IOWA CITY, Iowa – Knock on wood, Iowa has experienced good fortune at the quarterback position. Not only have the Hawkeyes enjoyed production there, they’ve stayed relatively healthy.
C.J. Beathard might beg to differ. He was hobbled for most of the 2015 season and underwent sports hernia surgery after it. He didn’t miss any starts, however.
Iowa last suffered a significant quarterback injury in ’09, when Ricky Stanzi hurt his knee and missed most of the last three games following a 9-0 start. He returned to lead the program to an Orange Bowl victory.
Jake Rudock missed a start at Purdue in ’14 and left a few games early because of poor health. Nate Stanley made it through unscathed last fall. Had something happened, redshirt junior Tyler Wiegers was backing him up.
Having a veteran No. 2 could, and likely will, become more unusual moving forward. Since Russell Wilson made the graduate transfer rule a thing, upperclassmen backing up starters are rare. It continues trending more in that direction with each passing year.
Iowa first experienced it with Cody Sokol. The Arizona native left the program a year after arriving from junior college when he was sitting behind Rudock and Beathard. As a grad transfer, he threw for 3,436 yards and 30 touchdowns in helping Louisiana Tech win a bowl game in ’14.
Rudock started for Iowa in ’13 and ’14 before it was announced that Beathard had leapfrogged him on the depth chart heading into ’15 spring ball. Rudock graduated and left for Michigan, where he threw for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading the Wolverines to a 10-3 mark and a 41-7 victory against Florida in the Citrus Bowl. He’s spent the last two seasons backing up Matthew Stafford with the Detroit Lions.
As a junior, Beathard led Iowa to the Big Ten West Division Championship with a 12-0 regular season in ’15. There’s a decent chance he would have moved on had Rudock topped the depth chart heading into spring ball that year.
The Hawkeyes played that ’15 season with a redshirt freshman, Wiegers, backing up Beathard. In ’16, they had Wiegers and Stanley, a true freshman, in reserve.
The situation for ’18 will be even more fragile. Stanley, a true junior, enters the spring as the starter. His backups will be redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell, who arrived on campus in June, and true freshman Spencer Petras, who turned up last month.
That’s it. Three scholarship quarterbacks, two of which are freshmen, on the roster this fall.
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The situation resulted from the exits of Wiegers and Ryan Boyle as graduate transfers this offseason. Adding in Rudock and Sokol, the Hawkeyes have lost four signal callers that way since ’14.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said he’s not concerned with his quarterback depth chart heading into ’18. He sees it resulting from the nature of the position and the current landscape of college football.
“There’s only one seat, one guy can drive the car,” he said.
While quarterbacks have transferred throughout time, the graduate transfer rule made popular by Wilson, who went onto stardom at Wisconsin before winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks, allows players to play right away at their new schools. They previously had to sit out a year.
Rudock graduated in four years. Wiegers finished his degree in three and a half years. Boyle will have done it in three when he’s finished in May, giving him two years of immediate eligibility at his new school.
Ferentz said he was pleased with how all of the guys that left carried themselves when they were part of the team. They never let the fact that they were transferring affect how they prepared while at Iowa.
“That’s the commonality of all the players, they’ve done a great job on the campus, and you just wish these guys the best,” Ferentz said.
Boyle met with Ferentz recently and said he wanted to play.
“We all respect that. And I doubt that he just thought about that the day before, but you would never have known it the way he’s conducted himself,” the coach said.
While Boyle’s future home is undecided, Wiegers already has enrolled at Eastern Michigan, where he will compete for a starting spot. The Eagles graduated their No. 1 quarterback from last season.
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“I think we’d all agree, we had a couple of guys transfer out of here the last three years that really did well, went on to their respective schools and did a great job,” Ferentz said. “I predict that same thing with Tyler, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t do a great job where he goes.”
The situation isn’t unique to Iowa. It’s happening all over the country.
Stanford’s Keller Chryst, N.C. State’s Jalan McClendon, Arizona State’s Brady White, Tennessee’s Quinten Dormady, Washington’s KJ Carta-Samuels, Michigan’s Alex Malzone, Vanderbilt’s Shawn Stankavage are among a group of quarterbacks who have announced they’re graduate transfers this offseason.
Michigan is trying to add Shea Patterson from Ole Miss. That’s not a graduate transfer situation but he and other Rebels are seeking immediate eligibility due to sanctions in Oxford.
Jacob Eason will sit out ’18 after leaving Georgia for home-state Washington when he lost his job to Jake Fromm. It’s natural to wonder what comes of the Jalen Hurts-Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama. Can the Tide keep both happy?
That’s the rub. As Ferentz says, ideally, there’s only one quarterback that plays. And it’s easier for the others to move on now more than ever before.
You would like to think that Mansell and Petras will be patient enough behind Stanley for the next two years, barring injury or ineffectiveness, but that might be naive. And when Stanley does move on, only one of those guys gets the No. 1 job. And there’s a chance a ’19 quarterback could come in and win it.
It’s the nature of things at the sport’s most important position. And if anything, it’s going to get crazier before it slows down.