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Steven M. Sipple: Last thing Huskers need is instability at QB

Steven M. Sipple: Last thing Huskers need is instability at QB

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Mark Banker sums up Iowa's offense pretty well.

The hallmarks are stability and efficiency, he said.

"It's a team that does not make mistakes, and it's to be commended for that," the Nebraska defensive coordinator said. "There's a plan. There's a belief. They stick to it. And they execute it."

C.J. Beathard is steady at the controls. He was named the starter for the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes in January and has thrown 14 touchdown passes against only three interceptions. Barring injury, he will be the starter next season. Coach Kirk Ferentz can take comfort in quarterback stability no matter the result of Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State.

As for Nebraska, "comfort" and "stability" wouldn't be the first words one would use to describe its quarterback situation.

"Unstable" might be going a bit too far.

Because holiday season is upon us, let's go with something more benign. How does "intriguing" grab you?

By the throat, perhaps?

Nebraska football has endured its share of instability since the turn of the century. The last thing NU needs, if it expects to win the Big Ten West Division in 2016, is an unstable quarterback situation. But instability is the theme in the wake of junior starter Tommy Armstrong's late-season struggles.

As a result, you already hear plenty of discussion about incoming freshman Patrick O'Brien, the four-star Californian who completed 78 percent of his passes this season and will arrive in Lincoln later this month. 

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound O'Brien might well be the next Dan Marino. But before anointing O'Brien as a future NFL Hall of Famer — or even as Nebraska's starter in 2016 — ask yourself: What kind of numbers would Armstrong have posted against high school defenses this season?

You'll find few true freshman quarterbacks who led teams to championships of any sort. Option wizard Jamelle Holieway is the only true freshman QB to ever win a national championship — at Oklahoma in 1985 — after he replaced sophomore Troy Aikman when Aikman broke his leg in the fourth game.

For every Holieway and Marino — he started the final four games as a true freshman in 1979, winning all four as Pitt finished 11-1 — you'll find many more examples of rookies who learned hard lessons during forgettable seasons for their teams.

UCLA starter Josh Rosen was the nation's top-ranked high school quarterback last season. He had a good season this year, completing 59.5 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But the Bruins (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) lost two of their final three games, and Rosen threw two second-half picks against USC.

Drew Lock completed 49 percent of his passes in going 2-6 as Missouri's starter. Brett Rypien was 6-3 for Boise State with decent overall passing numbers (62 percent completion rate with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions). Seth Collins started seven games for 2-10 Oregon State, completing just 52.2 percent of his throws.

Think about Nebraska's schedule next season, with road trips to Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. Think about a true freshman trying to call plays in the din of Ohio Stadium. Or Camp Randall. Think about a rookie trying to read defensive alignments he's never encountered while his teammates strain to hear him.

If you're turning over the offense to a true freshman, you had better have a reliable run game and defense.

Those broaching the idea of O'Brien taking the controls put a heap of pressure on the kid while simultaneously showing disrespect for not only Armstrong — who's 21-11 as Nebraska's starter — but current backups Ryker Fyfe, AJ Bush and Zack Darlington.

It's striking how casually many folks dismiss the quarterbacks already on campus.

This much is certain: The quarterback position needs to be handled with care. Uncertainty at QB can divide a locker room. Plus, players seek leadership from the QB. It's why Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh strongly backed Jake Rudock after Rudock struggled against Utah.

Say what you want about Armstrong, he's a willing leader. But his 16 interceptions make you wonder if he's doing all he can to master his craft.

Michigan State fans have no such questions about Connor Cook (24 TDs, four picks). And, of course, Iowa fans have no such questions about Beathard, who operates behind a sturdy offensive line.

Banker watches the Hawkeye linemen's foot patterns.

"It tells you how they attack, where they go on their zone plays, where they go on their stretch blocking, how they cut on the backside," the coach said. "They just methodically go about their business."

Yes, with admirable stability at quarterback.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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