Harty: Ferentz’s legacy in the hands of his new QB
CHICAGO – The most talked about player on the Iowa football team wasn’t there to talk about himself at Big Ten media day on Thursday in Chicago.
Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard dominated the conversation, though, as expected.
It was non-stop C.J., from the moment reporters gained access to the three Iowa players who attended Thursday’s interview session until the end.
He was described as the perfect teammate, humble, hilarious, selfless and hard-working.
Combine his popularity with his moxie, his maturity and his powerful right arm and there is a growing belief, or maybe hope is a better word, that Beathard is the cure to what ails the sputtering Iowa offense under Greg Davis.
“We’re anxious to watch him as we move forward here,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “We’ve had the luxury of watching him as a young player and then as a little bit older player last year. And he’s always had a live arm. That’s never been an issue. And he’s always been willing to throw the ball, sometimes too willing to throw the ball when we wouldn’t want him to.
“So I think that’s what we see, the maturity and the growing up part of it and using a little better judgment. He’s always had good skills. And I think right now, he’s probably in a better position to really use those in a good way and a really productive way where he can help our team be an offense that functions in a way we want to.”
Beathard takes over at a time when the pressure to win is probably as high as it’s ever been during Ferentz’s coaching reign, which dates back to 1999. Attendance is declining. Frustration is rising. And Ferentz’s coaching seat is getting hotter.
That’s a lot of weight to carry for a quarterback, who has started just one game in college. Beathard isn’t being called the savior for Iowa football, but the situation seems close to being like that.
It’s enough pressure being the Iowa quarterback under any circumstance. Everything is magnified now, though, because of Ferentz’s situation and because of Iowa’s prolonged mediocrity, which includes a 19-19 record over the past three seasons.
Football is the ultimate team sport, but it’s hard to picture Iowa reclaiming its glory without Beathard performing well and leading the way.
I asked Ferentz on Thursday if he was worried about Beathard facing too much pressure.
“Yes and no,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s just part of being a quarterback, especially in a system like ours. It’s always been an important position.
‘So, if you’re going to be that guy, then you better be willing to accept it because that’s going to be part of the territory.”
There is no question that Beathard, barring injury, will be that guy for Iowa now that Jake Rudock has transferred to Michigan.
Beathard watched Rudock be the guy for the past two seasons. And for a while, it looked as if Beathard might have to wait until his senior season to start for Iowa.
Rudock engineered Iowa’s resurgence in 2013, leading the team to an 8-5 record by being a smart and opportunistic quarterback. There was no controversy heading into last season, but the situation was fluid.
At last season’s Big Ten Media Day, Rudock also was praised for being the ideal teammate and the right person for the job. It was considered cool having a future doctor behind center for the Hawkeyes. And we in the media ate it up.
But we also live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society in which Rudock eventually fell victim to. He lost his starting position to Beathard shortly after last season, even though Rudock had started every game during the regular season when healthy.
Ferentz was criticized for his handling of the quarterback competition because he had gone from being reluctant to use Beathard throughout the season to basically handing him the starting job after the season.
The good news is that we’re past that distraction now.
Beathard is now Iowa’s poster boy for hope and optimism, while Rudock is trying to carve a new path at Michigan.
Iowa center Austin Blythe respects them both. In fact, Rudock attended Blythe’s wedding in May and they remain close friends.
However, as a football player Blythe is now in Beathard’s corner because that’s part of being a teammate.
“I don’t know if there is much of a difference, but I think with C.J., personality wise, he’s even-keel and cool-headed," Blythe said. "And I think he’s excited. I think we’re excited, not because he’s the official starter, but because we’re excited about what this season has.”
It was encouraging that Blythe and fellow teammates Jordan Lomax and Drew Ott spoke so highly of Beathard at Big Ten Media Day.
But really, what did you expect them to say?
It would’ve been news if they had done anything but praise Beathard.
The only way Beathard and Rudock would ever meet again in college is if it happened in the Big Ten title game or in the four-team playoff. Either way, fans from both schools would be ecstatic, making the past irrelevant.
One advantage Beathard has over Rudock is Iowa’s current situation at quarterback.
Beathard doesn’t have another quarterback on the roster pushing him for playing time like he did with Rudock last season. Beathard’s backups consist of redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers and incoming freshmen Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle.
Ferentz would prefer to redshirt Cook and Boyle, whereas Wiegers has no game experience.
So it’s likely that Beathard would have to be awful over an extended period before being replaced. With so much job security, Beathard can play free and easy and take a few more chances by throwing downfield.
It’s hard to know how much a typical student-athlete looks at the big picture. College athletes are transferring at a high rate in both football and men’s basketball, suggesting that kids today are more concerned with themselves than the program.
Beathard reportedly thought about transferring based on comments that his father made to the Tennessean newspaper last December in the days leading up to the TaxSlayer Bowl.
One thing led to another, and ironically, Rudock ended up transferring after being demoted.
I’m not saying Beathard doesn’t care about the big picture or that he feels no pressure to win. It’s just that he could have a great season, but Iowa still could struggle.
James Vandenberg passed for over 3,000 yards for an Iowa team that finished 7-6 in 2011. Another season like that probably would help Beathard’s individual cause, but certainly not Ferentz’s situation.