It's unfair to say James Vandenberg won Iowa's starting quarterback job on Nov. 14, 2009.
To earn the title, Vandenberg still must perform well this spring and distance himself from fellow Hawkeyes signal callers John Wienke and A.J. Derby. A non-factor for most of the 2010 season, Vandenberg, who completed 5 of 8 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in three games last fall, must keep the pedal down in spring ball.
But his impressive performance a year and a half ago at Ohio Stadium still resonates with his teammates. Vandenberg, then a redshirt freshman, made his first career start in relief of the injured Ricky Stanzi and nearly led Iowa to an upset of Ohio State in what was essentially the Big Ten championship game.
"To go into Ohio State and do what he did as a redshirt freshman is nothing short of exceptional," Hawkeyes senior tight end Brad Herman told me Wednesday. "Right now, everybody sees him as being the guy."
Before Iowa kicked off spring practice, coach Kirk Ferentz singled out Vandenberg for his work, particularly during practices before the Insight Bowl. But Ferentz added, "He’s going to get good competition. John Wienke has improved a lot, A.J. Derby is set on winning the job, too. That will make all three of the guys better."
Herman has seen good things from both Wienke and Derby this spring, but there's no doubt about who should take the first snaps this fall.
"I'm just glad Vandenberg's our guy," Herman said. "So many times you see teams struggle, and it's because they don't have stability at quarterback. I'm just relieved that Vandenberg is that No. 1 quarterback. I'm confident in his ability to perform at a high level."
A quarterback has to win over the locker room, and Vandenberg took the first step toward doing so against Ohio State in The Shoe.
"It built confidence in him," Herman said. "Especially when you're a quarterback, when you have the confidence of your teammates and they trust that you know what's going on back there and you know what you're doing, that's huge for an offense."