IOWA CITY, Iowa — C.J. Beathard stood at a podium still wearing black-and-yellow Nike cleans and a left knee brace with his wavy strawberry blond hair pointed in every direction.
In a 42-3 decimation of instate rival Iowa State, the Iowa quarterback produced a high-level performance that seems almost routine. Beathard completed 19 of 28 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Like in the season opener, he didn’t throw an interception.
Last week Beathard was 13 of 20 for 192 yards and a score. In a sport that’s dazzled by statistics, Beathard’s seem … nice. Efficient, maybe. Certainly not the pinball machine numbers we’ve seen in spread-style attacks. But one statistic above all stands out with Beathard, and that’s winning. That alone should vault him into Heisman Trophy consideration.
Beathard has started 15 regular-season games, and Iowa has won them all. True, the Hawkeyes lost a nail-biter in the Big Ten championship to Michigan State and followed with a dud of a Rose Bowl. But 15-0 in the regular season should wrinkle some foreheads. So should 5-0 in rivalry trophy games.
It’s not just the winning that makes Beathard special. It’s the subtlety with which he leads the program. Last year at Iowa State, he made six or seven plays that few quarterbacks could make. One drive he made four plays that prevented the Hawkeyes from another Cy-Hawk disaster. There were others, like the end of a home game against Pittsburgh where he sprinted for 8 yards, dove across the 40-yard line, turned and called timeout and gave kicker Marshall Koehn just enough time to kick a 57-yard field goal.
Beathard took Iowa to its first unbeaten regular season since 1922. It was a team with strong senior leadership, but only one player was drafted last spring. He was the reason for the season.
“He’s as good of a playmaker — and me and Chuck Long had this conversation — of anybody I’ve seen here,” said long-time radio broadcaster Ed Podolak.
Podolak played at Iowa in the 1960s then returned to the state in 1982 and broadcast Long’s games. Long was the Heisman runner-up in 1985. Both called Iowa’s win against Iowa State for different mediums.
Beathard’s forte begins with his ability to get Iowa in and out of plays. He called an audible at the line of scrimmage, which led to a LeShun Daniels’ 43-yard run. Beathard did it later on a 12-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Matt VandeBerg.
“I don’t know if you guys even get to see a real fraction of what he does for us as far as leadership role and what play to put us in,” said VandeBerg, who caught seven passes for 129 yards. “There are times when we just go out on the field and we just call formations. He puts us in the right play because he knows his football.”
“He takes command of the entire offense, the entire team,” Daniels said. “We all follow his lead. He does an excellent job of getting everybody going and making sure that everybody does their assignments, does their jobs and he really pushes everybody to get better.”
As a junior, Beathard earned second-team all-Big Ten plaudits behind Michigan State’s Connor Cook. This year, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is touted the league’s best. But when you consider the Spartans beat the Buckeyes on the road without Cook last year, and the Buckeyes won the national title with an injured Barrett in 2014, those teams could overcome the loss of their quarterback. Iowa, conversely, would look fairly ordinary without Beathard.
“He’s very important,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “We’re going to go as far as C.J. takes us. He can do it all. He can run, he’s got a cannon, he’s smart. He’s tough. He’s got a lot of heart. We all respect him. He’s going to lead us.”
Any discussion of Beathard entering the Heisman conversation coincides with the team’s success. It won’t happen with a pounding of Iowa State or a Big Ten West Division title. It’s all about winning big games, like against Michigan in November or earning a Big Ten title.
Quarterback Brad Banks was the last Iowa player to receive Heisman attention back in 2002. His Iowa squad was 8-0 in league play with dominating performances over Michigan, Northwestern and Minnesota as well as big moments against Purdue and Penn State. Banks was the Heisman runner-up because he succeeded within a dominant team structure. Beathard is succeeding because he’s the dominant force at head of the team.
“Nobody knew who Brad Banks was in September,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “So you let things talk for themselves. Let your actions speak for themselves.
“My theory on that one is kind of like your team, if you’re good enough, people will recognize it and you’ll be where you should be in the end. But there are a lot more important things than talking about them or worry about what’s being said. It’s a lot more important to be doing things than focusing on those things.”
Iowa does have a strategy for national awards. Beathard and cornerback Desmond King were featured on notepads that went out to voters this summer. The media relations staff puts together a promotional package with videos, photos as well as traditional news releases. They meet with Ferentz to discuss the right approach. For the most part, it’s too early in the season to make that push.
But that doesn’t mean Beathard isn’t worthy of discussion here in mid-September. Far from it. Without him, Iowa is a nice team, maybe a West Division contender. But the Hawkeyes aren’t a threat. With Beathard, anything is possible including the Heisman. That’s not just my words, that’s from his teammates.
“He’s the Heisman to us,” Wadley said. “In our eyes he is.”