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The Iowa quarterback was healthy in only 2 games this year. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — One of the toughest players Kirk Ferentz said he’s ever coached could barely crack a smile Sunday. The heartbreak was on the face and in the red eyes of quarterback C.J. Beathard, even after learning his team was headed to the Rose Bowl.

He was clearly not over Saturday’s last-minute, 16-13 Big Ten Conference championship game loss to Michigan State. And he probably isn’t yet.

“Who knows how long it’ll take,” he said Sunday after his first loss in 14 college starts.

"We gave it our all. We were just 20 seconds away from winning the game. It’s tough. It’s going to sting, but we’ll get over it.”

About the only thing that got him to briefly grin was when the topic of Fox announcer Gus Johnson’s breathless call of Beathard’s 85-yard touchdown pass to Tevaun Smith came up. The play gave Iowa a 13-9 fourth-quarter lead Saturday night in Indianapolis.

“Yeah I did, I heard that,” Beathard said. “It was pretty funny.”

It’s probably healthy that after a loss Beathard is feeling that emotional pain — he’s a fierce competitor, and you can bet that’ll drive him going forward to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl against No. 5 Stanford.

His competitiveness fighting through injuries won over his teammates during the regular season, underscored by his spectacular touchdown dive at Indiana on Nov. 7.

Ferentz, even after Saturday night’s loss, was like a proud father after watching Beathard gut it out again through a groin injury — completing 18 of 26 passes for 216 yards against a stingy, hard-hitting Spartan defense. Ferentz got this magical 12-1 season kick-started in January when he named Beathard the No. 1 quarterback over two-year starter Jake Rudock, who eventually transferred to Michigan.

Before the game, the junior from Franklin, Tenn., was named one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football, awarded annually to the Big Ten’s MVP by the coaches since 1924. The winner between Beathard, Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott will be announced Friday.

“We came into the season, he’d played one game in his career. He played like a veteran right from the start,” Ferentz said. “Certainly has impressed everybody on our football team — his courage, his preparation, the poise he plays with, the toughness he plays with. Couldn’t be happier than to be associated with a quarterback like C.J.”

Teammates say Beathard has played through immense pain almost all season. Beathard hasn’t been real forthcoming on his health, because it’s not in his nature to make excuses. But Sunday, he put into perspective how he’s been limited since first hurting his hip against Pittsburgh on Sept. 19.

“I don’t think I was really 100 percent all season long,” Beathard said. “The first few games I was, until Pitt. Ever since then I wasn’t really 100 percent. I was getting treatments and stuff, and feeling pretty good.”

Will 26 days between games bring us a healthy Beathard in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1?

“It’s hard to tell. You think it’s really a long time, but it’s only three weeks (off) and a bye week’s two,” Beathard said. “So it’s going to be here before you know it. I’ll still get my treatments and try to be healthy. But I should be feeling better than I have in the previous weeks, so that’ll be good.”

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ROSE BOWL RUNS IN BEATHARD'S FAMILY

Though he grew up in SEC country in Tennessee, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard always held the Rose Bowl in high esteem. That’s because it’s been a big deal in his family.

His great uncle, Pete Beathard, was the 1963 Rose Bowl MVP as the winning quarterback that year for Southern California. He said he still sees Pete at family reunions occasionally at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

When C.J.’s uncle, Kurt Beathard, coached Illinois’ wide receivers in the 2008 Rose Bowl against USC, C.J. — then 14 — attended the game.

“I was young at the time, and I remember thinking it would be a dream to play in this game,” Beathard said. “Now I’m getting the opportunity to play in it, and it’s awesome. It’s a blessing.”

THE 102ND ROSE BOWL GAME

Who: No. 6 Iowa (12-1) vs. No. 5 Stanford (11-2)

When, where: 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 1, The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: ESPN

The line: Stanford is favored by 6.5

Tickets: Range from $150 to $185. Iowa fans not booking travel packages are encouraged to go through the UI at hawkeyesports.com by Dec. 10. For more information on the event, visit tournamentofroses.com.

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