There were so many great individual performances in Iowa's win over Michigan State on Saturday that it's hard to pick one star of the game.
There was Tyler Sash's interception and pitch to Micah Hyde. There was Shaun Prater's 10-tackle day. There was Adam Robinson's solid all-around performance. And there was Marvin McNutt's amazing over-the-shoulder grab, along with a reception and spin move for a touchdown.
Heck, half of Iowa's team had its best performance of the season.
And lost in the hoopla of the Sports Center caliber catches and amazing defensive performances was quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
As the fans celebrated on the field following the 37-6 destruction of the No. 5 team in the nation, the University of Iowa announced its quarterback as player of the game. And just like how the rest of the season has gone, hardly anyone noticed.
Last year, Stanzi gained a reputation for his inconsistent play. He would typically throw an interception or two—sometimes four—in the early part of game and then rally the Hawkeyes back in the fourth quarter. He threw 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
But Stanzi is a devoted student of the game. He spent the offseason studying each interception and spends at least four hours a day in the film room, studying each opponent.
His improvement has been remarkable.
Stanzi ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency with a passer rating of 180.3 and has thrown 19 touchdowns, compared to only two interceptions.
“He’s always worked extremely hard, but now he’s got four years in the bank going into this year, plus you factor in his work ethic and I think we’re seeing just excellent things from him,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Excellent things may be an understatement. So far this year, Stanzi has been nearly flawless. One of his interceptions was, as Ferentz said, the receiver's fault and the other, against Penn State, ended up more like a punt.
Perhaps the biggest change in Stanzi has been his reputation as a leader, not a game manager.
Last season, his goal seemed to be "not to screw up" and let the running game and defense win the game. This year, Stanzi has been the one taking charge of games.
The first drive against Michigan State was a perfect example.
Instead of stalling—or throwing an interception, as was typical last year—Stanzi and the Hawkeye offense marched down the field. Stanzi was perfect on the opening drive and threw a three-yard touchdown pass to secure a speedy start.
Stanzi made good throws, wasn't afraid to run—he had a 26-yarder—and made smart decisions with the football. He took risks but none that were unreasonable.
But in today's world of flashy offenses, Stanzi and other pro-style quarterbacks seem to be forgotten. Instead, "dual-threat" quarterbacks such as Auburn's Cam Newton, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Oregon's Darron Thomas are all over ESPN and frontrunners for the Heisman.
Although he isn't much of a runner—he reaffirmed that yesterday after the game—Stanzi deserves Heisman consideration.
It's a given that he won't win. If Shonn Greene couldn't do it at Iowa, nobody can. But a trip to New York would be fitting considering Stanzi's statistics.
He is valuable to his team, as evidenced by his 24-6 record as Iowa's starter, and now has the stats to back it up. If he had those same stats at Alabama or Ohio State, he would be an instant contender.
In fact, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has a worse completion percentage than Stanzi and has five more interceptions and only one more touchdown. His passer rating is 15.1 points lower than Stanzi's.
And yet, Pryor is mentioned on more Heisman lists. That may change in three weeks when the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes meet in Iowa City, but in all likelihood, it won't vault Stanzi into real Heisman consideration.
So for now, Ricky Stanzi will continue to build his passer rating and shred apart opposing defenses. Even though hardly anyone will notice.
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