Shatel: Plenty of theories, but Huskers’ next starting quarterback is still anyone’s guess

So who’s it gonna be? Tristan Gebbia, the redshirt freshman who throws it and can also run? Or Adrian Martinez, the freshman who runs it and can also throw? There are theories both ways.

LINCOLN — I’m here to tell you, overthinking Nebraska football is hard work.

Lately, followers of all things red have put their efforts into the quarterback race. Bless Scott Frost, he’s allowed us to put the overthinking into overtime.

There was a thought that the starting quarterback would be announced Wednesday. Now, it won’t be until Friday. Unless it’s Saturday. Or Monday.

Would Frost possibly make it a game-time decision, to throw off Akron? Overthinking can be easy. And fun.

So who’s it gonna be? Tristan Gebbia, the redshirt freshman who throws it and can also run? Or Adrian Martinez, the freshman who runs it and can also throw? There are theories both ways.

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There’s the one that says Gebbia will get the nod because he was here last year — though he ran a different offense and didn’t play in a game. But he knows how road trips go.

There’s the one that Frost flew across the country to recruit Martinez, he was made for this offense, so why wait?

There’s the one that Gebbia is the better thrower, and look at that stacked deck of receivers. Unless it’s the improved stable of running backs, and imagine Martinez’s moves turning them loose.

Flip it around and Gebbia’s arm opens the door for the running game, and Martinez’s legs keep safeties from overplaying Stanley Morgan and friends.

I’m just getting warmed up, folks.

There’s the redshirt rule theory: Martinez plays the first four games, and if the kid is shaky, Gebbia takes over and Martinez doesn’t burn a year. Or Gebbia starts, and the coaches break Martinez in during the season.

Hey, it worked for Turner Gill (1981) and Tommie Frazier (1992), a couple of guys we’ve heard of.

I decided to go for the overthinking title, the whole ball of wax. Here goes:

Frost has already been touting the 2019 season as the year of the big jump. The offense will be loaded. You don’t want to begin that season with a guy who hasn’t played.

So make sure both quarterbacks get quality snaps this season. I believe that will happen anyway. Because they’re both young, because everyone in the offense is new, because mistakes and turnovers will happen. And because, in a quarterback run game, people get banged up.

That’s not to say this season doesn’t matter. Far from it. But in the big picture, 2019 sets up extremely well. The quarterback position should be managed with next year in mind.

Now, let me tell you what is actually going to happen.

» Frost is going to make the decision, with the input of his offensive staff, led by offensive coordinator Troy Walters and quarterback coach Mario Verduzco.

» Frost will not think big picture, or 2019, or what might happen in October. His first starter will be the guy who best meets the coaches’ standard for quarterback play.

It has to be this way, especially now. Frost and his staff have been laying down the baseline of what they expect from players. The players are watching. They have to set the example now that doing the job, doing it well and in that quick tempo, will bring rewards.

What do they want from their starting quarterback?

» By all accounts, the job will go to the quarterback the coaches trust the most to make the least mistakes, turnovers, bad plays, etc. Big plays will come. Master the small details. Consistency.

This season is about establishing the program, the tempo. Frost and Co. want their offense to get off to a good start — then let the momentum roll through the season. An offense that can’t get out of its own way won’t work.

The good news is there are so many playmakers that Frost’s first quarterback need be nothing more than an effective point guard, distributing the ball to the open man, making quick, correct reads and making his own plays when they’re available. I think game plans will allow the quarterback to ease into the role and build each week.

» It sounds like Frost is a one-quarterback guy. No rotations. No knee-jerk reactions if one guy has a bad game.

So if there’s a theory that one guy could lose his job after a couple of bad games, not so fast, says Verduzco.

“Frosty is of the mind if that’s the direction we’re going, that’s the direction we’re going,” Verduzco said, referring to going with one quarterback. “As a former quarterback, he understands that if you’re continually looking over your shoulder, that’s not a good thing.”

Case in point: McKenzie Milton was one of the top quarterbacks in the country last year for UCF and, of course, played the majority of the snaps. But freshman Noah Vedral got into eight games, going 22 for 29 passing with 18 rush attempts.

UCF, however, had several blowouts. Frost may not be afforded the opportunity to play two guys — unless he chooses to carve a space in some games to get one guy experience.

Frost’s mentor Tom Osborne did that on occasion. But there was that time in 1997 when Frost was booed as he came back out to sub for back-up Frankie London in one game.

“Most certainly, you can do that with a guy getting meaningful reps,” Verduzco said. “You are always concerned if a guy has a rhythm going. But all those things that have nothing to do with X’s and O’s are more psychological in nature.

“Coach Frost is cognizant of that, being a quarterback himself. That’s something he’ll have to decide.

“As of right now, there’s no plan to play two.”

So all those theories that Gebbia could start by being the better passer, but Martinez will eventually win the job because he’s the better fit for the offense? Hold those tickets. A winner hasn’t been declared.

Verduzco uses the terms “fast blinker” and “slow blinker” with his quarterbacks. That is, how quickly the quarterbacks see what is happening, see the open man, see where a play should and shouldn’t go.

So far, it sounds like Gebbia is a good enough runner, and Martinez an adept enough passer, that this will be decided by a blink.

This likely will be a “feel” or gut decision by Frost. Who does he project to be someone who can keep this offense on the road and gradually move up to high speeds?

He’s got two terrific options. His quarterback position is in good shape. There may be angst in August, but there’s a term for this in college football and it’s more fact than theory.

It’s a good problem to have.

Sports columnist

Tom is The World-Herald's lead sports columnist. Since he started in Omaha in 1991, he's covered just about anything you can imagine. Follow him on Twitter @TomShatelOWH. Phone: 402-444-1025.

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