Some towns and teams are more famous for QB controversies, and the usual requirement for an exceeding amount of controversy is that you need a rabid fan base that follows the local team more than other places in America. By this standard, there are very few big QB controversies most years surrounding the Northwestern Wildcats, Minnesota "Golden" Gophers, Atlanta Falcons, Baylor Bears, or even the Iowa State Cyclones, because most of their small fan bases do not pay much attention to the football team until mid-September, if ever.
My favorite example of a team that has a great fan base, that sometimes is a little too rabid, is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio have long been considered the heart and soul of football. Not only did the early history of the game start there, but the participation levels and fan interest per population is second to none. In addition to local high school football, the Steelers have also had support second to none as they have had mostly good to great teams over the last 30 years. Between the grassroots football following in the area and the success of the Steelers, the Pittsburgh fan interest has gotten out of control at times. Despite having good teams, Steeler fans have felt they suffered watching the likes of Mark Malone, Cliff Stoudt, and Kordell Stewart as the starting QB in a combined 10 seasons in the last 20 years. In defense of the fans, the three would have been booed in many towns, but in Pittsburgh there is always going to be even more passion involved than other places, whether it be positive or negative.
Not only were those three men booed in Pittsburgh, but the former two were run out of town. Stewart has heard so much booing that he has gotten to the point where he plays much better on the road. Despite winning 4 Super Bowl rings during his 14-year career in Pittsburgh, even Terry Bradshaw was treated pretty rough by the fans at times. They loved him in the late 70s, but he was booed tremendously in the early 70s and was even booed frequently in the early 80s. Steeler fans are very knowledgeable, for the most part, as they love defense and pay respect to great blockers like Mike Webster, but like any other fan base, there are certain casual knowledge football fans who only follow the ball and blame the losses and team problems solely on the QB and offensive coordinator.
Iowa City is not currently at the same level as Pittsburgh in terms of the continual focus on the QB position and the general amount of rabid fans, but the Hawkeye fan base is in the top 20 college football fan bases in the country. In fact, while there may be many more Notre Dame fans all over the country, Iowa fans traditionally have been as knowledgeable and supportive per population as almost any fan base in the country. How many places in America would the fans continually talk about the two-deep on the offensive line the way Hawk fans have since 1998 when the line fell completely apart? If the QB gets sacked in most towns, people blame the QB or the play call, but in Iowa City most of us not only could see that a lineman like Matt Rodgers (the JUCO LT, 1998) continually got beat in 1998, but we knew the two-deep so well that we were screaming for his replacement.
That isn't to say that some fans get way too caught up in the quarterback position. According to many, Matt Rodgers (the QB, 1989-1991) was one of the main reasons Iowa was only 5-6 in 1989. While Matt did become a better football player in his junior and senior years, his improvement was just one of many reasons why the team then went to the Rose Bowl in 1990 and went 10-1-1 in 1991.
Being from Eastern Iowa, I got to see Ryan Driscoll play a lot many years ago and thought he would eventually be a good QB when Hayden Fry named him the starter before the 1994 season. Ryan showed flashes that year before he got hurt in the 5-5-1 campaign, yet fans were in love with Matt Sherman after the way the freshman lit up poor defenses in the Northwestern and Minnesota games to finish the season. Sherman looked so good and was so accurate that he was hailed as "The Next Chuck Long."
With the track record of his time at Iowa, when Coach Fry named Sherman the starter for the 1995 and 1996 seasons over Driscoll, I totally supported the move. Although Matt never became Chuck Long, he certainly was effective as he led the team to 8-4 and 9-3 seasons before his senior year. Yet no matter how well the team did, if Matt did not throw for 300 yards and 3 TDs or the team lost, many fans would openly clamor for Driscoll. Maybe Matt wasn't the quickest QB of all time, maybe his arm was hurting some games, and maybe the play calling wasn't always the best, but in reality the Hawks were very good, but not great, in those years because the overall talent on the team was good, but not great. Casey Weigmann and Ross Verba were very good linemen, but there was by no means the depth and talent on the OL that Wisconsin or Michigan has had in recent years or that Iowa had in the 1980s. Tim Dwight, Scott Slutzker, Sedrick Shaw, and Tavian Banks were good weapons, but the Hawks did not have the WR corps of a Florida State or the fullbacks like Ohio State. I didn't think Dwight was always used as well as he could have been on offense, but the Hawks finished about where they should have in 1995 and 1996.
Driscoll graduated after the 1996 season, so the QB controversy surrounding Sherman should have gone away entering the 1997 season. However, not only did it not go away, but it was stronger after Randy Reiners played well in the spring game and looked great in mop up time in early season blowouts. No matter what Matt Sherman did, it never was enough for some of the fan base. After Matt hurt his hand against Michigan, those fans got their chance to see Reiners start as Matt missed the rest of the regular season. Not coincidentally, Iowa underachieved more that season than any other in the last 20 years. Although there were other key injuries and a lack of depth at some spots, many of the veterans of the 1997 team were main players on the 1995 and 1996 teams. So while I was hoping the team would go 10-2 in 1997 after going 8-4 and 9-3 the previous two years, the team struggled in the second half of the season to finish 7-5.
Was the difference in expectations and reality a result of Matt's injury? It had something to do with it, but injuries to players like LB Vernon Rollins hurt a team that has less depth than teams like Michigan. The loss to national champion Michigan after the Hawks led 21-7 at the half also seemed to really take the wind out of the collective sails of the offensive unit. Usually, Coach Fry got as much out of his team as any coach could get out of most teams, but in 1997 and 1998 it just did not happen. It may have started with losing good assistant coaches in the years before that, but Hayden not getting the most out of the 1997 and 1998 teams was the visible sign that showed the college football world that his era of glory was ending.
So as we enter the 2001 season, the old refrain of "who is going to be the QB" is once again upon us. Veterans Kyle McCann and Jon Beutjer have both shown that they are capable of playing winning football. I don't expect either one of them to separate ahead from the other, nor do I see Brad Banks dramatically improving enough to win the job from the beginning of the season. Even if no one steps forward, there is enough experience and talent to win several football games if the supporting cast is strong. For me, the difference in whether the Hawks are going to go from 3 wins to 7 wins lies more with how healthy and improved the offensive line is, and whether the WRs and DBs get help from newcomers and perform like they are capable of. The QB is certainly going to make a difference one way or another by his performance, but any of the three are going to have good seasons if they play behind a improved run blocking line that is healthy with Ladell Betts carrying the ball into daylight.
Show me a team with good skill people but an average to below average OL, and I can point to many mediocre to bad teams, like the 1999 and 2000 Indiana Hoosiers or the 2000 Iowa Hawkeyes. Show me a team with average to good skill people and a good OL, and I can point to many good teams like the Wisconsin Badgers of 1993, 1998, and 1999. However, show me a team that has almost everything except a good QB, and I can point to good but disappointing teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1983, 1997, and 1998.
Balanced talent is the key! Favorable schedules and good defense seem to help as well!
Also, make sure to read Report#3 from FutureStars down in Orlando as they cover Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner on the Martin Bros. AAU team, click here.
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