The Most Popular Guy on the Team

25 Oct

Frankie London.
Eric Crouch.
Bobby Newcombe.
Tommie Frazier.
Mike Stuntz.
Joe Dailey.
Turner Gill.
Joe Ganz.
Cody Green.
Brion Carnes.

What do all of the above have in common? At one point in their career, they were the most popular player in the state:  Nebraska’s backup quarterback.

After his impressive debut in Nebraska’s 59-20 romp over South Dakota State, we added a new name to this storied list: Tommy Armstrong, Jr..  Time will tell if he follows the career path of Frazier, Crouch, and Gill or that of London, Stuntz, or Carnes.

To hear and read the collective opinions of our fans, Tommy Armstrong is destined to be a four-year starter, whose many talents will lead Nebraska back to glory.  Some have noted the similarities in circumstances with Tommy Armstrong’s first starts and those of Tommie Frazier and see a similar career path.

While some of the shine came off the Armstrong apple with his ugly performance at Purdue (6-18, 43 yards, 3 INT), many Husker fans are still very high on him.  And with good reason – Armstrong has lots of talent, athleticism, and potential.  But is he the clear choice to lead this team forward?

Martinez’s injured toe has healed enough that he will take some snaps against Minnesota.  A fully healthy Martinez is, in my opinion, the clear and obvious choice.  Heck, Martinez at 80% health may prove to be better for the offense than Armstrong.  Ron Kellogg III might channel some of the career backup magic that his position coach Joe Ganz had, and take control of the starting job.  We just don’t know.

Let me be clear:  I mean no disrespect to Armstrong – from what I have seen, I’ve been impressed with his talent, and am very optimistic about his future. I am just cautious about going all-in on a redshirt freshman who has not faced an opponent more talented than Illinois.  After so many years of hearing the recruitniks hype up every QB to step on campus, as well as the general fan obsession with the #2 QB, I’m a little leery of diving head first into Armstrong Mania.

The view from the backup QB pedestal

Consider two case studies from the Pelini era:

Cody Green was a much-hyped recruit, and fans wanted him to be the starting QB as soon as he got on campus.  He had a very unspectacular career at NU and transferred out.

Joe Ganz was a rather unheralded recruit, and despite the struggles of Sam Keller, not too many fans were clamoring for Ganz to start – until the offense started lighting up the scoreboard and record book under his leadership.

I’ll say it again so I’m clear:  I hope Tommy Armstrong is successful – just like I hope every Nebraska player is successful.  By and large, I am supportive of any player who I feel can help Nebraska win….

Which leads us to Taylor Martinez.

I just don’t understand the reaction I’ve seen from some of our fans.  Many were thrilled that somebody else was starting the last three games.  They were happy that he was hurt.  They hope he never sees the field again.  They truly believe that Nebraska’s best chance to win the division and conference title is with a redshirt freshman instead of a four year starter.

I know that many people within the fan base have issues with Martinez – both factual (he led the nation in fumbles) and emotional (he “quit” on the team following that A&M game).  But that does not mean we should take joy in his pain, or disparage a player who has done a lot of good things at Nebraska.

I get it:  some fans will never like or appreciate Taylor.  Heck, if you read some of my previous work, you’ll notice that I’ve been rather critical of him over the years as well.  But my criticism is usually constructive and never personal.  And I feel that I recognize the good things he does and the growth he’s made.  I don’t think many of his bashers can say that.

Has he improved over his four seasons?  Absolutely, and without a doubt.

Is he an NFL-caliber quarterback?  Heavens no.  (Of course, no NU quarterback has been NFL worthy since Brook Berringer passed away, but that’s another topic for another day).

But there is a difference between pointing out the things a person does not do well, and being rude and disrespectful. Saying I use too many run-on sentences and love bullet points too much is constructive (and honest). Saying that I suck, don’t know what I’m talking about, and would be easily replaced by a drunken chimpanzee with a keyboard is rude (and insulting to the chimp).

What’s my point with all of this?  I guess if I could have you take away anything from this rant, it would be that you can be excited for Armstrong’s potential without tearing down another Husker.

*Author’s note: The original framework of this post was started back in 2011 after Nebraska lost at Wisconsin, sparking calls from fans, message boards, and the media that it was time to bench Martinez in favor of Brion Carnes.

It just goes to show that some things never change. 

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