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Football bracket.
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

QBracket: A Tournament to Determine the Best Nebraska Quarterback Since Eric Crouch

March 14, 2021

It’s Bracken SZN, so this felt right. 

What if we seeded the starting quarterbacks Nebraska has had since Eric Crouch left the program? For one, if any such bracket included the former Heisman Trophy winner, I imagine he’d win everyone’s tournament. Or at least the vast majority of folks. And that wouldn’t be as interesting. For another, cutting the field right at Crouch’s departure gave us 16 guys who have started at least one game as a Nebraska Cornhusker quarterback. 

That worked out well. 

(I should give credit for inspiration of this endeavor to ESPN college football analyst Bill Connelly and his recent ranking of the top quarterbacks of the 2000s. For the time being, we’re keeping our list to 16 guys since Crouch. If folks want an all-time ranking, maybe we do that later)

So here’s the game. Sixteen quarterbacks dating back to the Jammal Lord days. Over the next week on the Hail Varsity social media platforms, we’re going to give Husker fans a bracket and let them vote on each individual quarterback matchup. So make sure you’re following Hail Varsity on Twitter and Instagram@HailVarsity in both places.

On Monday, the field will be trimmed to eight men, and we’ll update you on who moved on in each matchup and open up a new round of voting. 

On Tuesday, the field will be whittled down to four. 

On Wednesday, the two finalists will be revealed. 

On Friday, the winner. 

The Hail Varsity team has done the initial seeding of the 16 quarterbacks. Brandon Vogel, Erin Sorensen, Mike Babcock, Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla, and myself all ranked them 1-to-16. 

Each first-place vote earned that player 16 points. Each second-place vote earned them 15, and so on down the line. A last-place vote earned just one point. The field was then seeded by total points earned. 

Without further ado, here they are: the 16 starting quarterbacks Nebraska has had since Crouch’s final game ended, seeded. 

No. 1: Taylor Martinez (2009-13)

Record as a starter: 29-14

Career stats: 7,258 passing yards, 59.8% completion rate, 56 passing touchdowns against 29 interceptions, 2,975 rushing yards, 31 rushing touchdowns

Despite an injury-shortened four-game senior season, Taylor Martinez departed Nebraska with a dripping red pen in hand after rewriting the program’s record books. A two-time captain, Martinez set career program records for total offense, passing yards, completions, touchdowns, and starts. 

He also broke the single-season program records for total offense and total touchdowns thanks to a prolific 2012 campaign. He produced 3,890 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading the Huskers to a 10-4 record, a Big Ten Championship appearance, and a Capital One Bowl appearance.

Jammal Lord is the only quarterback on our list to even come close to matching the kind of rushing production Martinez had as a Husker, and Martinez has north of 7,000 passing yards in his three-ish seasons of play.

No. 2: Zac Taylor (2005-06)

Record as a starter: 17-9

Career stats: 5,850 passing yards, 57.2% completion rate, 45 passing touchdowns against 20 interceptions, minus-73 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns

A junior college quarterback after transferring from Wake Forest, Zac Taylor took the reins immediately at Nebraska in 2005 and started the next 26 games. He led Nebraska under then-coach Bill Callahan to 8-4 and 9-5 records in his two seasons. 

His 2006 campaign—which earned him the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year award—remains the best season by a Husker quarterback in terms of touchdowns thrown (26) and second-best in terms of yardage accumulated (3,197).

No. 3: Joe Ganz (2004-08)

Record as a starter: 10-6

Career stats: 5,125 passing yards, 65.1% completion rate, 44 passing touchdowns against 18 interceptions, 341 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns

Ganz perhaps best represents the old age of college quarterbacks. He redshirted in 2004 and won scout team MVP. He sat behind Zac Taylor in 2005 but never saw a snap. He backed up Taylor again in 2006, played in five games, but only threw 13 passes. He then lost the starting job to Sam Keller ahead of the 2007 season and sat on the bench for the first eight games, appearing only twice. 

When Keller went down with an injury, Ganz grabbed the job and never looked back. 

He owns single-game program records for passing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. A 510-yard, seven-score day against Kansas State in November of 2007 stands as the most productive single game by a Nebraska quarterback of all time. 

His 2008 single-season record for completion percentage (67.86%) stood until this past season. His single-season records of 3,568 yards and yards per game still stand. He also owns the program record for career completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating. 

No. 4: Jammal Lord (1999-2003)

Record as a starter: 17-10

Career stats: 2,848 passing yards, 48% completion rate, 18 passing touchdowns against 22 interceptions, 2,573 rushing yards, 24 rushing touchdowns

It’s never easy to follow a legend. Complicating matters, Nebraska had won double-digit games in eight of its last nine seasons when Lord won the starting job ahead of the 2002 season. Nebraska had gone from Tommie Frazier to Scott Frost to Eric Crouch. 

After a 7-7 season in 2002, Lord helped pilot Nebraska to a 10-3 record in 2003. His play earned him an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection by league coaches. 

