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Howe’s Friday 5: Signing Day, NFL Draft, Cy-Hawk Hoops, Holiday Bowl

December 13, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Like I was saying last week, Iowa will be heading to the Holiday Bowl.

What? I predicted the Citrus Bowl? I warned you of my track record in this area.

Let’s move on.

Here’s this week’s Friday 5:

5. On Wednesday, members of the 2020 recruiting class will be signing binding national letters of intent with the Hawkeyes. As of today, there are 22 players verbally committed.

Rivals and 247 rank the group fourth in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. The former tabs it as No. 23 nationally, while the latter put it at 24. For reference, Rivals rated Iowa’s ’19 Class 41st, and the previous two cycles were at 40.

Rankings are what they are. They don’t define future outcomes. Iowa’s AJ Epenesa, a rivals five-star, and Tristan Wirfs, a four-star, are projected first-round NFL Draft picks this year. TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant are Top 20 selection from last year’s draft who were three-star prospects.

The Hawkeye coaches are showing in recent cycles that they are signing players that fit their culture, guys willing to work and develop regardless of their rankings. They’re succeeding at identifying versatile athletes ready to be molded, shaped and buy in.

That’s the right formula around here. That matters more than stars.

4. There’s a belief college teams boasting experienced guards are tough to beat. The Iowa women are serving as an example of that.

The Hawkeyes, led by the senior backcourt of Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer, knocked off rival Iowa State, 75-69, in Ames Wednesday night. They were supported by classmate, Amanda Ollinger, who pulled down 20 rebounds.

The Cyclones put together second-half runs that threatened Iowa, but the senior trio delivered key plays seemingly every time, taking the crowd back out of it. It combined for 43 points, 30 rebounds and 12 assists.

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It was hard knowing what to expect from the Hawkeyes this season after the graduation of program pillar, Megan Gustafson, and her running mates, Hannah Stewart and Tania Davis, from last year’s Elite Eight squad. At least so far, the returning veterans have shown they’re not ready for a letdown.

Sophomore Monika Czinano is performing admirably in stepping into Gustafson’s center position. She’s averaging 15.0 points and 4.7 rebounds after scoring 20 against Iowa State.

We’ll see how this team stacks up during the rugged Big Ten schedule, but life after Megan might not be as rough as some folks thought.

3. Speaking of Epenesa and Wirfs, they must decide in the next month whether to return for their senior seasons or head off the the NFL’s millions. Plenty of speculation is swirling on what they’ll do, but, according to them, their choices are yet to be made.

Mock drafts are showing Iowa’s dynamic duo being picked in the first round. They’re not guiding Epenesa.

The two-time, All-Big Ten defensive end smartly is waiting for his review from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. He’s putting his trust in it and the coaching staff. And that’s the same with Wirfs and others.

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Geno Stone told us he submitted his paperwork right after the regular season ended. The true junior shined on the Hawkeyes’ stingy defense.

We have yet to hear from fourth-year juniors Chauncey Golston and Alaric Jackson. Receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said he’s coming back to finish some business.

These discussions can divide people. Folks have opinions on what these players should do. In the end, it’s up to them and their families. Each case is different. It’s rarely, if ever, cut and dried.

2. All things considered, Iowa did pretty well in bowl selection. Returning to the Outback for a matchup with Auburn would have been nice, but two trips to Tampa in the previous three seasons ruled that out.

The Holiday Bowl brings with it fond memories for Hawkeye fans. A reunion after almost 30 years sparks nostalgia.

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Iowa also is provided a nice opportunity. If it can knock off a blue blood program like USC in reaching 10 wins for only the ninth time in program history, the season becomes more memorable.

Quarterback Nate Stanley can match Ricky Stanzi as the only Iowa signal callers to lead their teams to three bowl wins. He would be just the fourth one to do it in Big Ten history.

It also would improve Iowa’s record to 2-3 against Top 25 teams this year and push it into the Top 15 of the final AP Poll for just the second time this decade. I’m looking forward to the game.

1. It’s hard imagining many people outside the Iowa locker room saw coming what happened in Ames Thursday night. The Hawkeyes dominated rival Iowa State during an 84-68 victory. After building a 14-point lead six and a half minutes into the contest, the Cyclones never got closer than seven the rest of the way, and the Hawkeyes led by 22 midway through the second half.

The story featured plenty of layers. Iowa won for the first time at Hilton Coliseum since ’03. Guard Jordan Bohannon left his shoes with a written message on the court at game’s end. We wondered if it would be his last game this season after suffering through 10 games of pain.

While Bohannon’s decision looms over the future of the campaign, the team’s foundation looks rock solid so far. The group is greater than the sum of its parts. Cliche, yes, because it’s true.

These guys play well together. Strong chemistry is apparent. They combine calmness, confidence and a killer instinct.

It’s far too early for declarations about a team with 22 regular-season games remaining. We know that things can go south on a dime from witnessing it.

This outfit feels different, however. It’s built differently. While there will be losses, some frustrating, effort and fight can be expected. It’s not only fun to watch, it’s rewarding and inspiring.

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