Finally, Nebraska has the right idea with quarterbacks
After an eventful couple weeks in Lincoln, I think it’s safe to conclude that Nebraska and Scott Frost are approaching the quarterback position much more logically than in the past few years.
The Huskers have added 2 high-profile QBs via the transfer portal in the last 10 days, Casey Thompson (Texas) and Chubba Purdy (Florida State). Even after adding Thompson, the Big 12’s leader in TD passes and presumptive starter, Nebraska still continued to pursue Purdy, who committed Monday.
This creates something Nebraska has lacked in recent years at QB: Competition.
Thompson, Purdy, Logan Smothers and Heinrich Haarberg will engage in a 4-way battle this spring to become the starter in Frost’s make-or-break season. Even if one of those guys, possibly Smothers or Haarberg, transfers after spring ball, that’s OK. New offensive coordinator Mark Whipple will have plenty of options to see which QB fits best with his offense.
In a larger sense, this is how the modern QB game is played, and it’s good to see Nebraska has learned that it’s unwise to put all your eggs in one basket. In my view, that’s exactly what Frost did the last few seasons with Adrian Martinez. There’s a fine line between bringing in a bunch of QBs to compete with your entrenched starter, but my contention is that Martinez hadn’t earned that, and I don’t understand why Frost hitched his wagon to Martinez like he did. Martinez started for 4 seasons, and the best Nebraska ever did was go 5-7. He had a great freshman season, but the way he struggled as a sophomore (when his completion percentage went down 5 points and his interceptions increased despite throwing nearly 100 fewer passes) should’ve set off alarms and prompted an all-out search for a new QB to get this program back on track. Two seasons is a long time in college football.
Despite that, Martinez essentially ran unopposed in 2020 and 2021. At what big-time program would that be acceptable? If Martinez is the best guy, then fine. But to not have brought in more competition for him the last few years was negligent. Luke McCaffrey briefly took over as the starter in 2020, but he struggled. This year, after 3 years of not even making a bowl game, there was no one to remotely challenge Martinez. It confounded me in the preseason, and it still does now.
Even as Martinez played through broken ribs and the losses piled up, Frost didn’t have anywhere to turn. Smothers, a 4-star redshirt freshman, apparently wasn’t ready. It would’ve been smart for Frost to have recruited a transfer QB to compete with Martinez and at least back him up. Maybe once Martinez got hurt and clearly wasn’t 100 percent, that guy could’ve stepped in and won some games.
Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, so it’d make sense to take as many shots as possible at finding the right guy, rather than hoping a guy figures it out in Year 4 as the starter. At the start of this season, Ohio State had 4 blue-chip recruits in its QB room. Of course one of those was going to pan out, and fortunately for the Buckeyes, it was the first one. But if CJ Stroud had struggled, you can bet Kyle McCord, Jack Miller or Quinn Ewers would’ve stepped in.
It’s all about accumulating talent to increase the odds that you have a QB who clicks in your offense. Nebraska has the right idea now.
Thompson, who has 2 years of eligibility left, is the front-runner given how he started last season at Texas, but who knows what will happen this spring? Smothers showed off his athleticism in the finale against Iowa, and Purdy was a 4-star recruit who still has 4 years left. So does Haarberg, who most resembles Heisman contender Kenny Pickett.
Who knows what will happen with Frost past 2022? He seems to have a 6-game tryout due to his buyout being cut in half midway through next season. It would’ve been nice if Nebraska had this sort of QB room, say, 2 years ago, but there’s nothing it can do about that now.
The Frost/Martinez split is the best thing for all parties, as Martinez gets a fresh start at Kansas State. We’ll see what Frost can do with a QB other than Martinez, who showed improvement but still was prone to turn the ball over at the most inopportune times. Remember, Frost was the head coach at UCF when the Knights had a top-5 offense and McMenzie Milton was 2nd in the country in yards per attempt, behind only Baker Mayfield.
Finally, Nebraska has options. It’s going to be a fascinating spring in Lincoln.