By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – From a statistical standpoint, Nate Stanley is well on his way to becoming one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the history of the Iowa football program.
He has thrown 26 touchdown passes in each of the past two seasons and he only needs to throw 23 touchdown passes this season to break Chuck Long’s school record of 74 scoring strikes.
Stanley’s 52 touchdown passes over the past two seasons are the most by an Iowa quarterback in back-to-back seasons and he could realistically finish his career ranked second behind Long in career passing yards.
Stanley enters his senior season with 5,351 passing yards, which currently puts him ninth in career passing yards at Iowa.
So the Wisconsin native truly is a stat-sheet stuffer, but where the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Stanley comes up short is in the win column.
And fair or not, that is what truly defines a successful quarterback.
“I don’t think my opinion is going to change anybody else’s opinion one way or the other,” Stanley said at Iowa’s annual media day event on Friday. “But I definitely know that it comes with the territory, or otherwise you’re a little ignorant to think that it doesn’t.
“It doesn’t matter what my opinion is on it. People are going to think what they want to think.”
Long is widely regarded as Iowa’s greatest quarterback of all time and he has the statistics to prove it, including being the first Big Ten quarterback to surpass 10,000 passing yards during a career.
But Long’s legacy goes beyond just having gaudy statistics.
He also led Iowa to the 1985 Big Ten title and to its first double-digit win season as the Hawkeyes finished 10-2 that season.
Long finished runner-up to Bo Jackson for the 1985 Heisman Trophy in the closest vote ever for the award.
Former Iowa quarterback Randy Duncan also finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1958 after having led the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten title. Duncan would go on to cap his career with a victory in the Rose Bowl and is now regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in program history.
Brad Banks and Drew Tate both led Iowa to Big Ten titles in 2002 and 2004, respectively, and Banks also finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2002.
And though Ricky Stanzi never made first-team All-Big Ten, he did lead Iowa to three bowl victories, including a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl.
On the other hand, Iowa is just 9-9 in the Big Ten with Stanley as its starting quarterback. Stanley also has just one victory on the road against a Big Ten opponent that finished with a winning record, and that was against 7-6 Minnesota last season.
So the next step for Stanley couldn’t be more obvious, although, he doesn’t seem too concerned about his legacy.
“I hadn’t really even thought about that at all,” Stanley said. “Obviously, the goal is to be the best that we can be and win that Big Ten championship. I don’t think just the Big Ten West championship is our goal. The Big Ten championship is the ultimate goal for us.
“But I haven’t thought about it that much as far as it pertains to how people will think about me in the future.”
Stanley has been modest and soft-spoken since he arrived at Iowa. He always puts the team first and doesn’t seem preoccupied with his individual goals or his legacy.
“Football is one of the greatest team sports that there is and the team part of it is never going to change,” said Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe. “Every player is depending on another player doing their job and the quarterback position is no different.
“It’s a higher profile position, obviously, because of the fact that he touches the ball on every play. But other than that, the focus always remains on what the team is able to do and what gets accomplished there.”
Stanley will leave Iowa as a three-year starter, and that by itself is a worthy accomplishment as O’Keefe pointed out on Friday.
“The way I look at it, and the way we look at it, Nate’s going to be a three-year starter,” O’Keefe said. “The difference right now is that he is part of our process and the improvement of our process rather than just trying to figure out where things are supposed to be.
“We’re just going to get out here and try and work as hard as we can for the next opportunity to improve. That’s really been our number one goal for all of preseason, and obviously, all offseason. And he’s done that and continues to do it. If we stay focused on that, the results will takes care of themselves.”
Stanley was asked on Friday what he feels he needs to improve on the most at this stage.
“Completion percentage and ball placement,” he said. “Just really allowing the receivers to make plays with the ball after they catch it.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also was asked on Friday what his expectation is for Stanley at this stage.
“Just play the best he can play, and he doesn't have to be the guy that's going to save our team or be the face of Iowa football,” Ferentz said. “He's just got to play really well at quarterback. Like all of our seniors, but you hope your quarterback is a leader, and he's been that.
“I guess my hopes are that we see his best football this year and his best leadership, and that's what we're hoping for from all of our guys. And I guess if there's a cautionary note again, just don't try to do too much, just be the best player you can be. That's all you can do, and by doing that, he'll really help our football team.”
Quarterbacks often gets too much credit when a team has success and too much blame when a team struggles. It's hard to criticize Stanley's statistics, so you have to look elsewhere to find flaws.
Stanley has a chance to rank among the best Iowa quarterbacks of all time, but it'll be hard for him to join that elite group without leading Iowa to at least a Big Ten West Division title.
That might not seem fair since football is considered the ultimate team sport.
But that is the burden with playing quarterback and Stanley knows that. He has played the position long enough, and has been in the spotlight long enough to know that a quarterback is ultimately judged by wins and losses.
And in that case, the jury is still out on Nate Stanley.