Slippery Slope with Quarterback Combo at Iowa

Nothing stokes the fires of fan discussion like a good old quarterback controversy. Whether we like it or not, that could be where this season is headed for the Hawkeyes. It's hard to believe fans won't begin lining up in support of either Jake Christensen and Rick Stanzi. Senior Writer Rob Howe looks into the possibilities of how this thing could play out in the game week column.

When a reporter broached a question about the quarterback competition between Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi on Tuesday, he called it a "situation" in an effort to avoid the ever-dreaded alternative. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz laughed at the attempt to soften the blow.

"I'm just laughing that you said situation," Ferentz said.

"OK, controversy," the reporter said. "How about position?"

"Alright, quarterback position," Ferentz countered.

If you think that exchange was awkward, things could really muddled here in the next few weeks. Ferentz is saying that Christensen and Stanzi will see action during Saturday's season opener against Maine.

OK, everybody, let's get on the slipper slope. These things don't often work out smoothly. And people take sides.

Christensen has taken over for Steve Alford as the main lightning rod for Hawkeye fans' opinions. He suffered through a terribly inconsistent first-year as a starter in 2007. It contrasted greatly to a year earlier when some people wanted him to take over for Drew Tate.

There is no better spot to be in terms of fan favoritism than back-up quarterback at Iowa. You need a season like Tate enjoyed in '04 or Brad Banks in '02 to live happily in the position.

The last time Iowa went into a season with a quarterback race this close was '01 with Kyle McCann and Banks. McCann started and Banks was sprinkled in. When things went south for the Iowa's offense against Michigan, McCann was booed off of the field. Christensen was booed by Iowa fans at Northwestern last season.

Ferentz has forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know about the game. But one has to wonder how he can put himself, and his quarterbacks, in this spot again.

The answer probably is simple. Both guys show the ability to lead the offense and each has earned the right to take some snaps on Saturday. But, boy, this thing could get ugly.

The hope is that both guys go out and are productive, Iowa wins big and everybody lets the "situation" ride. Another scenario could be Christensen struggling to get the team moving before Stanzi comes in and finds success.

It's not like these two guys offer much difference in terms of skill set. Both of them would prefer to sit back and wing it down the field as opposed to tucking it and running.

In the small glimpse the public consumed during the open practice on August 16, the top two quarterbacks were inconsistent. And that's probably why they're sharing the job.

Ferentz was very unhappy with the urgency shown by some of his players competing for starting positions after that open practice. He also hasn't been happy with the effort as a whole during times during games in the last two seasons. He opened up every spot during the offseason.

As of Tuesday, four of them – quarterback, left guard, middle linebacker and kicker – are still open four days from the start of the season. You can bet that only one of them will be under the microscope.

"We've been friends since the day I came here," Stanzi said of his relationship with Christensen. "None of that has changed. We know what competition is. It's not like we've never done it before. We understand what's at stake. We're trying to win. It's important that we don't lose focus of the goal. We're not playing each other. We're playing the other team. We're trying to win a game, not win a job."

Stanzi and Christensen are standup guys. They both truly want to be out there, but winning is the most important thing. The hard thing to predict will be how they'll handle this situation once the lights come on and out of the seclusion of camp.

Stanzi wasn't even aware that he was playing on Saturday until the media asked him about it after Ferentz announced it. The coach also was not giving up how he would employ the quarterback rotation.

"We hadn't even talked about it. There isn't a magical formula right now," he said. "At some point we will. Jake is going to start the game, we know that. At some point Rick will get in there, we don't know when or for how long or any of that.

"We usually played Brad (Banks in '01) in a series each half, we haven't really talked much about it or given it much thought."

Ferentz is fully aware of the risks of this setup and seems prepared to move forward.

"That's one of the dangers when you have competition, it that way back when Mark Vlasic graduated, that was a free-for-all that spring," Ferentz said. "Sometimes that brings the worst out of guys, and they try to force things, they try to hit the big play instead of just taking what's there. I haven't seen a lot of that with Jake and Rick. I think they both have done a pretty good job."

Again, you hope these guys coexist with success. It would make things easier on everybody.

The door was opened now that we know Stanzi will play. He's proven to the coaches, and therefore the fans, that he's capable. Last season, we saw no one other than Jake and were told the others weren't ready.

"Last year, at this point, it was Arvell Nelson who had the best chance. He was our number two guy," Ferentz said. "Realistically, nobody was really ready to play. We didn't feel like they were, so the big difference is that right now we know a lot more about Jake, he's got experience, and it's very valuable experience. He has used that experience. Rick Stanzi has grown. To me, we're just a lot healthier at the position than we were a year ago. That's encouraging."

It also thickens the pot.

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