Hot Reads: Transfer of Power
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Hot Reads: Is Better QB Play in 2017 Inevitable?

March 08, 2017

Nebraska’s quarterback race took a backseat on Tuesday so Nebraska’s “new guys” on defense could take the mic. Don’t worry, it will be back on center stage tomorrow when offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf speaks for the first time this spring.

When he does talk about the Huskers’ quarterback derby, he’ll be talking about what Paul Myerberg of USA Today deemed one of the “10 most intriguing QB competitions this spring” (emphasis mine):

[Tanner] Lee’s the more experienced of the pair, with two years of starting time at Tulane, but both contenders are equally familiar with the Cornhuskers’ offensive system. Rest assured of one fact: Nebraska’s going to get vastly improved quarterback play. Bet on Lee eventually nabbing the job, if not until deeper into fall camp.

That prompts an important question: Do you, Husker fan, go to bed at night assured that Nebraska will have better quarterback play in 2017? Do you consider it a “fact” even though none of the options has played for Nebraska yet?

It’s one of the key assumptions of the offseason and it seems like most Husker fans and pundits are content to make it based on a combination of factors: fit, resemblance to past Oregon State signal callers, consistency and, yes, a little undervaluing of what came before.

We’re all well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Taylor Martinez after a seven-year roller coaster ride at quarterback. But if we’re assuming Nebraska will get “improved quarterback play” in 2017, what are we assuming?

Let’s use QBR, which factors in a QB’s running ability, as a rough guide. Here are Nebraska’s last 11 seasons along with the starter’s national rank in QBR.

2016 – Armstrong, 41st
2015 – Armstrong, 26th
2014 – Armstrong, 46th
2013 – TEAM, 94th (No starter with enough attempts to qualify)
2012 – Martinez, 22nd
2011 – Martinez, 50th
2010 – Martinez, 24th
2009 – Lee, 98th
2008 – Ganz, 24th
2007 – Keller, 52nd
2006 – Taylor, 29th

Nebraska only had two season over that span that were clearly below average (2009, 2013). The rest all fell about somewhere between 20th and 50th nationally. Whoever quarterbacks the Huskers could fall somewhere around 30 or 35th nationally and it would basically be right in line with where Nebraska’s quarterback play has ranked in the past. I recognize that QBR isn’t the only way to measure improvement, but if you’re trying quantify this and set a line somewhere, I don’t think that’s a bad place to start.

Perhaps the more interesting thing in those numbers above is how spiky the ratings are. You can’t look at that list and see consecutive seasons when the Huskers had “good” quarterback play. It always seems to be bouncing within that top-20 to top-50 range.

And that, ultimately, might be more what Husker fans are expecting — consistency. Nebraska fans could be happier with a quarterback that is always the 35th best quarterback in the country versus the quarterback who, at the end of his career, averages out as the 35th-best quarterback in the country.

That feels like a slightly easier hurdle to clear. Would it qualify as “vastly improved”? Depends on your definition though it certainly seems like the expectation.

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