No. 5: Tommy Armstrong Jr. (2012-16)

Record as a starter: 30-14

Career stats: 8,871 passing yards, 53.3% completion rate, 67 passing touchdowns against 44 interceptions, 1,819 rushing yards, 23 rushing touchdowns

Purely from a numbers standpoint, Tommy Armstrong Jr. has a case to be one of Nebraska’s all-time quarterbacks. He won the vast majority of his games as a starter, he owns career records for passing yards, total offense, passing touchdowns, and total touchdowns. Of course, it wasn’t all just about the production with Armstrong. 

He took over mid-season in 2013 after Taylor Martinez went down injured, and went 7-1 as a starter as a redshirt freshman. As a full-time starter in each of his final three seasons, Armstrong helped guide Nebraska to a 9-4 record twice and a 6-7 record in 2015, the first season under former coach Mike Riley.

No. 6: Adrian Martinez (2018-present)

Record as a starter: 11-16

Career stats: 5,628 passing yards, 64.2% completion rate, 31 passing touchdowns against 20 interceptions, 1,776 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns

One of four active quarterbacks on this list, Adrian Martinez’s story is well-known. When Scott Frost took the head coaching job in December of 2017, he identified Martinez as the quarterback who was going to set the table for his Nebraska rebuild. 

Martinez has piloted three losing seasons in each of his first three years on campus, but he became the first true freshman quarterback to start a season-opening game in program history in 2018, and in the three years since, has produced at a pace that has him on track to own just about every quarterback record by the time he’s done. 

A Freshman All-American in 2018, Martinez went through a down year in 2019, but appears to be on the bounceback after his close to the 2020 campaign. As a junior, Martinez broke the program record for completion percentage in a season (71.5%).

No. 7: Zac Lee (2007-10)

Record as a starter: 8-4

Career stats: 2,250 passing yards, 58.3% completion rate, 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, 245 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown

After working as a reserve in his first two seasons, Lee became Nebraska’s season-opening starter in 2009 as a junior. He started the first seven games of the season, then came off the bench against Oklahoma and threw the game’s only touchdown, the decisive one in a 10-3 win. The starting job was once again his from that point on as the Huskers won four of their final five games. 

Lee lost the battle to Taylor Martinez in the run up to the 2010 season, but still saw time when Martinez went down with injury.

No. 8: Tanner Lee (2016-17)

Record as starter: 4-8

Career stats: 3,143 passing yards, 57.5% completion rate, 23 touchdowns against 16 interceptions, minus-97 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns

Another one-hit wonder on the list, Tanner Lee transferred to Nebraska ahead of the 2016 season after 19 starts in two years at Tulane. He sat the 2016 season and entered into the 2017 offseason as the clear-cut starter following up Tommy Armstrong’s just-finished career. 

Lee was a preseason darling, but the hype never really translated to the field. 

A pair of first-quarter pick-sixes against Northern Illinois set the table for a gloomy day and forecasted a gloomy season. Nebraska lost 21-17 that day, which led to the firing of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. The Huskers would go on to lose six of their final seven games, resulting in Mike Riley’s firing. 

Throughout the year, though. Lee put up numbers, there’s no doubting that. How hollow were they? Well… Nebraska trailed in games often and Lee was relied on to carry the offense. His 428 pass attempts in 2017 were two shy of a single-season program record. His 3,143 yards rank third all-time for a season in program history. 

No. 9: Sam Keller (2006-07)

Record as a starter: 4-5

Career stats: 2,422 passing yards, 63.1% completion rate, 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, minus-78 rushing yards

No. 10: Cody Green (2009-10)

Record as a starter: 4-0

Career stats: 657 passing yards, 54.1% completion rate, five touchdowns against three interceptions, 254 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns

No. 11: Joe Dailey (2003-04)

Record as a starter: 5-6

Career stats: 2,142 passing yards, 50% completion rate, 19 touchdowns against 21 interceptions, 177 rushing yards, four rushing scores

No. 12: Luke McCaffrey (2019-20)

Record as a starter: 1-1

Career stats: 608 passing yards, 64.8% completion rate, three touchdowns against six interceptions, 530 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns

No. 13: Noah Vedral (2018-19)

Record as a starter: 0-2

Career stats: 447 passing yards, 59% completion rate, no touchdowns against one interception, 119 rushing yards,  four rushing touchdowns

No. 14: Ron Kellogg III (2009-13)

Record as a starter: 0-1

Career stats: 941 passing yards, 58.7% completion rate, seven touchdowns against four interceptions, minus-14 rushing yards

No. 15: Ryker Fyfe (2012-16)

Record as a starter: 1-2

Career stats: 1,043 passing yards, 52.7% completion rate, 10 touchdowns against six interceptions, minus-13 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown

No. 16: Andrew Bunch (2017-19)

Record as a starter: 0-1

Career stats: 333 passing yards, 60.4% completion rate, two touchdowns against two interceptions, 39 rushing yards

Here’s the bracket, which you can begin voting on now on Twitter and Instagram.

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