This offseason, Black Heart Gold Pants is undertaking the unenviable task of ranking the greatest players of the Kirk Ferentz era. From 1999-2019, we’re emptying the memory banks, popping in the highlight tapes, and embracing the controversy as we try to determine who stands out as the best of the best. We’ll start by ranking the top five players at every position group before moving on to the top 25 players regardless of position. Rankings are based on college performance and do not take professional success into account.
BHGP’s rankings of the greatest players of the Ferentz era marches on, undaunted by a 2020 Iowa football season that ended before it even began. While Spencer Petras likely won’t have a chance to earn his spot on the pantheon of Iowa’s greatest quarterbacks until at least early 2021, Iowa fans can still take some solace in remembering all of the fantastic signal callers to come through the program since Kirk Ferentz arrived in Iowa City in 1999.
5. C.J. Beathard (2013-2016)
5th place feels too low for a quarterback who led the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 regular season, a Big Ten West title, and a Rose Bowl berth, but Beathard’s career numbers were depressed by two seasons spent as Jake Rudock’s backup and a senior year plagued by injuries and an ineffective offense. C.J. Beathard was sensational in 2015, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors while passing for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns and adding six more scores on the ground. Beathard was a dangerous runner in the open field but could do the most damage when he had enough time to fire his rocket launcher of an arm from the pocket.
Beathard led the Hawkeyes to 21 wins over his career, shepherding the Hawkeye offense through several marquee victories including upsets of Michigan and Wisconsin and six 4th quarter game winning drives. Yet his strongest individual performance came in his 2015 victory over Iowa State, where his creative passing and deceptive scrambling ability helped to break the game open and show Iowa fans just how much of a gamer their new starting quarterback was.
Iowa fans may never know what Beathard could have accomplished had he seen the field more often early in his career, but he more than performed well enough to earn a spot on this list.
4. Nate Stanley (2016-2019)
Nate Stanley was never an elite college quarterback, but he was a very good one who tallied some serious accomplishments over the course of his three years as a starter. Stanley ranks second all time in career completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns among Hawkeye quarterbacks, is second in single-season touchdown passes (26 in both 2017 and 2018), and is third in career total offense with 8,198 yards. The Hawkeyes went 3-0 in bowl games with Stanley as the starting quarterback and were undefeated against rivals like Iowa State, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
At his best, Nate Stanley was as good as any pocket passer to ever play at Iowa. The strong-armed Wisconsin native threw five touchdown passes in wins against both Ohio State and Iowa State in 2017
and tossed a whopping six touchdowns against Indiana in 2018.
Stanley’s final game at Iowa saw him clinically dismantle the USC Trojans for his 27th career win as a starting quarterback (the second most of any Hawkeye ever), a fantastic capstone to one of the most frustrating, yet exhilarating quarterback talents to come through Iowa in several years. Stanley never beat Wisconsin or led the Hawkeyes to a conference or divisional title, but his accomplishments are clearly enough to warrant his inclusion in these rankings.
3. Ricky Stanzi (2007-2010)
I once wrote that Ricky Stanzi “was simultaneously both the greatest and worst starting quarterback in all of college football over the course of any given Saturday afternoon.” Fortunately for Iowa fans, his moments of greatness more than trumped his bizarre lapses in competency. The same quarterback who threw five interceptions in a single game against Indiana and tossed pick-sixes like it was his job also set the program record for passing efficiency in a single season during his dominant senior year, throwing for 3,004 yard and 25 touchdowns on 64.1% completion for a passer rating of 157.6. Go figure.
Stanzi was a fan favorite from the jump, edging out entrenched starter Jake Christensen midway through 2008 and sparking the second football renaissance of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa. The 2009 Hawkeyes were 10-0 in contests in which Stanzi started and finished the game as the quarterback, and his 231 yard, two touchdown performance in the 2010 Orange Bowl propelled Iowa its only BCS win of the Ferentz era.
Stanzi was absolutely elite in his 2010 wins against both Michigan and Michigan State, completing +70% of his passes and throwing for three touchdowns in each game.
Yet the greatest of Stanzi’s 56 touchdown passes came a year earlier when he tossed a game-winning strike to Marvin McNutt as time expired.
Stanzi truly was the “Manzi,” pick-sixes and all.
2. Drew Tate (2003-2006)
It didn’t take Drew Tate long to let Iowa fans know exactly what he was about. Between allegedly fighting Matt Roth to staying in the pocket even after having his helmet ripped off by a Michigan defender mid-play, Tate (who was…generously listed at 6’0, 170 lbs.) quickly showed Iowa fans that he was all heart, all swagger, all the time.
Tate earned the starting job as a sophomore in 2004 and led the Hawkeyes to an 11-win season and a share of the Big Ten title despite losing virtually every running back to injury, resulting in the feisty sophomore being named the 2004 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Tate eviscerated Ohio State for 331 passing yards and three touchdowns on 66% completion while also adding a score on the ground,
but the greatest highlight of his season, and arguably of the entire Ferentz era, came in his game winning touchdown to Warren Holloway to defeat Nick Saban and the defending national champion LSU Tigers in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
Tate followed his strong 2004 with an even more impressive 2005 campaign which saw him set career marks for completion percentage (62.2%), passing yards (2828), passing touchdowns (22), and passer rating (146.4). While injuries slowed Tate as a senior, he still finished his career in second place for total offense with 8,427 yards while also ranking third in passing yards (8,292), passing touchdowns (61), and completion percentage (61%). Sometimes great things do come in small packages.
1. Brad Banks (2001-2002)
Brad Banks only spent two seasons in Iowa City and was only the starting quarterback for one of them, so it’s a testament to his greatness that he edged out three three-year starters for the top spot on this list. Banks’ 2002 season was one of the greatest in Hawkeye history and saw him finish as a close second in the Heisman Trophy voting while earning first-team All-American and All-Big Ten honors and winning the AP Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien, Big Ten MVP, and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards. Banks finished his Big Ten co-champion campaign with 2,573 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air along with 423 yards and 5 scores on the ground, making him easily the most dangerous dual-threat QB to come through Iowa under the Ferentz regime. As Tnels 20 writes,
“Imagine the statistics Banks would put up in a modern RPO based offense!”
Banks compiled more spectacular highlights during his 2002 season than most college quarterbacks do in their entire careers. From his game winning drive and touchdown pass against Purdue
to his three touchdowns to defeat Michigan in the Big House
to his five-touchdown performance against Northwestern which saw him complete 100% of his passes and post an otherworldly 364.5 passer rating,
Banks consistently proved that he was one of the most exciting offensive weapons in the country. He expertly commanded Iowa’s most dynamic offense during the Ferentz era, leading the Hawkeyes to eleven wins and a perfect conference record. Banks holds program records for single-game completion percentage and career passing efficiency, and his 26 touchdowns tie Nate Stanley for the second most in a single season, yet his legacy goes beyond his stellar numbers. As JPinIC writes,
“It’s so unfortunate that 1. we didn’t get more of Banks and 2. he didn’t win a Heisman. It might have been the stage of my life, but watching Branks Banks run wild and drop dimes was the best time of my Hawkeye fandom.”
For all of these reasons, Banks was the clear unanimous choice for our top quarterback of the Ferentz era.
BHGP Composite Rankings:
5th- Nate Stanley
4th- (tie) C.J. Beathard
4th- (tie) Ricky Stanzi
2nd- Drew Tate
1st- Brad Banks
Next week we finish our positional countdowns by ranking the top five specialists of the Ferentz era before moving on to our composite Top 25 of all players to suit up for Captain Kirk over the past two decades. Stay tuned!