Howe: Quarterback Competition a Good Sign for Iowa Football | Football

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Someday people will forget about Iowa’s backup quarterbacks. They’ll love the starter and not think about other options. 

Nah. That ain’t happening. 

It’s not unique to the Hawkeyes. That’s why the term “arm-chair quarterback” grew out of the sport and into more mainstream analogies. 

There’s usually a segment of a fanbase focused on replacing the starting quarterback, especially in college when new candidates join the roster annually. It really comes down to the size of this group. 

When Ricky Stanzi led Iowa to a 9-0 start in 2009, it was very small. But you can bet at least a few folks wondered if James Vandenberg was an upgrade. The same can be said about C.J. Beathard in ’15. 

That wasn’t the case a year earlier when a much larger part of the community wanted Beathard to replace Jake Rudock as the starter. That represented the most heated quarterback controversy during the last two decades and resulted in Rudock transferring to Michigan. 

Critics have called out the Hawkeye coaches for the ’01 decision of starting Kyle McCann ahead of Brad Banks, who would be the AP National Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy runner-up a season later. Banks has since said he wasn’t sure if he was better than McCann in ’01. 

We’ll never know. These decisions are inexact. Kurt Warner is in the NFL Hall of Fame after being told he couldn’t play in the league and taking a job bagging groceries while proving himself. 

That leads us to the current discussion at Iowa. I would say the situation much more closely resembles the Beathard-Rudock vibe than it does ’09 or ’15. It’s not as heated as in ’14 but it’s toasty. 

Redshirt junior Spencer Petras sits atop the depth chart after leading Iowa to a 6-2 record and No. 15 national ranking during the pandemic-compromised ’20 campaign. Redshirt sophomore Alex Padilla is listed as his backup. Deuce Hogan, a redshirt freshman, is presumably No. 3 as the only other scholarship player at the position. 

Let’s start with Petras, who ranked third in the Big Ten in passing yards (1,569) and fourth in passing touchdowns (9) last fall. He comes into the season having led the team to six wins in a row, joining Stanzi (13) ’08-09 Beathard (12) ’15, Chuck Long (9) ’84-85, Banks (9) ’02, Drew Tate (9) ’04-05 and Chuck Hartlieb (6) ’87 as the only Iowa signal callers with at least that long of a streak since ’71, when they began playing 11 games. 

Now, Petras isn’t yet in the conversation with the others listed here, in case his inclusion put you in a rage. That’s an accomplished group. But the achievement also shouldn’t be dismissed. 

If he can push the run to eight, he’ll pull more folks into his fan club. Iowa’s first two games in ’21 are against Indiana and Iowa State. Kent State, Colorado State and Maryland follow, which puts 11 in a row in reach if he can conquer the opening weeks. 

While I’m sure that scenario causes eye-rolling from detractors, you’re failing to acknowledge improvements made by college student-athletes. There are far too many examples to cite. 

Petras experienced a first-year starting like no other, ever. The pandemic wiped out spring ball, it compromised summer workouts and postponed August training camp. 

The stunted development time showed early in the season when the Hawkeyes dropped their first two contests. He tossed three interceptions in a Week 2 loss to West Division Champion Northwestern working in a game plan that was ill-advised and called for him throw 50 times despite an early 17-0, first-quarter  lead. 

Petras suffered from inconsistency but did improve with time. During his final four outings, he completed 61 percent of his passes for 810 yards with six touchdowns against just one interception. 

Spring practice began last week with the coaches – head, coordinator, position – having offered votes of confidence for Petras throughout the end of last season and this offseason. They’ve committed to playing the guy who they feel gives the team the best chance to win. 

It’s up to Petras to build that confidence and stay ahead of the competition. Padilla and Hogan, who also lost crucial development time due to COVID-19, certainly can gain ground. And even though that might not happen this month, it could occur during the summer or within the season. 

Again, players improve. And they do so at different rates. 

Beathard passed Rudock. Stanzi overtook Jake Christensen. Adam Lambert replaced Freddy Mercury. 

OK, that last one proved a major downgrade. 

Padilla claimed the backup job last season. He held it coming into spring ball. He enrolled during the spring of ’19 and arrived with a pedigree that saw him pick up a Georgia offer in recruiting. 

Hogan came to campus last June, during a pandemic. He took scout-team reps in the fall and then lost growth time when bowl prep was canceled. He had so little college development before this spring. 

A case can be made that Hogan is the fan favorite based on social media feedback. Take that for what it’s worth knowing that it means nothing to the coaches and players. These competitions are settled on the field. 

However this shakes out, it’s hard seeing all three quarterbacks finishing their careers here. If it happens, great. It’s just not the norm anymore with the transfer portal churning at a rapid rate. 

Trying to figure out who stays and who goes is a fool’s errand. You might end up being right, but it’s yet to be determined. They’re all talented and capable. 

That’s good news for Iowa. There’s a high-level of potential that can be reached through competition. Programs strive for that set-up, though it often eludes them these days because of frequent player movement. 

It’s understandable if you have a favorite, your guy as a Hawkeye follower. But if you want wins, root for the best man emerging and growth for all.