LINCOLN — Two of the four 2014 College Football Playoff teams just had their quarterbacks chosen Nos. 1 and 2 in the NFL draft. The third team won the national title with a third-string quarterback who could have been drafted in the first round had he not chosen to return to school.
The fourth team had a fifth-year senior surrounded by more high-caliber talent, according to recruiting service ratings, than any quarterback in college football.
Unless Nebraska coach Mike Riley and staff can recruit and develop a roster full of talent as well as Alabama has in the last half-decade, NU's better off finding and cultivating elite guys at quarterback like Florida State, Oregon and Ohio State did. Whoever he is. Wherever the Huskers find him.
Go ahead and call that theory too reductive. Yes, I know all four teams had major talent, especially FSU. But I'll add that Nebraska has had six All-America quarterbacks since 1974. Five of them had a season where they won at least 10 games. Three played for the national title. And the 14-year drought since the last All-American (Eric Crouch) happens to coincide with the last time Nebraska was dominant on a national level.
Find the QB. Whoever. Wherever. If that means taking two high school quarterbacks in the 2016 recruiting class, so be it. It worked in 1997, when NU grabbed Crouch and Bobby Newcombe. It worked in the early 1990s, when Nebraska signed five quarterbacks over three recruiting classes, including Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer. It worked in 1975, when NU recruited Tom Sorley and welcomed California transfer Vince Ferragamo.
NU has one in the boat. Del City, Oklahoma, star Terry Wilson committed Tuesday. He's fast and throws a well placed, catchable ball inside of 20 yards. That's an underrated skill; a quarterback's big arm isn't of much use if he can't hit wide receivers on quick, rhythm throws. Wilson's highlight film shows plenty of that. Riley's offense — a medley of passing schemes that includes screens and quick out patterns — needs a guy who can make the short throws with efficiency.
Riley also covets the deep pass. And a potential second commit in the 2016 class — who's still scheduled to unofficially visit this weekend according to texts he sent to The World-Herald on Wednesday — delivers the deep ball.
San Juan Capistrano (California) Hills quarterback Patrick O'Brien — a former pitcher who's just recently focused solely on quarterbacking in the last few years — received an offer from Nebraska the same week Wilson did. He's more mobile than his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame would suggest, and he has a familiar name as his personal quarterbacks coach.
"Patrick can break the pocket and cut out for 30 yards if he needs to," said California-based quarterbacks coach Steve Calhoun, who also coached former Husker Taylor Martinez.
But Calhoun agrees that O'Brien's gift is a strong slingshot. An arm built for the deep comebacks and long post routes built into Riley's offense.
O'Brien is a late bloomer because he straddled between quarterbacking and pitching. Some players make that transition seamlessly. O'Brien has been much better, Calhoun said, now that he's developed more muscle memory.
"We used to struggle to make the transition from curveballs to throwing the football," Calhoun said.
Hence, O'Brien flew under the radar of every FBS program — big or small — until a strong junior season and even stronger performance on the 7-on-7 circuit this spring. Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was among the first to evaluate O'Brien. NU was the first to offer. Colorado, Colorado State and Texas Tech followed. A slew of schools evaluated O'Brien this week. A school that could be a game-changer: UCLA.
"I know he's on their board," Calhoun said of the Bruins.
If O'Brien is still visiting despite Wilson's commit, Nebraska still has a shot to grab two quarterbacks.
Yes, two commits in the class would give NU seven scholarship guys at the position if none of the current Huskers left.
But quarterbacks tend to embrace transferring without prompting if the depth chart doesn't shake out their way. So carrying a bunch for one season often works itself out by the next recruiting cycle. Before last season, Nebraska was at low tide for quarterbacks anyway.
Remember when Jamal Turner moved back to quarterback for a week in the 2014 spring camp? That wasn't for fun. NU wasn't sure it had the players in the program.
Iowa's going through that now. Nebraska doesn't want to again.
Lots of interest in Stille
Iowa offered Ashland-Green-wood athlete Ben Stille last weekend. Vanderbilt may be on the verge of doing so. And this week, UCLA walked through the doors for an evaluation.
The Bruins, making a stop in Nebraska for a big, fast talent on the line.
"I was a little taken aback by that," Ashland-Greenwood coach Ryan Thompson said.
I'd call that smart on UCLA's part. And I'd call Nebraska smart, too, for offering the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Stille a scholarship on Thursday. The Huskers haven't made rounds in-state yet — that'll happen closer to camp time — but Riley personally talked to Stille, a tight end and defensive end, to extend the offer.
"They're trying to keep all the in-state guys within the state," Stille said.
Nebraska has a commitment from Lincoln Christian tight end Jared Bubak — although he's recently expressed interest in Arizona State — and has offers out to Stille and Omaha South's Noah Fant, who is also a tight end/defensive end, albeit in a different frame from Stille.
Stille looks like he could play a base end spot at Nebraska. Thompson said — and I agree — that Stille has an unusually quick first step, and Hudl clips show a player with good strength when he locks in on a guy. Stille was athletic enough to kick for Ashland-Greenwood as a freshman and play cornerback as a sophomore. He prefers defensive end in college, but said he'd play wherever a school wants him.
"He's got a motor, too," Thompson said.
Stille had planned on taking a visit to Missouri, but won't make it now. He said Thursday he wanted to visit Nebraska's campus again — he attended junior day, but a glut of prospects were there — with his family before making a final decision.
The Huskers didn't wait until their camp — one month away — to pull the trigger on an offer. It may pay off, since Nebraska is right down the road.
"It might be pretty hard to pass up a 30-minute drive to Lincoln," Thompson said.