Brian Ferentz is being met right where he needs it the most: in his contract language. The embattled Iowa offensive coordinator, and son of legendary Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, recently had his contract amended to state that the team needs to average 25 points per game in 2023 and win at least seven games -- or else. If Ferentz fails to do his part in helping the team reach those benchmarks, his contract will be terminated ahead of the 2024 season.
This is important for a few reasons. Iowa's offense was epically bad last season. In an age of offensive revolution, the Hawkeyes were the football Flintstones. They turned out a stone-age performance, finishing 123rd in scoring (17.7 points per game) offense on the season. Only five Power Five programs were worse.
Four players in college football scored more offensive touchdowns than Iowa did as a team (19). At least 95 quarterbacks had more touchdown passes than Iowa (seven), which was fourth-worst nationally.
Still, those benchmarks are ridiculously low given the standards this Iowa program has set over the last decade. Aside from the COVID-19 year in 2020, Iowa has won at least seven games each season since 2012.
In Ferentz's six seasons as offensive coordinator, Iowa has never finished above 86th nationally in total offense. On any other campus, that would likely be enough for a coordinator to be shown the door because this age has proven that offense sells tickets, wins championships and gets under-performing coordinators whose dad isn't the head coach fired.
CBS Sports contacted two prominent agents who said they'd never heard of such language in a coach's contract. Such is Iowa's desperation – and Ferentz's lack of leverage – in this college football landscape that values the performance of offenses.
"If he doesn't score 25 a game, he should be fired," one FBS assistant told CBS Sports.
Iowa being Iowa, though, it scraped out eight wins last season behind a stout defense led by defensive coordinator Phil Parker, whose unit could help bail Ferentz out if the offense alone doesn't average 25 points per game.
There is hope for Ferentz, and maybe defensive coordinators everywhere, however. All of it wasn't that bad. Last season was the lowest scoring season in FBS in 11 years, per NCAA statistics -- a trend that continued in 2022.
The average of 28.38 points per team was not only down for the second consecutive year, but it was lowest average since the 2011 season when teams averaged 28.29 points per game. That year saw the beginning of the offensive explosion that continues despite this statistical downturn. It was just six years ago that teams averaged 30.08 points per game, an all-time high. For the first time since 2004-05, scoring has decreased in consecutive seasons.
You probably didn't notice the 2.3% scoring decline because it was hard to see with the naked eye. Still, that number is further indication it's getting harder to move the ball in general. Total offense (393.75 yards per game) and rushing yards per play (4.33) were also the lowest since 2011. Average rushing yards were the fewest in 13 years (159.80 yards).
"The [transfer] portal allows for a little more parity," said Wisconsin offensive coordinator Phil Longo. "The weaker teams are getting stronger. You're able to go find some better kids. The talent is being more evenly distributed between more teams. The whole RPO world has given offenses a major advantage over the years, and it's finally starting to catch up [on the defensive side]."
Two seasons after LSU won the national championship behind one of the best offenses in college football history, Georgia has restored order the past two seasons by claiming consecutive national championships with balanced offenses and dominating defenses. The Bulldogs haven't finished out of the top 17 in total defense since 2013, and it was coach Kirby Smart's generational defense in 2021 that turned the game around lately.
"I do know, at our place, we expand the brain," Smart said last month. "We stretch it and stretch it and stretch it. And then when you need to stretch it more in the game and change something, they have a comfort level with change."
Change, for now, means scoring is down slightly from that all-time high six years ago. It doesn't seem like much, but ask Ferentz and his degree of difficulty. Should Ferentz meet the mark in the contract on his own, going from 17.7 to 25.0 points per game in 2022 would mark a 41% increase. That's just performing at an average level. That's just to help save his job. If not, it's likely his dad won't be able to save him unless a few bounces go the defense's way.
Soaring through the air
To no one's surprise, passing continued to dominate offensively; almost 46% of plays in 2022 were pass attempts, which is the highest percentage of passes since 2007 and second-highest ratio of all time. The season also marked the second-most accurate for quarterbacks. They completed 61.13% of passes, slightly less than 2021's all-time mark of 61.52%. The top-10 highest seasons in terms of passing yardage have all come since 2007.
Winning streaks on the line
Georgia enters the 2023 season with a school-record tying 17-game winning streak as it aims for a historic three-peat. That's tied for the longest streak nationally since Alabama won 19 in a row from 2020-21. Something to think about as the Dawgs show no signs of weakness: If Georgia runs the table again at 15-0, it would tie Pittsburgh (1914-18) for the sixth-longest streak in history (32).
While we're on the topic, let's project how the end may come for the top five FBS winning streaks entering this year.
