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2017 Nebraska Spring Football Preview: Quarterback

The great Husker QB race is here. Is it Tanner Lee’s job? Or is Patrick O’Brien ready to take charge?

Nebraska newcomer quarterback Patrick O'Brien David McGee

2026 –

Mike: Welcome to Super Bowl LX between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers. Today we see something in a Super Bowl we’ve never seen before Bob. Today both starting quarterbacks were drafted from the same university, the University of Nebraska where both won championships under head coach Mike Riley.

Bob: It’s amazing that the University Nebraska previous to the Mike Riley regime had only placed a handful of quarterbacks into the league during its entire successful history. Now it seems like they’re pumping out first-round quarterbacks every other season.

Mike: Well, Bob, it’s because they are! The NFC championship this year between Green Bay and Atlanta featured quarterbacks being from Nebraska. In fact, for the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL are from the University of Nebraska.

Is it far-fetched? Yes. Improbable. Yes. Impossible? No, it’s not impossible.

Come on, dream a little.

2017 will be the first season in which Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf get a quarterback that fits the mold of the offense that they want to run. Nebraska hasn’t seen a pro-style quarterback since the Bill Callahan era. That seems like forever ago and I’m sure that it’s difficult to forget the failure of Callahan. The key here is forgetting about that past and not letting it influence what you think about the 2017 offense and its future. Callahan gave us Zac Lee and Zach Taylor, and both were pretty darned good Husker quarterbacks.


Everybody, really.

2016 Nebraska Passing Statistics

PASSING GP Effic Cmp-Att-Int Pct Yds TD Lng Avg/G
PASSING GP Effic Cmp-Att-Int Pct Yds TD Lng Avg/G
Tommy Armstrong Jr. 11 123.92 151-294-8 51.4 2180 14 72 198.2
Ryker Fyfe 8 107.14 48-99-1 48.5 558 4 39 69.8
Zach Darlington 13 52.93 2-6-0 33.3 14 0 12 1.1

Armstrong finished first in school history in passing yardage (8,871), completions (625), touchdown passes (67), total offense (10,690), total touchdowns (91), career 250-yard passing games (14), career 300-yard total offense games (11), and career starts by a quarterback (44).

Nebraska has not had a lot of different starters at quarterback over the past several years. Taylor Martinez and Armstrong accounted for 87 starts between them. That is seven and a quarter seasons worth of starts.

It’s time for someone new.


Zack Darlington.

The only returning quarterback who saw the field in 2016 is Zach Darlington, who threw a few passes at the end of the bowl game against Tennessee and was only put in as an emergency replacement as Ryker Fyfe had suffered a head injury near the end of the game.

Darlington may get the chance to play quarterback again this season, as Mike Riley had stated he will install a Wildcat package specifically for Darlington.


Not one has played a down for Nebraska, so they are all newcomers.

2017 Nebraska Quarterbacks

No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown (Prev. School)
No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown (Prev. School)
Andrew Bunch 6-1 190 So. Thompson Stations, Tenn. (Scottsdale CC) (Independence)
Tristan Gebbia 6-3 180 Fr. Calabasas, Calif. (Calabasas)
13 Tanner Lee 6-4 205 Jr. Destrehan, La. (Tulane) (Jesuit)
12 Patrick O'Brien 6-4 230 RFr. San Juan Capistrano, Calif. (San Juan Hills)

The biggest storyline this spring will be the battle for starting quarterback. Tanner Lee seems to have the inside track, given his experience in starting 19 games at Tulane before transferring to Nebraska. Some may point to his low completion percentage of 52% as a sign that he will be a failure before he even sets foot on the field as a Husker. I say this is silliness. If Langsdorf, who has worked with Eli Manning, has faith in him, he’s probably a pretty decent quarterback. (Say what you want about Eli Manning, but he still a starting NFL quarterback.)

Patrick O’Brien redshirted his first season at Nebraska, after coming in as a four-star recruit, one of the most highly praised quarterback recruits in recent Nebraska history, out of San Juan Hills high school in San Juan Capistrano California. Husker fans have seen nothing of O’Brien but a few passes he threw in last year’s spring game. He didn’t look good, but he’s had an entire year to adjust to college life and Nebraska’s offense. It will be interesting to see how far he’s come in this year’s spring game.

Here are Elite 11 coaches evaluating him.

Tristan Gebbia is a 2017 recruit and in early enrollee. He comes in ranked as the 10th best pro-style quarterback in the 2017 class out of Calabasas high school from Calabasas, California. Hopefully Gebbia will get the chance to redshirt his first season, as either Lee or O’Brien will prove themselves as clear cut starters. The transition from high school to college is difficult, and it’d be best for Gebbia to have the time to adjust. Unless he’s the second coming of Tommie Frazier, of course, then by all means, start him.

Andrew Bunch is a walk-on, dual threat quarterback that comes to Nebraska via Scottsdale community college after playing high school football in Tennessee. Perhaps as a dual threat, Bunch can provide an added “wildcat” presence to Nebraska’s offense.

Regardless of who starts it will be fresh and exciting if our new quarterback can throw touch passes when they’re needed on a screen pass or into the flat, a bullet on an out pattern, and something that doesn’t look like an arm punt and a prayer on a deep ball.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a pass-first offense if it’s effective. Perhaps 2017 will see the rise of the new type of a Nebraska fan: “THROW THE DADGUMMED BALL GUY”.

It is improbable? Yes.

Impossible? No.

Come on, dream a little.