Dead Heat: The Husker Quarterback Race Begins
This time of year is often referred to as "dead time."
Recruiting news is slow, spring practices have yet to begin, and basketball season isn't yet in February mode.
It's the part of the season where tennis and golf take over the headlines and we eagerly wait for the Super Bowl to commence. But one can only speculate how the AFC and NFC Championship Games will turn out so many times before it becomes old-hat.
As a Husker fan, this period of the year is the ultimate dead zone. Nebraska basketball isn't too promising, at least on the men's side, and the recruiting stories have gone dead until signing day, which is what most Husker fans are looking forward to.
That's why we can use this time to look forward to the position battles for next year. The biggest of which is the quarterback position.
If Nebraska's 2009 season taught Husker fans anything, it was that Zac Lee had anything but locked up the starting quarterback position. It's a wide open race and may be closer than many think regarding more than just Zac Lee and Cody Green.
So who are the players and what are their chances? What follows is my rendition of the quarterback race that's in a dead heat going into spring.
Zac Lee (Sr.)
Games Played: 15
Statistics: 178-of-304 (58.6%) 2,148 yards, 7.1y/a; 14 TDs, 10 INTs, 105 Rushing Attempts, 188 yards, 1 TD
It may be understating the facts to say that people started to doubt the mental and physical toughness of Zac Lee over Nebraska's 2009 campaign.
After a quick start against Sun Belt opponents, Lee seemed to break down throughout the rest of the season, losing a bit of accuracy, strength, and decision making ability. His confidence seemed shot.
In fact, in his 10 games against BCS quality opponents Lee threw for less than 100 yards three times and under fifty twice. Lee topped 200 yards only once in those 10 games. He was on the fast track to the bench for 2010 until the Holiday Bowl against Arizona.
Against Arizona, Lee was 13-of-23 for 173 yards, including a season long hook up of 74 yards on a pump and go to Niles Paul in the third quarter.
After the game, Lee revealed that he had a torn flexor tendon in his throwing arm and would be having surgery within the week after the bowl game. In fact, he claimed to have suffered the injury during Nebraska's second game of the season—also his best performance—against Arkansas State.
Regardless of whether or not the tendon affected his throwing ability in a major way, it must have at least affected it some, which means Lee may be the favorite for the starting position next season, that is if he doesn't lose too much ground during the spring in rehabilitation from his surgery.
It is likely that he has a slight edge over the field, mainly because of experience, but if one of the following players steps up in a major way this spring, Zac Lee could go from being under center to riding the pine.
Cody Green (So.)
Games Played: Nine
Career Statistics: 33-of-62 (53.2%), 317 yds, 5.1y/a; 2 TDs 2 INTs, 31 rushing attempts, 158 yds, 5.1 y/a, 2 TDs
Cody Green came into 2009 as one of the most promising quarterback recruits in recent history. In his first game against Florida Atlantic, Cody took a zone read keeper and scampered over fifty yards, bringing images of Tommy Frazier to Husker fans' minds.
Ever since that game, he nipped at the heels of then-starter Zac Lee, even taking over his starting roll during the entire Baylor game and part of the Oklahoma game. However, some of that may have been due to Lee's injury at the time.
Cody Green brings an element of quick decision making and brashness to the table, but his inexperience leads to some very poor decisions. He came in for one series in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona and almost threw a game-changing interception. He didn't see the field again.
Fans may be licking their chops to see Green in action as the starter next season, but his touch-throwing and pre-reading the defense before the snap must get much better for him to be successful against defenses like Texas and Oklahoma.
Cody Green may be the promise child of the Nebraska offense, but he must take advantage of Lee's absence during spring camp. I believe he may be the best shot for the Huskers to win the Big 12 next season, that is unless Zac Lee steps up his play.
Latravis Washington (Sr.)
Games Played: Three
Career Statistics: No completions, 3 Rushing Attempts, 17 yds, 5.7y/a
Latravis Washington came into Nebraska as a promising player at the linebacker position. For some reason though, the position never worked out for the athletic student-athlete. Desperate to contribute to the team, Washington volunteered to move from LB to QB to help with depth and competition.
It actually seemed to work out. In the Red-White game, Washington looked less than polished, but showed off an impressive arm and quick decision making. Washington only saw three games with playing time in garbage duty during the 2009 but don't be fooled, he is a very serviceable back-up.
While Washington may not have a realistic shot at the starting job, he is not far behind in experience and could be used in trick plays this season if Watson is up for it. However, with this pack of QBs who knows who will be lining up under center against Western Kentucky at the beginning of the year?
Kody Spano (RSo.)
Games Played: None
High-School Career: (Stephenville High School)
Kody Spano was a promising prospect from Stephenville Texas in the 2008 class. He redshirted his Freshman year at Nebraska behind the likes of Zac Lee, Patrick Witt, and Joe Ganz.
