The Iowa quarterback was second-team all-Big Ten as a junior.
Expectations for Iowa football are soaring.
Fans and players alike have tasted success, and now they cautiously or boldly view 2015 as the appetizer to 2016’s main course.
So, I’ve sometimes posed this as a counter-argument to fans: How would your expectations change if the quarterback wasn’t fifth-year senior C.J. Beathard?
No doubt, CJB is (and should be) identified as the key element to this year’s Hawkeye fortunes.
And that’s why I sought insight from two Hawkeye quarterback legends at Monday’s Polk County I-Club golf outing.
Chuck Long and Chuck Hartlieb entered fifth-year senior-season climates similar to the one Beathard faces now.
Long’s final year was met with hype after his record-setting 1984 Freedom Bowl.
Hartlieb’s came after leading Iowa to six straight wins and a 10-3 finish in 1987.
Hartlieb's 3,738 passing yards in 1988 remains Iowa's single-season record; Long's 3,297 in 1985 ranks No. 2.
With that backdrop, here are three pieces of advice from two Hawkeye greats (plus, a bonus suggestion for fans at the end):
Lesson 1: Sidestep the hype
Long the player led Iowa to a No. 1 ranking and Rose Bowl in his Heisman Trophy runner-up season of 1985. Long the assistant coach helped Oklahoma to the national title and quarterback Josh Heupel to a Heisman runner-up campaign in 2000.
“When I coached quarterbacks,” Long said, “I never let them read anything.
“The whole key for quarterbacking is staying even-keeled. If you ride the emotional wave of hype from fans and media, the theory of what goes way up will come way down … and you don’t want it to come way down.”
Having interviewed Beathard as often as anyone, I’ve gotten a consistent, grounded vibe.
He is certainly aware of accolades poured on by outsiders — from being one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune Silver Football to lofty 2017 NFL Draft projections.
But as he stresses in interviews, almost as an intentional exercise of repetition, “You can’t listen to the outside noise.”
The Iowa offensive coordinator picks out areas the senior QB can improve upon.
As a close Hawkeye follower, Hartlieb sees mental maturity in Beathard. Even so, accolades can seep into the brain and affect performance.
“I don’t necessarily think he needs this advice,” Hartlieb said, “but I think a lot of times you can get caught up in the hoopla and expectations, and you try to force your game to another level. In fact, what you want to do — initially, at least — is to try to play within yourself.”
That’s a perfect transition to the next lesson.
Lesson 2: Avoid home-run urge
One of the most interesting points Hartlieb made was that Beathard must try to avoid shouldering too much after losing skill-position starters Jordan Canzeri, Tevaun Smith, Jacob Hillyer and Henry Krieger Coble.
“I don’t think the fan base knows how much change there is,” Hartlieb said. “… His skill set around him has to have some time to develop. And it’s not going to happen overnight. He can’t do it alone.”
I think Matt VandeBerg and George Kittle become Beathard's first and second passing options (not necessarily in that order). But opponents know that, too, so they'll be well-covered — meaning the emergence of exciting youngsters such as Jay Scheel, Jerminic Smith or Ryan Boyle is crucial.
If Beathard gets impatient, mistakes can happen. He did well in that department in 2015, when Iowa’s turnover margin was plus-11.
“Let the game come to you,” Hartlieb said. “I thought last year he did a great job of moving the chains, playing within himself and walking off the field saying, ‘I didn’t make any critical mistakes.’
“Instead of worrying about big plays, those plays will come to you. And he’s got that ability.”
Lesson 3: Move your legs
It’s good to be calculated. But don’t be afraid of getting hurt.
Beathard was pummeled for seven sacks in the Rose Bowl loss to Stanford, a reminder that limited mobility can be more dangerous than running upfield.
“(Opponents) are going to watch that Stanford film,” Long said, “and try to get after him again.”
The Iowa quarterback hurt his shoulder Wednesday. He had sports hernia surgery in January.
Hip and/or groin injuries limited Beathard's elusiveness in Iowa's final 12 games of a 12-2 season. He is finally feeling close to 100 percent after sports-hernia surgery in January, and he may instinctively want to be cautious to preserve that health.
But Iowa needs the CJB-at-Iowa State quarterback — the one that reeled off scrambles of 57 and 44 yards and threw the game-winning, 25-yard touchdown pass on the run to Riley McCarron.
“Get him out of the pocket,” Long said. “He throws a very accurate ball on the run, as well as anybody I’ve seen. Play to that strength.”
He’s right. If Beathard is a statue in the pocket, he’s not being Beathard.
“You can have a lot of quarterbacks that are good leaders that have good arms,” Hartlieb said, “but at the end of the day on a Saturday they don’t make the play.
“I was amazed last year at the plays (Beathard) made on his own, either with his arm, his feet, his mind. … That’s the most special piece about CJB: his ability to make plays.”
Bonus lesson for fans
I haven’t settled on a win-loss prediction for Iowa yet. (It's coming, probably in August.) A year after most would’ve rejoiced over the thought of 8-4, this year’s low bar for fans seems to be at 9-3 and/or a repeat Big Ten West championship.
With that in mind, Long said something in our conversation that all of us should process.
“All Hawkeye fans need to realize they could actually have a better team this year without as good of a record,” Long said. “It’s going to be hard to repeat an undefeated season.”
Even if Beathard aces Lessons 1 through 3.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.