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Hot Reads: The Huskers’ Biggest Question this Spring

February 24, 2017

Nebraska will have plenty of questions to answer in the weeks to come as spring football kicks off in eight days. (See the latest issue of Hail Varsity for a more extensive discussion on that.) But if you had to prioritize, which of these questions is the “biggest”?

According to ESPN’s Jesse Temple, who looked at the biggest questions for all of the Big Ten West Division teams, it’s at quarterback for the Huskers:

One of the most intriguing quarterback battles in the Big Ten will take place in Lincoln, as the Cornhuskers lose the only two quarterbacks who played last season. The Tommy Armstrong Jr. era is over, and what a prolific career it was. He finished first in program history in career passing yards, completions, touchdown passes, total touchdowns and total offense. Backup Ryker Fyfe filled in admirably when Armstrong endured injuries. But this spring will bring a quarterback competition involving Tanner Lee, Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia. Lee appears to have the advantage as spring practice begins. He played two seasons at Tulane before transferring to Nebraska. O’Brien will be a redshirt freshman this season and was a highly regarded high school prospect out of California who was a finalist at the prestigious Elite 11 summer camp in 2015. Gebbia is an early enrollee this spring who finished as the second-leading passer in California high school history with 13,109 yards and 141 career touchdowns. That’s a lot of talent in one place at Nebraska. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and head coach Mike Riley must determine which player gives the Cornhuskers the best chance to win.

That will certainly be the “question” that draws the most attention. Given what we know about quarterback play and its relationship to winning, it’s hard to argue for anything over quarterbacks.

Let me try to do it anyway.

While we don’t know who will quarterback the Huskers, based on fit with what Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf have done previously at Oregon State, I’m reasonably confident Nebraska will be fine at quarterback. I’m also reasonably confident that Tanner Lee will be the guy at this point, but no matter who wins the job I’m expecting a more precise passing game with more completions. That should help Nebraska with some inexperience at wide receiver and also alleviate a little pressure on the running game, another question facing the Huskers this spring following the loss of their two leading rushers (Tommy Armstrong Jr. included) from last season.

The key to all of that, however, might actually be the offensive line. Nebraska has four starters returning and what seems like plenty of on-paper talent behind those guys. There is a chance to have a pretty intense competition over the next month-and-a-half up front and, in a perfect world, that raises the level of the line as a whole. No matter who ends up filling the open spots at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, they all benefit if Nebraska has line that ranks among the Big Ten’s best.

In my mind, that’s actually the biggest question facing the Huskers in 2017 — can Nebraska’s offensive line be the strength of the offense? Given all of the moving parts at the skill positions, how good Nebraska is up front has the most potential to directly affect the Huskers’ win total.

The Plight of the 2-Star

Really good read from Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report on the tough realities facing players on the lower rungs of the recruiting ladder. The story centers on Florida athlete D.J. Charles, who somewhat (in)famously had committed to Florida Atlantic only to be told he no longer had an offer once Lane Kiffin took over.

Charles is far from the only example of that:

“It happens a lot, and each situation is different,” one Division I coach says. “The hardest one for me would be a coach coming in late, trying to honor kids you didn’t recruit. I probably just have to take that guy because he’s turned down other opportunities. Each case really is different.”

This is occasionally how it goes—as it did with Charles—though not all offers are pulled because of a change in leadership. The practice happens regularly with the same staff in place that offered the scholarship.

“You’ve got schools throwing out 400 offers,” the coach says. “How can you offer literally 400 kids with limited spots? Many of these offers just don’t mean anything. An offer at this point means, ‘I really like you,’ and that just drives me crazy. It’s the world we’re in now.”

For what it’s worth, Nebraska has already offered 130 players for the 2018 class.

The Grab Bag

  • The Huskers hung around for about 15 minutes last night before Michigan State put its foot on the pedal and pulled away for an 88-72 win.
  • A felony warrant has been issued for Creighton guard Maurice Watson, charging him with first-degree sexual assault. Creighton suspended Watson from all athletic-related activities earlier this week.
  • It was sort of inevitable, but here are your “college football Oscars.”
  • New Oregon Coach Willie Taggart is refusing to talk to the beat reporter who broke the story about three Ducks who were hospitalized earlier this year after offseason workouts.

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