The Weight Of a Big Ten Title

Donna LaubeContributor IIJune 3, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 05:  Head coach Kirk Ferentz and quarterback Ricky Stanzi #12 of the Iowa Hawkeyes talks on the field during warm ups against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the FedEx Orange Bowl at Land Shark Stadium on January 5, 2010 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Reading pre-season predictions and pontifications about how well the Iowa Hawkeyes will do in the Big Ten and even nationally, I am noticing a common theme in almost every article… Iowa’s success this season is riding on shoulders, or more accurately, the arm, of a 22-year-old from Ohio.  Most of these articles point out the obvious, Quarterback Ricky Stanzi must cut down (mostly out) his interceptions, or “Stanziballs” as they are more affectionately called, in order for Iowa to win the Big Ten title, or even get remotely in the conversation for national championship.

   All of this is not entirely fair, to place so much responsibility on the quarterback, but that’s what inevitably happens when you have one of the best defenses in the nation and plenty of depth and weapons in both the running and passing game.  For awhile the offensive line was the big question mark, but I’ve seen the bloggers gradually shifting away from that concern and back to Stanzi, perhaps because many have faith in the O-Line coaching ability of Kirk Ferentz.

   Is Stanzi really the Hawkeyes’ weak link?

  It’s hard to imagine when one looks at his win record (19-4), his comeback ability, or his poise on the field.  Like it or not, the quarterback is often considered the leader and motivational glue of the team, especially once a senior, even more with a team that plays a pro-style offense like Iowa.  Even if he isn’t technically the weak link, people are claiming the Big Ten title is riding on his improvement in 2010.  Even ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg claims the Hawkeyes are a different team with Stanzi on the field, he has the “IT” factor.

     Without a doubt, Stanzi’s interception record (15) was horribly high last year, and cutting it down is one of his highest priorities, as Ricky himself, and his coaches have mentioned.  Yet the more I think about all the anticipation and hope all of Hawkeye Nation has for the Iowa season, myself included, I have to wonder what it must be like for Rick coming into his last season as a Hawkeye.

   Certainly the pressure of all this anticipation and hype and criticism won’t get to him outwardly, he’s proven time and again he can flush anything when he needs to perform.  But let’s remember he’s still human, still a young man, who’s had his share of adversity along the Black and Gold path.

  I wonder if he grew up dreaming since childhood of donning a Buckeye uniform and playing in the Shoe, like most Ohio kids probably would, having to put that aside and transplant himself as an Iowa Hawkeye instead.  When he gets to Iowa, he finds he’s a year behind the heir apparent to Drew Tate, Jake Christensen, wondering when his turn will come, having to work his butt off to win starter as a sophomore rather than wait until his senior year.  Then he gets injured, watching a perfect season fall from his grasp, unable to fulfill his adjusted dream of at least playing in the Shoe as the opponent.

  That had to be emotionally devastating.

   When we attended the Orange Bowl in Miami, we stayed with my uncle who’s lived mostly on the east coast and never watched Iowa play before.  After the game, he mentioned watching the second half and thinking he was watching the Pittsburg Steelers playing.

  “Because of the uniforms,” I laughed, but he replied partly that, but mostly because of the way the quarterback (Stanzi) looked on the field.  He said he looked and played so professionally, he could easily have been mistaken for a pro quarterback.  I found that pretty interesting, since my uncle had no prior knowledge of Stanzi or the Iowa Hawkeyes, and no true vested interest in the outcome of the game.

     I don't have doubt Stanzi will handle the pressure well, and hopefully he listens to his coaches and insulates himself from the internet and sports mag hype.  I suppose if any one individual has to carry much of the weight of a successful 2010, I'm glad it's a guy with such great character, work ethic and poise as Ricky Stanzi.  Whatever the future brings this young man, I wish him the best.  In my book, he's earned it.