IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) In two seasons as Iowa's backup quarterback, C.J. Beathard was one of the most popular players on the roster.
Now it's up to Beathard to live up to outsized expectations.
Beathard, a redshirt junior nicknamed ''Sunshine'' by his teammates, was promoted to the starting role following a brutal loss to Tennessee in January's TaxSlayer Bowl.
The move convinced former starter Jake Rudock to transfer to Michigan and made Beathard by far the most important player for the retooled Hawkeyes.
If Beathard can't come through in 2015, it's tough to see Iowa improving on a tepid 7-6 finish in 2015. Beathard is the only quarterback with any experience for the Hawkeyes, who open against Illinois State on Sept. 5.
''The way he's grown, the way he's accepted being a leader, it's very, very clear,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday at the team's annual media day. ''He's just a totally different guy. His demeanor is different, and he's a much more mature guy and he's accepted the responsibility.''
Though Beathard has only thrown 119 passes, he has tantalized an Iowa fan base desperate for signs of life from a program gone stale.
Beathard's arm is bigger than Rudock's - and he can run, too.
If Beathard can match Rudock's knowledge of the Hawkeyes offense, Iowa might have the kind of player who can engineer a turnaround.
The Hawkeyes are hoping that Beathard's arm strength can help them stretch the field more than in recent seasons - or at least convince opposing defenses that such a threat exists.
Beathard's legs might also come in handy as the rebuilt offensive line looks to find its rhythm ahead of Big Ten play.
But Iowa can't exactly let Beathard take a ton of hits considering that his backup, Tyler Wiegers, has never thrown a collegiate pass and that Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook, the two freshmen behind Wiegers, were in high school just a few months ago.
''He's a definite factor if the pocket gets rushed,'' offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. But ''we need to keep C.J. healthy ... we're not going to expose him to 20 carries a game.''
Wiegers, a redshirt freshman, was a four-star recruit from Detroit's Country Day school who threw for more than 2,000 yards with 24 touchdowns as a senior.
Wiegers has many traits Ferentz looks for in a quarterback. He's listed at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, and has been both a Magna Cum Laude student and a leadership award recipient from the coaching staff.
Still, the Hawkeyes have rarely been forced to use a freshman quarterback in Ferentz's 16 seasons.
''He's a quality young man. He's totally invested, highly intelligent and he's got good skills. So he's playing a little bit faster out there, a little bit more confident,'' Ferentz said.
Boyle was a two-time state player of the year for Dowling Catholic in nearby West Des Moines, Iowa, and in time could be Iowa's first dual-threat quarterback in recent memory. But ideally, the Hawkeyes would like to redshirt both he and Cook - a possible option at tight end as well.
Iowa has question marks at a lot of positions with a month left before the season starts.
But no spot will be watched more closely than quarterback - where the Hawkeyes hope they've found their solution in Beathard.
''I'm older. I've grown,'' Beathard said. ''I've taken on more of a leadership role with this team because I'm the quarterback of this team, the leader of this offense and the leader of this team.''
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