Column: Loyalty can be a burden

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Jeff Budlong, On the Rebound

How long does loyalty last? In the NFL the favorite saying is &8220;there is no loyalty.&8221; But what about in the college game?

When is it OK to look ahead to next season and the future of your football team at the expense of a loyal senior or starter? It is a question that may be different in different situations, but let&8217;s take a look at a couple of examples.

A perfect example has come about with the Iowa Hawkeye football team. Three-year starter Drew Tate is injured &045; a couple of weeks removed from thumb surgery &045; but he played Saturday and played a significant part in the Hawks embarrassing loss to Northwestern.

Tate was a sensation his first year as a starter three years ago capping it with the Hail Mary victory over LSU in the Capitol One Bowl. He wasn&8217;t quite as good a season ago, and has been bad this season struggling with injuries and inexperienced wide receivers.

When Tate went out the first time this season, senior Jason Manson stepped in and threw four interceptions in a game the Hawks barely won over Syracuse. Fast forward a couple of weeks and Tate is on the sideline again with the thumb injury and head coach Kirk Ferentz opts to use red-shirt freshman Jake Christensen as his starting QB. Christensen wins the game and although it was just Northern Illinois he looked good doing it.

So, for me, the question entering this past Saturday against Northwestern was do you play Tate or Christensen?

Tate has been the leader for three years now but Iowa&8217;s season is over in respect to a Big Ten title, a January bowl or even a respectable bowl.

So do you ride out the season with the injured senior or get ready for next year with your future QB taking the rest of the snaps.

Ferentz makes $2 million a year so if I believe he is worth that &045; and I still do I guess &045; I will have to believe he knows what is best for his team. My suspicion is he will stay with the QB that brought him here in Tate. As a fan I am ready for the Jake Christensen Era to begin full time.

Iowa fans have been spoiled over the past four seasons and this campaign has brought us back to earth. But do we have to like it? No, we don&8217;t.

Start the young kid, build experience and confidence for next season. Tate did a lot for the program and for that we should all say thanks, but to put an injured QB out there which hurts the rest of the team makes no sense to me.

The other example I have questions about is right here in Minnesota. Different team, different circumstances.

Three-year starter Brian Cupito has been less than impressive during his tenure under center for the Gophers and I always wondered why they stuck with him.

Recently, I read that there was no other QB good enough to challenge him and it wouldn&8217;t make a difference because the Gophers starting quarterback next year will be a true freshman.

I don&8217;t know about you Gopher fans but how good do you feel about that? Fans have suffered through three years of Cupito because we did not recruit a quarterback any better than him in that span of time. Thanks, Glen.

Regardless of what they may do in practice &045; and even after the Gophers put a beating on Indiana &045; I would like to see the offense under the direction of a different QB. Minnesota is going nowhere this season and at the very least you could be building experience for next year&8217;s backup.

Loyalty is important but you also have to remember the team is not just about one player.

(Sports editor Jeff Budlong&8217;s column runs each Wednesday.)