IOWA CITY, Iowa – Entering his senior season with a 13-2 record as Iowa’s starting quarterback, C.J. Beathard has a chance to buck the trend relating to his position.
You’d probably have to go all the way back to Kyle McCann in 2001 for the last time an Iowa quarterback ended his career on a high note as a multi-year starter.
Ricky Stanzi won his last game as Iowa’s starting quarterback, leading the Hawkeyes to a 27-24 victory over Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl. But the victory came on the heels of a disappointing regular season in which Iowa lost its final three games despite having a roster filled with future NFL players.
Brad Banks and Nathan Chandler wouldn’t qualify because neither was a multi-year starter for Iowa.
Drew Tate is certainly part of the trend, considering he went from being the 2004 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a Big Ten champion as a sophomore to being benched briefly at Minnesota in his final regular-season game as a Hawkeye in 2006.
James Vandenberg also left with a whimper in 2012 after starting with a roar behind center in 2009 and then on a full-time basis in 2011.
This isn’t an indictment on the Iowa quarterbacks or the Iowa coaches, but rather an attempt to show that Beathard would accomplish something extremely rare should both he and the team improve on last season’s performances.
Iowa began spring practice last Wednesday with guarded optimism. Beathard is among 13 starters returning from last season’s team that won the Big Ten West Division and finished 12-2 overall. He made second-team all-Big Ten last season and showed a knack for making game-changing plays at pivotal times.
You could argue that Matt Rodgers was Iowa’s last multi-year starter at quarterback to go out on top, both individually and as a team.
But that was a quarter century ago in 1991 when Rodgers led Iowa to a 10-1-1 record in his third consecutive season as the starting quarterback. He also led Iowa to the Rose Bowl in 1990 after a 5-6 season in 1989.
Matt Sherman became the starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman late in the 1994 season and held the position for the rest of his career, exhausting his eligibility in 1997. Iowa reached its highest point under Sherman in 1996, winning nine games, including a resounding 27-0 victory over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.
Sherman and his cohorts also won their first four games in 1997 and climbed to No. 8 in the polls, but then went 3-5 the rest of the way. Iowa was on the verge of becoming a national story in 1997 before losing at Ohio State 23-7 in the fifth game of the season.
The Hawkeyes played at Michigan the following week and the situation would only get worse. In addition to blowing a double-digit halftime lead and losing 28-24, Sherman also suffered a hand injury that caused him to miss the rest of the regular season.
He returned to face Arizona State in the 1997 Sun Bowl. However, by then, Iowa was a shell of its old self and had a listless performance, losing 17-7 in Sherman’s final game as a Hawkeye.
McCann started at least two games in each of his four seasons of eligibility from 1998 to 2001 and 23 overall as a Hawkeye.
Hayden Fry retired as the Iowa coach after McCann’s freshman season in 1998. McCann then spent the next three seasons helping Kirk Ferentz rebuild the program. Iowa sunk to 1-10 in 1999, but then showed a pulse in 2000 by finishing 3-9.
McCann then led the Hawkeyes to a 7-5 record in 2001, capped by a 19-16 victory over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.
After serving as McCann’s backup in 2001, Banks shocked the college football world in 2002 by having one of the greatest seasons ever for an Iowa quarterback in his only season as the starter. Banks finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and led Iowa to an undefeated Big Ten record for the first time in 80 years.
The Hawkeyes finished 10-3 in 2003 with the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Chandler behind center in his only season as the starting quarterback.
After playing sparingly as Chandler’s backup as a true freshman in 2003, Tate won the starting job the following spring. Tate was flirting with legendary status after a spectacular sophomore season, which was capped by his 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway that defeated Louisiana State in the Capital One Bowl as time expired.
But then Iowa took a step back as a team in 2005, finishing 7-5 overall. Tate actually threw for more yards in 2005 (2,828) than 2004 (2,786), but there was conference title or bowl game victory to celebrate in 2005.
His statistics from 2006 also were respectable as Tate threw for 2,623 yards.
But the team fell apart down the stretch, losing six of its final seven games.
It was during the 2006 meltdown that Ferentz used the phrase “fat cats” to describe his team’s attitude, suggesting there was a sense of entitlement with some of the players.
Whether Ferentz meant Tate was part of that group is unclear because Ferentz didn’t single out any players.
Tate made one last stand by helping Iowa nearly pull off an upset against Texas in the 2006 Alamo Bowl.
But it still was a sobering conclusion to a career that had soared for a while.
Stanzi’s last stand
Stanzi held the starting job for nearly two-and-a-half seasons from midway through the 2008 campaign to 2010. He led Iowa to a 9-0 record in 2009 before missing the final two regular-season games with an ankle injury.
He came back to lead Iowa to a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl, setting the stage for what many thought would be a banner 2010 season for Stanzi and for the team.
It started out that way as Iowa won five of its first six games in 2010.
Wisconsin then used a fake punt to defeat Iowa 31-30 in the sixth game. Iowa recovered to win its next two games against Michigan State and Indiana before unraveling down the stretch, losing its final three regular-season games with Stanzi behind center.
The fact that Stanzi threw for 3,004 yards in 2010 was overshadowed by the team failing to meet expectations.
Vandenberg’s sudden decline
Vandenberg had shown flashes of brilliance as a redshirt freshman in 2009 while playing for the injured Stanzi with the Big Ten title on the line at Ohio State. Iowa lost the game 27-24, but Vandenberg won the respect of Iowa fans by playing with poise under pressure and by using his powerful right arm to complete some big-time throws.
Vandenberg would go on to pass for over 3,000 yards as a junior in 2011.
But then Iowa switched offensive coordinators in 2012 as Greg Davis replaced Ferentz’s long-time assistant, Ken O’Keefe.
Davis installed a new offense that relied more on short, horizontal passing routes and to say that Vandenberg struggled with the transition would be an understatement. It was like trying to slam square pegs through round holes.
Iowa sunk to a 4-8 record and Vandenberg threw for nearly 800 fewer yards than the previous season.
Rudock’s rise and fall
The Hawkeyes rebounded to finish 8-5 in 2013 as sophomore Jake Rudock took over at quarterback, performing well for the most part. He earned praise when Iowa was winning for being poised, prepared and meticulous with his approach.
But during tough times, Rudock was criticized for being a game manager who had limited arm strength and the inability to stretch defenses.
He eventually lost the starting job to Beathard after a disastrous end to the 2014 season.
Ironically, Rudock still sort of finished on top, but he had to transfer to Michigan in order for it to happen. He led the Wolverines to a 10-3 record last season, while Beathard led Iowa to unprecedented success.
There is no simple explanation for why so many of Iowa’s senior quarterbacks have faced adversity near the end of their careers. Injuries have been a factor, along with luck and scheduling.
It’ll be hard for Beathard not to fall victim to this trend, partly because the bar is set so high with Iowa coming off its first 12-win season ever.
But should Iowa win at least 10 games and Beathard performs well, he will have broken a pattern that dates back nearly three decades.