IOWA CITY, Ia. - Love him or leave him, Ricky Stanzi enjoyed a great run as Iowa's starting quarterback. He threw 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions in 2010 and his 25 wins as a starter ranked as the sixth best total among FBS signal callers at the end of Iowa's regular season.
The Stanzi Era ends in the Insight Bowl. A new one begins in the spring. Someone will walk into the most scrutinized athletic position in the state.
Junior-to-be James Vandenberg appears to be the odds on favorite to step into Stanzi's shoes. The Keokuk native enters the offseason with the only significant game experience among the returnees.
Vandenberg took the reigns as the starter for two games in '09 and played the majority of three contests when Stanzi went down with a ankle sprain in Week 10 against Northwestern. He looked overwhelmed in the loss to the Wildcats, but rebounded the following week in an overtime loss at Big Ten Champion Ohio State. He managed a 12-0 victory against Minnesota in the final regular season game during which the coaches installed a very conservative offensive plan.
The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Vandenberg possesses more arm strength than does Stanzi. He's not a runner, but he can scramble and is athletic.
If Vandenberg wins the job, it will have been almost two years since he played meaningful minutes when Iowa kicks off the '11 season. We don't know how he'll react to being the man. We won't know how comfortable the Iowa coaches will be with him and how long of a leash he'll get.
Stanzi looked afraid to make mistakes this season after throwing 15 interceptions in '09. That apprehension cost him during a November of inaccuracy. It reminded me a little of how Jake Christian played during his time as the starter, although the lefty never came close to showing the ability of his successor.
One of the reasons that the odds are in favor of Vandenberg starting is the muddied situation behind him. Redshirt junior-to-be, John Wienke, is the author of one college pass.
Guys develop at different rates. Maybe Wienke makes a huge leap from the end of the season to August camp.
The Iowa coaches didn't show a lot of confidence in Wienke during the Michigan State game. Stanzi played the whole game because he and Kirk Ferentz said that Vandenberg was unavailable due to se action injury. It made me wonder why Wienke couldn't have come in to hand off.
Wienke arrived at Iowa with a strong pedigree. The son of a high school coach, he backed out of his commitment to Michigan when Lloyd Carr retired. His was the Illinois coaches' first-team all-state quarterback as a junior and season when he threw for 34 scores in each of those campaigns.
True freshman A.J. Derby served as the fourth and final scholarship quarterback on the '10 roster. The Iowa City High product enrolled at Iowa last January and participated in spring ball and summer camp. Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe have talked up the youngster's progress.
Derby served as a lightening rod for discussions among Iowa fans before he showed up on campus. Detractors don't believe he can play quarterback on this level and world be better served using his natural gifts to play another position. Ferentz mentioned before the season that he felt Derby could help on special teams a true freshman.
Ferentz is leaving the decision on Derby's future position up to the player, which is smart. A.J. needs to take the spring, and possibly the summer, to evaluate himself and determine where he sits in the pecking order. If he's unable to win the job before next season and those ahead of him stay healthy, he could be looking at his redshirt junior year before he possibly takes over the reigns.
Derby still is raw as he's only been playing the position for several years. He's determined to prove the doubters wrong, but he also is capable of making his way at another position and possibly playing at the highest level with his talent.
Derby will be keeping on eye on what happens ahead of him, but he'll also have to pay attention to what's coming in behind him. The accomplished Jacob Rudock is expected to sign in February. Iowa coaches are eagerly anticipating arrival of the trigger man for one of the top prep programs in the country - Ft. Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas.
Rudock plays against top competition and is breaking school records. This fall, he has over 2,000 yards passing, which could be a lot higher if he didn't sit so often during lopsided affairs.
Drew Tate rose to second on the depth chart as a true freshman and took over the starting position the next fall. Christensen and Stanzi were redshirt sophomores by the time they started.
It's hard to imagine the Iowa coaches turning to Rudock next fall. They prefer veterans. He would have to be far and away the top performer to move into the No. 1 spot.
Looking ahead to what Iowa might coral in the 2012 class, the Hawkeyes sit well with two highly-regarded signal callers in Gunner Kiel and Zeke Pike. They hold offers and have visited Iowa more than once.
Kiel (6-4, 200) and Pike (6-5, 225) are gunslingers that would work well in a prostyle offense. Scout.com ranks them as four-star recruits on the five-star scale.