Georgia (17 games) -- Nov. 18 at Tennessee
Troy (11) -- Sept. 9 at Kansas State
Fresno State (9) -- Sept. 2 at Purdue
Washington (7) -- Nov. 4 at USC
Florida State (6) -- Sept. 4 vs. LSU (in Orlando)
Wisconsin's offense primed to evolve
What is Wisconsin getting in SMU transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai? There are compelling statistical components to a quarterback on his third school after a transfer from the Group of Five, and there's certainly an indicator where the Badgers offense is headed with the underrated Longo in his first season after being hired away from North Carolina by first-year Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell.
"I watch the Kansas City Chiefs, I feel like I'm watching our system. It's so similar," the Badgers' offensive coordinator said.
That is life-changing news at Wisconsin, in the Big Ten and possibly nationally. Mordecai is a one-time four-star prospect who received his first offer more than 6 ½ years ago. Now he might be the tip of the spear in changing Wisconsin's traditional ground-and-pound ethic.
Start with Nov. 5, 2022. In SMU's epic 77-63 shootout win over Houston, Mordecai posted the one of the most efficient quarterback performances this century. His nine touchdown passes that day were the most without an interception in FBS since at least 2000. It was the second-highest rated QB performance of the season and 25th-best since 2000 (242). Only a handful of active quarterbacks have more than Mordecai's 76 career TD passes headed into this season.
He enters his sixth season having already shared a quarterback room at Oklahoma with Kyler Murray, watching his teammate win the 2019 Heisman Trophy. All of it sort of rolls into the profile of a dark-horse Heisman candidate, which Wisconsin's had before but never at the quarterback position.
After two record-setting seasons at SMU, Mordecai transferred again, and Longo, who's developed Sam Howell and Drake Maye, had a connection having recruited him while at Ole Miss.
"Great arm, can snap it off pretty quick. Compact," said Longo describing his new quarterback. "His balls finish. The balls don't fade. He can rip a 30-yarder out to the field sideline and that thing finishes at the end of it. Those type of guys are hard to find.
"He reminds of me Sam [Howell] a little bit. Quieter, not a rah-rah guy. Sometimes it's viewed as a lack of leadership, which I don't think is the case at all. … That poise on the field is a huge asset when the bullets are flying."
Run the dang ball
It still pays to run the ball. Since 2015, the top five single-season rushing touchdown leaders in Power Five have come from Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Those teams all reached the College Football Playoff in those seasons, and in the top four cases, those teams also won the national championship.
Derrick Henry, Alabama (28 TD in 2015) | CFP: Won national championship
Najee Harris, Alabama (26 in 2020) | CFP: Won national championship
Travis Etienne, Clemson (24 in 2018) | CFP: Won national championship
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State (23 in 2014) | CFP: Won national championship
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (21, 2019) | CFP: Lost semifinal
By the way, Michigan's Blake Corum is the leading returner in that category with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2022 as the Wolverines aim for a third consecutive College Football Playoff appearance.
Under-the-radar returners in 2023
- Southern Miss RB Frank Gore Jr. is back after an FBS bowl-record 329 rushing yards against Rice. The nation's leading returning rusher (2,891 yards in 35 career games), Gore also threw two touchdowns in a Week 11 game against Louisiana Tech in 2021 as an emergency quarterback.
- Arizona WR Jacob Cowing is the nation's leading returner in all-purpose yards. The former two-star receiver transferred from UTEP and posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season while finishing fourth in the Pac-12.
- Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins became the school's single-season rushing leader (1,567 yards) for a squad that finished third nationally in rushing. Ole Miss has finished in the top 10 rushing only twice since 2009. Something is changing in Oxford.
2022 statistical superlatives
- Who woulda thunk? Since his first year of eligibility six years ago, former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has the seventh-most total completions of any quarterback in major bowls (41).
- Tulane set the record for best improvement year-over-year as the Green Wave went from 2-10 to 12-2 and capped off the season with a Cotton Bowl win over USC.
- Whatever happened to Northwestern? The Wildcats have both the nation's longest losing streak (11) and longest home losing streak (8).
- Colorado's Deion Sanders will try to break the nation's fourth-longest losing streak (six, tied with Old Dominion) as he begins his tenure with the Buffaloes.
- There is a ray of hope at Texas A&M. Promising freshman quarterback Connor Weigman threw the most touchdowns (eight) without an interception last season. That's the second-most TDs in that department since 2015.
- For the first time in five years, a national record wasn't set in pass efficiency. In fact, former Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud had the lowest efficiency mark for a leader in 10 years (177.66).
- Michigan's Corum is the leading returning rusher because the eight above him in 2022 are all entering the 2023 NFL Draft.
- Oregon's Joey McMurry is Bo Nix's fifth play caller in his five-year career. Reminder: Gus Malzahn called plays at Auburn as a head coach.
- A sad farewell to Troy linebacker Carlton Martial, who finished his career with an NCAA-record 577 tackles. That may be a Joe DiMaggio hitting streak-type number, never to be broken. In his 59 career games, Martial averaged almost 10 tackles per contest.