Early in the 2015 offseason, Iowa released an unprecedented and, to be honest, weird, offseason depth chart in which two-year starting quarterback Jake Rudock was supplanted by junior C.J. Beathard. What made it weird was the nebulous purpose of the depth chart. Was it to appease the disgruntled fans and assure them that changes were coming within the stagnant program? Was it to appease Beathard who had gone to his hometown press with his own concerns? Was it to let the players know that the results of the 2014 season were not acceptable?
Whatever the purpose, three months later, it was announced that Jake Rudock had transferred to Michigan, which had a new head coach in Jim Harbaugh, and found itself quarterback-less with the graduation of beleaguered signal caller, Devin Gardner. At that point—early April—Iowa and Michigan were not on each others' schedules and the only way the two teams and quarterbacks would meet would be if both teams won their respective divisions and made it to the Big Ten Championship game. Given where each program was in April, this thought seemed laughable. Firstly, Iowa looked to be in a shambles and some felt the Hawkeyes would be lucky to go bowling, let alone beat out Wisconsin and Nebraska for the division championship. However, even if that unlikely scenario occurred, Michigan was coming off a bowl-less season of its own. Jim Harbaugh had a track record of success, but in order for his Wolverines to reach the championship game, they would not only have to shape up their own ship, but also beat out Michigan State and Ohio State. This possibility seemed so ludicrous that Blackheartgoldpants reacted to such absurdity with a "LOL."
Here we are in mid-October. Iowa is 7-0 (3-0 in conference), ranked No. 13 in the country and squarely on top of the Western Division. Michigan is 5-2 (2-1). After its unfortunate punting issues this weekend, it is behind both Michigan State and Ohio State, but it still has a realistic chance to get to Indianapolis though it will need a little help. In short, the quarterback situation with Beathard and Rudock has worked out perfectly for everybody and Beathard vs Rudock could become a November reality.
Beathard's and Iowa's Path to Indianapolis
In July, Kirk Ferentz, per Hawkcentral, cited Beathard's "live arm" and "active feet," along with his continued growth and maturity, as reasons for his ascension up the depth chart. In coach-speak, this meant that Beathard was a playmaker, he could take over games in ways many other quarterbacks—i.e. Rudock—couldn't, and Iowa needed a playmaker at its most important offensive position. Furthermore, he had grown such that his improvisations had become less costly.
This was something most fans had suspected, but all of their hopes were legitimized this season. Beathard's value to this team can't be measured in statistics. He is currently fifth in the conference in passer efficiency, touchdowns, yards-per-attempt and total offense; seventh in yards-passed-per-game; and 31st in yards rushing. These are solid though unspectacular numbers. His value to the team can only be measured by watching him play, like this 57-yard run against Iowa State:
Or this series of scampers that set up Iowa for a last-second game-winning field goal against Pitt:
As Ferentz said, Beathard has a live arm and an ability to make things happen when the ball is in his hand, a quality that had been missing from Iowa's offense since Greg Davis became the offensive coordinator in 2012.
Something else that has been missing has been even a whiff of Big Ten Championship caliber play, but right now, Iowa is solidly in the driver's seat with a full tank of gas and a couple of miles on everybody else—a.k.a. Wisconsin—in the Western Division.
Iowa's two closest "rivals" in the Western Division race are Wisconsin and Illinois. Iowa has a 2-game advantage plus the head-to-head over the Illini, and Illinois still has to play Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. In effect, they can fairly be written off. That leaves the Badgers. Iowa has a one-game lead on UW, plus the head-to-head win. Furthermore, the remainder of Iowa's schedule is as follows:
Maryland and Purdue are the two worst teams in the conference, and the three other opponents are mediocrity incarnate. The roadie at Indiana is a little scary, because Iowa doesn't match up well with the spread, offense-happy Hoosiers. Also, the Cornhuskers appear to have turned a corner with new coach Mike Reilly, but Iowa can lose one game and still win the division.
In short, with absolutely no mathematical basis for this number, I'd put Beathard's and Iowa's odds of reaching Indianapolis at somewhere in the 80th percentile.
Rudock's and Michigan's Path to Indianapolis
Jake Rudock is the quintessential game manager. Some may take that as an insult, but a number of Superbowl-champion quarterbacks—Phil Simms, Brad Johnson—have been game managers. Rudock gets the plays in, calls audibles, takes care of the football and efficiently drives the offense down the field. Generally, he is not going to take over a game or throw fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators; however, with a strong running game and able receivers—two things Iowa was never able to give him—he can be an ideal signal caller.
Michigan has given him that strong running game and able receivers, along with an elite defense. Rudock's numbers at Michigan are similar to his numbers at Iowa. In 2014, Rudock completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2436 yards, which was good for 7.1 yards-per-attempt. He had 16 touchdowns to five interceptions and a 133.45 quarterback efficiency rating. He also tacked on 176 yards rushing. In 2015, through seven games, Rudock has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1303 yards, which is 6.6 yards-per-attempt. He has thrown five touchdowns and six picks for a 119.88 efficiency rating to go along with 74 yards rushing.
That's Rudock. He is not and never will be the second coming of Tom Brady or Rick Leach or Jim Harbaugh. He's efficient, and he'll move the chains. He is what Michigan needs right now, while it adjusts to a new system with a new coach and continued high expectations.
Heading into the season, most Michigan fans' expectations would have ended around nine wins and a nice bowl, but now, many hope the Wolverines can knock off the Buckeyes and take the division. That possibility was dashed a bit with yesterday's loss, but it is still possible.
Firstly, the Wolverines will have to win out. Michigan has a bye next week followed by:
@ Penn State
Meanwhile, it needs Michigan State to lose two more. The most likely scenario for this would probably include losses in the final weeks of the season—@ Ohio State and then Penn State—or perhaps an upset loss at Nebraska.
Again, at the beginning of the season, most of these scenarios would have seemed impossible: Michigan having a shot against OSU or MSU losing to anybody other than OSU. Nevertheless, it has been commonly accepted that despite MSU's and OSU's perfect records, neither team has looked unbeatable; and Michigan, despite its two losses, has played a tougher schedule than either team, and, at times, has looked to be the tougher foe.
This is not to say Michigan is a favorite to represent the Eastern Division in Indianapolis. But it's a more realistic scenario than it would have seemed in August.
In April, Michigan was thrilled to have Jim Harbaugh back in the maize and blue, but very few expected him to compete for a conference championship in his first year. Michigan fans also didn't expect miracles from its transfer quarterback. Meanwhile, many Iowa fans hoped either that Kirk Ferentz would turn it around on the arm of his untested signal caller, or would crash and burn, retire and hand the program over to someone else.
Now, in mid-October, things couldn't have worked out better for all the involved parties and the LOL-able has become a realistic possibility: Beathard v Rudock for the undisputed Big Ten championship.