Iowa CITY, Iowa - Most of us know the story of James Vandenberg killing a bear. Next Challenge: Getting the Hawkeyes above .500 in the league for the seventh time in 14 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Iowa has risen above .500 in the Big Ten twice in the last six seasons. By contrast, Wisconsin has done it five times in that span.
Iowa fans want the bullies of the Big Ten back.
Vandenberg posted strong statistics and enjoyed some big moments as a first-year starter in '11. Consistency was not a strength, which at least partially included his play on the road.
In the regular-season finale at Nebraska, the senior from Keokuk completed 16 for 35 passes for 182 yards and an interception in a 20-7 loss. The Hawkeyes only points came with 3:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
You get cut some slack after losing in Lincoln. That pardon is not given when you come up short in Minneapolis.
Vandenberg connected on 16 of 24 throws for 177 yards and a touchdown at Minnesota last fall. He also was sacked three times in a 22-21 loss at the then 1-6 (0-3 Big Ten) Golden Gophers.
An early-September Iowa win at Iowa State last season could have given Vandenberg the confidence he needed going forward in '11. Instead, a painful overtime loss in Ames may have planted a seed of doubt in the confident Iowa signal caller. We'll never know.
OK. It's time to let up on Vandenberg. He's coming off an impressive first year as a starter, especially historically.
Vandenberg completed 237 of 404 passes for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He became only the third quarterback in Iowa annals to exceed 3,000 yards passing in a campaign. The other two were named Chuck (and I assume they still are). His 25 scoring passes ranked third on a school's all-time list.
College football teams like to say they make the most progress during a season between Weeks 1 and 2. It might also be said that quarterbacks make their most improvement as a collegian between Year 1 and 2 as a starter.
Vandenberg can "make all of the throws" a football cliche meaning that he can get the ball to any receiver anywhere on the field. You can't teach that and it's valuable.
Vandenberg needs to get a tick better at accuracy and touch, but most of all it's a feel in the pocket. He will be rushed. He will be blitzed - A Lot - until proving he can handle it.
Iowa leaned on Vandenberg a lot last season and that likely will increase in '12. It's a somewhat inexperienced offense otherwise.
Junior college transfer Cody Sokol has a redshirt year remaining and likely will use that up in the fall. In the disaster that would be losing Vandenberg and Rudock, you'd likely see John Wienke. But, at that point, it won't matter.