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It's Deja Vu All Over Again: A Quarterback "Controversy" at Nebraska

There shouldn't be a quarterback controversy at Nebraska. It isn't stopping some people from trying to make one happen anyway. Bottom line is that the only question regarding Nebraska's quarterback is Taylor Martinez's toe.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of the impressive performances by Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong against South Dakota State, a few people started to wonder after the game if Nebraska had a quarterback controversy.  Kind of a silly idea, really, because those people never bothered to take into consideration the level of competition Nebraska faced that weekend.

The argument never seemed to get much traction, it seemed. That being said, twice I heard Omaha World-Herald  commentator Dirk Chatelain on the radio rehashing his infamous 2011 argument that Taylor Martinez should be benched. It came back into the news because of the release of the infamous audio of Bo Pelini in private venting over Chatelain, and now Chatelain is flying the flag again in the Sunday World-Herald.

Toward the end, I wrote that if Martinez struggled against Ohio State, Bo should look at other QB options. That part especially created a bit of a firestorm. You know all that.*

* Feeling a bit of déjà vu lately, I went back and read the column last night for probably the first time since 2011. Yes, I wish I had softened the tone in a few sentences, but I wouldn’t change the point of the column.

I bring this up again because, two years later, Husker fans are in a familiar spot. Martinez struggled against UCLA (partly because of a bad wheel). His two backups played great against South Dakota State.

Really, we're going to rehash that muddled mess again?  Yes we are:

For three years, every Martinez mistake was complicated by the popular belief that he was getting better. According to that logic, the former scout-team wideout was still raw, still learning the position. But if you gave him time to develop, he’d be a transformational player. A star. Sitting him down in favor of Brion Carnes or Cody Green or a hot-shot transfer meant halting his progress. What a shame to interrupt "Project Taylor" before it was complete.

Let's set aside the argument whether Martinez WAS getting better.  (He was, but that wasn't really the argument at the time.)  Instead, let's focus on the idea that Brion Carnes or Cody Green were somehow better options than Taylor Martinez.

Carnes was the hot quarterback recruit in 2010: four stars and the cousin of Tommie Frazier.  But it never worked out in Lincoln; he looked good in a spring game...but never again. He tried switching to receiver, and then transferred to Northern Iowa, where he's a backup.  This season, he's completed one of three passes, with an interception.

Green had multiple opportunities to become the Nebraska starter in his time, but his tendency to turn the ball over always seemed to loom larger than his ability to make a play. He transferred to Tulsa, and if you watched Green last Thursday night against Iowa State, he's still having the same issues.

And that has been the problem with Chatelain's argument: up until this season, there hasn't been a viable alternative to Taylor Martinez at quarterback.  In two separate radio appearances, Chatelain blamed Bo Pelini for failing to bring in other players, such as a hot junior college transfer, to replace Martinez.  And that's an argument that's built on quicksand.  Let's look at Nebraska's quarterback situation after Martinez's freshman season.  After Martinez, you had Green,  Carnes, Kody Spano, and Kellogg all on the depth chart, and signed Bubba Starling and Jamal Turner.  How many quarterbacks can you fit onto a 85 man roster, and how many hot junior college quarterbacks want to join that battle anyway?

Well, we all know what happened after signing day.  Spano hurts his shoulder badly and gives up football. Turner moves to wide receiver, and wows everybody in the spring game.  Green struggles and transfers.  Carnes looked pretty good, though.  And then Starling chooses baseball.  Is it realistic to argue that Pelini needed SIX scholarship quarterbacks coming out of the 2010 season? It's one thing to hedge your bets with Starling and Turner, but even so, the departures of Spano and Green after signing day made depth an issue in 2011.  And Carnes lack of development that season made it even worse, but it was too late by that point to change anything.

On both Thursday and Friday, Chatelain appeared on KOZN (1620 AM) radio's afternoon show and once again argued that Pelini's refusal to play or recruit other quarterbacks somehow means that as Martinez goes, so does Pelini.  Never mind that Pelini then went out and signed Tommy Armstrong in 2012, then Johnny Stanton in 2013.

Sorry, but I'm having a hard time swallowing this argument yet again.  I'm not buying that there is any sort of quarterback controversy at Nebraska.  Except for one factor:  Taylor Martinez's turf toe. It was clear against UCLA that Martinez wasn't running the ball well, and after the game, it was revealed that Martinez had a turf toe injury. What is turf toe?  According to WebMD:

Turf toe is not a term you want to use when talking to a head football coach about his star running back or the ballerina before her diva debut. "Turf toe" is the common term used to describe a sprain of the ligaments around the big toe joint.

Turf toe can take two to three weeks for the pain to disappear, so with that in mind, Martinez could be ready to return this week.  If he's not ready, it could be another tag-team of Ron Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong this week against Illinois.

Maybe if Armstrong significantly outplays Kellogg in a subsequent relief appearance, we might have the makings of a quarterback controversy.  Remember that Kellogg's performance against South Dakota State should give you pause when advocating that Armstrong should start ahead of a healthy Taylor Martinez because Kellogg also looked good in the same game.  Is anybody going to argue that Kellogg is better than Martinez as well?

This isn't a slight on Armstrong; last year, observers thought he was a future star and might even challenge Martinez this year.  I'm not dismissing that possibility.  I am dismissing the idea that Armstrong's performance against South Dakota State by itself creates a quarterback controversy.

At least not until Martinez's toe heals and the two play against the same competition. Until then, the only question about Nebraska's quarterback is whether Martinez's toe is healed sufficiently to play.