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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Position Battle: Quarterback

Not surprisingly, the quarterback position for the Hawkeyes is one of the most highly contested position battles underway this fall. After a less than stellar season in 2007, returning starter Jake Christensen returns surrounded by much debate amongst fans over who should be this year’s signal caller. Let’s take a closer look at the competition for the top spot on the depth chart.

Jake Christensen (Jr.)

Jake came to Iowa out of high school as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation; he also was one of Iowa’s blue chip recruits of the 2005 class. Most expected the transition from Drew Tate to Christensen to be mostly a smooth one, and most would be wrong after seeing Jake take over the offense last season and seeing the offense struggle mightily. Certainly some of that can be blamed on Christensen’s play and of course some will also blame a combination of other issues that caused inconsistency throughout the 2007 season. Inexperienced offensive line, depleted receiving corps, inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent running game, and play calling just to name a few (you get the idea).

Last season aside, it appears highly likely that Jake will be under center for the Hawks in their season opener against Maine. Coach Ferentz made it clear coming into spring practice this year that the quarterback battle was an open competition. Two quarterbacks came out of the spring in an apparent dead heat for the top spot, and when last year’s backup Rick Stanzi suffered a shoulder injury this fall, Jake became the #1 guy. For now….

Rick Stanzi (Soph.)

Stanzi finds himself in the most popular spot on the Iowa roster: backup quarterback. Since the injury to his throwing shoulder earlier in camp, Stanzi has returned to practice sooner than expected and should give Christensen good competition for the starting spot. Stanzi is obviously behind in the experience department, and that injury certainly did not help his chances of taking the reins out of the gate this season. Barring the unexpected, Stanzi will probably be holding the clipboard to start the season, but unlike last season don’t expect Coach Ferentz to feel that he isn’t ready to play. Should Christensen struggle coming out of the gate, Stanzi will be right there waiting for a shot.

Marvin McNutt (RS-Fr.)

Last year Mr. McNutt was drawing some comparisons to the great Brad Banks. Most fans saw McNutt as the future quarterback for the Iowa Hawkeyes and he may still be, but the “future” is probably still a couple years away. After a lackluster spring, and a somewhat poor showing in the Spring “Game”, McNutt has found himself at a solid #3 on the depth chart. Expect Marvin to see the field late in the 2nd halves of the first 2 or 3 games, but the much anticipated “McNutt Era” is still a work in progress.

James Vandenberg (Fr.) & John Weinke (Fr.)

The wild cards in this year’s quarterback competition are true freshman Vandenberg and Weinke. Vandenberg threw for more than 3700 yards and 49 touchdowns while leading Keokuk to the 3A State Championship as a senior running a pass-first spread offense similar to that which Drew Tate ran in Texas. Weinke originally committed to Michigan but changed his mind and signed with Iowa, thanks in large part to the hiring of Rich Rodriguez in Ann Arbor. Weinke is a tall pro-style quarterback with a very strong arm. Both have apparently turned some heads in Iowa City since coming to town early this summer to learn the playbook and get acclimated to college life. However, expect both to redshirt this season, especially with Stanzi back in practice and apparently healthy.

HSN’s Prediction

As said earlier, expect Jake Christensen to be under center on August 30th as Iowa opens up against Maine. Whether or not he is replaced will obviously depend on his success and the success of the Iowa offense. Of course news of injuries to TE Tony Moeaki and WR Trey Stross are not very good signs, but despite those injuries, Jake should have a solid and more experienced offensive unit around him (minus running back) and his leash will be much shorter than last year with a healthy Rick Stanzi waiting in the wings.