IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa and Iowa State will play on Sept. 9.
And it may not be the biggest battle between the rivals this year.
Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell’s recruiting approach is different from any other Iowa State staff coach Kirk Ferentz has faced — and it’s starting to work.
With Campbell entering his second season and third recruiting class, 2018 could be the start of a more competitive recruiting scene for in-state players.
The Hawkeyes and Cyclones always face off on the recruiting trail. It’s a recruiting rivalry as old as the sport itself.
But there always seemed to be certain unwritten rules or understandings. Eastern Iowa could be tough for Iowa State as it’s a Hawkeyes stronghold. Western Iowa may give the Cyclones a better chance to land a prospect. Some previous Iowa State staffs would shy away from some in-state recruits.
Here is why Campbell is different. He doesn’t care about any of this. He wants to go after anyone and isn’t afraid if he’s recruiting against Iowa in-state or Ohio State in Ohio.
Campbell and his staff like to identify players early. They want to be the first program to offer a recruit and are good at racking up early commitments. He secured 34 commitments in his first five months with the Cyclones.
“I said this from the day I got here: We’re not backing down from anybody in recruiting,” Campbell said to the Ames Tribune in December. “We’re going to go up (against everybody) because that’s how you win.”
The approach works. He landed Waterloo West 2017 quarterback Devon Moore his first day with the Cyclones and Cedar Rapids Washington 2017 linebacker O’Rien Vance committed nearly a year before signing.
Campbell produced two of Iowa State’s best recruiting classes since being hired in November 2015. The Cyclones were No. 55 in 2016 and No. 53 in 2017.
Here is why 2018 could be interesting. This will be the first year the two programs enter on even footing. Campbell caught the final days of the 2016 class. Iowa could get to know some 2017 prospects before this Iowa State staff could. It helped in landing early commitments from Jacob Coons, Mark Kallenberger and Tristan Wirfs.
Both staffs could evaluate and contact the 2018 class during their junior years. Prospects will know both programs.
Iowa will do its thing, trying to find the ideal Ferentz recruit by identifying itself as the no-frills program it is.
“We’ve got something built here,” Iowa director of recruiting Tyler Barnes said. “We have a brand. We have an identity. Having a stable identity is huge in this process.”
The Cyclones will continue to be the Cyclones. They’ll be in early on players and not worry about who the other teams recruiting the prospect are.
“There is this blueprint of here is how the whole thing needs to be aligned,” Campbell said to the Ames Tribune in August. “Here’s how we recruit. This is what we recruit at each position. This is what we need to look for and how we need to approach this to be successful.”
The Cyclones want to move fast. The Hawkeyes don’t mind taking their time, offering players late, like Iowa City High’s Nate Wieland, who committed two days before National Signing Day.
Their evaluation process is as much off the field as on, trying to find a player who can fit into Iowa’s culture.
“The whole key in anything is reminding ourselves of what we are, who we are and what we want to be about,” Ferentz said. “That hasn’t changed dramatically.”
The Hawkeyes will offer players early. It’s a requirement in the modern recruiting world.
Someone asked to compare Iowa's # of early Feb offers to previous yrs
Feb 2017 – 61
Feb 2016 – 64
Feb 2015 – 75
Feb 2014 – 54
Feb 2013 – 43
— Blair Sanderson (@BlairRIVALS) February 7, 2017
They are being more selective early on in-state than the Cyclones. Both teams have offered three players — Bishop Heelan running back Saybein Clark, Creston offensive lineman Trevor Downing and Dowling Catholic defensive end John Waggoner.
Iowa State has offered four additional in-state prospects. More head-to-head battles will likely come up as the year progresses between the established in-state program and the upstart trying to turn heads.
Ferentz and Campbell, with their different methods, could be in for some interesting recruiting battles in the coming years.
And 2018 may just be the start of it.