Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Padding the Stats: Betting on Talent Over Experience for Huskers

July 12, 2019
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I joined Derek Peterson for this week’s Varsity Club Podcast, and after spending most of the pod talking basketball we hit on football for a bit, focusing on Derek’s list of the 10 Most Intriguing Huskers.

Derek asked me who I would pick for the top spot on the list, and initially I was stumped. I had a bunch of names pop into my head but had a hard time settling on one. We took a break from the pod to discuss it for a few minutes before I decided to roll with redshirt freshman Cam Jurgens. 

Derek had the tight end-turned-center at No. 4 on his list. I bumped him up even higher because of the position he plays and the range of outcomes for him based on his complete lack of experience and his considerable upside.

However, this column isn’t about Jurgens specifically, but rather about a trend that appears to be revealing itself under Scott Frost in Lincoln.

I don’t think Frost would throw out Dave Remington comparisons unless he truly believed the player in question had an outstanding career ahead of him. Jurgen's switched from tight end to center midseason last year, though a broken foot prevented him from making too much progress at his new position. Even so, when spring ball opened and media members got their first look at practice, Jurgens was the guy at center with the first-team offensive line.

Then he was there again at the second open practice, and the third, and the spring game. The coaches seem to be giving Jurgens every opportunity to win that job. They’ve got a few other candidates — Will Farniok was recruited on scholarship to play center, walk-on Hunter Miller impressed in practice last year and got into a couple of games in 2018 and another walk-on in AJ Forbes seems to be gaining ground as well. However, Jurgens appears to be the future at that position.

So if he’s the future, why wait? That seems to be the mindset Frost and his assistants are taking. We saw the same thing last season with the quarterback position.

I was one who thought Tristan Gebbia might be able to win the starting quarterback spot last year even after Frost took over and brought his hand-picked quarterback into the program. Seeing as Adrian Martinez had missed his entire senior season in high school with a shoulder injury, I had a hard time seeing Martinez being ready to play right away in the Big Ten. Frost saw the talent, however, and was willing to accept any growing pains in the name of putting Martinez’s development on the fast track. Now the sophomore signal-caller is is showing up on Heisman Trophy odds lists.

Might Jurgens follow the same path? He’s already added a considerable amount of weight to his frame and looks the part. The spring game was a little rocky as he struggled at times with the snap and is still learning how to read defenses and make calls at the line of scrimmage. However, he also showed off the road-grading power that could make him a star at the position, at least as much as any offensive lineman is capable of being a star.

Nebraska has two experienced tackles and a guard in Boe Wilson who has also played  a lot of football. Walk-on Trent Hixson appears to be the guy at left guard. If things click with Jurgens at center, the offense should have a chance to be pretty special with Martinez running the show, and I’d expect it to steadily improve as Jurgens does while learning on the job. If he hits, Nebraska won’t have to worry about that center spot for the next few years.

What if he struggles and it holds the team back? Could Frost decide to pull him and give someone else a shot? If so, would he be able to go back to Jurgens at some point? That’s the risk Frost is willing to accept if it means finding out whether or not Jurgens has what it takes to live up to expectations Frost has set for him.

That gamble paid off with Martinez. We’ll have to see if history repeats itself with Jurgens this season. It’s clear Frost isn’t afraid to take a chance, however. 

 
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