Kirk Ferentz, Fred Russell & MSU

While Aretha Franklin sung the song, Kirk Ferentz and the Hawks have to walk the walk. Now that they have started to gain R-E-S-P-E-C-T, can they stay at these lofty heights in the top twenty? Could Fred Russell have taken a more circuitous route to Iowa? The #1 WR in the NCAA is coming to town on Saturday. That would be Mr. Rogers of the Spartans. Can the Parker Boys devise a defense to just slow down this sure fire first WR pick in the NFL draft next April?

You know how it sometimes goes in college football.

When your team is winning--but isn't ranked—the coach, players and fans call it a lack of respect.

When your team is winning and the team starts rising in the rankings, the players and fans love it and the coach says, "Not so fast!''

Well, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is looking at it this way:

He's calling it "temporary parking right now.''

Asked today if he realistically felt his Iowa team would be ranked in the top 20 in the relatively short amount of time he's been the coach, Ferentz said, "It's premature to get too excited about anything that's going on with the conference race or the national race.

"We still have six games remaining in the conference. That's really where our thoughts are at this point.''

Iowa, with a 5-1 record overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, jumped into the rankings for the first time under Ferentz last week. The Hawkeyes were No. 24 in the Associated Press poll after not having been ranked since 1997, when Hayden Fry was still coaching them.

This week they're ranked in both polls—No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 20 in the coaches' poll.

Ferentz, of course, was somewhat of a surprising choice when he was picked to succeed Fry after the 1998 season. Many Hawekeye fans wanted Bob Stoops, a former Iowa player who then was Florida's defensive coordinator.

But Stoops said he was never offered the Iowa job. Ferentz was, and took it.

But his 1999 team had only a 1-10 record. In 2000, the Hawkeyes went 3-9.

The natives were restless. They wondered if Ferentz was the right guy for the job.

Then things changed suddenly. Ferentz's 2001 team went 7-5 and beat Texas Tech, 19-16, in the Alamo Bowl.

And now the picture looks even brighter. People—not Ferentz, of course—are talking about this team being a Rose Bowl contender.

"I had no preconceived notions about anything,'' Ferentz said, still talking about what has developed since he took the job. "I try to keep it that way. Our philosophy is to put an honest day's work into it.

"I knew I was coming into a great situation. Being here (as an assistant) for nine years under Coach Fry, I knew what a great place this was and how great the people are.

"I was very confident and I remain confident that we're going to have our share of success if we do things right.''

In Fred Russell, Iowa has the Big Ten's leading rusher. Heading into Saturday's game against Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Russell has run for 722 yards in 120 carries---a 144.4 average.

That's despite playing with a sore shoulder that takes a beating in every game.

It turns out that Ferentz knew nothing about Russell when he visited Milford Academy in Connecticut while on a recruiting trip.

"It's kind of funny,'' Ferentz said. "All the time you spend, all the money you spend and the thinking that goes into recruiting. I actually was going into a visit with a young man who's now playing for Purdue.

"He had already committed to Purdue, but his coach said, ‘Hey, we have a young man here who you might want to talk to.' It just happened to be Fred Russell.

"That's how the ball got rolling. The next thing you know, he was on our campus and liked what he saw.''

Russell is listed as a 5-8, 185-pound junior from Inkster, Mich.

That 5-8 might be stretching it.

No problem with the height, Ferentz indicated. "We're Iowa,'' he explained. "It's not like we're in an amusement park, where you have those bars and you have to be so tall to ride a ride.

"We don't have that here. We're just looking for good players, and Fred is a good player. Bob Sanders isn't bad, either.''

Sanders is listed as a 5-8, 200-pound defensive back. Again, the 5-8 might be stretching it.

"As long as we don't have to play basketball against whoever we're going to play, I think we're OK,'' Ferentz said.

Michigan State comes into Saturday's game 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten.

The Spartans are coached by Bobby Williams, who has acquired the reputation of being an underachiever at a school that historically has been able to attract talented football players.

Williams has only a 16-13 record after taking over prior to Michigan State's appearance in the 1999 Citrus Bowl. He was the school's running backs coach for 10 years prior to being elevated to the head coaching job .

The Spartans didn't play last week, but seeing what Iowa did Saturday didn't provide any relaxation for Williams.

"Iowa is a very impressive team,'' Williams said. "They're really coming around, and this will be by far the biggest test on our schedule."

Williams called the Hawkeyes "very productive with an excellent running attack. I don't think you can shut down their running game, but you have to hope to control it.

"Their offensive line is good and the quarterback (Brad Banks) does so much with the football. You hope to get them in a position where they have to throw the ball.''

Williams said Iowa's offensive linemen are "by far the most physical we've faced. They have some guys with tremendous height, size and upper body strength.''

Williams said Iowa's fans "do a tremendous job of getting behind their team. The atmosphere there is just outstanding. The crowd noise makes it hard for opposing teams.

"A lot of stadiums are like that, but this one (at Iowa) stands out. Regardless of the situation they're in, they get tremendous support from the fans.''

The last time Michigan State visited Iowa City, Iowa won, 21-16, two years ago to give Ferentz his first Big Ten victory.

Williams has a standout wide receiver in Charles Rogers, who set an NCAA record for consecutive games (13) with at least one touchdown two weeks ago when the Spartans beat Northwestern, 39-24.

Quarterback Jeff Smoker completed 15 of 24 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

Ron Maly

Vol. 2, No. 73 [Ron Maly's e-mail address is malyr@juno.com ]


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