Looking at Performances of 1st-Year Starting QBs During Kirk Ferentz Era
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa’s recent quarterback history would have have been altered significantly had two coaching changes not occurred.
C.J. Beathard committed to Mississippi in 2011. But the Rebels fired Houston Nutt on Nov. 7, 2011. His successor, Hugh Freeze, who preferred the spread to a Pro-Style offense, tried to keep Beathard. But C.J. committed to Iowa on Jan. 30, 2012, and signed with the Hawkeyes two days later.
“Sometimes when there are staff changes, fits aren’t as comfortable as they maybe were at one point,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We benefited, quite frankly, from the staff change in that case.”
Beathard, now with the San Francisco 49ers, was Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2015 and 2016. The Hawkeyes were 20-7 overall and 14-3 in Big Ten play with Beathard behind center.
Spencer Petras committed to Oregon State out of Marin Catholic High School in San Rafael, Calif. But the Beavers had a disastrous 2017 season. Coach Gary Andersen resigned on Oct. 9, 2017, and was replaced by Cory Hall on an interim basis. Oregon State finished the season 1-11.
Jonathan Smith was hired as the new head coach and tried to keep Petras in the fold. But he visited Iowa in December of 2017, a trip he had scheduled before Smith was hired, and signed a letter of intent with the Hawkeyes a few days later.
In his announcement that he had decided to change schools, Petras wrote on Twitter, “I am very excited to join the Hawkeye family and am grateful to move on from a great high school football culture at MC to join a great culture with the Hawkeye family. Thank you Coach Ferentz and Coach O’Keefe.”
Ken O’Keefe, on his second tour of duty on Ferentz’s staff, is the quarterbacks coach.
Ferentz announced in January that Petras, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore, would succeed Nate Stanley as Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2020.
Ferentz said Petras looked good in December, when the Hawkeyes were preparing for their Holiday Bowl victory over USC.
“Especially in December, he looked like a college quarterback,” Ferentz said. “He looked like a Big Ten quarterback in practice.”
Petras, who enrolled at Iowa before the spring semester in 2018 and participated in spring practice that year, was Stanley’s backup in 2019. He played in three games, completing six of 10 passes for 25 yards.
“He seems to have all the right attributes,” Ferentz said. “It’s a matter of him getting himself ready and going out and competing.”
If college football returns on schedule, Petras will make his first collegiate start Sept. 5 against Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
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This will be the ninth time since 2002 that the Hawkeyes have started a season with a new starter under center.
It happened three times in a row – Brad Banks in 2002, Nathan Chandler in 2003 and Drew Tate in 2004. All three led their teams to a Top 10 finish in the Associated Press poll.
After three years as a starter, Tate handed the reigns over Jake Christensen in 2007. Christensen also started in 2008, but eventually lost the job to Ricky Stanzi.
James Vandenberg in 2011, Jake Rudock in 2013, Beathard and 2015 and Nate Stanley in 2017 were the other first-time starters. Beathard actually had one start under his belt, a 2014 victory at Purdue when Rudock was injured. Vandenberg started at Ohio State and at home against Minnesota in 2009 after Stanzi was injured.
“We’ve played with a lot of first-year quarterbacks and done fine,” Ferentz said. “Going back to Banks and Chandler and Tate, three straight years in a row. So at some point, guys have got to jump in the water.”
Banks, a junior college transfer, saw action in 10 games in 2001 as a backup to Kyle McCann. He completed 41 of 68 passes for 582 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
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Banks beat out Chandler, also a junior college transfer, for the quarterback job in 2002.
“I don’t want to say it’s a concern, but it’s an area that’s going to take a lot of attention,” Ferentz said at media day in August of 2002. “Brad hasn’t started a game yet, but the good news is he has played.”
Banks then turned in one of the greatest seasons ever for an Iowa quarterback. He finished a runner-up to USC’s Carson Palmer for the Heisman Trophy, was the Associated Press National Player of the Year and was presented the Davey O’Brien Award. Banks piloted Iowa to a Big Ten title and an 11-2 record, completing 170 of 294 passes for 2,573 yards, 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Chandler won the job in 2003. He took over an offense that lost Mackey Award winner Dallas Clark at tight end and had three linemen – Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson and Ben Sobieski – selected in the NFL Draft.
Chandler, who had thrown just 20 passes as a backup to Banks the previous season, completed 165 of 307 attempts for 2,040 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Iowa was 10-3 and finished 8th in the AP poll for a second straight season.
Tate, who attempted just 11 passes as Chandler’s backup, led Iowa to a third straight double-digit victory season in 2004. The Hawkeyes were 10-2, including a 7-1 Big Ten record and a miracle victory against LSU in the Capital One Bowl. That team also finished 8th in the AP poll.
Tate was a three-year starter.
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Southpaw Jake Christensen replaced him in 2007, and completed 198 of 370 passes for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. Iowa was 6-6. Stanzi, the No. 2 quarterback, attempted just four passes (all incompletions).
Christensen started 2008 as the starter, then was replaced by Stanzi in the second game against Florida International. Stanzi started against Iowa State, but Christensen entered the game late in the third quarter and rallied the Hawkeyes to a 17-5 victory. Christensen started the next game at Pittsburgh, Stanzi made a first-half appearance and then Christensen went back in. But Stanzi took over for good the following week against Northwestern.
That 2008 team beat South Carolina in the Outback Bowl to finish 9-4. Stanzi completed 150 of 254 passes for 1,956 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Christensen attempted just 63 passes, and later transferred.
After passing for 2,417 yards in 2009, an 11-2 season that ended with an Orange Bowl victory against Georgia Tech, and 3,004 yards in an 8-5 season that finished with a victory over Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl, Stanzi was replaced by James Vandenberg in 2011.
Vandenberg threw for 3,022 yards, with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions, in his first of two seasons as the starter. He passed the torch to Jake Rudock, who beat out Beathard and Cody Sokol, in 2013.
Rudock started 25 of 26 games over the next two seasons, but lost the job to Beathard heading into 2015 and transferred to Michigan.
Beathard led Iowa to its first 12-0 start ever in 2015, completing 170 of 301 passes for 1,929 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also became the fourth first-time starter to have his team finish in the Top 10 of the final AP poll (ninth).
Nate Stanley threw just nine passes as Beathard’s backup in 2016. But he completed 196 of 351 passes for 2,437 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions as a first-time starter in 2017.
Stanley, selected in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, started 39 consecutive games over three seasons. Iowa won 27 of 39 games, including bowl victories the past three seasons. Stanley finished second in career passing touchdowns (68), passing yards (8,302), completions (673) and attempts (1,155).
Those are big shoes for Petras to fill. But as recent history tells us, first-year starters at quarterback under Ferentz and his staff have had impressive debuts.