How does Iowa (read: fans and the writers who follow the team closely) really feel about losing Jake Rudock to another Big Ten power? Who might step into the starting spot this season?
It's actually pretty great for us. There has been a heated debate among Iowa fans over the past two years: Are the offensive problems caused by the coaches or the quarterback? For most of 2013, Rudock was the unquestioned starter, and while he showed a tendency to get ultraconservative in tight spots, that season went well enough that there wasn't much resistance. By 2014, C.J. Beathard (whose raw physical talent was evidently superior to Rudock's, even in 2013) had shown enough to warrant some playing time, and was told he would get it. When he didn't, and when the fans lost their collective mind.
But Beathard looked positively Rudockian in relief against Purdue, and he wasn't exactly setting the world on fire in his other appearances. Beathard and Rudock were supposed to split snaps in Iowa's bowl game, but by the end of the first quarter it was Beathard's job. Rudock transferred to Michigan, and now we get to run the grand experiment: If Rudock succeeds and Beathard fails, we know it's Kirk Ferentz's offense that is the issue. If Beathard succeeds and Rudock fails, we know it was Rudock's fault. And if they both succeed, we'll finally be certain that Rudock was never a great fit to begin with.
The coaching staff didn't appear to object much when he requested a transfer, was it simply because the QB depth is solid even without him or was it just time to part ways for his best interest?
They didn't object at all, for two reasons: First, if Beathard wasn't named starter by the end of January he was transferring. He had effectively said as much before the bowl game, and there was a sense that Ferentz was doing everything he could to keep him on the team even before that game. Second, previous quarterback controversies have convinced Ferentz that losing a past starter is worth the lack of headaches. In particular, 2008 -- when Iowa benched the ineffective Jake Christiansen for future American heartthrob Ricky Stanzi, then left Christiansen on the bench for the rest of the season with a tear in his eye -- has to stand out. It is why Ferentz played a banged-up and soon-to-be-graduating James Vandenberg for every snap of the 2012 season despite having two potential 2013 starters sitting on the bench. It is why he held on to Rudock as starter for so long last year, even though everyone with a working set of eyes knew the backup was better. He wants no drama at quarterback.
MGoBlog's Brian Cook writes in his season preview that Rudock is "a high-floor, low-excitement bridge to the future," and that he put up good numbers with less help than Devin Gardner had last year. That seem like an accurate assessment to you?
That's accurate. Rudock doesn't make too many mistakes with the ball, and he generally opts to remain conservative. He's more athletic than you would think, and his arm isn't bad when he is forced to go downfield, but either by design or execution, it has been used extremely infrequently. The only truly bad part of his game is that he tends to fold in tough situations where he has to protect a lead. You would never know it from the stats, but he imploded against Iowa State this year: With an 11-point halftime lead, Rudock completed exactly one pass over 10 yards in the second half, eating two sacks and throwing a momentum-shifting interception. His second-half line: 6/10 for 43 yards, 18 yards on 3 carries, 1 interception, 2 sacks and 1 loss to one of the worst teams in college football.
Again, all of this could be due to Ferentz and Greg Davis; when Iowa was behind against Ball State and Wisconsin and finally forced to throw deep, Rudock was exceptional. I hope for his sake that Harbaugh doesn't handcuff him as much, but unlike Beathard, Rudock didn't seem to mind the restraints.
As for "help," you need to remember that Rudock played high school football with a pair of four-star receivers, Rashad Greene and Phillip Dorsett (both of which are now in the NFL), so he's never had as much talent around him in college as he did in high school. That won't change at Michigan. He's used to it by now.
Ferentz is now the longest tenured coach in the conference. What's he doing to keep Iowa so competitive and in his recruiting tactics with Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and now Jim Harbaugh standing in the same room so to speak?
I take some issue with your premise: While Iowa has been able to knock off just about anyone in the conference in a single game during Ferentz's tenure, Iowa is fairly clearly behind peer programs like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska, and is quickly losing ground to Minnesota. But Iowa's recruiting has never been the same as anyone else's. Ferentz and staff base much of their decisionmaking on their interactions with players. They look for a certain mentality, usually found in guys who are passed over by Meyer and Harbaugh. They love high school quarterbacks who can move to other positions for their knowledge of the game (Chad Greenway, Micah Hyde and Brandon Scherff were all high school quarterbacks, for instance), and they like multi-sport athletes, especially wrestlers who can play offensive or defensive line.
Things are changing somewhat: Iowa changed recruiting coordinators last year, and the new guy is much more aggressive with early offers than Ferentz has ever been. Iowa also just completed a $55 million football facility, and now believes that it can get any player who it can talk into visiting campus to commit while he's there. In the first month of holding offseason recruiting camps at the new building, Iowa landed 16 commitments. It was a recruiting tsunami. A recrunami. And whether it's Ferentz or someone else running the show after this year, it will be the basis for whatever turnaround may come.
Looking at Iowa's 2015 schedule, at this point in time, how manageable is the challenge compared to what might be expectations for this year?
The schedule is so bad, and the expectations so low, that it's really difficult to imagine Iowa failing to meet them. It's not out of the question that, with Pitt breaking in a new coach and Iowa State at a generational low point, the most difficult non-conference game is FCS runner-up Illinois State. The conference schedule is a mirror image of last year's cakewalk, with road trips to Wisconsin and Nebraska but a complete lack of East Division contenders. It's as easy a schedule as you'll ever see. Which is why Iowa will probably go 8-4 and call it an improvement.
Beer question: what local Iowa brews are getting you through the long, quiet off season to make it to the kickoff of 2015?
My former college roommate operates Backpocket Brewery in the Iowa City suburb of Coralville, so I would be remiss to not mention their Cane Blade IPA. I have drank far too much No Coast IPA from Peace Tree Brewery in Knoxville these last few months, which is the closest thing Iowa has to Two Hearted Ale (yes, it's that good). Exile Brewery's Zoo Brew is quite tasty (they also recently had a pale ale called Lucha Libre, but I think it's moved out of rotation), and any Iowa beer list would be incomplete without a mention of the ridiculously hard-to-find Pseudo Sue from Toppling Goliath in Decorah.
Thanks, Patrick! Be sure and follow Patrick on Twitter @HS_BHGP for hearty helpings of Iowa musings!