IOWA CITY, Iowa — Last January, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz held an impromptu news conference to assuage concerns that his program was falling apart.
On Thursday, Ferentz celebrated the return of the nation's best cornerback while looking ahead to an 18th season that has a chance to be as special as the last one was. Ferentz confirmed that senior cornerback Desmond King, the Thorpe Award winner as the country's top defensive back, will return for his senior season.
King's somewhat unexpected return should only bolster Iowa's case as a preseason favorite in the Big Ten West. Iowa went 12-2 last season, falling to Stanford 45-16 in the Rose Bowl last week.
"Personally, I think it's the best thing for him on all levels," Ferentz said of King. 'I just think it's a great, great thing."
If senior end Drew Ott is able to join King on the roster next fall, Iowa's defense could be among the best in the country.
Ott played six games last season before blowing out his knee. Ott sat out the rest of the year and applied for a medical redshirt through the Big Ten. He is expected to weigh his chances in the NFL before the start of spring practice.
"Needless to say we'd love to get him back and we're doing all we can to advocate for him," Ferentz said.
For now, promising sophomore Matt Nelson was in Ott's place atop a new depth chart released Thursday. Nelson is one of a number of new faces who've ascended into starting roles or moved into new ones ahead of spring ball.
Guard James Daniels, the rare freshman lineman to start under Ferentz, has moved to center as expected. Riley McCarron and Jerminic Smith appear in line to replace Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer at wide receiver.
Sophomore Aaron Mends has tentatively earned a starting job at linebacker, while Brandon Snyder will likely replace Jordan Lomax at free safety. Iowa will also have new starters in the kicking game, with freshman punter Colten Rastetter and kicker Miguel Recinos as the favorites heading into March workouts.
"We've got plenty of room for guys to jump on the boat, that's for sure," Ferentz said.
Predictably, Iowa's 12-2 season prompted other programs to attempt to poach their coaching staff.
Linebackers coach Jim Reid is the first to leave, jumping for the defensive coordinator job at Boston College. Reid spent three years with the Hawkeyes, helping turn a unit that was a liability in 2014 into a force last season.
"It's a bittersweet thing," Ferentz said. "Jim's done a wonderful job with our program over the past three years. Tremendous coach, tremendous person."