Schwartz: Hawkeye Football Is About Stanley, Stanley, Stanley

March 28, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

So as Iowa’s women’s basketball team prepares for its Sweet 16 matchup this weekend against North Carolina State, as the baseball team inches its way toward the meat of its season, as the men’s basketball team cleans out its lockers, and as the NFL Draft – rich with Hawkeyes – looms with ironic drama, one Iowa-related line of questioning keeps popping up:

What can we expect out of Nate Stanley this year?

Will he be better? If yes, how?

How should we measure his improvement? Stats? Eyeball test? Wins and losses?

The Hawkeye quarterback, who is going into his final season of eligibility and this third as Iowa’s starter, will soon become the university’s most scrutinized athlete. Spring football is upon us. No Iowa player in the athletic department will be under a hotter, more intense spotlight than Stanley between now and the end of the year.

He’ll have nowhere to seek cover once the women’s basketball team’s season ends either with a national championship or the noble push to win one. It’ll be Stanley, and only Stanley. Gone is the pair of tight ends with NFL appeal. Gone is the easily adaptable defensive back who has become part of Iowa’s golden age at the position. Gone are so many pieces who helped make the last couple of seasons mostly successful.

Strip all that away, and you’re left with Stanley. Just Stanley.

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Not that there aren’t other storylines, most notable the continued progression of A.J. Epenesa. Also, it’s worth noting that I’m writing hyperbolically. Stanley isn’t trying to hide from anything. He’ll be around, he’ll answer questions, he’ll go through the song and dance we make all the high-profile athletes go through.

It’s just that this coming football season feels – finally – like it’s going to be all about Stanley, most notably three things:

1. How many games can the Hawkeyes win, and how much of that answer depends on Stanley’s ability to perform consistently at a high level?

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2. Will he finally find some consistency throwing the deep ball? He’s been maddeningly inconsistent over the last two years, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers on plays that extend at least 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

3. Will he be able to resist throwing the ball 130 miles per hour to his receivers on shorter routes? In other words, can he finally develop the touch he needs in short-yardage situations?

The short-range prediction to questions two and three is, yes. Probably. With as much work as he’s put in, it’s hard to imagine him not being better at both parts of his game. Then again, we thought the same thing about No. 2 before the start of last season, yet here we are, wondering the same thing all over again.

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As for the team’s performance, well, it’s a team game, but we’re looking at it at this moment through the lens of the quarterback. Separating the two is hard, especially with so many question marks with the start of the regular season still several months away.

The quarterback, a position that always gets too much blame and too much credit, in this case holds immense power over his team’s potential. It’s not too much to pin this level of responsibility on Stanley. He’s been around. He knows the stakes.

And this is his last shot.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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