Nebraska football fans now join the rest of the nation in that long, destitute trek towards August where not even a mirage of live game action resides. However, what the Huskers do have now that Scott Frost has his first spring session as the Big Red’s head coach in the books is hope for a brighter tomorrow. It might actually be genuine this time.
Of course, springtime success isn’t always an indicator of future success because if it was, Austin Rose would be an all-conference running back several years over by now. However, one player expected to stand out during the Red-White Spring Game was quarterback Adrian Martinez and not only did he do so, he had arguably the best performance of the bunch.
Proclaiming Martinez should get top billing out of spring ball may seem like an easy trap to fall into. However, despite the factors going against him, the young man actually deserves it.
I spoke with former Nebraska defensive back Ralph Brown last February regarding the hire of Frost and how he’s evaluated talent thus far. Naturally, Martinez came up and one thing Brown said has stuck with me to this day.
He referred to the Fresno, California, native as Frost’s “first-round draft pick,” which makes sense considering his recruitment. After all, you don’t take a redeye flight across the country after leading your team to a conference championship if you’re not extremely keen on the prospect.
Getting Martinez in the fold was huge, but there were still major question marks surrounding him. Would he fully recover from the shoulder injury that kept him out of football for his entire senior season, and if so, how long would that take?
Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco was understandably peppered with questions about Martinez’s health when the media was given opportunities to speak with him after spring practices and the news was generally mostly positive. Verduzco was clearly making sure that his true freshman quarterback wasn’t working against his body’s natural healing process.
I can’t honestly say I knew what to expect when No. 2 took his first snap this past Saturday. Out of every performance he could’ve had, completing 71 percent of his passes while accumulating 114 yards and a touchdown while taking to the ground 14 times for 74 yards and three scores himself was on the high end of any expectations I could’ve had in the first place.
We’ve covered what you and I both know extremely well by this point, so with the foundation laid, let’s discuss the reason for Martinez getting top billing.
It’s time to get real, Nebraska fans. The Huskers aren’t going to win the Big Ten this year. I know it hurts, but like it or not, there’s so much to turn around that it’s simply not feasible. Frost himself even said that it wasn’t until about fall camp of year two at UCF when things totally clicked.
To be honest, the likelihood of winning the Big Ten West doesn’t look great either. It’s important that Frost sets a goal that’s not blatantly easy for his first Huskers team to attain, but not impossible either. That sounds like a bowl game and a winning record.
What must be asked at this point is which quarterback gives Nebraska the best chance to win seven or eight games in 2018?
Tristan Gebbia had a respectable performance in the spring game, going 12-for-17 for 125 yards through the air while tacking on a touchdown pass to his stat line in the second and fourth quarters. However, he did bobble several shotgun snaps. Andrew Bunch looked a full rung lower on the ladder than Gebbia.
However, Martinez looked like he’d taken to this offense like a duck to water. It’s important to note that if defenders could get a hand on him, the play would’ve been called dead. That didn’t happen to No. 2 when it easily would’ve with any other quarterback currently on Nebraska’s roster.
That’s not to say that Gebbia, Bunch or Noah Vedral can’t or won’t grow into contributors. Martinez was given the opportunity to run with what appeared to be a makeshift No. 1 offense and flat-out looked better than the person I’d currently list as the backup in Gebbia.
I recently participated in a roundtable with other folks at Athlon here regarding whether or not Nebraska would actually reach a bowl game.
At that point, I didn’t feel comfortable claiming six wins for Frost’s first (and ESPN still doesn’t as of this writing). However, after watching his quarterbacks in action, not only am I willing to actually chalk up Illinois as a win, I feel that there’s potential for the Huskers to at least threaten most opponents on their schedule.
There’s still a full summer to go and the quarterback competition will continue, but as it stands, the only way I’m comfortable saying that Nebraska reaches the theoretical goal I outlined is with another freshman named Martinez at the helm.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)