TAMPA, Fla. — Kirk Ferentz felt the pang of panic at the end of the season.
When prized left offensive tackle Brandon Scherff finished 2013 as an all-Big Ten pick, he then was released into the world of “will he or won’t he” in regard to his senior year at Iowa or an early entry into the NFL draft. It was a quick meeting — they usually are, Ferentz said — and Scherff, a Denison native, picked one more year in Iowa City.
Ferentz spoke about the perils of the early outs in his business. In Ferentz’s 15 seasons at Iowa, Iowa has lost tight end Dallas Clark, running back Shonn Greene, safety Tyler Sash (though all would’ve been 24 as seniors at Iowa) and offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff.
All big names that certainly would’ve helped if they would’ve returned. All but Greene and Sash were first-round draft picks. All but Sash are still in the league.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher,” Ferentz said. “There are a lot of people on the outside right now who are working very, very proactively and creatively, in some cases, to endear themselves with prospects without any stake in the game. It’s cold-call. You try to bet on a good race horse and move on.
“You’re competing on that and in 10 years time, it’s really escalated. We went through this with Robert Gallery [2003 Outland Trophy winner, who passed on the draft after the 2002 season]. . . . I think ultimately it’s up to the players to do the best for them. We ask our guys to rely on accurate information, not what an uncle might be saying. Logic and facts don’t always pan out.
“One thing I want to do is make sure our guys have a good realistic view of what’s going to happen. I think sometimes guys don’t realize just how competitive the NFL really is.”
Iowa has been forced to dip its toe into the early entry waters during Ferentz’s 15 seasons. LSU coach Les Miles has been dunked in head first. This more than anything else, speaks to the raw talent that goes into the two programs that will play in Wednesday’s Outback Bowl.
Last season, the Tigers lost 11 players to the NFL draft (a number that includes Tyrann Mathieu, who left LSU before the 2012 season started). This year, LSU could lose another eight or nine. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the list includes wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, running backs Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hilliard, left tackle La’El Collins and defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson could take the plunge.
The Times-Picayune has reported that senior running back Alfred Blue plans to leave less than a week after he was granted a fifth season of eligibility by the NCAA because of a season-ending injury in 2012.
Miles is bearing it. It’s actually kind of grinning, but mostly bearing. LSU’s unofficial number of early draft entries could be 20 in two seasons.
“In terms of talking to juniors, about when they would make a decision or those things,” Miles said, “I consistently say I’m going to have to change my approach, because the approaches I have used have not been very successful.”
Beckham and Landry are 1,000-yard receivers for the Tigers this season. They’ve combined for 2,289 yards and 18 TDs. Hill has rushed for 1,185 yards and 14 TDs.
Both coaches said they know there’s not a lot they can do or say if a player is bent on the NFL. Miles conceded “the decision is ultimately theirs.”
“You put out the information that would be accurate to their specific situation,” he said. “I think there are a number of guys looking forward to staying. I think there are a number of guys who it pays for them to leave.
“That being said, the key piece is to come into this last contest and play your best football and be willing to give your teammates and team one great last game.”
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