Shatel: In Huskers' quarterback race, Scott Frost handpicked true freshman has edge

From what we have seen and know about Scott Frost, he will be smart and precise in his approach to building back Big Red. He’ll have a plan. He’s preached patience and has said it has to be done right.

LINCOLN — It’s Nebraska Quarterback Day, and there are many questions.

Would Scott Frost start a true freshman at quarterback? Would he look at next year’s multivitamin Big Ten schedule and play for the future?

When he names a starter, will he take into consideration who might transfer or the impact on recruiting quarterbacks the next two years?

Is it possible that Frost goes shopping for a transfer if he doesn’t like what he sees out of this group this spring?

It’s one position, but it feels like how Frost handles his first quarterback race at NU will offer a window into how he plans to manage the program going forward.

Good thing we have a Cliffs Notes guide, a Frost Rule No. 1, to help us out here.

Says Mario Verduzco, Frost’s thoughtful and animated quarterbacks coach: “This is what I’ve always heard Coach Frost say: ‘There are a group of seniors who want the best chance for us to win. We’ve got a state that is so fired up to win and to see us improve and become more effective.’

“Coach Frost wants to make certain we make that decision with those sets of factors. Let’s compete as hard, as tough and firmly as we can and let the chips fall where they may.”

From what we have seen and know about Frost, he will be smart and precise in his approach to building back Big Red. He’ll have a plan. He has preached patience and has said it has to be done right.

But part of that plan is to be in attack mode, at all times.

So proceed with that in mind — without caution — as we assess the quarterback race, which gets real interesting starting with today’s Red-White spring game.

Frost wants his team to play fast, without fear of opponent or failure or making mistakes. Play with confidence. His choice for quarterback might set the tone for that mentality.

To that end, I say keep an eye on freshman Adrian Martinez.

Now, freshman redshirt Tristan Gebbia and sophomore Andrew Bunch might have something to say about that.

There’s a lot to like in Gebbia, a freshman who participated in spring ball a year ago and played like a poised vet in the spring game. He can run, but he’s a pro-style quarterback recruited by the last staff. He’s not a true fit for Frost’s offense.

It’s still football. And Gebbia is still a competitor, and like most quarterbacks, he’s a Type-A achiever. He expects success.

Bunch has impressed this spring and has shown he could be more than just an insurance policy. Noah Vedral, who ran the offense at UCF, can’t play next season.

So the quarterback race figures to come down to the two California kids who both happen to wear red today. That’s my take. It makes sense.

Unless, of course, they are competing against someone who’s not here yet. More on that in a minute.

My hunch is that Martinez has pole position in this race. For a variety of reasons.

He played as both a run and pass threat at Clovis West High in Fresno, California. That makes him a fit for Frost’s offense.

Here’s what makes him a great fit for the offense: Frost said Martinez was the top quarterback, his No. 1 priority in recruiting the position last year.

To back it up, Frost left Peach Bowl practice in Orlando , Florida, and flew all night to Fresno just to visit Martinez — and then got back in the jet and flew back to Orlando.

Frost did it because Martinez was the guy he absolutely had to have, the McKenzie Milton of his Nebraska adventure.

Milton is the 5-foot-11, 170-pound quarterback who led Frost’s UCF team to a 13-0 season in 2017. Playmaker. Decision-maker. Point guard. Winner. All the things Frost wants in a quarterback.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Milton is the model for all Frost quarterbacks going forward. But he’s a great place to start.

Another thing about Milton: He started 10 games as a true freshman after UCF’s starter was lost for the season with an injury. Maybe UCF’s depth at the spot wasn’t what Nebraska has now. But Frost didn’t hesitate to play the high school kid he had recruited from Hawaii.

There were lumps. It wasn’t perfect. But Milton learned in Year One and you saw what happened in Year Two.

By Verduzco’s thinking, Martinez is already ahead of Milton.

“The difference, as I see it, is he’s here, with pads on, in spring ball,” Verduzco said. “K-Zee (Milton) didn’t have that advantage. You’re always a little concerned, a guy comes in, his first fall camp, dealing with being away from home for the first time, dealing with a different class schedule.

“(Being here now) helps, that makes all the difference in the world.”

Another factor in the race: Martinez missed his senior year with an injury and has been 90 percent this spring. But he should be healthy when preseason camp starts in August.

If the race is close, you’d have to think Frost would lean toward starting the career clock on his first quarterback recruit at NU, the guy he had to have.

Whatever the race looks like after today, it’s likely going into the fall, says Verduzco.

“(The spring game) is going to be another evaluation,” Verduzco said. “There’s going to be a little bit of added pressure, there’s going to be a little different flavor to it.

“They’re going to go through game situations, second-down situation, third down, and what is going through their brain? All of a sudden they’re in the red zone, then tight red zone, then goal-line. So they’ve been through all of these things — now can we operate it during a game?”

The quarterbacks might have another incentive to play well today: To fend off the idea of Frost going after a graduate transfer for 2018 if he doesn’t see enough that he likes today.

The volatile quarterback situations at Alabama and Ohio State remind us that quarterback free agents can become available at any time.

When asked about that possibility, Verduzco said he hadn’t thought about it — and reminded that he “really likes” the group in his quarterback room.

“That will be a decision for Coach Frost,” Verduzco said. “I really don’t have a thought about it. If that’s the direction Coach Frost wants to move, then that’s where we’ll go.”

It’s Nebraska Quarterback Day. The chips are about to fall where they may.

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