Depending on one's viewpoint, quarterback Ricky Stanzi is either a victim of undue criticism or a recipient of undue credit. Since Stanzi took over as Iowa's starter early in the 2008 season, the Hawkeyes—a .500 team the previous two years—have gone 18--3 with him under center. Last season they went 11--2, with Stanzi throwing a game-winning touchdown on the last play of the game at Michigan State and engineering a second-half comeback against Indiana. "The Number 1 thing you rate a quarterback by is the record when he's in there, and how he leads the team," says coach Kirk Ferentz. "He's done a wonderful job at both."
Yet the fifth-year senior from Mentor, Ohio, rarely is mentioned among the nation's elite quarterbacks, in large part because of a blight on his 2009 stat line: 15 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns. Though the Hawkeyes did not lose any of the games in which he tossed a pick-six (in fact, they started 9--0, falling only after Stanzi went out with an ankle injury against Northwestern) that did not mean he escaped the wrath of the blogosphere. "I've gotten some heat, and rightfully so," says Stanzi, who completed just 56.2% of his passes in '09, "but the person that's given the most heat is me. It's not like I want to go out and throw interceptions."
Stanzi, who passed for 2,417 yards and 17 TDs last season, knows he'll need to cut down on his miscues if Iowa hopes to win its first Big Ten championship since 2004. The Hawkeyes lived dangerously last fall, winning four games by three points or less, thanks largely to the nation's 10th-ranked defense. Eight starters are back from that dominant unit, including All-America candidates Adrian Clayborn (defensive end) and Tyler Sash (safety), and the pieces are in place to improve on last year's 89th-ranked offense. Sophomore running backs Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton are all healthy after battling injuries in '09. Meanwhile, the team boasts a deep group of talented receivers, led by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. Says Ferentz, who's in his 12th year in Iowa City, "It's the most experienced group of skill players we've had."
He just needs Stanzi to get them the ball without incident.
CONFERENCE Big Ten
COACH Kirk Ferentz (12th year)
2009 RECORD 11--2 (6--2 in Big Ten)
FINAL AP RANK 7
RETURNING STARTERS 14
Offense 6, Defense 8
4 Eastern Illinois
11 Iowa State
18 at Arizona
25 Ball State
2 Penn State
16 at Michigan
30 Michigan State
6 at Indiana
13 at Northwestern
20 Ohio State
27 at Minnesota
One of the nation's most dominant linemen (11½ sacks, 20 tackles for loss in '09), Clayborn was the MVP of the Orange Bowl.
DJK has led Iowa in receiving three straight years.
Few defensive backs make as many plays as the Hawkeyes' ball hawk, who had six interceptions and two forced fumbles in '09.
Photograph by DAVID PURDY/CAL SPORT MEDIA
Stanzi has led the Hawkeyes to wins in 18 of 21 games but needs to cut down his errors for Iowa to win the Big Ten.
JOHN BIEVER (ROBINSON)
With Robinson (32), Wegher and Hampton, the Hawkeyes have a backfield that will help them improve their 89th-ranked offense.
[See caption above]