A quarterback battle as intense as the one about to start boiling in Lincoln hasn’t been seen since eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch went toe-to-toe with Bobby Newcombe. Crouch obviously won that fight, but the stage is set for a clash that likely goes to fall camp (and maybe beyond).
If there was any position thinner than Nebraska’s linebacker corps last season, it was at quarterback. The choices were Tommy Armstrong and a lot of inexperienced options that would more than likely cost the Huskers games (See: Ryker Fyfe’s performance versus Purdue). Fortunately, Armstrong only missed that one contest.
Unfortunately, he struggled with decision-making at times leading to a 22:16 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While passing wasn’t his forte in several circumstances (he threw three picks in Nebraska’s loss to Miami and four vs. Iowa), his saving grace was his ability to make defenses pay with his feet.
The read option was still a part of the 2015 game plan and it served Armstrong well. In the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl, Armstrong used the passing game sparingly and made UCLA’s defense pay on the ground.
If he’d missed any more time due to injury – or even worse been lost for the season – the Huskers’ 6-7 record may have looked like mana from heaven.
Key Departures: None
Key Returners for 2016: Tommy Armstrong Jr. (Sr.), AJ Bush (So.), Zack Darlington (So.), Ryker Fyfe (Sr.)
The hottest contest of the spring and fall has already begun in some Husker fans’ minds. Confident true freshman Patrick O’Brien has been on campus since December and isn’t shy about saying he wants Armstrong’s job.
In late 2015, Armstrong asked offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf to treat him like a freshman when it comes to teaching from here on out. This back-and-forth likely determines the Huskers’ starter and backup under center.
The Big Red also brought a transfer into the fold with former Tulane signal-caller Tanner Lee. He must sit in 2016 per NCAA rules. However, his presence shows the Huskers are doing an excellent job of roster management. Next season’s starter will need a college-hardened backup between him and likely the 2017 true freshman prospect heading into that upcoming season.
AJ Bush and Zack Darlington look to be the odd men out. If Fyfe wasn’t a senior, he’d likely be headed elsewhere, too. Look for both of the aforementioned to head for greener pastures come the end of spring ball.
Regardless of whether or not Armstrong can retain his starting position, he’s going to have to play at a level above what he showed in 2015 or he may get the hook.
If the Huskers appear capable of winning the Big Ten West regardless of quarterback, head coach Mike Riley may just hand the Big Red Machine’s keys over to the true freshman.