After a gloomy year, C.J. Beathard has a chance to shine in the Outback Bowl

Sep 3, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard (16) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Miami (Oh) Redhawks at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t the brightest year for C.J. Beathard.

He came into his senior season with some pretty high expectations. After leading Iowa to a 12-0 regular season mark last year and throwing for nearly 3,000 yards in an offense primarily keen on running the ball, Beathard was one of the country’s top-rated quarterbacks in college football this preseason.

Experts predicted the Hawkeye to be one of the top five quarterbacks taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. Even then-presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed Beathard was the next Tom Brady at a campaign rally in Iowa City.

2016 didn’t play out that way, though. His completion percentage dipped, his passing total was nearly 1,000 yards below what it was last year and he had two more interceptions. The only stat that didn’t drop was touchdown passes – Beathard matched his total from last year with 17.

Nov 25, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard (16) warms up on the sideline during the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t the dazzling the season that most out of the kid who had earned the nickname “Sunshine” in 2014 because of his long, flowing hair that resembled the character Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from the 2000 movie Remember the Titans. As a result of his decline, his stock as an NFL prospect took a pretty big hit.

He’s 21-6 as a starter for the Hawkeyes – including a 13-game winning streak in his first 13 starts – but wins and losses only go so far for NFL evaluators. And when it comes to Beathard, it hasn’t helped him much this season.

Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had this to say about Beathard after Iowa’s 8-4 campaign:

I started the year hopeful he’d be in the top 5-to-8 quarterbacks overall, and right now he’s not in the top 10. I have a late-round grade on C.J. Beathard right now.

Beathard’s status probably isn’t going to change too much between now and May. Where Kiper and other sites have him projected – CBS has him ranked as the eighth-best quarterback currently – shouldn’t fluctuate drastically. But he does have one more opportunity – the Outback Bowl against Florida – to help his cause.

Appropriately, “Sunshine” is going to close out his career in the Sunshine State and he needs a glowing performance to try and woo scouts and prove he can be the quarterback he was expected to be six months ago.

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Florida is going to be provide one of the biggest challenges for Iowa’s offense and Beathard, in particular. The Gators have are tenacious against the pass, ranking third in the country by allowing just 156.3 yards per game. They’ve also only surrendered eight touchdowns through the air, tied for the best total in the nation.

Those are the type of defenses the senior has had trouble against this year.

His biggest knocks came after the Week 6 performance against Minnesota. In that game, Beathard completed 17-of-31 passes for 142 yards and threw two interceptions and went without a TD. After that outing, NFL.com explained why the Iowa quarterback’s stock was dropping:

While he can sling it with some velocity and fit throws into tight windows, he simply isn’t reliable enough with his decision-making and poise. Beathard looks the part with simple drop-and-throw reps where he has clearly open receivers to throw to, but when he has to throw receivers open or fine-tune his ball placement, he’s just too erratic.

That’s a fair assessment, especially when you watch some of Iowa’s biggest plays from this season. Beathard did make some really nice throws but most of those were made when receivers were left wide open, or at least a few a steps on the nearest defender.

Receivers have made it easy for Beathard to make good throws, this season:

Against better defenses, when it’s been difficult for guys to get open, Beathard has struggled.

In Iowa’s matchup with Wisconsin, Beathard was 17-of-33 for 153 yards but couldn’t get the Hawkeyes into the end zone, losing to the Badgers 17-9. Three weeks later against Michigan – college football’s best defense against the pass – Beathard completed just eight passes on 19 attempts and tallied only 66 yards through the air.

Those moments didn’t seem to bother Beathard in 2015. Now it looks like maybe the defenses he lined up against just weren’t as talented as the units he saw this season. Whatever the reason, scouts don’t have the same trust in the senior as they did a year ago.

RELATED: Why Iowa’s Bowl Struggles Could End vs. Florida

He’s got one more chance to change their minds.

Florida’s defense is pretty banged up, but receivers are still going to have trouble getting space. If Beathard’s smart and accurate after a month of preparation – the two qualities he’s been docked for throughout the season – he’s going to give the Hawkeyes a great chance to win.

Scouts would have to reexamine their use of the terms “poor decision-making” and “erratic” in their evaluation of the Iowa quarterback. Maybe it’ll lead to a boost in his draft status, or maybe it won’t.

Sep 24, 2016; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard (16) drops back to pass during the first half of their game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Points Solutions Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Draft stock isn’t everything.

Remember that Brady comparison Trump dropped back in August?

The similarities may not be too far off, at least when it comes to perception. Brady was a sixth-round selection, taken 199th overall back in 2000. Beathard is currently ranked as the 187th-best player in the 2017 draft.

Four Super Bowl championships, two Most Valuable Player Awards and 12 Pro Bowl selections later, the former Michigan quarterback has guaranteed his place in the Hall of Fame.

RELATED: Watch: Iowa Coaches Compete in Dance-Off

Brady did conclude his college career on a high note, something Beathard will try to replicate on Monday. Facing Alabama in the Orange Bowl, Brady threw for 369 yards and four TDs, including a game-winning 25-yard strike in overtime to give the Wolverines a 35-34 win in Miami.

Beathard is going to have that same opportunity. If he figures out Florida’s defense in the Outback Bowl and ends his career like Brady did, he might be viewed differently headed into the draft.

The Outback Bowl presents Beathard with one final chance.

Maybe he’ll put the “Sunshine” in the Sunshine State.

REFERENCES

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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