Last year about this time Husker fans were asking questions about the quarterback position, most of them centering around Zac Lee and whether or not he would return as the starter in 2010. Lee took the brunt of the blame for poor offensive performance in 2009 (note that for later) and missed spring ball recovering after surgery because of an injury he suffered during the season.
As it turned out, Lee did not retain his starting role from the previous season. That job went to a rookie, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, who proceeded to single-handedly establish himself as the next savior of Nebraska football. His early season performance was so impressive that he was mentioned as a serious Heisman contender alongside Michigan's freshman quarterback Denard Robinson. Both players would suffer the same fate, as their sensational performances would come to a halt due to injuries.
Returning Starters: Taylor Martinez, Cody Green
If there's one enormous difference between 2009 and 2010, it's that Zac Lee ended his season with an exceptional performance in a 33-0 butt-kicking of Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl while Taylor Martinez played poorly (along with the rest of the team) in a rematch against Washington in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.
Martinez was hounded for his performance late in the season, most of it coming in the way of off-the-field issues that were largely manufactured by a disappointed fan base. That's too bad, because when he's healthy, Martinez is easily one of the most explosive, dynamic players Nebraska has seen on offense in quite a long time.
Look at his output last season. Against Kansas State, he set a single game school record for rushing by a quarterback, going for 241 yards and scoring four touchdowns. The team had 451 rushing yards, the best total in seven seasons. Against Oklahoma State he became the first Husker in school history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in a single game. Just in case this needs further emphasis, these are historic performances in a program that's been known for rushing the football throughout it's history.
Yet after all that, many fans are down on Martinez as the 2011 starter because of his aloof behavior on the sideline and because they heard way too many rumors about him or his father Casey Martinez.
Green has yet to meet anyone's expectations, despite having started several games over the past two seasons. He played well enough to win the game at Iowa State and played great against Colorado (10-13-80 for 2 TDs), but struggled with accuracy replacing Martinez against Washington, going 3-for-12 for 45 yards.
Interesting to note is that Green is 4-0 as a starter over the past two seasons. He has made some pretty decent plays, but has yet to find the steady output that comes with confidence and experience. It could be that changes with the change in the coaching staff. I wouldn't write off Green's ability just yet.
2010 Passing Statistics
2010 Rushing Statistics
These guys get the question mark for the sole reason that neither of them has taken a snap as a quarterback despite having been in the program for at least a couple years. Spano will enter the 2011 season a junior, walk-on Kellogg as a sophomore.
Kody Spano remains largely forgotten. If he happens to get a mention, it usually includes the phrase "hard luck", referring to his back-to-back knee injuries that have kept him off the field.
Kellogg remains the guy that people have seen play in high school, swear he's good,
Will either of these guys see the field? Probably not as long as the Husker offense continues to suck, i.e., not get a healthy lead on any opponent. Even then it should be apparent that live snaps will be given to other up-and-comers.
Brion Carnes, Jamal Turner, Bubba Starling, Tyson Broekemeier
Despite fans worrying about his original commitment - would he stay or would he go to Western Kentucky - Carnes remains the big unknown. He hasn't generated a lot of buzz going into spring practice, despite being the guy most likely to usurp both Martinez and Green as a starter. As a redshirt freshman, he's no longer really a rookie, he knows his way around the program, around Lincoln, and maybe even around defensive ends (hyuk!).
The 2011 Red-White Spring game may be the first real chance for Husker fans to gauge that likelihood, despite it being a glorified scrimmage and heaven knows we wouldn't put so much faith in such a silly thing as that.
Carnes' buzz has been stolen, as it always is, by the new kids in town - Jamal Turner and Bubba Starling. Turner is a dual-threat quarterback from Arlington, TX, whom no one knows a thing about other than he isn't Taylor Martinez. Turner was a highly-prized recruit, rated among the top 50 prospects in the nation.
Even so highly rated, Turner has a problem and that problem's name is Bubba Starling,. Starling is another new recruit whom fans know nothing about other than he's a highly-rated MLB draft prospect and if he comes to Nebraska to play football, he'll most likely be choosing the Big Red over at least a million dollars.
Tyson Broekemeier is a walk-on from Aurora, Nebraska who will, as they say, contribute to ‘depth at the position'. That's not so bad - at least he's going to be on the team, something I could have only dreamed about.
2011 vs 2010
The Huskers enter 2011 spring football a little bit ahead of where they were last season - at least the projected starter will be gaining some practice time rather than recovering from off-season surgery. That's a big deal given that Tim Beck has taken Shawn Watson's position as offensive coordinator and will be doing who-knows-what with the offense.
Or it could be they're further behind. They are trying to learn what might be an entirely different offense, something that would put all of them on the same page. And each quarterback has serious question marks coming into spring practice.
Can Taylor Martinez become a leader? Can he find some confidence in his ability to win a game with his arm? Can Cody Green become an effective passer? Will Brion Carnes save us from the first two guys? If he doesn't, what about Jamal Turner? Will Bubba Starling turn down gobs and gobs of money to become a Husker, an answer that has way more to do with worrying about rejection than it does about finding a starting quarterback in 2011?
Finally, will whomever wins the starting quarterback job be able to put points on the board, a concept more important than ever given we're going into an incredibly tough season with only one proven running back?
Who will be the starter come opening day, 2011? It was a question Bo Pelini refused to answer all the way up to the first game of the year. I wouldn't expect anything different this offseason, if for no other reason that Pelini seems to enjoy driving all of us completely crazy.