This is a time when optimism rules college football.
And if you’re Jake Rudock, you might be downright giddy.
With Iowa kicking off spring practices Wednesday, anticipation for the 2014 season will begin to soar.
And even though fan expectations tend to transcend reality, there is no disputing this: Rudock is in a better position for success than any second-year starting quarterback of the Kirk Ferentz era.
“I think you’ve got to expect him to continue to evolve,” said Tom Dienhart, senior writer for the Big Ten Network. “You can’t stay the same if you’re Rudock. You’ve got to take that next step, be a little bit more than just a game manager.”
Will Rudock seize the opportunity?
He has most of his supporting cast back, including seven other starters from an offense that averaged 377 yards and 26.3 points in 2013 – after managing just 310.4 yards and 19.3 points in 2012.
“Just think about the quarterbacks in the Big Ten West (Division),” Dienhart added. “And Jake Rudock is going to be one of the best.”
Of course, Ferentz has experienced his share of hits and misses since taking over the program in 1999.
He spent his first three years shuffling between quarterbacks Scott Mullen, Randy Reiners, Jon Beutjer, Kyle McCann and Brad Banks.
Banks, the 2002 Heisman Trophy runner-up, and Nathan Chandler, who led the Hawkeyes to a 10-3 mark in 2003, brought temporary stability.
Drew Tate, meanwhile, took the Hawkeyes on a three-year roller-coaster ride, from 2004-06.
He was the catalyst for a Big Ten title as a sophomore and was statistically stellar as a junior, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,828 yards, 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
But Tate’s career was also marred by weighty expectations and an occasional tantrum.
“I don’t think (Rudock) is the athlete Drew Tate was,” Dienhart said, “but from a passing game standpoint, without a doubt he’s going to have to take that next step as a decision maker and physically as a passer.”
Jake Christensen labored in 2007 and landed on the bench in ’08.
Ricky Stanzi was more of a stalwart, throwing for 56 touchdowns and 7,377 yards from 2008-10.
James Vandenberg showed promise in 2011, but floundered the following year when Greg Davis became offensive coordinator.
And now, Rudock is back after a solid showing in 2013.
It’s his third season in Davis’ system, giving Rudock a familiarity and comfort level Vandenberg could never have.
Rudock is also joined in the backfield by three established running backs – Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock – a luxury that eluded Tate and Stanzi.
The Hawkeyes also bring back leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, who emerged as Rudock’s go-to guy last season with 40 catches for 388 yards.
“For Iowa to take the next step offensively, they’ve got to get more out of that passing game,” Dienhart said. “Running the ball is not going to be an issue.
“But being able to stretch the field, just make defenses back off that run a little bit… that’s probably the biggest thing they need to do.”
Much of the responsibility falls on Rudock. But with the 2014 opener (Aug. 30 against Northern Iowa) still five months away, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism.