It's about that time again. For the next three months, BHGP will be previewing this year's Iowa Hawkeyes, position-by-position. Naturally, as the earth revolves around the sun, things will change. Therefore, we're starting with the position where we are most certain, and ending with the position of which we are least certain.
You have no idea how happy I am to type the following sentence: The first installment of ATP09 - and, ergo, the position we are most certain about - is quarterback.
Our Lord and Savior
Rick(y) Stanzi (#12, 6'4", 220, Junior) - The Manzi cometh.
Stanzi's 2008 was...eventful. He missed a significant part of fall camp with a shoulder injury, got a surprise start in week 2 against Florida International, struggled mightily against Iowa State, played his first full game as a starter in week 5, and never looked back.
You could almost watch the kid grow into the position. Against Iowa State, in his first action against a team even remotely approaching legitimacy (say what you will about the CLOLnes, but they were better than Florida International) and in bad weather, he was clearly lost. There were flashes of brilliance mixed with moments of inexplicable frustration in early October. By the end of November, he was downright competent.
Most visibly, Stanzi learned how to close games. In week 4 against Northwestern, the offense took over down 5 with 4:15 to play. Stanzi took the team 70 yards in under 3 minutes (all but one play was a pass), only to come up short on four plays from the jNWU 8. The last possession at Michigan State had the same result (though that drive was almost entirely on the halfbacks). He finally closed the deal against Illinois by scrambling for a first down on third-and-ten, only to have the defense allow the game-winning field goal.
And then came Penn State.
Down two against the then-undefeated soon-to-be Big Ten champs, Stanzi took over from the Iowa 29 with 3:46 to play. He took a sack on the first play. After getting a reprieve from Anthony Scirotto, Stanzi strung together 4 first downs, even though he was facing one of the nation's best defenses keyed on the pass. On second and 8 from the PSU 25, most quarterbacks would play it safe and throw the ball away. Stanzi found DJK on the sideline and turned a 42-yard game-winning field goal in swirling winds into a chip shot. It was the moment where SDS went from marginally competent signal-caller to bona fide Big Ten quarterback. Wins over Purdue, Minnesota, and South Carolina only reinforced his place at the top. Word has it that spring was good to the Manzi, and that his coaches and teammates are pleased with his progression.
There is no competition left for Rick(y); Christensen announced his inevitable transfer, Marvin McNutt was converted into a wide receiver, and the remaining quarterbacks are redshirt freshmen. With Shonn Greene's defection to New York, Stanzi is the de facto leader of the offense. If they stay healthy (and, when you're talking about Trey Stross and Tony Moeaki, they won't), he will have at his disposal the best Iowa receiving corps since 2004 (and maybe since 2002). If they grow up quickly, he will still have solid support from his running backs. If they merely come back as they did last year, he will have protection from the best Iowa offensive line since Joe Philbin left for Green Bay. There will be the occasional STANZIBALL, to be sure, and you always worry that a quarterback that skinny will be chopped in half, but the pieces are there. It's Swingin' Dick's job to put it together.
Could See the Field
James Vandenberg (#16, 6'3", 205, Freshman (RS)) - Both the freshmen are listed as co-backups, but all talk/internet chatter since last summer indicates James Vandenberg might be slightly ahead of John Wienke.
Vandenberg did not receive a BCS-conference offer until he had completed his record-breaking career at Keokuk High. He finished his senior season by leading his team to the Iowa 3A state championship, putting up 3,729 yards passing and 49 touchdowns en route to becoming the state's all-time leading passer. It was enough to get 3 stars from both Scout and Rivals, and late offers from Purdue, Iowa and Nebraska. He saved himself from the indignity of having to live in Nebraska or Indiana by quickly commiting to the Hawks.
There is good reason why Purdue (allegedly) offered Vandenberg; he is the prototypical Boilermaker quarterback. Comfortable in the shotgun, coming from a pass-heavy spread offense in high school, not particularly mobile but accurate in the short passing game. He plays like a skinny Curtis Painter (well, played;during his redshirt year, Vandenberg clearly hit the weights, and is listed 30 pounds heavier than he was when he entered the program). Vandenberg appears to be the Iowa quarterback of the future. Let's just hope we don't need him outside garbage time this year.
John Wienke (#15, 6'5", 225, Freshman (RS)) - Wienke, another universal 3-star, fielded offers from half the conference (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue, Iowa) and actually committed to Lloyd Carr in June 2007. When Rodriguez took over, however, Wienke quickly realized there wasn't much room for a statuesque pocket passer and reopened his recruitment. Kirk Ferentz was there with an offer, and Wienke was on board by mid-December.
Wienke had an equally-prolific high school career, throwing for 3,221 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Tuscola (IL) High while winning a state championship. He was considered an "Elite 11" quarterback, which I only know from College Football 2007, but apparently means he's pretty good at playing football. He's already the biggest quarterback on the team, so I guess that's saying something. Barring injury, he'll almost certainly split late game/cupcake duty with Vandenberg this year.