IOWA CITY, Iowa — C.J. Beathard won't be remembered for his stats, but he will go down as one of the winningest quarterbacks Iowa has ever had.
Beathard enters his final game with 21st-ranked Iowa, next week's Outback Bowl against No. 20 Florida (8-4), with 5,507 yards passing, 40 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Beathard is 21-6 as a starter, often winning while playing hurt and throwing to a less than spectacular group of receivers.
Coach Kirk Ferentz put a lot on the line when he named Beathard the starter over incumbent Jake Rudock in January 2015, and the move worked out.
The irony of Beathard's career at Iowa was that he never intended to be a Hawkeye.
Beathard, who grew up outside of Nashville, led all Tennessee prep quarterbacks in passing yards, completions and touchdowns as a junior and senior and signed with Mississippi. But a coaching change at Ole Miss led Beathard to Iowa, which rarely if ever recruits in that part of the country.
Beathard redshirted in 2012 and barely saw action the following season as Rudock, a year ahead of him, solidified his hold of the starting job. It was clear that Beathard could be a dual threat, Power Five-type starter after throwing for 145 yards and rushing for 82 more in the second half of a miserable bowl loss to Tennessee to close out 2014.
But Beathard was growing increasingly frustrated that he might play behind Rudock yet again in 2015.
The program needed a spark though, and Ferentz decided that Beathard might be the guy to provide it.
"It's been an incredible journey. But that's part of life...you have ups and downs. That's how my career here has been. But I wouldn't change it because it makes you better in the long run," Beathard said. "It made me a better player."
The Hawkeyes got hot under Beathard's leadership in 2015 — despite the fact that he played at far less than 100 percent for most of the year — and rolled to the first 12-0 regular season in school history before falling a play short of the playoff.
Beathard threw for 17 touchdowns last season, but his value to Iowa was so obvious that he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.
"He is really like a lineman. He doesn't care about himself. He has a bad game, we win and he's happy. That lays the blueprint for the rest of the team," tackle Ike Boettger said.
Beathard looked poised for a big season just two games into 2016, throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-3 blowout of rival Iowa State. But a season-ending injury to star receiver Matt VandeBerg, the lack of development by Iowa's young receivers and another injury to talented tight end George Kittle crippled Iowa's passing game.
Iowa relied heavily on the running game down the stretch, and it helped produce huge home wins over Michigan and Nebraska.
"It's fun playing with a guy who has such a team-first attitude," running back LeShun Daniels Jr. said.
Beathard's NFL draft stock is uncertain because he didn't put up the kind of numbers that would have elevated him into the upper rounds.
But if Beathard can stay healthy, he might prove to be a steal for whatever pro team picks him up.
"We obviously don't throw the ball as much as a lot of these teams do. We won 40-10 the other day and I threw it 15 times. We do what we need to do to win games. But this offense really prepares you for the next level, in the sense of the mental capacity and the things I need to do at the line of scrimmage reading coverages," Beathard said.
This article was written by Luke Meredith from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.