By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When it comes to predicting the level of success for the 2019 Iowa football team, one thing concerns me more than any other.
It isn’t the inconsistent, and sometimes overrated running game, or the loss of four star players to the NFL, all of whom had eligibility remaining, or the loss of starting kicker Miguel Recinos, or the mediocrity at punter or the brutal schedule that concerns me the most.
What concerns me the most is that history isn’t on Nate Stanley’s side.
He will try to do this fall what no Iowa quarterback has done since Matt Rodgers in 1991, and that would be to play well as a senior, and as a multi-year starter, while also leading Iowa to a special season.
That is nearly 30 years, and while there has been some strong individual performances by Iowa senior quarterbacks during that time, the seniors who were multi-year starters either performed poorly or the team struggled, or both.
Injuries also have been a factor as Drew Tate and C.J. Beathard both were hampered by physical ailments during their senior seasons in 2006 and 2016, respectively.
Brad Banks had an incredible senior season in 2002, going from being the backup quarterback the year before to the 2002 Heisman Trophy runner-up.
But Banks wasn’t a multi-year starter, nor was Nathan Chandler, who led Iowa to a 10-3 record as the starting quarterback in 2003.
I could be reaching here, but it just seems strange that Iowa’s multi-year starting quarterbacks have finished more with a whimper than a roar since 1991.
Rodgers made first-team All-Big Ten as a senior in 1991 and led Iowa to a 10-1-1 record in his third season as the starter.
That pretty much checks all of the boxes.
Matt Sherman was Iowa's next multi-year starter at quarterback from 1994-97 and he seemed poised for a huge senior season in 1997 after having made second-team All-Big Ten in 1996 for a team that finished 9-3.
But Sherman injured his hand against Michigan in the sixth game of the 1997 season and didn’t return until the Sun Bowl.
An Iowa team that started 4-0, and that featured the dynamic duo of Tim Dwight and Tavian Banks on offense, and the dominance of Jared DeVries on defense, unraveled without its starting quarterback, finishing 7-5 in what was clearly the most disappointing and frustrating season in all of my years of covering the Hawkeyes.
Iowa lost back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Northwestern in November by scores of 13-10 and 15-14, respectively, and those losses sucked the life and spirit out of the players, or so it seemed.
The 1997 season ended with an uninspiring 17-7 loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
Kyle McCann is the one quarterback who could make a case for beating this trend because he was a multi-year starter who saved his best for last in 2001, leading Iowa to its first winning season (7-5) under Kirk Ferentz.
But McCann wasn’t the full-time starter until his senior season in 2001 as Randy Reiners and Scott Mullen also started some games at quarterback from 1998 to 2000.
Drew Tate became Iowa’s next multi-year, full-time starter at quarterback from 2004-06, and to say that he started fast out of the gate would be an understatement.
Tate led Iowa to its last Big Ten title in 2004 as a sophomore and first-year starter. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2004, and ended the season by completing arguably the greatest touchdown pass in program history, a 56-yard desperation throw that was caught by senior Warren Holloway for a touchdown as time expired to defeat Louisiana State 30-25 in the Capital One Bowl.
Tate actually performed better from a statistical standpoint in 2005, but Iowa sputtered and finished just 7-5 overall.
His senior season was mired by nagging injuries and he completed 26 fewer passes than his sophomore season.
Iowa won its first four games in 2006, but then lost seven of its last nine games, including the last four in a row.
Tate and his cohorts showed some life in the Alamo Bowl where they nearly upset defending national champion Texas. The 26-24 loss almost seemed like a moral victory, which is not how you would’ve expected Tate’s career to end after how it had started.
Up next as the multi-year starter was Ricky Stanzi, who took over as the full-time starter five games into his sophomore season in 2008 and then held the position for the rest of his career.
The good far outweighs the bad with Stanzi, considering Iowa was 3-0 in bowl games with him as the starter, and that he threw for 3,004 yards as a senior in 2010.
Iowa also tied a school record at the time by winning 11 games during Stanzi’s junior season in 2009.
The Hawkeyes were 9-0 in 2009 when Stanzi was injured against Northwestern. Iowa would go on to lose to the Wildcats 17-10 at Kinnick Stadium and then also lost a week later at Ohio State, 27-24 with James Vandenberg playing quarterback in both games.
Stanzi was close as a senior to doing what Rodgers had done nearly two decades before, but then Wisconsin pulled off a fake punt at Kinnick Stadium, and that led to a 31-30 Badger victory in the seventh game.
Iowa recovered to win the next two games against Michigan State and Indiana, but then lost the final three regular-season games to Northwestern, Ohio State and Minnesota by a combined 10 points.
A team that many thought was capable of winning a Big Ten title and competing on the biggest stage instead finished its season in the Insight Bowl against Missouri.
Stanzi and his cohorts deserve praise for winning the bowl game because they could’ve easily folded after having finished the regular season so poorly.
But to finish just 8-5 is hardly what Stanzi envisioned for his senior season, especially considering the talent on Iowa’s 2010 roster.
Vandenberg became the starter as a junior in 2011 and finished with 3,022 passing yards and 25 touchdown passes.
Ken O’Keefe then resigned as the Iowa offensive coordinator after the 2011 season and was replaced by Greg Davis.
Unfortunately, for Vandenberg, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time as Iowa struggled to adjust to Davis’ horizontal passing games during the 2012 season.
Iowa finished just 4-8 in 2012 and Vandenberg had nearly 800 fewer passing yards than the previous season.
Jake Rudock became the starter in 2013 and held the job for two seasons before being supplanted by C.J. Beathard shortly after the 2014 season had ended.
Rudock transferred to Michigan where he started as a graduate student in 2015, while Beathard led Iowa to the Rose Bowl and to 12 wins in 2015. Beathard also made second-team All-Big Ten and was popular with his teammates and fans.
There were high hopes for Beathard’s senior season in 2016, but similar to what happened to Tate a decade before, Beathard struggled with injuries and his team suffered, finishing 8-5 overall.
That brings us to Stanley, who will join Tate this fall as the only quarterbacks to start for three consecutive full seasons under Ferentz.
Stanley has combined to throw 52 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, which is the most by an Iowa quarterback in back-to-back seasons.
However, 27 of those scoring strikes were caught by former tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both are whom are now in the NFL after having been drafted in the first round by Detroit and Denver, respectively.
So there is some uncertainty with the Iowa passing game.
Can the experience at the receiver positions help to make up for the lack of experience at tight end?
And will Iowa reload at tight end rather than rebuild?
It would be naive and unreasonable to think that the current tight ends will pick up where Hockenson and Fant left off.
But they also can’t be weaknesses, either, because Stanley will need all the help he can get to avoid being Iowa's next multi-year starting quarterback to face adversity as a senior.
"You just have to work at it," Stanely said on the final day of spring practice last Friday. "You've jut got to put in the time. There's no secret to it, other than just putting in hard work and that chemistry will build itself."
Stanley might have an advantage with Ken O'Keefe having returned to Iowa in 2017 to coach the quarterbacks. O'Keefe's only responsibility is coaching the quarterbacks, so that will mean plenty of hands-on training for Stanley.
Now we'll just have to wait and see what happens.