Nothing garners more headlines in college football than a good old fashioned quarterback debate.
That is certainly true in Iowa City, where Hawkeye fans are always wondering what the #2 man on the depth chart has to offer.
Well Hawkeye fans, you will truly get your wish this spring, as Iowa heads into drills uncertain of who the starting quarterback is going to be for the first time since the start of the 2001 season where Kyle McCann, Jon Beutjer and Brad Banks were battling it out.
Most insiders believe that it's really a three-man battle between Tate, Manson and McCollom.
Tate, a 6-0, 185-pound true sophomore, emerged last fall as the backup to Nathan Chandler. That shocked a lot of people, as it's been a long, long time since a true freshman held such a position on the Hawkeye depth chart.
The reason that Tate made such a meteoric ascension up the chart was due to his ability to pick up the Iowa offense and make snap decisions. Tate is the son of a high school football coach, Dick Olin of Baytown, Texas, formerly of Clinton, Iowa.
In this December 15th feature, Olin told us that Tate had been groomed to be a QB from a very early age.
"Believe it or not, when Drew was little, he used to take all of our tapes home and watch them, because I have the VCR set up at home. He watched everything and he would watch our opponents, I mean everything. I would get tapes from college coaches on their passing games and different things, like quarterback drills; he would watch everything. He has been around it and has been exposed to it." Olin said.
Tate also played in a somewhat complicated offense in high school and rarely, if ever, took snaps under center. It was shot gun, shot gun, shot gun.
The pass happy offense helped him set nearly every major passing record in the state of Texas when he graduated high school, as well as placing him among some of the most prolific passers in US history.
One has to figure that after an off-season of studying film, lifting weights and working in seven on seven drills that Tate has honed his skills even more. Getting reps under center last year in practice as the #2 quarterback was also key for Tate. In his first Iowa appearance, a Hawkeye blowout of Buffalo, Tate and the center had a fumble on an exchange.
Generously listed at 6-0, some wonder how Tate will fare passing over top an Iowa offensive line that could average roughly 6-5 or 6-6.
But Brad Banks was not quite 5-11, and that did not seem to bother him.
No matter who the Iowa quarterback is, the Hawkeye offense is geared around running the ball first. And once that happens, the Hawkeyes will then pick you apart with their play action and waggle game. Throwing on the run is a trait that every Iowa quarterback must have in his arsenal.
Sophomore Jason Manson can do that. This will be his third spring at Iowa, and some people are expecting him to step it up this spring. Manson did not take Tate's leaping him on the depth chart too kindly, though he did not sulk or complain.
He made an extra effort this off season in film study to prepare himself for the battle that will ensue over the course of the next several weeks.
The 6-1, 195-pounder from Bloomfield, Connecticut enjoyed great success at the high school level.
He was a three-year starter at quarterback, guiding his team to a 32-2-1 record. Bloomfield won three state championships during his four years at the school. He threw a state record nine touchdown passes in one game, with career totals that include over 7,200 passing yards, 89 passing touchdowns and just five career interceptions. As a senior he also rushed for over 800 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But Hawkeye fans have known that for a long time. What has kept Manson out of the mix to date has been his lack of fully grasping the offense. That can come with age, and this is a very important spring for him, given that he and Tate are both sophomores and if one player emerges from the spring with a clear lead in the QB battle, that person might have a chance at being a three-year starter for the Hawkeyes.
RS frosh Eric McCollom is not planning on laying down, either. He played some for Iowa last year at receiver, due to the depleted ranks at that position. He took one snap at quarterback against Arizona State with Nathan Chandler lining up wide. He caught a nice deep sideline route against Michigan that was negated due to an illegal lineman downfield penalty, an infraction that I still cannot find from watching the tape numerous times.
The 6-0, 190-pound McCollom will seek a ‘medical redshirt' as he suffered an injury before the season's midpoint and he did not play over the allotted percentage of games that would negate such a request.
He has made the move back to quarterback, and while Tate might have the edge in decision making, and Manson might be one of the most well-liked players on the team, some people feel that McCollom might have the best overall skill. He was named South Carolina's Mr. Football after his senior season in high school.
He passed for over 3,000 yards as a senior and set the single-season state record with 43 TD passes. He passed for 6,345 yards and threw 72 touchdowns as a two-year starter and combined for 1,068 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons.
Much of his challenge will take place over the next three weeks as all three players that I have listed will have each and every repetition scrutinized during the off season by the coaching staff.
One thing to take note of when looking at these three players is their stature.
None of weighs 200-pounds or more. Nathan Chandler took a lot of hits behind a green offensive line last year, but he was 6-7 and 250-pounds. He only missed one or two snaps all season due to being hit, and those came against Purdue.
Like Chandler, Brad Banks was a fifth year senior starter. There is a difference in being 23 years old and being 20 or 21 years old. Banks was also solidly built.
Kyle McCann was 6-5 and 215-pounds.
Prior to the 2001 season, Iowa used at least three quarterbacks because of injuries in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons. The common thread there is that the Iowa offensive lines of those year's were untested and really undeveloped.
While this year's OL looks to have much more beef and certainly more experience than those lines, there is a question as to how quickly the line will gel. If it takes some time, Iowa may not be so fortunate to avoid the injury bug at the quarterback position this year has they have the past three seasons. The law of averages is working against them there, too.
One player that is bigger is sophomore Cy Phillips. He is 6-6 and 227 pounds. Many people see him as the odd man out this year in the QB race, but Phillips is not going to give in to popular opinion.
In a recent interview with Phillips' high school coach Tom Sears, he understands the rigors of playing quarterback at the collegiate level.
"As rugged as the Big Ten is, I would think that it might be tough to keep going through season's where just one quarterback stays healthy." Sears said.
If and when Phillips gets his chance, Sears feels that he will be ready.
"It might take him five years to get on the field. We knew that all along, as far as the process of playing for a Big Ten team. You might get one chance, and if that happens, you have to jump on it."
Who knows if it will take that long, or if it will ever happen at QB for Phillips.
But Iowa fans and coaches alike are hoping that an old adage rings true for the coming season: Steel sharpens steel.
What that means as it relates to the Iowa quarterback battle that is about to get underway, is that each of the four combatants knew during last season that there was going to be a chance for them to earn the starting spot, staring with the bowl practices in December and leading through to the end of two a days in August.
Spring drills are a very important part of that process, and one has to assume that each player has been working as hard as he possibly can to take advantage of the opportunity that is finally at hand.