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CHICAGO — He isn’t the Iowa Hawkeye who routinely has been named to summer lists of the 10 or 25 or even 50 best players in college football. That’s cornerback Desmond King.
He isn’t regarded as the Big Ten’s top quarterback entering the 2016 season. That’s Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, who got 34 of 39 first-place votes for league preseason Offensive Player of the Year in a media poll conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
But C.J. Beathard is the most-important Iowa player by a lot, and may be the most-important player in the conference despite getting no first-place votes for the aforementioned honor.
If Barrett gets hurt, Urban Meyer elevates one of his endless supply of great athlete/QBs. If Beathard were to miss time this year — almost unthinkable after the way he gutted out several games last season with a sports hernia and a torn groin muscle that needed surgical repair after the season — the West Division-favorite Hawkeyes would be in trouble.
Beathard spent much of his hour at a Big Ten media day podium telling reporters he was hungry for more. Iowa’s 12-0 regular-season record last year? He said it was great fun, but was muted by the 16-13 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and the 45-16 pounding from Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
“Number one on my list is to win the Big Ten championship,” he said. “Number two is to win a bowl game. It’s my fifth year, and I haven’t won a bowl game. It’s eating at all the guys who have been here a while now.”
You got the distinct feeling the loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis bugs him more than what happened in Pasadena. MSU had a 22-play touchdown drive that ended with 27 seconds left in the game, and all Beathard could do was watch it from the sideline.
“You think about it all the time,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still think about it every once in a while. I’ll be thinking about it 15 years from now, how close that game was.
“I keep seeing it on TV all the time, too. ESPN’s playing the top 25 games of the season, and every time I turn it on it’s that game.”
Someone in one wave of reporters would come to Beathard’s podium and ask what it was like to helplessly watch “The Drive.” A little later, someone from another wave would do the same. Beathard’s voice seemed to contain a little more hurt with each response.
“It’s tough, especially being that close,” he said. “You could taste the Big Ten championship victory. You’d almost rather get blown out than lose that close. … Not really, though, because we’ve used that as motivation for this season.
“When you have that taste in your mouth and it’s taken away from you, you want it that much more.”
For all the physical and mental skills Beathard possesses, his competitiveness may be what puts him in the upper level of college quarterbacks. He said he played hurt for “nine-and-a-half games” last year. That’s a lot of games to be hurting while playing Big Ten football.
“It was uncomfortable,” he said. “It was painful, but I wouldn’t call it miserable.
“I wasn’t able to do as many bootlegs and things like that as I would have wanted to do. It changed some game plans around. But when you’re winning games, it’s almost a cure-all for that.”
His father, Casey Beathard, is a prominent country music songwriter. Brother Tucker Beathard is a 22-year-old performer who is touring this summer with country star Dierks Bentley. C.J. played in a band with his two brothers as a kid, but ultimately set it aside in favor of football.
“I’ve always been competitive,” Beathard said. “In music, you can play in front of thousands of people and think ‘Man, I had a bad show,” but no one in the crowd’s going to know. Everyone’s going to love it. It’s kind of a win-win situation in music. You play a show, you win. You never lose.
“In football — in sports — you have a chance to lose a game. You’re not always going to win. I think that’s the thrill of it. I like pressure. I like competition. I like to compete.”
Oh yeah, there was also this:
“I was good at football,” Beathard said. “I was better at football than guitar.”