With Northwestern beginning spring practice today and others coming up soon, we're taking a closer look at the quarterback battles looming for several Big Ten teams. They're guaranteed to get plenty of attention from fans during the 15 spring practice sessions and throughout the summer.
Next up in our series: the Iowa Hawkeyes
Incumbent (2012 stats): None. Departed senior James Vandenberg (2,249 passing yards, seven touchdowns, eight interceptions, 57.3 completion percentage) started all 12 games last year.
Summer contender: Nic Shimonek, incoming freshman.
The skinny: Prepare yourself for what looks like the most wide-open quarterback competition of the Kirk Ferentz era in Iowa City.
Just going by last year's depth chart, Rudock would appear to have the edge. He was Vandenberg's backup all year long, after all. But that was pretty much in name only, as Rudock didn't take a single snap in 2012. Ferentz, in fact, didn't play anyone but Vandenberg at quarterback, meaning none of the 2013 contenders have a moment of major college experience under their belts.
And it wasn't as if Vandenberg was so good that Iowa couldn't afford to take him out last year. The Hawkeyes also were involved in some blowouts where they could have given a backup some experience. Did Iowa's coaches keep Rudock on the sideline because of a lack of confidence in him? Were they making sure they could redshirt Sokol, a junior college transfer, and Beathard?
No one knows for sure the answers to those questions, but it does appear as if all three will be given a legitimate chance to win the starting job this offseason.
The 6-foot-3 Rudock was a star in high school in South Florida. He has been in the system a year longer than the other two spring contenders. The 6-foot-2 Beathard led the state of Tennessee in passing during his high school senior year and won an offensive team leader award in the offseason. The 6-foot-2 Sokol transferred last year from junior college, where he threw for 3,807 yards and 43 touchdowns.
For what it's worth, here's what Vandenberg told reporters about his potential successor late last year.
"Jake has kind of been groomed for the spot and Cody is a juco guy, the oldest and the most mature guy in the room although he's only been here a semester and a half," Vandenberg said. "C.J. really has no idea what he's doing yet, but you can see his natural talent. He can really throw the ball."
And don't forget Shimonek. Though it's hard to imagine Ferentz going with a true freshman at quarterback, Shimonek was personally recruited out of Texas by Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Greg Davis. If the others fail to impress and Davis feels Shimonek best fits his system, then who knows?
Prediction: Because Iowa doesn't give out a lot of information or open its practices, we're pretty much left to read the tea leaves here. Rudock appeared to be the heir apparent, but he doesn't have any real game experience edge and was recruited before Davis took over the offense. As we saw last year, Vandenberg wasn't a great fit for Davis' scheme. Beathard has a lot of talent and was originally committed to Ole Miss. Sokol was extremely productive at junior college.
Ferentz's few public comments so far on the quarterback situation indicate that this will be a truly open battle. It's anybody's guess right now who will come out on top. We'd be surprised if this one is settled before fall camp.