Southern Mississippi QB Battle Reminiscient of 2010 Huskers
Just two years ago, Nebraska entered the season without a clearly named starting quarterback. The opening game starter could have been incumbent Zac Lee, or it might have become sophomore Cody Green who some NU fans were hoping might be the next Vince Young. Instead, the Huskers took the field with redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez under center. Except for injuries, he's been the starter ever since. Southern Mississippi is in a very similar situation. They have three quarterbacks available and may not reveal a starter until they take the field in Lincoln. The outcome of the game might very well be determined by their decision.
Junior Chris Campbell seems to have a slight edge on the job. He's a pocket passer (versus a dual-threat player), which would be good news for Nebraska. Most of us would have expected Zac Lee to be the opening day starter in 2010, based on experience. The difference in this case is that Southern Mississippi coaches have actually openly stated that Campbell had the edge. You weren't hearing that leading up to Nebraska's opener. Behind Campbell is a redshirt freshman named Ricky Lloyd. Lloyd was very accurate as a high school senior, completing 69% of his passes for over 4,400 yards with 52 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions Lloyd's also not really a dual-threat player, averaging just 3 yards per carry in his last year before college.
The player that might be most analagous to Martinez though is Anthony Alford though perhaps more highly regarded. Alford was a four-star prospect out of high school and was recruited to play at Nebraska as well as Alabama, LSU and a host of other schools. Alford is a true dual-threat player. He rushed for over 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns in fifteen games as a senior and threw for over 2,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Alford is a true freshman, but so far they say he's committed the fewest turnovers among the quarterbacks. He's not a big player. He's listed at 6'1" and 205 lbs. Rivals.com has compared him to former Iowa State quarterback (and Husker nightmare) Seneca Wallace. He's clearly the scariest option from an NU perspective. Even the great Tommie Frazier though needed until midseason as a true freshman to take over a starting job. It sounds like Alford's command of the offense and the position as a newcomer may be what keeps him off of the field. You also wonder if you really ought to make a kid this young make his first start in a road game against a ranked team in a packed stadium.
The betting public doesn't seem to be giving the Golden Eagles a great chance. Nebraska is a twenty-point favorite. Jeff Sagarin's opening predictor ratings would cut that margin in half, though some of that has to do with the 12-2 season that Southern Miss had a year ago under a different coaching staff and with a number of quality seniors. Last year's starting quarterback, Austin Davis, was second team all-conference. Also honored among the departures were offensive linemen Lamar Holmes (1st team) and Jason Weaver (2nd team), defensive lineman Cordarro Law (1st team), defensive backs Marquese Wheaton (1st team) and Kendrick Presley (honorable mention), punt returner Tracy Lampley (1st team), kicker Danny Hrapmann (2nd team), wide receivers Lampley, Ryan Balentine, and Kevin Bolden (all honorable mention), linebacker Ronnie Thornton (honorable mention), and long snapper Creighton Nelms (honorable mention).
That's a lot to lose in one year. It's hard to imagine Campbell or Lloyd pulling off an upset. Nebraska fans saw firsthand what an outstanding defensive coach Ellis Johnson was for South Carolina last season. But he won't have a pair of All-Americans at defensive end this time. Maybe Alford can come in and provide a spark that makes this one interesting by possessing the ball and putting some points on the board. Maybe he'd be the Kain Colter of the Golden Eagles. Chances are Alford won't get the start and even if he does his debut may be a bit more in line with what we saw from Minnesota's MarQuies Gray. An impressive talent, but ultimately not enough to overcome the other disparities between the two teams.
Hopefully, we don't see Alford get the start and then duplicate what Martinez did to Western Kentucky. Martinez completed his first pass and then his first carry went for a 46-yard touchdown. Thankfully, the Golden Eagles won't be playing the Hilltoppers on Saturday.