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.