of tight ends who have enjoyed success in college already.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Alaric Jackson and Cole Banwart are gone but Tyler Linderbaum and the other main players from '20 return. Cronk could come back after injuries cut his season short. There's depth here as well.
I don't see Iowa adding at this position, but it will at least look at what's out there. It's not a very deep or accomplished group, however.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Iowa is losing two of its top performers in Chauncey Golston and Daviyon Nixon along with key contributor Austin Schulte. VanValkenburg's decision was big and Heflin hanging around would be as well.
Still, the Hawkeyes could use a boost here while some younger players continue developing. It's not a necessity, but it wouldn't hurt.
They showed interest in Missouri's Tre Williiams when he was coming out of Columbia (MO) Rock Bridge High. Iowa State's Latrell Bankston would fill an inside need and Northwestern's Andrew Leota could help on the outside, but they'r probably long shots coming from rival programs and as two highly-sought after targets on the market.
Central Michigan tackle Mohamed Diallo, who began his college career at Texas A&M, could help right away.
LINEBACKER: A position in transition at Iowa, the Hawkeyes are in good shape with Jack Campbell and Seth Benson back. Nick Niemann will be missed but they could get back two-year starter Djimon Colbert, who opted out of this past season.
With Iowa using more of the 4-2-5 alignment and some younger players in the pipeline, it might not see a need to add anyone on the second level. The offseason development of Jay Higgins and Jestin Jacobs could factor into it.
Vanderbilt's Colin Anderson reported an Iowa offer when he was at Killen (AL) Brooks High.
SECONDARY: The Hawkeyes lost some talent in the portal and are waiting on Hankins' decision. All the starters other than him are due back, however, and the coaches likes the players they've added in recent classes.
Still, I could see Iowa looking to supplement the secondary, which it did by recently adding Northern Iowa's Xavior Williams from the portal. It plays a lot of defensive backs and injuries are common at the spot so more additions wouldn't be surprising.
Michigan State's Davion Williams reported an Iowa offer while at Belleville (MI) High as did Notre Dame's Isaiah Robertson, who prepped at Naperville (IL) Neuqua Valley.
SPECIALISTS: All-Big Ten performer Tory Taylor will return as the punter. Shudak would add place-kicking duties to his kickoff responsibilities if he comes back. Iowa might look into the portal if he leaves.