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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: It's Not About Talent for Husker QBs

May 4, 2018
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If you had to rank Nebraska's starting quarterback among the others in the Big Ten, where would you put him?

You would probably want to know who is starting at quarterback for Nebraska first, but deadlines wait for no man. On Athlon's recent list Adrian Martinez is that guy and he comes in 10th in the conference:

It’s only a matter of time before Scott Frost builds one of the Big Ten’s top offenses in Lincoln. However, with the switch to an up-tempo, spread offense, 2018 is likely to be a transition year for this unit. The Cornhuskers have a couple of candidates vying for the starting job, with Martinez or redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia likely to start. Martinez did not play as a high school senior due to injury but accumulated 2,562 passing yards and 25 touchdowns and added 1,462 rushing yards and 14 scores as a junior in 2016. He ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Martinez is a great fit for Frost’s high-powered offense.

Those rankings were compiled by Steve Lassan, who has a national scope and writes much of the rankings-based content at Athlon. His vote for Martinez––with an important nod towards Tristan Gebbia's spot in the race––is interesting for that reason. He's not uniquely connected to Nebraska, the Sea of Red isn't his local watering hole, but he still came away from the Huskers' spring giving Martinez enough of an edge in the race to make him the headliner.

And based on the full blend of talents, a lot of people who do live Husker football everyday came away with similar view. In terms of "arm talent" there aren't many quarterbacks in the country who are better than Gebbia. Martinez's talent––lesser with the arm, greater with the legs at this point––is generally viewed as the better overall fit, however.

But it's not about talent for quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco.

"An evaluation process based on skill development provides the coach with rational justifiable criteria to choose the quarterbacks on the team," Verduzco wrote in his master's thesis. "In addition, it allows him to make an initial choice of the starting quarterback."

That's a key difference and worth keeping in mind as this race continues through the summer. For Verduzco playing quarterback, and all of the technical components involved in that, is a skill. Skills, as opposed to talent, can be learned. Verduzco calls it a "work ethic based system of quarterback development and evaluation." It may not sound sexy, but it's reasonable to assume that's how Nebraska's quarterback race will be decided. (That's just the tip of iceberg with this stuff. For more of the iceberg check the forthcoming 2018 Hail Varsity Football Yearbook.)

That basis for selection sends me back to the drawing board when trying to guess which quarterback will get the job in 2018. If it's not going to be about talent, the thing people can see in a spring game for example, it's going to be about something unseen. That doesn't make this an easy race to handicap, but the method may have long-term benefits. (I would suggest that Verduzco's track record with quarterbacks suggests it does.)

Looking at that list of sure-fire and presumed starters in the Big Ten I was a little surprised at how fluid it could be. Trace McSorley is a clear No. 1, but things get jumbled quickly among the other returning starters (much less the schools with ongoing QB derbys). Would you rather have Brian Lewerke or Alex Hornibrook? Clayton Thorson or Kasim Hill, two players coming back from knee injuries?

Point being, I would bet on Nebraska getting better than the 10th-best quarterback production in the conference by year's end. The opportunity is there thanks to a mostly mysterious roster of quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and I think the system is in place to take advantage of the opportunity. It's not a given. In his first year in this offense, McKenzie Milton ranked ninth in the AAC in passer rating. Entering the 2018 season, Milton is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. (And criminally underrated on that list.)

I don't know if Nebraska's next quarterback will approach those heights, but I do think Nebraska will get slightly better production out of its first-year quarterback, whoever it is.

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