CHICAGO – Sure, now's the time in the college football calendar for optimism and high hopes.
But everyone in the Iowa program seems thrilled with the January decision to make C.J. Beathard the starting quarterback, and what's happened since.
"It's like a new C.J.," safety Jordan Lomax said. "He's taken command of the offense."
Even though the new face of Iowa football wasn't brought to Big Ten Media Day, the junior's teammates and head coach talked plenty about him. He was one of the main Hawkeye topics of conversation, and the feeling inside the Hyatt Regency McCormick Center was that Beathard was a welcome fresh start.
He's one of the guys. He's a selfless teammate. And, oh yeah, he's got that big arm.
"The good news is since we made that decision, he's continued to really keep his foot on the gas. We're really pleased with that," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That is part of being a quarterback. I think it is incumbent on you to accept being a leader."
In spring interviews following two-year starter Jake Rudock's transfer to Michigan, Beathard was embracing that this was finally "his" team.
And more than before, from the outside, these are starting to feel like his Hawkeyes.
"Just really friendly. Really personable," teammate Drew Ott said of Beathard. "He gets along with everyone. That's nice, when a leader is friendly with everyone."
FIVE TAKEWAYS: Thursday at Big Ten Media Day
Ferentz liked Rudock a lot, but he went with Beathard. Gradually, the reasoning has come out — Beathard's knowledge of the system caught up with his huge talent.
It doesn't hurt that, as Lomax put it, everyone loves C.J.
Lomax spent spring break with Beathard's family in Tennessee, including his father Casey — a country-music songwriter.
"I got hip to a lot of country songs," Lomax said.
Ferentz led the pack Thursday with glowing things to say about Beathard, now listed at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. You wouldn't expect him to rip his starting QB, of course, but the praise was heartfelt — on and off the field.
On it: "He's got a live arm, there's no doubt about that. He'll throw it in tight spaces. The thing we're all most happy about is his judgment of when to throw it in those tight spaces has improved a lot from a couple years ago. He's always been very, very talented."
Off it: "He's got a good heart. He looks at the world in a way you would hope all people do. And he cares a lot about all the people he's around. So that's a good starting place."
And that's the part that sounds encouraging.
We could all see the past two seasons, in spot duty and in relief of Rudock, Beathard had serious football skills.
But it's becoming more apparent that Beathard's the kind of guy a team can rally around. And for a program trying to wipe away the sour taste of troubling losses to Nebraska and Tennessee to finish the 2014 season, that could be huge.
In May, Beathard cut his long, blonde hair — three years of growth, gone. He did it for Wigs for Kids, a charity that helps children who have lost their hair from chemotherapy.
That's just C.J. being C.J.
"Even cutting his hair, it was a charity thing, which doesn't surprise me," Ferentz said. "He was raised right. He's got a lot of empathy for people. Certainly he's demonstrated a lot of maturity in the past 6-8 months. It's been fun to watch him."