IOWA CITY — Spencer Petras, Iowa’s fifth-year senior quarterback, smiled Tuesday about two prominent college programs from his home state of California joining the Big Ten Conference.
Absolutely, the analytical signal-caller said, it was good for the Big Ten and good for California that USC and UCLA are coming aboard in 2024 — one year after Petras’ max eligibility would expire. But he also chuckled as he envisioned one of those teams coming to Champaign, Illinois, on a blustery late-November afternoon.
“Yeah, 40 mile-an-hour winds, can’t feel your hands,” he said. “Ball is soaking wet.”
In contrast, Los Angeles’ weather is close to ideal year-round.
“The best part is if you’re a Big Ten West team, you’ve got to pray for a couple of road games in L.A. in November,” Petras said. “You can’t ask for (anything) better; because they don’t have any fans. It’s not like it’s going to be too loud or a tough environment.”
(Remember, Petras is a northern California guy — a San Francisco Giants fan from San Rafael. We’re talking about SoCal programs here, one of which Iowa drubbed, 49-24, in the 2019 Holiday Bowl.)
“That’s rude. They have fans,” he said, playfully chastising himself for his humorous dig. “But it’s not the same as it is here. And 60- or 70-degree weather (for Iowa players) in November would be pretty cool.”
That small exchange reveals a window into Petras’ loose mentality as he prepares for a pressure-packed Hawkeye football season ahead.
Petras appears as comfortable as he’s ever been as the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 quarterback. Yes, he’s still No. 1 after spring ball and will be No. 1 when fall camp opens on Aug. 3. That’s coming fast, just three weeks away.
And he sounds confident.
Petras certainly got a mental boost from a recent invitation to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy, where he not only rubbed shoulders and enjoyed fancy dinners with Super Bowl-winning legends but went viral on Twitter. A video post showed Petras launching a practice pass that traveled a good 70 yards in the air and landed perfectly in his receiver’s hands in the opposite end zone.
During the four-day camp in late June, Eli and Peyton Manning offered coaching points. Peyton made sure to itemize his Iowa connections with the Indianapolis Colts, such as Tom Moore, Jim Caldwell, Dallas Clark and Bob Sanders. Archie Manning informed Petras that he once played for Hayden Fry in the Hula Bowl. Petras logged “five or six pages” of notes and picked the Mannings’ brains.
“(Purdue quarterback) Aidan O’Connell and I were hanging out one night at dinner, and we were talking about a certain team in the Big Ten, their defense,” Petras said. “And we called Eli over, and it was great. We asked him questions whenever we’d get a chance. At the same time, you try not to bother them.
“Yeah, it was cool.”
Sure, Petras understands that even when he does something impressive or positive, a portion of the Iowa fan base rolls its eyes. He knows that until the Hawkeyes prove themselves consistently as an offense — they ranked 121st out of 130 FBS teams a year ago — he will have plenty of detractors.
In that sense, he and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz are tied at the hip going into the 2022 season. It seems that both Petras and Ferentz are not only under scrutiny this fall, they have been given votes of confidence by 24th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz. Petras doesn’t seem to be in any jeopardy of losing his No. 1 job to challengers Alex Padilla or Joe Labas, and Brian Ferentz added the responsibility of quarterbacks coach to his offseason duties after Ken O’Keefe stepped away … even though he’s never played or coached the position.
If you know what to look for, it’s clear that Petras has even picked up some of his offensive coordinator’s phrasings and mannerisms. They’ve been working diligently for the upcoming season ahead. Petras also logged more time working with his private coach in New Jersey, Tony Racioppi.
“We’re always trying to make our plays as schematically sound as they can be. The thing I love the most is we’re a lot more detailed now,” Petras said. “I don’t want to give away too much, but we’re very detailed now. I feel like I have a very good plan for every play, and that excites me as an analytical guy, as a guy that can identify coverage really fast.
“Brian’s been working his ass off, trying to detail everything. I’m really happy with how it looks right now. The real test will be training camp and getting a feel for it all. Getting the reps that I need. Obviously, I need to go do it in season.”
Of course, the success of Iowa’s 2022 season is not completely riding on the throwing ability of Petras or the play-calling/design of Brian Ferentz. There will be challenges as a young offensive line (perhaps with four sophomore starters) tries to jell. A thinned-out group of receivers (with the departures of Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Charlie Jones to Purdue) doesn’t help.
But from the sounds of it, Petras — in his first media interviews since a bullish session in late March — heads into his most important season yet in a good place physically and mentally. Even the most skeptical Iowa fans should be encouraged b that.
“I was really happy with spring ball. I felt like I was more decisive than I’ve ever been. I felt good about how I threw the ball,” Petras said. “Some of the changes we’ve made, I feel really good about. I’m excited to see how it carries over to camp.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.