By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Like so many college football teams from a power five conference, the Iowa Hawkeyes are just one injury from having a problem at quarterback.
The problem would be a lack of experience should junior starter Nate Stanley go down with an injury.
None of Iowa’s backup quarterbacks, including the two on scholarship, have any game experience at the collegiate level.
Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and national champion runner-up Georgia would have the same problem if their starting quarterback was lost to an injury.
“I think that is just going to be kind of the norm a little bit now with the way these guys are moving around and doing things,” Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said Tuesday while addressing the media. “So you just have to be ready for it. It’s as simple as that.”
Whether Iowa is ready for it remains to be seen. The only way to know for sure would be for one of the backup quarterbacks to perform well in Stanley’s absence.
But Stanley would have to be injured for that to happen because he is firmly entrenched as the starter this spring after throwing 26 touchdown passes and just six interceptions last season.
Redshirt freshman and Texas native Peyton Mansell is listed as Stanley’s backup in the spring prospectus while true freshman Spencer Petras is third on the depth chart.
Petras, who is from San Rafael, Calif., graduated from high school in December and then enrolled at Iowa for spring semester in order to participate in spring practice.
“It’s really valuable that we have Spencer here, considering we only have three guys on scholarship at this stage,” O’Keefe said.
The reason Iowa only has three quarterbacks on scholarship is because Tyler Wiegers and Ryan Boyle both left team after last season.
Wiegers has since transferred to Eastern Michigan where he will play as a fifth-year graduate student next season, while Boyle is expected to take the same route as a fourth-year graduate transfer at a school yet to be determined after he graduates from Iowa this spring.
Wiegers and Boyle both left the Iowa program in search of more playing time.
They are the latest in a growing list of former Iowa quarterbacks who have transferred out of the program for the same reason. Some of the others include Cody Sokol, Nic Shimonek and Jake Rudock.
“It is different. It’s hard,” O’Keefe said of keeping multiple quarterbacks on the roster. “There are a lot of voices out there. And now with the changes that allow people to move if you’ve got your degree, which I think is a fair rule to be perfectly honest with you, they have an opportunity to go play somewhere else, play the game that they love and contribute to the team. I think it’s a win for everybody at the end.”
O’Keefe was referring to the rule that allows a player who already has graduated from college to transfer to another school and play immediately.
Sokol and Rudock both took advantage of that rule and then started as graduate transfers for Louisiana Tech and Michigan, respectively.
The number of transfers for football and men’s basketball has been rising steadily and shows no signs of slowing down, especially now that graduate transfers can play immediately in both sports.
No position in either sport is immune from the transfer bug, but it seems more widespread with quarterbacks due in part to the circumstances surrounding the high-profile position.
“It’s hard, obviously, because you can only play one guy at that position,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve been through seasons where we’ve used three guys in the beginning when we first came here, and that had its issues as well. I like using the same guy for two or three years in row. That’s even better.”
The problem with using only one quarterback is that the backups often become frustrated and antsy due to the lack of playing time.
Wiegers stayed at Iowa for four years, but played sparingly as a backup and never started a game.
Boyle stayed for three years, but never saw any action at quarterback. He switched to receiver as a redshirt freshman, but stayed buried on the depth chart before switching back to quarterback last season.
O’Keefe was asked on Tuesday if more quarterbacks are transferring now compared to when he started coaching at the collegiate level.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “I think there are more just transferring period. But it’s just the way it is at this stage.”
O’Keefe is used to adjusting to different quarterbacks after serving as the Iowa offensive coordinator under Kirk Ferentz from 1999 to 2011.
O'Keefe pointed out on Tuesday that Iowa had a different starting quarterback in each of its first four bowl games under Ferentz from 2001 to 2004.
Stanley, on the other hand, has a chance to join Drew Tate as the only Iowa quarterbacks to start for three seasons under Ferentz.
Stanley was 8-5 as the starter last season after edging Wiegers for the starting job in a competition that was too close to call throughout all of last spring and up until about a week before the 2017 season opener.
Stanley now has a year under his belt as the starter and his experience and comfort level with the offense is noticeable this spring. He makes quicker decisions because he has been there and done it before.
“The process of making those decisions is at a different speed than it was this time last year,” O’Keefe said. “Learning the system and trying to work your way through progressions is not the easiest thing in the world to do the first time.”
The challenge for Mansell and Petras is to earn the backup position behind Stanley. Their competition might not be decided during spring practice, but it has to be decided at some point.
“They’ve got to know what they’re doing,” O’Keefe said. “That’s the number one way to work yourself into that spot. And those guys are extremely valuable.”
Whoever wins the backup position would be on course to be a two-year starter for Iowa, assuming Stanley keeps the job for the next two seasons.
But whoever loses the backup job might eventually choose a different course for his college career because that’s what so many quarterbacks are doing these days.