IOWA CITY, Iowa – The legend of Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard seems to grow with each performance behind center.
Beathard already is considered part savior, part playmaker and part inspiration, the answer to Iowa’s problems on offense.
Now imagine if Beathard leads Iowa to a victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl with yet another gritty performance.
His legendary status would reach where only a select few Iowa players have reached before in terms of popularity and mystique.
Should Iowa win the Rose Bowl for the first time in 57 years and for just the third time in school, Beathard would share a stage reserved for the greatest of the great Hawkeyes.
Beathard already is breathing rare air as the only Iowa quarterback to win his first 13 games as a starter.
He now has a chance to join Kenny Ploen and Randy Duncan as the only Iowa quarterbacks to win a Rose Bowl game.
“That would be big, and not just for me, but for this team,” Beathard said. “This Iowa football team would go down in history, and we want to do that.”
That is a typical Beathard response in that his answer was all about the team. That has been his approach all season.
Beathard has refused to make this record-breaking season about him, even though this season couldn’t have happened without the Franklin, Tenn., native leading the way.
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Beathard has been Iowa’s guiding light, a force whose greatness can’t be measured by statistics alone.
Beathard has completed 61.4 percent of his passes, but his 2,570 passing yards only ranks 12th on Iowa’s single-season list. And that’s in 13 games, whereas Chuck Long had three seasons in which he threw for more yards in 12 games and Drew Tate had two.
Iowa’s 12-1 record is Beathard’s greatest statistic, followed by his 15-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio and all the plays in which Beathard extended drives by scrambling for first downs.
Beathard has an uncanny skill of knowing when to tuck the ball and run and knowing when to pass. His ability to extend drives on third down, whether by running or throwing, separates Beathard from most Iowa quarterbacks.
Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis raved about Beathard during a press conference on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Davis has coached for nearly four decades, including for 13 seasons as the offensive coordinator at Texas where he helped win a national title in 2005. Davis has worked up close with his share of outstanding quarterbacks and feels that Beathard is on the verge of greatness.
“C.J. has a chance to be really special. Really special,” Davis said. “And when you say that, I’m talking about Gary Kubiak to Kevin Murray to Colt McCoy, Chris Simms, Major Applewhite.
“I’m talking about he has a chance, because he has all the things that you can’t coach, in that he’s got a really quick arm that can extend plays. He’s smart. He’s tough. And then he has a passion that he wants to always get us in a better play.”
Iowa fans will say that Beathard already is special. And he has one more season to build on his legend.
Davis said Sunday that he expects Beathard to play with more confidence and at a higher level next season.
If Beathard does that, and Iowa has another successful season in 2016 after winning the Rose Bowl, he probably would be chasing only Nile Kinnick’s legend.
It would be a disservice to Kinnick to compare his legend with Beathard’s legend because Kinnick stands for so much more than just football.
But as football players, Kinnick and Beathard share a bond as a past and present star, and as inspirational leaders.
Kinnick is also Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner, earning the honor as the leader of the legendary Ironmen in 1939.
Expect to see Beathard’s name on all the 2016 preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists regardless of the Rose Bowl outcome.
Should Iowa win, though, and Beathard plays well, it’s reasonable to think that he could be at the top of some lists, while the Hawkeyes will be picked as a national contender in 2016.
Not since 1985 when Chuck Long finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a fifth-year senior has an Iowa quarterback had the hype and expectations that will accompany Beathard into next season.
That’s incredible when you think where Beathard was just a year ago as a frustrated backup for a program mired in mediocrity.
It just shows that anything can happen when the right pieces come together under the right leadership.