IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has built his career on being a regular guy who makes it possible to predict many of his moves.
Fans complain about Ferentz’s predictability when it comes to play calling. Often, their angst is justified, and when it came to last season’s passing game, Ferentz shared that disgust.
But Ferentz did something on Tuesday that surprised me — and most of the people who crowded around him at Kinnick Stadium. Ferentz had his usual list of talking points, which included a game suspension and injury updates. Then he got to the point. Every reporter was there for a quarterback announcement.
“The last thing, and probably the biggest thing for everybody at your end, is the quarterback situation,” Ferentz said two minutes into his news conference.
“We’ll have a starter named by Monday at the latest.”
The record skipped. Foreheads furled. The clicks of character deletion from iPhone Twitter accounts was audible from many of the reporters.
“I’m not sure when that decision will get made,” Ferentz said. “The competition remains very close.”
Nearly 10 days before kickoff, Iowa appears as close to a quarterback decision as it did after the spring game in April. Without a clear favorite among sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers, and any semblance of a receiving corps, the best decision four months ago was no decision. But now, after the spring, offseason workouts and three-plus weeks of training camp, it’s time for closure.
The last thing this football program needs is a cloudy quarterback situation invading the regular season. The program juggled quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen for a full September back in 2008 before opting for Stanzi. It cost the Hawkeyes a game at Pittsburgh.
The 2014 season was a mess due to the Jake Rudock-C.J. Beathard drama. Rudock was a tough, effective leader. Beathard had the bigger arm. Both played. Both were alpha types, which is necessary for the position. Both are in the NFL, too.
In 2014, the friction was obvious. Players were pulled in multiple directions. Beathard was the ultimate man’s man, almost like Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. Rudock was smart, competitive and fiery. Both hated to sit, and the situation required decisive action. Ferentz waited until six days after the 2014 season ended to name Beathard as the 2015 starter. Rudock transferred to Michigan. It was mutually beneficial for both players and both teams, but it soured a season.
This competition between Stanley and Wiegers appears docile by comparison. The vibe is less divisive. The frustration that gripped everyone in 2014 is more heightened interest. The personal investment among the teammates appears less obvious. Once a starter is named, it’s likely Iowa’s players will rally around the quarterback. It doesn’t matter which one picks up the role.
But it still begs the question: Why is it taking so long, and at this point, what else is there to see?
“You want to look at the numbers,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said Tuesday. “You want to look at the tangible data and what that says. Then you also have to go with what you see. Then you have to go also with what you feel. It’s all part of the decision. That’s why it’s not an easy decision.
“If one of those things is so obviously different, then of course it makes it an easier decision. We’re talking last year, C.J. Beathard clearly was going to have the best numbers, best feel and he showed up the best in competitive situations. You’re looking at two guys who haven’t played a lot of football. It’s not unexpected that it’s so close, but it makes it harder.”
The physical differences are marginal between Stanley and Wiegers. Stanley stands 6-foot-5 — 1 inch taller than Wiegers — and weighs 235. Wiegers weighs 225. Both have strong arms but are inconsistent at times with their accuracy. Neither are speed merchants but they can move if necessary. Stanley is quieter while Wiegers is more vocal. Both are dean’s list-caliber students.
Wiegers served as Beathard’s backup in 2015. Last fall, Stanley won the job. Wiegers has thrown 4 career passes; Stanley has thrown 9. While last season seemed decisive in Stanley’s favor, Kirk Ferentz suggested that decision was unclear, too.
“That was a close decision,” he said. “So it’s just the way it works. Every year you evaluate differently and last year Nate was slightly ahead and right now it’s neck-and-neck.”
Both Ferentzes were upbeat publicly about their quarterbacks, and understandably so. If their unanswered questions in late August are rooted in positivity, then all the better. If they’re still hoping for some magic separation and it hasn’t emerged, then that’s concerning.
“If they don’t [separate], then we will pick one,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Sometimes it’s not always scientific. That’s true at all positions. You judge the body of work, then we go with that. If that is the case, then it’s a delicate balance. We’ll keep an open mind. You don’t want whoever it is going in there playing looking over his shoulder every snap. That’s not healthy.”
In a sport that thrives on cliches, one sticks out for this situation: When a team has two quarterbacks, it has none.
Is that the case with Iowa? The Magic 8 Ball says, “Ask again later.”