LINCOLN — Five throwers, one fullback, five toss-ups and the most interesting story in college football.

That’d be one way to describe the quarterback challenges faced by the Nebraska football team this year.

Just how hard the Huskers will have it depends on three things:

1. The growth of a few Big Ten signal-callers — Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, Illinois’ Wes Lunt and Wisconsin’s Joel Stave — who possess abundant talent, but need to show it consistently.

2. Whether quarterbacks emerge at South Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Purdue, Northwestern or Rutgers who are anything more than placeholders for better players.

3. The true health of Taysom Hill.

Yes, Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Miami’s Brad Kaaya have “NFL starter” written on the inside of their helmets.

Hill doesn’t.

But BYU’s quarterback takes up a considerable part of Nebraska fans’ worry this offseason. Hill’s Cougars represent the toughest Husker home opener in at least 12 years, and perhaps 30 years. And it’s Hill — a 2014 Heisman contender until he broke his leg in the fifth game of last season — who drives BYU’s engine.

The Cougars altered their offense to accommodate his talents, and, when healthy, he hasn’t disappointed. In 2013, he racked up 4,282 total yards, including 1,344 rushing yards. In 2014, BYU was 4-0 after four games with wins over Texas and Virginia. The 41-7 win at UT was a particularly fearsome game; Hill plunged into the Texas line 24 times, like a fullback on the zone read.

But Hill gets hurt, too.

In game five of the 2014 season, he broke his left leg against Utah State when Aggie safety Brian Suite, falling to the ground after a missed tackle, rolled up on the leg. Hill couldn’t get back the year of eligibility.

Hill also couldn’t get back a year in 2012, when he was hurt in a game — by, well, Brian Suite — and missed the rest of that season, too.

So he has one year left.

Hill was a good enough passer in a Pocatello, Idaho, high school to originally commit to Stanford.

In 2009. To Jim Harbaugh. Who hadn’t even left to coach the San Francisco 49ers, much less Michigan.

Hill was in the same recruiting class as Nebraska stars Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead. At kickoff in Memorial Stadium on Sept. 5, he’ll be 25 years old. A few weeks after the Nebraska game, Hill will face the head coach who wanted him out of high school — seven years after Harbaugh courted him.

A Mormon, Hill chose to take a mission to Australia before college. After the mission, according to a recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune, Hill tried to enroll at Stanford in January 2012. Stanford didn’t allow that. Hill flipped to BYU.

The Cardinal have been OK at quarterback. Stanford didn’t miss Hill too much. But BYU gained a lot as a result.

And now Nebraska, which in 2012 scheduled a single game with BYU, has to deal with him.

If Hill has the running speed and power he enjoyed before the broken leg, he’s probably the best quarterback Nebraska will face all season. Cook and Kaaya, tall, gifted passers, have better pro futures. But Hill, and BYU’s zone read attack, is the kind that gives defenses fits.

* * * 

Here’s a look at the rest of the quarterbacks Nebraska will face in 2015. Some of the starting jobs remain up in the air.

Known quantities


Connor Cook   |   Senior   |   6-4, 220

Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Nov. 7 (6 or 7 p.m., ABC/ESPN)

Last year: Michigan State 27-22

Once he graduates, he’ll never have to buy another drink in East Lansing, that’s for sure. Cook is a bona fide Michigan State legend, a Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl champ with a 24-3 record as a starter. A hard, sometimes erratic, thrower, Cook saves some of his best moments for third down and the fourth quarter. Just mobile enough to elude the rush, Cook has been surrounded by great offensive skill — and helped by even better defenses — for the last two seasons, which helps. He’ll play behind Michigan State’s best, most seasoned offensive line in years. Cook is a Heisman Trophy contender and a likely first-round NFL draft pick.

2. BYU

Taysom Hill   |   Senior   |   6-2, 232

Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Sept. 5 (2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN)

Last year: didn’t play

The kind of quarterback Nebraska fans wouldn’t mind having on the Huskers’ roster. Probably the truest heir to Tim Tebow, Hill has a long, loopy throwing motion and a running style so direct, strong and unforgiving that the defender who encounters him 20 yards downfield is in for a pop in the facemask. If he can return to form with a rebuilt knee — and he’s able to work with gifted running back Jamaal Williams — Nebraska’s defense will have its hands full.


Brad Kaaya    |   Sophomore    |   6-4, 209

Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami

When: Sept. 19 (2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2)

Last year: Nebraska 41-31

The former high school teammate of Nebraska running back Terrell Newby had one of the better true freshman campaigns in recent memory. Even though the Hurricanes finished 6-7, Kaaya sparkled, throwing for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. And he only completed 58.5 percent of his passes, a figure that will go up. Kaaya gets two tune-up games versus Bethune-Cookman and Florida Atlantic before Nebraska comes to town. He threw two costly interceptions in NU territory in last year’s loss, but he generally played well, going for a career-high 359 yards.


