Is C.J. Beathard's QB future at Iowa, or somewhere else?
For the lone Tennessee native on the Iowa roster, the answers to several pressing questions should become clear at the TaxSlayer Bowl.
For example, who will country music star Kenny Chesney, a noted Vols fan and close friend of C.J. Beathard's family, root for in the Jan. 2 game?
And, far more importantly, is Beathard's future at Iowa or somewhere else?
Beathard, a sophomore who graduated from Battle Ground Academy, has started only one game in his two seasons with the Hawkeyes, though he's appeared in 13. Depending on how Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz opts to divvy up snaps against the Vols, it's possible the one-time Ole Miss commitment would go somewhere he could be atop the depth chart. The depth chart released by Iowa on Monday has usual starter Jake Rudock as the No. 1 quarterback.
"We'll see how the bowl game goes and then go from there," Beathard said in a phone interview Monday.
Playing Vols 'kind of a shock'
Questions surrounding his future aside, Beathard, from Franklin, seems genuinely excited to play against his home state's flagship school.
"When I found out we were playing Tennessee, it was kind of a shock," Beathard said.
Although Beathard doesn't come from a University of Tennessee family, and never cheered for the Vols growing up, he still has close ties to the school. Most of his high school friends go there. They'll be rooting for Tennessee but hoping he enters the game, Beathard said.
Not only will there be familiar faces to Beathard in the EverBank Field seats, but there also will be among the Tennessee players. Beathard played against current Vols Vic Wharton (Independence) and Derek Barnett (Brentwood Academy) during his high school career.
Then there's family friends such as Chesney, who allowed Beathard to appear in the music video for his smash hit "The Boys of Fall," which was co-written by C.J.'s father, Casey. Casey expects Chesney to be rooting for the Vols, with no hard feelings.
Casey even has a relationship with Tennessee coach Butch Jones. Before the Vols began camp this season, Jones hosted a get-together at his house for his coaching staff and their families, since football would be occupying almost all of the coaches' time for a while.
Through a mutual friend, Jones asked Casey to be the evening's entertainment on the guitar — a decision Casey called "a no-brainer."
"I remember coming back and thinking, 'Man, if he could learn to talk right, he will win over everybody here.' " Casey said, laughing. "I think he's just what they need, and he's going to turn that thing around for sure. He's just got to change the way he talks to make them all true believers. When a guy like that comes in and talks with a little bit of a Yankee accent, I think people get skeptical."
An untraditional route to Iowa
Tennessee showed interest in Beathard when he was a three-star prospect at BGA. But Beathard effectively ended the Vols' recruitment of him by declining an invitation to a camp in Knoxville. He chose instead to keep his commitment to Ole Miss, until Houston Nutt announced his resignation after the 2011 season.
Even then, once Hugh Freeze took over the Ole Miss job, Beathard had planned on going there. The Rebels also had another quarterback committed from the Midstate region — Bo Wallace.
"We felt the commitment was cold on their part, which is fine," C.J.'s father said. "They inherited him. It wasn't their favorite thing.
"You want someone to want you. It wasn't exciting when they go, 'Like we said, we're going to honor the scholarship.' You want them to go, 'No, no, no. We want you.' And we didn't feel that way."
That's when Iowa swooped in late, and the Ole Miss program gave the Beathards its blessing to take another visit. Casey called the Hawkeyes' last-minute offer "a godsend."
Writing the next chapter
Although C.J. insisted he hasn't thought yet about the possibility of a transfer and won't until after the TaxSlayer Bowl, his father acknowledged it as a possibility.
"His biggest thing is he just wants to play," Casey said.
C.J. hopes that will be at Iowa. Casey said the thought of changing schools makes his son queasy. He also isn't thrilled about the possibility of sitting out next season if he transfers to another Football Bowl Subdivision team.
"He's really hoping he doesn't have to transfer," Casey said. "I said (to him), 'Hopefully it'll be obvious in this game, one way or the other.' "
If Rudock remains the starter next season, his last year of eligibility, it's possible — likely even — that the job would belong to Beathard his senior year in 2016. But as Casey put it, "That's not even guaranteed."
C.J. said that in bowl practice the Iowa coaching staff has made it an open competition at the quarterback position for the first time this season. Rudock and Beathard have similar stats, despite C.J.'s small sample size. Both have touchdown-to-interception ratios of about three to one.
"You've got to prepare to start," C.J. said. "Whether I do or don't, you've got to prepare like you are."