The question has been asked a thousand times lately if it's been asked once.
"What's going on at Iowa?"
The reference isn't to the state, or the University of Iowa, or the Hawkeyes' softball program. Nay, the subject is Hawkeye football and the seemingly high attrition rate of scholarship players.
Things certainly snowballed this month with the announced departures of Mika'il McCall, Marcus Coker and A.J. Derby. They were names well-known to Iowa fans, either for their potential (McCall), their on-field performance (Coker), or their local ties and high-regard as a prep recruit who is the son of a former Hawkeye player (Derby).
But aren't transfers and dismissals simply part of college football? Are things really any different at Iowa than at comparable programs?
The answer to the first question is yes. Just look at news from this week alone. New Kansas coach Charlie Weis has dismissed 10 players. Ohio State has dismissed two. Michigan dismissed wide receiver Darryl Stonum. Oklahoma and several of its players parted ways within the last month.
Jay Prosch, tabbed a first-team All-American fullback by Pro Football Weekly, is leaving Illinois to go to Auburn to be closer to his mother, who is receiving treatment for brain cancer in Alabama. Defensive back Josh Shaw is leaving Florida for USC.
But Iowa has had a lot of scholarship players leave over the last four years, more than most programs. At least that's the indication I get from plowing through the rosters of six other comparable programs.
This could have gone on for days and days for me had I not limited it to a handful of programs. And if someone says "Hey, all that information is at thisandthat.com, I will reach for the nearest sharp knife. And then cut myself a slice of delicious delicatessan roast beef, suitable for French dip sandwiches. What did you think, that I'd go off the rails over something like this? Pshaw!
I'd love to know the numbers for SEC programs. I'd love to know the numbers for all Big Ten programs and all 120 FBS programs, for that matter. But believe me, too much time was spent just for me to get these sets of numbers, and by the time I plowed through another half-dozen rosters a whole new set of transfers would probably have been in motion.
The programs I chose to look at were: Oklahoma, since it was Iowa's 2011 bowl opponent and Bob Stoops has been head coach at OU the same length of time as Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. Iowa State, because it's in Iowa. Michigan State, since it was the 2011 winner of Iowa's football division, the Legends. And three border-state Big Ten schools, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. I didn't know the attrition rates for any of them, though I knew Oklahoma lost a lot of players recently.
I looked at the lists of the national letter-of-intent signees from 2008 through 2011. I'm not counting early-entrants to the NFL against teams. Iowa has had three of those in this four-year period. They are Shonn Greene, Amari Spievey and Riley Reiff. Just like I'm not counting center Peter Konz against Wisconsin, or running back Edwin Baker and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy against Michigan State.
While I know there's a distinct chance I overlooked someone on one of the seven teams, I hope that isn't the case. I checked every player who was recruited to these seven teams since 2008 and tried to make sure they were a) still on their team's end-of-season roster in 2011 or b) had definitely transferred/quit/been dismissed.
Consider these things before you look at the following raw numbers:
1. Only a small percentage of the players who left these programs went to other FBS programs.
2. Each program has a small percentage of players who leave the sport altogether because of injuries. No one's fault, that. Iowa, for instance, had one in 2010 recruit Austin Vier, a tight end who had a back operation and couldn't resume his playing career although it sounds like he would have liked nothing better than to do so.
3. Nebraska, Iowa State and Minnesota have had coaching changes since the end of the 2007 season, and that often affects player-turnover.
OK, here are my findings (no need for a trumpet, the buildup to this has been way too long as it is):
Not counting the early departures to the NFL, by my count Iowa has had 30 players leave from the 94 that were signed from 2008 through 2011. That's 31.9percent.
Oklahoma: 26 of 93, 28.0 percent
Minnesota: 28 of 104, 26.9 percent
Iowa State: 25 of 101, 24.8 percent
Nebraska: 16 of 90, 17.8 percent
Michigan State: 14 of 85, 16.5 percent
Wisconsin: 15 of 96, 15.6 percent
Here is Iowa's breakdown by class:
2008 - 12 of 27 signees gone. (David Blackwell, Jeff Brinson, David Cato, J.D. Griggs, Nate Guillory, Jewel Hampton, William Lowe, DeMarco Paine, Shane Prater, Adam Robinson, Jason Semmes, Khalif Staten)
2009 - 8 of 19. (Josh Brown, Scott Covert, Tyler Harrell, Martin Hopkins, Matt Murphy, Stephane N'goumou, Anthony Schiavone, Brandon Wegher)
2010 - 6 of 22. (Marcus Coker, A.J. Derby, Anthony Ferguson, Austin Gray, Donavan Johnson, Austin Vier)
2011 - 4 of 26. (Rodney Coe, Marcus Grant, Dan Heiar, John Raymon)
Wisconsin has lost a total of just two signees from its 2010 and 2011 classes, while Michigan State and Wisconsin have lost but three. Oklahoma, meanwhile, has seen 13 players exit from the classes of '10 and '11.
Where did Iowa's departures go? Well, some either went to another football program and then left the sport, or never joined another team.
Hampton had a very nice junior season for Southern Illinois with 1,121 rushing yards, then made himself eligible for this year's NFL draft. Brinson transferred to Central Florida, but injuries shut down his career. Cato finished his career at Stephen F. Austin.
Guillory, was a junior college transfer to Iowa. He went from Iowa to Northwestern Oklahoma State where he rushed for 2,858 yards in two seasons and was an NAIA All-American.
Blackwell, recruited to Iowa as a linebacker, transferred to Iowa Western Community College in 2009, then went to FCS Bethune-Cookman the following year. Late in the 2011 season, he was virtually a last-minute starter at quarterback in a late-season game against Savannah State. Blackwell rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns, and completed 8 of 10 passes for 147 yards and a TD in a 59-3 victory. Savannah State went 1-10.
Academic issues kept highly touted running back recruit Coe from joining the Hawkeyes in 2011, so he went to Iowa Western, where he will return for his sophomore season this year. He may yet end up at Iowa.
Many of the other scholarship players who left Iowa ... not a lot of football footprints. The same is true for most of the players who left the other six programs listed here.
So what does this mean for Iowa, 29 scholarship players in four seasons that haven't been retained? The obvious short answer: It's not great.
When three of them were running backs who showed they could get the job done for the Hawkeyes (Wegher, Hampton, Coker) and a fourth (McCall) appeared to have that potential, it's really not great.
But for every scholarship player that leaves, a scholarship opens up. And the word sure sounds good about this Greg Garmon, a running back Iowa has scooped up from Erie, Pa.
He'll play four seasons at Iowa for sure. OK, would you settle for three?