C.J. Beathard   |   Junior   |   6-2, 209

Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Nov. 27 (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Nebraska 37-34

Perhaps the strangest quarterback situation in college football. In 2013 and 2014, Jake Rudock beat out Beathard for the starting job. But one week after a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl, coach Kirk Ferentz anointed Beathard the starter for this season in what was more or less a press conference. Rudock transferred to Michigan. Thus, the biggest season of Ferentz’s career rests on the shoulders of a kid nicknamed “Sunshine” for his resemblance to the quarterback in the movie “Remember The Titans.” From a sheer physical gifts perspective, Beathard is Iowa’s most athletic quarterback since Drew Tate or Heisman runner-up Brad Banks. He has also struggled with inconsistency and decision-making. If Beathard is up to the game-in, game-out mental grind, he could be the best quarterback in the Big Ten West. Yep, he has that much upside.


Mitch Leidner   |   Junior   |   6-4, 236

Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

When: Oct. 17 (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Minnesota 28-24

A near-perfect fit for coach Jerry Kill’s offense, Leidner is a durable, tough runner who throws just well enough to make the Gophers’ offense click. He’s also 2-0 in starts against Nebraska. Leidner may have to throw a little bit more this year — last season, Minnesota could rely more on the zone read and the bruising running style of back David Cobb — but Leidner has some decent receiving weapons, too. After completing 51.5 percent of his passes last season, Leidner would do well to be more accurate. The schedule, which features TCU, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, is tough.


Wes Lunt   |   Junior   |   6-5, 225

Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois

When: Oct. 3 (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Nebraska 45-14

He might throw the prettiest pass in the Big Ten. No question Wes Lunt can spin it. Injuries kept him out of five games last season, and in a loss to Iowa and a close win against Penn State, he played so poorly he got benched. That said, Lunt will be in year three of coordinator Bill Cubit’s offense, and he’ll have a seasoned group of receivers to whom he can throw. A 3,000-yard season seems likely.


Joel Stave   |   Senior   |   6-5, 220

Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Oct. 10, (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Wisconsin 59-24

A likable kid and functional thrower, Stave has been the Badgers’ off-and-on starter since 2012, when he was a redshirt freshman. Through injuries and a strange case of the throwing yips — Stave didn’t possess ability to accurately pass the ball for a few weeks after he lost the starting job before the 2014 season — he’s 21-7 as a starter. Stave also has a proven offensive coordinator in new head coach Paul Chryst, who puts even mediocre passers in good position to make plays. Stave likely returns to his 2013 form when he passed for 2,494 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he’s still as mobile as a tree stump and prone to cracking under pressure. Aside from that smacking they gave Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten championship, the Badgers haven’t won many big games in the last four years. Average quarterback play is a main reason.

Up in the Air


Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Indiana

When: Oct. 31 (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Nebraska 35-14

Every time the Boilermakers’ quarterbacks took a step forward last year, they’d make a run of mistakes that dropped them back. Purdue has some decent options, though. One is Austin Appleby, who took the job from Danny Etling in midseason 2014 — Etling subsequently transferred to LSU — and another is redshirt freshman David Blough, a recruit from Texas whose skill set and gunslinger mentality have some echoes of Drew Brees. Blough was my top Big Ten quarterback recruit in the 2014 class. He may make Purdue pretty good by the time Nebraska comes to town.


Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Sept. 26 (11 a.m., TV TBA)

Last year: didn’t play

The Golden Eagles will choose between returning starter Nick Mullens — who threw for 2,470 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions — and TCU transfer Tyler Matthews, who left the Horned Frogs’ program after he lost the starting job to Trevone Boykin. Mullens has been the starter for two years. He’s also won four games in those two years. USM bottomed out in 2012 and has spent the better part of 2013 and 2014 rebuilding. Most of the Golden Eagles’ top skill players return.


Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Sept. 12 (7 p.m., BTN)

Last year: didn’t play

The Huskers are paying $980,000 to play the Jaguars and, well, a bunch of former UAB players, too. Since the Blazers temporarily shut down the program for a few months — the school now plans to reinstate football after deciding to eliminate it — some players transferred to USA. One of them is quarterback Cody Clements, the starting quarterback last season at UAB. He’ll compete with Hunter Vaughn and South Florida transfer Matt Floyd for the starting job.


Where: High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey

When: Nov. 14 (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Nebraska 42-24

The Scarlet Knights replace three-year starter Gary Nova, who bounced back from two poor years to have a strong 2014. He also took most of the snaps last season. His backup, Chris Laviano, is battling LSU transfer Hayden Rettig for the starting job. Whoever wins it should have one of the Big Ten’s best receivers (Leonte Carroo) and running backs (Paul James). But they won’t have offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, who retired, again, after one year of calling plays.


Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Oct. 24 (time and TV TBA)

Last year: Nebraska 38-17

Northwestern hasn’t had truly good, consistent quarterback play since 2011. In the following three years, the Wildcats either couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to a style of play, which won’t help the three players — Clayton Thorson, Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver — vying for the starting job. All three had strong high school pedigrees. All three picked Northwestern over better schools. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has to commit to one and commit to a style. Alviti is a zone read type. Oliver is a thrower. Thorson might be able to do both but remains a better passer. Fitzgerald mistook a lucky 10-3 season in 2012 as a sign of evolution on offense — it wasn’t — and he has hurt his team with indecision and waffling since then.

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