Iowa CITY, Iowa - In the spring of 2004, Kirk Ferentz did his best to sell outsiders on there being a quarterback competition. The Iowa coach wanted us to believe Drew Tate, Jason Manson and Matt Bonet were locked up in a fierce battle for No. 1.
It never really was close. Ferentz was trying to motivate through competition, but Tate was far and away the best option. Bonet ended up transferring to a directional Michigan school before the season and Tate led Iowa to what would be its last Big Ten title.
Ferentz returned this spring with a three-man race at signal caller. It had a whole different feel to the one in '04. The competition has been as hotly contested as any in the coach's previous 14 seasons at the school.
The first few years of his regime ran like a fire drill with Scott Mullen, Randy Reiners and Kyle McCann. McCann shared a few reps with Brad Banks in '01. Ricky Stanzi wrestled the job away from Jake Christensen a few games into '08.
Other than that, it's been a pretty stable position under Ferentz. Understudies have taken over for exiting starters.
Ferentz and Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Greg Davis are presented with a huge decision in August camp. They must figure out if Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol or C.J. Beathard is the right man for the job. They have no game footage to go on because none of them has played a D-I down.
There's a prevailing thought that whomever wins the gig will be better than his predecessor. James Vandenberg leaves Iowa following a season during which he threw seven touchdowns and was the whipping boy for fans and media.
While Vandenberg should share the blame, Davis deserved an equal part of it in his first season with the Hawkeyes. His system failed miserably and dead last in the league.
Rudock, Sokol and Beathard hold an advantage over Vandenberg in that they had a year in Davis' offense before playing on Saturdays. How that edge will translate into on-field success, if at all, is anybody's guess.
The three signal callers showed off for fans and media during two open workouts in the spring. While Rudock looked to be the most consistent and well-rounded of the lot, he didn't display a clear separation from the pack.
Rudock grasped the playbook the best out of the trio. That created the best tempo.
Sokol is the best scrambler of the bunch, allowing him to keep plays alive and a chance to do damage with designed runs. His understanding of the offense and ability to read defenses comes in second behind Rudock.
Beathard features the best arm and he also can move around pretty well. He still is absorbing the system and needs work in reading defenses as evidenced by a lack of crispness when he's running the show.
Again, we only saw two of 15 spring workouts. We didn't watch any of last fall's practices.
Players also mature at different rates. Iowa hopes that all three guys are developing rapidly since spring. Perhaps one is gaining more ground than are the others.
Ferentz has said that Stanzi was behind Christensen and Arvell Nelson throughout 2006. He progressed the next season and was able to overtake Christensen in '08 before winning three bowl games.
It's more likely that one or more of the current quarterbacks could leap forward during the season or after it than before it. The starter in Week 1 might not be there five games in.
Ideally, Ferentz and Davis would love someone to run away from the pack. It's a lot to ask for that to happen in August when it didn't happen in the spring.
My guess is that Rudock opens the season as the starter. His floor is the highest right now even if his ceiling might not be.
On paper, at least, Iowa looks to be strong on the line, running back and tight end. Don't be surprised to see a conservative approach during the first few games while the quarterback acclimates himself.
The Hawkeyes may not need Tate heroics, either. A manager of the offense, like Nathan Chandler in '03, could fit best with this team.
Here are cut-ups from the open spring practices for the three quarterback contenders: