TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 30: Quarterback James Vandenberg #16 of the Iowa Hawkeyes drops back to pass during the Insight Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners at Sun Devil Stadium on December 30, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Assume the Position is our offseason guide to the Iowa Hawkeyes football depth chart. The math is difficult, so take it from us: As time moves on, we'll know more. That's why we rank the positions from most certain to least certain.
This is the fourth straight year that quarterback has led off Assume the Position. In fact, there has only been one quarterback semi-controversy in the last decade of Hawkeye football. Iowa might have complete chaos everywhere else, but stability at quarterback has now become a program hallmark.
Haters to the Left
James Vandenberg (#16, Senior (RS), 6'3", 212, Keokuk (IA) HS)
I only go to a couple of games a year anymore, mostly because I'd usually rather spend thirteen hours watching four games within sight of my refrigerator. Last season, I attended Pitt and Michigan State, and you'd probably be justified in thinking that any conversation about James Vandenberg would center on Pitt. I'd like to start with Michigan State, though. Vandenberg went 22 of 47 for 262 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick, the vast majority of those yards and one of the touchdowns coming long after the game had been decided. By pure completion percentage, it was Vandenberg's worst performance of the season to date (he would do even worse against Nebraska a couple of weeks later). The crowd was restless to begin with, and it only got worse with every incompletion. There were 25 incomplete passes that day, and the guy behind me called for A.J. Derby to take over after quite literally each of them. This is not uncommon behavior for Iowa football -- cue the Hayden Fry quote about how every Iowa fan's favorite player is the backup quarterback -- but it was made unique here by the fact that Derby had long since moved to linebacker.
Yes, that guy was a moron, but I doubt he was the only one looking for a backup that Saturday afternoon. A brief stop at any Iowa message board will quickly evidence a split among the fan base on whether Vandenberg is a capable starting quarterback for this team. He never really contested Ricky Stanzi for the position when he was an underclassman, and he appeared to inherit it more than win it in 2011; John Wienke had long since been relegated to non-factor, Derby was always too much of a departure from the traditional Hawkeye signalcaller, and Jake Rudock had been on campus for about a minute and a half. Vandenberg, at first blush, wasn't as good as the last guy and was obviously and exponentially better than the motley crew around him.
The problem with that argument is that, at least by pure numbers, it's not true. We did a taste test in this post last year, so let's do it again. Following are the best seasons, measured by quarterback rating, of the last seven Iowa starting quarterbacks (McCann, Banks, Chandler, Tate, Christensen, Stanzi, and Vandenberg).
And now, the answer key:
A - Chandler (2003); B - Vandenberg (2011); C - Banks (2002); D - Christensen (2007); E - Stanzi (2010); F - McCann (2001); G - Tate (2005)
In 2011, Vandenberg completed and attempted more passes than any Iowa quarterback since Chuck Hartlieb. His yardage total outpaced every season played in black and gold by Drew Tate, Ricky Stanzi, and every other Iowa quarterback since, again, Chuck Hartlieb. His reduced rating is due to his average completion percentage (though that percentage is still better than Brad Banks in 2002, and Brad Banks was runner-up for the fucking Heisman Trophy), but it belies an excellent touchdown/interception ratio and otherwise solid effectiveness. This is not an inherited quarterback; this is a player.
It's fitting, I suppose, that Vandenberg's numbers continually relate back to Chuck Hartlieb, because Vandenberg's place at Iowa so closely mirrors Hartlieb: An upperclassman quarterback who inherited the position from a beloved multi-year starter who had taken the team to heights not seen in years, fought off nominal opposition (in Hartlieb's case, true freshman Dan McGwire) for the spot, then posted numbers superior to his predecessor on a couple of mediocre teams. Hartlieb's masterpiece -- 288 completions on 460 attempts, 3310 yards, 14 TDs, 9 picks -- came on a team that went 6-4-3 despite his work. Vandenberg's, at least to date, was on an equally mediocre team. Whether he gets a chance to ply his trade for a better squad depends more on the offensive and defensive lines rounding into form than anything he's done or will do. Vandenberg's a good quarterback, better than anything that can be put in his place. A.J. Derby isn't getting on the field. It's high time everyone stops talking about it.
The Guy Probably at the Top of Assume the Position 2013
Jake Rudock (#15, Freshman (RS), 6'3", 200, St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Weston, FL))
Rudock wasn't that heavily recruited, at least not until Al Golden took over at Miami, but he showed enough ability to push John Wienke to special teams and A.J. Derby to linebacker without even taking the field. Rudock graduated from a football factory in south Florida, which ironically worked to his disadvantage; scouts discounted his ability because he was throwing and handing off to four-star recruits. Iowa swooped in and picked up his commitment, then slapped a redshirt on him and left him with KOK for seasoning. He responded by clearing the division like Andre the Giant. Questions regarding arm strength have been apparently resolved, and there's no denying his ability to manage a pro-style offense. There's a whole new set of challengers to fend off, but Rudock starts on top of the backup heap and should probably get the job after Vandenberg graduates.
While You Wait for the Others
Cody Sokol (Number unknown, Junior, 6'3", 210, Scottsdale (AZ) CC)
Iowa didn't really have any quarterbacks targeted in the Class of 2012, and in November, it looked like they might strike out. With only three quarterbacks on the roster at that point (and John Wienke a quarterback-in-name-only), that result could be disastrous for 2012 and beyond. Enter Cody Sokol, a JUCO transfer from Arizona who happened to have been born in Iowa. Sokol threw for 2041 yards and 23 touchdowns in nine games last season, and chose Iowa over offers from some legitimate programs (Arizona, Cincinnati, Maryland, FIU). This isn't a Brad Banks situation -- Sokol fits the size, style and profile of Rudock to a T, and won't be a change of pace guy -- but he'll have every opportunity to win the job next year.
C.J. Beathard (Number unknown, Freshman, 6'2", 180, Battle Ground Academy (Franklin, TN))
Yes, Houston Nutt's loss is our gain. Beathard was a longtime Ole Miss commit who started wavering late in the season, then jumped ship when Nutt left. Ken O'Keefe made a couple of trips south and eventually beat out SMU and Tulane for his services. You have to feel for the poor kid; the head coach he wanted to play for gets fired, he finds a new program with a quarterbacks coach he likes, and that quarterbacks coach leaves as soon as he signs. He doesn't fit the usual profile of an Iowa recruit, and he's been on the fence for a while; he'll be one to watch closely. For 2012, he'll redshirt.