IOWA CITY — Expectations were low for Iowa quarterback Rick Stanzi when he entered spring football last spring.
Stanzi had played in only two games in 2007, throwing the ball just four times with one interception. Jake Christensen had started all 12 games in 2007 and the quarterback job was his to lose.
“It is interesting last year at this time (Stanzi) wasn’t prominent in my thoughts,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s the neat thing about college football, I think, is a year ago he was down in the depth chart a little bit and really didn’t distinguish himself, I don’t think, until during the course of the spring. That’s when I thought maybe we had a little bit of a battle. I’m not sure we knew that going in.”
Stanzi’s battle with Christensen stretched from summer through early fall. Each player started two of Iowa’s first four games and both quarterbacks played with limited success. Following a one-point road loss at Pittsburgh, Ferentz ended the rotation by declaring Stanzi the starter.
The move seemed to pay off. Stanzi won eight of his 11 starts, including an upset of previously unbeaten Penn State and an Outback Bowl victory against South Carolina. He threw for 1,956 yards and 14 touchdowns. While he enters the season as the clear favorite for the starting position, Stanzi also will face challengers, Ferentz said.
“Good players expect competition and thrive on it and like it,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, Rick’s got a lot of things he can do better and should do better because he’s made a lot of first-time mistakes which all players make. Quarterbacks’ errors are a little more prominent obviously, that’s the downside.
“We’re hoping he can really refine his play.”
Red-shirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke enter spring football as Stanzi’s backups. Like Stanzi last year, both players have an opportunity to challenge the incumbent with a solid spring.
“Rick is clearly the favorite but we’re hoping both those guys can press him and make him better,” Ferentz said. “That’s what the thing’s all about, good competition out there and those guys both have a lot to learn. They were on the scout team last year, but we tried to give them some work in our offense. Both of them seem to be quick learners, so it’s going to be interesting to watch and see what they do and see where they’re at after 15 practices.”
Vandenberg, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds, terrorized the Iowa high school record book after his senior season at Class 3A Keokuk. He holds 12 different state records, including career passing yards (7,709), single-season passing yards (3,729), career touchdown passes (93) and single-season touchdown passes (47).
Wienke (6-5, 220) also dominated high school football, throwing for 6,070 yards and 68 touchdowns at his high school in Tuscola, Ill.
“They’re a lot alike in a lot of ways,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got great personalities, they love football, they love being on he field, they make you feel good just being around them.
“They compete hard, yet they like each other and work well with each other. It’s an interesting dynamic.”
About 14 months ago, Iowa had four quarterbacks on its roster. Along with Stanzi and Christensen, who will graduate and transfer to another college for his final year of eligibility, quarterbacks Arvell Nelson and Marvin McNutt were in competition. Nelson left the program after a drug arrest and played free safety at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College last year. McNutt, who entered last fall as the third quarterback, shifted to wide receiver a couple of games into the fall last year.
The defections of Christensen and Nelson, along with McNutt’s position change have left the backup position open.
“That’s part of the process here in the next 15 days,” Ferentz said, “is to see who does what and see if one will move ahead of the other.”