Leistikow: Promising indicators that Iowa's quarterback position is in excellent hands

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

While in San Diego last month, a few of us were able to talk to Iowa’s Brian Ferentz ahead of the Holiday Bowl against USC.

As the topic of backup quarterback Spencer Petras came up, the third-year offensive coordinator said something that got my attention. I’ll put that something in italics, while giving you the full quote for context.

“He’s done a nice job. It’s like we talked about with Nate (Stanley), the hardest part of being quarterback here is the amount of pressure that’s put on you to execute the entire offense and the amount of control you have doing it,” Ferentz said then. “I think the development you’ve seen with Spencer over two years is he’s starting to get to that mastery of the system. He can improvise and ad lib a little bit, and that’s really what you’re looking for.”

That’s what you want to hear about your redshirt freshman.

Spencer Petras (7) has become a locker-room favorite in Iowa City, so it was no wonder that teammates (like Max Cooper, left) were excited when he ran a QB sneak for a touchdown against Middle Tennessee State.

And that’s probably the biggest reason that Iowa is down to two scholarship quarterbacks (Petras and true freshman Alex Padilla) for spring practice.

The news that third-year sophomore Peyton Mansell has entered the transfer portal solidified Petras’ stronghold as the front-runner to take Iowa’s first offensive snap against Northern Iowa on Sept. 5 at Kinnick Stadium.

In 2018, Mansell was the top backup for Stanley, who started 39 consecutive games (and won 27 of them, capped by the 49-24 rout of USC). Mansell looked good in spot duty, too, providing a combo threat as a mobile passer. He was even trusted to operate a (failed) fake punt at Penn State that season.

But even though Mansell and Petras shared the “or” designation on the depth chart in early September, Petras was the only one of the two to take snaps in the 2019 season. By the Middle Tennessee State game on Sept. 28, Petras was alone at No. 2. And, in what would be the final snap he took this season, Petras sneaked in for a 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 47 seconds remaining to complete Iowa’s 48-3 win against the Blue Raiders.

After that score, Petras was celebrated by teammates. That, too, served as a symbolic moment for shaping the 2020 quarterback derby.

Teammates say the 6-foot-5, 230-pound native of San Rafael, California, has already won over the Hawkeye locker room. Petras carries an outgoing personality, they say. He's different than Stanley, in that he’s more vocal.

Teammates feel Petras is a natural leader, someone the team wants to rally around.

Now comes the important part: taking the No. 1 spot and running with it. Petras is actually entering his third spring at Iowa — two more than Stanley got before becoming Iowa’s starter in 2017 — because he enrolled early in January 2018. (Stanley didn't arrive at Iowa until June 2016.) So he probably should have more mastery of Brian Ferentz’s system than Stanley did as a sophomore. 

Petras’ arm strength will rival Stanley’s. He’s a prototype pocket passer. So, the style of the 2020 offense should look pretty similar to what we’ve seen for three seasons with Stanley.

“I’ve seen him make all the throws,” Stanley told me during the season. “He’s got a strong arm.”

Although Petras has shown a tendency to force throws in practice, it’s also a reflection of his confidence. As a senior at Marian Catholic High School, which also produced Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, Petras was hardly turnover-prone. He threw for 4,157 yards with 50 touchdowns and two interceptions.

The signals are clear that Petras is ready to assume the No. 1 job. And although Padilla won’t concede anything, he’s obviously competing from behind after spending this past season on the scout team.

But given Petras’ cache within the Hansen Football Performance Center, his apparent talent and cited mastery of the Iowa system, it’s hard to imagine the Hawkeyes wanting to bring in a transfer this spring.

So, there are a lot of reps ahead for Petras and Padilla. Walk-on Connor Kapisak of South Windsor, Connecticut, gives Iowa a third quarterback this spring. Then in June, Deuce Hogan arrives.

The door is now wide-open for the much-anticipated incoming freshman from Grapevine, Texas, to make an early splash in Iowa’s quarterbacks room. Hogan is a four-star Rivals recruit who was being hotly pursued by Georgia to flip his commitment, but he stuck with the Hawkeyes.

We don’t know how quickly Hogan will pick up Iowa’s offense, but he’s the son of a football coach, a four-year high school starter and a Texas state champion. So, there’s an acumen there that cannot be denied.

With that backdrop in mind, here are some thoughts about Iowa’s quarterback situation over the next five years.

In 2020: If Petras proves to be head and shoulders above Padilla in the spring, maybe Kirk Ferentz names him the starter by the end of April. The real drama could be in August, for the No. 2 role. If Hogan shows in two summer months that he’s deserving, Ferentz won’t hesitate to make him the backup. He did the same in 2016 with Stanley, who jumped Tyler Wiegers and others as a true freshman.

In 2021: Petras would enter his redshirt junior season while presumably Hogan will be a redshirt freshman. Even if Hogan is the No. 2 in 2020, he could play up to four games and still maintain four years of eligibility. If Petras is as good as coaches and teammates hope, Padilla and Hogan would again compete for No. 2 reps.

In 2022: Petras would be a fifth-year senior or, if his career really takes off, in an NFL camp one year early. Hogan would be a redshirt sophomore, Padilla a redshirt junior. A Class of 2021 quarterback that is not yet determined would surely be in the mix as well, gearing up for his shot.

In 2023 and 2024: If Hogan hasn’t won the job by now, then he probably didn’t match his four-star hype and Padilla is the guy. If he has and was able to redshirt, he’ll hold the keys to Iowa’s offense for at least these two seasons.

Quarterback is the most high-profile position in sports. It’s important to get right. And, by all indications, Iowa is on track to getting this one right for years to come.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.