Coaches were raving about Spano in spring practices last season before he tore his ACL for a second time, again thwarting any attempt at playing time in another regular season.
There is no reason to believe that Spano doesn't have a shot this spring. With a fully recovered knee, a rocket arm, and a winning attitude, Cody Green and Zac Lee better watch out for No. 7.
The knock on Spano will of course be lack of experience, but that didn't stop Bo Pelini from starting Cody Green last season and with a more extensive knowledge of the play book, Spano could be the next up and coming No. 7 to star at quarterback for the Huskers in the 2010 season.
I think he will surprise some people, perhaps even seeing the field a few times. But with a repaired knee, his mobility will be a question and it seems like Pelini and Watson both want a mobile quarterback running the show.
Taylor Martinez (RFr.)
Games Played: None
High-School Career: Centennial High School (Corona, California)
Career Statistics: 181-of-304 (59.5%), 2,994 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs, 108 carries, 750 yards, 6.94 y/a, 12 TDs
Taylor Martinez was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the 2009 recruiting class. In fact, Rivals.com had him listed only as a three-star athlete. Most schools wanted to transform Martinez into a safety, but if I know anything about quarterbacks, they always think they can be quarterbacks, and that's what Nebraska offered the young man.
Martinez ran the scout team in his redshirt season during the 2009 Husker campaign and the coaches came out of 2009 raving about his ability to run the opponents' offense. Now Martinez most likely enters 2010 with the goal of becoming the starter, and with his 4.47 forty yard dash speed and the ability to throw the ball accurately on the run he could surprise a few people this spring.
If Martinez is nearly as good as the coaches claim he has been, he could give Lee, Spano, and Green a run for their money in the starting job.
Martinez has had time to learn the system and has a fairly strong arm. He is an unheralded player that not many have heard of and he may have a chance to come from obscurity to stardom in a few short years. He's a lot like Joe Ganz, but faster and more athletic. He will have his shot this spring, but he has a high hill to climb if he's going to make up any ground on the depth chart.
Ron Kellogg Jr. (RFr.)
Games Played: None
High School Career: Omaha Westside High School
Career Statistics: N/A
Ron Kellogg Jr. is a Nebraska product from Omaha Westside High School and looks to be another product of Nebraska's storied walk-on program, which added another page this year with Matt O'Hanlon's transformation from the Virginia Tech debacle to the ball hawking safety people are suddenly afraid they can't replace.
With the race for QB wide open in 2010, Kellogg has a puncher's chance at making a splash during spring practice. Most likely though, the Omaha native will be running the scout team for at least one more year before he makes the depth chart.
Husker Hopeful Commit-Brion Carnes (Fr.)
Status: Soft-Commit to USF, visited Nebraska 1-22-2010. Some expect him to commit to Nebraska after his visit to Lincoln.
Brion Carnes is a four star recruit of the dual-threat variety that is currently committed to the University of South Florida. He reopened his recruitment after the only coach USF has ever had, Jim Leavitt, got fired for alleged player abuse during half-time of a game against Louisville.
While USF lost their coach, Nebraska lost a quarterback recruit in yet another Gabbert, this time of the Tyler variety. With the chance to come and play early due to a relatively wide open quarterback race, Brion Carnes, who happens to be Tommy Frazier's cousin, attended a visit to Lincoln this weekend and will hopefully switch his allegiances from USF to UNL by signing day.
Carnes has a shot at starting, but with Pelini's propensity to redshirt players, I would think that he would probably sit out a year and run the scout team if he decides to pull his commit from South Florida and come to Nebraska.
Predicted Depth Chart
Going into the game against Western Kentucky in September of 2010 I see the depth chart at quarterback shaping up like this for the Huskers:
Cody Green-His mobility and better decision making edges him ahead of Lee.
Zac Lee-Already a bit behind due to surgery, he loses his starting position due to lack of progress.
Taylor Martinez-Could at some point move ahead of Lee, but inexperience will leave him at third string.
Kody Spano-Better passer, but a fragile knee and limited mobility will probably keep Spano from moving into one of the top three positions unless he makes significant headway during the spring.
Latravis Washington-He's still a linebacker at heart, as one can tell with his running style. He has a lot of heart but limited quarterbacking talent will keep him on the scout team. Look for him to try to switch back to defense and help with a poor looking linebacking corps.
Ron Kellogg Jr.-He has enough to make the team, but not enough to put him on to the depth chart just yet. However, he could surprise.
Brion Carnes-If he commits to Nebraska he will likely ride the bench and redshirt his freshman year, which might be why he will hesitate in switching allegiances. However, if he does come, Pelini has been known to give freshman shots at making impacts.
This is obviously just a guessing game and completely opinionated on my part with the addition of the statistics and background. If you disagree please comment with your own thoughts on 2010's depth chart.