Another Quarterback Race at Iowa State

Iowa State quarterbacks Steele Jantz, left, and Jared Barnett pose during NCAA college football media day at Jack Trice Stadium, Thursday, August 2, 2012, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ames Tribune, Nirmalendu Majumdar)

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By Aaron Hepker

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett know exactly what's expected of them in their competition for Iowa State's starting quarterback job.

Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.

Each led the team to three victories during the Cyclones' 6-7 season a year ago, but neither has been what you'd call a pinpoint passer. And they start preseason practice dead even on the depth chart.

Jantz, a senior, completed 53 percent of his passes with 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns. Barnett, a sophomore, was a 50 percent passer with six touchdowns and six picks.

In a high-powered league like the Big 12, that percentage has to improve if the Cyclones are going to keep up — even if coach Paul Rhoads' preference is to run the ball.

"One of the things I think it comes back to is having quarterbacks that understand: Take advantage of what the defense gives you," offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said Thursday at the team's media day. "If that means throwing a hitch (route) 10 times in a row because they're giving you a hitch, take that hitch 10 times in a row. Don't try to force it down the field and make a poor decision."

Poor decisions were a major factor last fall.

Jantz led the Cyclones to a 3-0 start, including a three-overtime thriller against Iowa. He complicated things for himself by throwing six interceptions in those games, mainly because he tried to throw the ball where it shouldn't have gone.

"As far as physical things, accuracy I'd say is more important than running or other things like that," Jantz said. "But it's kind of all connected. If you make great decisions and you've got good fundamentals, you're going to be accurate."

Jantz showed impressive mobility in escaping the pass rush and keeping plays alive, but a foot injury at Connecticut in the third game hampered him more than he let on and he eventually was replaced by Barnett.

The foot has healed completely, Jantz said.

"Physically, I've never felt this good," he said. "I'm excited to see how that translates into camp. It's been a great summer. The coaches will attest to that."

Barnett led the Cyclones to consecutive victories over Texas Tech, Kansas and No. 2 Oklahoma State — the biggest victory in school history — but was just so-so in losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State and was replaced by Jantz after a terrible start in a 27-13 loss to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.

After completing only 2 of 7 passes and getting sacked twice, Barnett wasn't surprised he got benched.

"I didn't feel like I was playing well enough," he said. "Coach Rhoads made that decision and I'm all for it because I don't think I was playing at my potential and I don't think I was playing good enough for us to win."

To regain the starting job, Barnett needs to look like the quarterback who ran the show in those three victories a year ago. He completed 61 of 114 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns in those games and was as equally productive running the ball, gaining 301 yards in 55 carries.

"I was making the right decisions, pulling the ball down when I needed to run," he said. "But it was more the guys around me really. They were helping me out and made me able to play better and made me able to slow down the game for myself."

If uncertainty over the starting quarterback sounds familiar to Iowa State fans, that's because it is.

Jantz and Jerome Tiller were locked in the battle last year until Tiller was ruled academically ineligible in late August. Tiller has regained his eligibility and is now a wide receiver.

It was hard to imagine Jantz losing the starting job after the first three games last fall, but he did. Then it appeared Barnett was set as the starter, until he faltered in the bowl game. Neither outdid the other in spring practice, which brings them full circle to now.

"It doesn't bother me," Barnett said of the competition. "Because it's going to push me and push Steele. It's going to make us a lot better by the time we come out of camp."

Rhoads figures he should know enough by Aug. 18 to announce a starter.

Iowa State is deep at running back and returns four of its top five wide receivers from last year, so whichever quarterback becomes the starter, he should have plenty of help.

"It's really a lot of guys that we're confident with," Jantz said. "More important is taking care of the ball and making smart decisions."

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