One of the surprises of this college football season has been the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes, currently ranked in the top 5 by the College Football Playoff committee. Very few expected much from the Hawkeyes after their Taxslayer Bowl drubbing by Tennessee, but one former local prep star has led to the Hawkeyes resurgence and one of the best seasons in Iowa’s long football history.
BGA’s CJ Beathard was one of the state’s top quarterback prospects in the class of 2012. The Wildcats signal-caller held offers from Iowa, Ole Miss, Tulane, and SMU, among others. Beathard chose to take his talents to the Big Ten. After a redshirt year in 2012, Beathard played sparingly as a backup in 2013 before making his first start in 2014. Beathard’s play as a backup led to a quarterback controversy in Iowa City, a battle that Beathard would win.
This season, Beathard has led the Hawkeyes with a 61% completion percentage, throwing for 2,257 yards and 13 touchdowns. Beathard has also made plays with his legs, running for 280 yards and 6 touchdowns. Opposing coaches have stated that Iowa’s improvement can be attributed to the 6’2” signal caller. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said after Iowa’s 40-20 win over the Boilermakers, “To me, he is the difference from last year to this. He makes a lot of plays, just slippery enough to hurt you.” Beathard’s play has led Iowa to their first Big Ten Western Division title after their win over Purdue.
- You held a bunch of different offers, what was it about Iowa that appealed to you?
I was originally committed to Ole Miss before a coaching change. I spoke with Hugh Freeze after the change, but decided to take a visit to Iowa City a few weeks before signing day. My grandpa [former NFL GM Bobby Beathard] had met Coach Ferentz and talked about how good coach he was. When I was on my visit, it felt like home.
- How big of a change was it adjusting from Franklin to Iowa City? Did you have to adjust your personal game at all?
It has been a little different. Biggest thing has been the cold weather. It snows up here and reaches negative degrees.
Plus it’s a nine and a half hour drive, so I’m not able to get home often. We have a lot of guys from Iowa who can get home on days off. I’m blessed because my parents can make most games. But I have a big family, so the biggest challenge has been not seeing family as much.
As far as adjusting my game, I haven’t adjusted my talent and the way I play. It has just been a different atmosphere and facing better athletes. I’ve stayed true to my game and learning new offense. In our offense, the quarterback is in charge of everything on the field.
- The last time a lot of people around here saw you was last year’s Taxslayer Bowl against Tennessee. What do you think has changed between last season and this season?
We have changed our culture and changed our attitude. Last year, I don’t know if we had the leadership step up, but this year, leaders have stepped up and have help get the young guys got on the right path.
- During your career, where has been your favorite place to play?
It’s hard to beat playing at home. It has been great playing in Iowa City. Besides Iowa, at Iowa State and the rivalry there is my favorite. It’s such a big rivalry up here and its fun going there with the trash talk from their fans.
- Let’s get more into your upbringing and history. Obviously, you come from a football family. What was it like growing up around so much football?
They were the best times of life. I was around Chargers and Falcons players like Michael Vick, Junior Seau, and Rodney Harrison. It was a blessed life as kids being able to play in the indoor complex for these teams and throwing the ball with these players.
- Your alma mater won the state championship last year with your little brother at quarterback winning Mr. Football. This year he’s a finalist again. Have you had a chance to see any of his games this year? Have you been trying to get him to follow you to Iowa City?
I wouldn’t be against it, but I’m wanting him to take his own path and do his own thing, not have to try to play behind his brother. I do keep track of how he’s doing and, while the season didn’t end the way they wanted, he’s had a great season. I send him motivational texts and I’m proud of his season and his chance at another award.
- If we’re doing a BGA all-star game, whose team wins, yours or Clay’s?
[chuckles] My team would win. [I] can’t give him credit there, but it would be a good game.
Beathard’s Hawkeyes beat Nebraka 28-20 on Friday. Beathard was 9-16 and threw a TD in the win to remain undefeated. Iowa faces either Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan in the Big Ten championship on December 5th in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes go for the Big Ten championship with a New Year’s Bowl game and a potential College Football Playoff appearance on the line.