Early departures a hot topic for Les Miles, Kirk Ferentz

LSU’s Miles admits his approach to handling underclassmen thinking about going pro hasn’t worked too well, while Iowa’s Ferentz has had fewer nonseniors declare for draft

TAMPA, Fla. — LSU coach Les Miles on Sunday admitted that his approach to handling underclassman thinking about leaving early for the NFL “hasn’t been very successful.”

Three days before their teams meet in the Outback Bowl, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Miles had their first joint news conference at the bowl site, where early departures were a topic of discussion.

The Tigers have as many as a half-dozen role players who could make the early leap to the NFL: receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson and draft-eligible sophomores left tackle La’el Collins and running back Jeremy Hill.

Players this week did not reveal their intentions, though many said they have discussed the impending decisions with family members and have requested an opinion from the NFL Advisory Board.

Underclassmen must declare by Jan. 15.

The Tigers lost 11 underclassmen, counting booted defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, last season to the draft. It’s believed to be the most ever.

For Ferentz and Iowa, things are different.

In fact, Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff, projected by some as a first-round pick, has already announced that he’ll return for his senior year.

Scherff follows a long line of Hawkeyes to do the same.

In Ferentz’s 15 years at Iowa, just five underclassmen have left early for the NFL draft. They include tight end Dallas Clark, running back Shonn Greene, safety Tyler Sash and offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff.

LSU lost five combined in 2011 and 2012 before the last season’s mass exodus.

While Miles admitted his method doesn’t necessarily work, “it’s really their decision,” the coach said.

How does Ferentz keep his guys? It’s getting tougher, he said, with agent types swooping in.

“A lot of people on the outside (are) working proactively to endear themselves with prospects without a stake in the game,” Ferentz said, as Miles nodded his head.

Ferentz well aware of Jennings

Miles didn’t have to defend his expected starting quarterback, true freshman Anthony Jennings, when a reporter asked if Jennings could call anything more than a QB sneak.

Ferentz did it for him.

“That was not a sneak, that one that went for a touchdown against Arkansas,” the Iowa coach said referencing Jennings’ 49-yard game-winning touchdown pass in the regular-season finale.

Ferentz said Jennings is “a wild card” for his defense, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know of his ability from watching that 99-yard game-winning march against the Razorbacks.

“I can imagine that they studied that last drive pretty good,” Miles said as Ferentz nodded beside him.

Jennings had 12 bowl practices and nearly a month’s time to prepare for the game.

Said Ferentz: “My preference was to have three days to get ready, not three weeks.”

No change in O, Miles again says

Miles continues to insist that his team’s offense, built somewhat around passing this year, won’t change with a more mobile quarterback under center.

“There’s some things you can’t do to an offense. You expect those receivers (Landry and Beckham) to get a certain amount of touches,” Miles said. “If you spend your time teaching one style of football and go to the next and divorce yourself from that … you dull things you’ve been doing all year.”

Ferentz said he doesn’t expect the Tigers to change their scheme either. OK, maybe some.

“I don’t expect a wholesale change,” he said, “but I expect a wrinkle or two. I don’t think they’re going to take those receivers out of the game. It’d be OK if they choose to.”

Iowa supporting farmers

Fans watching Wednesday’s Outback Bowl will likely notice a large gold sticker with the letters “ANF” above the Hawkeyes logo on the right side of the Iowa helmets.

The letters are short for “America Needs Farmers,” a program of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. The Hawkeyes started wearing the stickers on their helmets under former coach Hayden Fry and brought them back a couple of years ago.

Lagniappe

Ferentz took what some might think was a veiled shot at football teams who continue to change jerseys and helmets, a trend these days. LSU and Iowa are two schools that have not jumped on the bandwagon. “I like helmets you can recognize,” Ferentz said. … Ferentz was asked several questions about the talent-loaded and successful SEC. He said “you’d have to be blind” not to realize the high level of coaching and talent in the league. Miles, unprompted, jumped in to praise the Big Ten: “The conference is tremendously competitive. The Big Ten Conference is every bit of capable as any conference in America.”

Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.