Jon Miller compares C.J. Beathard to Connor Cook

Jon Miller
Special to Hawk Central

The sport of football has a number of tried and true creeds.

You can’t win on the road without defense. Everything starts up front. Win the turnover battle, win the game, and so on.

A friend of mine is fond of another saying, one I believe he came up with: You can’t hide your quarterback in college football.

What does that mean? It means college football is a sport where the best teams typically have the biggest advantage at quarterback. You can look up and down the NFL standings and find good quarterbacks, but few great ones. You will also find a lot of average quarterbacks in that league.

In college? To be a great team, you typically have a great quarterback.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook

When Iowa faces off against Michigan State on Saturday night in Indianapolis, the two best quarterbacks in the Big Ten will be under center.

Michigan State’s Connor Cook was named to the league’s first team and Iowa’s C.J. Beathard to the second team when those honors were announced on Tuesday night.

Am I surprised? No — or rather, not now.

Had you told me before the year that Cook would be a first-teamer and Beathard a second-teamer, I would have said you were half-right, as Cook is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick.

As for Beathard making the second team? That would have surprised me and not because I doubted Beathard’s abilities; I didn’t believe he’d make it through the season in one piece due to Iowa’s question marks along the offensive line.

As it turned out, he did take a beating. His first significant injury came against Pittsburgh when he dove for a touchdown in the first half, tweaking his hip and groin. Those injuries would not begin to get better until Iowa’s bye week nearly a month later, and he’s only just begun to look like his old self, physically, these past few weeks.

Jon Miller

Beathard is a gamer with excellent skills and one of the toughest Iowa football players in the Ferentz era. The fact that a great quarterback is at the helm of a great Iowa team is par for the course.

--Chuck Long is the greatest passing quarterback in Iowa history and one of the best in Big Ten history; he led Iowa to several weeks at No. 1 in 1985.

--Chuck Hartlieb followed him in 1987 and he might be the best pure passing quarterback in Iowa history; the Hawkeyes won 10 games in his first year as a starter.

--When Iowa went to the Rose Bowl following the 1990 season and the Orange Bowl following the 2002 season, it had first-team all-Big Ten performers at quarterback (Matt Rodgers and Brad Banks).

--Drew Tate had a magnificent sophomore year in 2004, leading Iowa to a Big Ten title and earning first-team all-conference honors along the way.

Beathard and Cook are similar quarterbacks in some ways, but they arrive at their success with differing methodologies.

Beathard completes a higher percentage of his passes (60.7 percent to Cook’s 57.4), but Cook is better with the deep ball (8.1 yards per attempt to Beathard’s 7.8). Both quarterbacks protect the ball; Beathard has thrown just three interceptions to four for Cook.

Beathard benefits from a stronger running game, while Cook’s arm has truly been the key to Michigan State’s season. Beathard has thrown for 2,354 yards in 12 games and Cook has 2,720 in 11 games, missing two due to injury.

Cook has a quarterback rating of 146.6 while Beathard’s is 139.3; both marks are excellent.

Each quarterback has a big advantage over the other. Cook throws the deep ball on par with the best quarterbacks in college football this year, while Beathard’s ability to move the chains with his feet is something Cook cannot do.

Cook is a pocket passer and is so dangerous when he has time to throw. Beathard seems more comfortable throwing on the run and he is doubly dangerous when flushed from the pocket.

The fascinating thing to me as I analyze this game is how I expect both quarterbacks to be in a position to where their strength will be on display.

Iowa has struggled with a pass rush and may have to commit more personnel assets to put pressure on Cook. Michigan State’s defensive interior is excellent, so Iowa may have to move the pocket, as it did at Nebraska, to get C.J. on the run.

If you haven’t watched Cook and Michigan State play this year and would like a comparison to a player you are familiar with, I’d think back to Ricky Stanzi in 2010. Stanzi averaged 8.7 yards per attempt that year, threw for 3,004 yards in 13 games and had 25 touchdowns to six interceptions.  His passer rating was 157.6.

That was a great statistical year for Stanzi, but this has been a great winning year for Cook and Beathard. Both quarterbacks have had to battle injuries and each has bounced back in winning ways.

You cannot hide your quarterback in college football. You either have a good one or you don’t. The team that emerges on top of the scoreboard on Saturday night will likely be the team whose quarterback shines above the other.

Jon Miller is publisher of HawkeyeNation. He'll offer commentary on HawkCentral through the end of the football season. Follow Miller on Twitter at @HawkeyeNation.