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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Witt's departure throws Nebraska QB battle into a quandary


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The news bounced through Nebraska with the stunning shock of some kind of a natural disaster.

The surprise announcement that Patrick Witt was leaving the Nebraska program came on a couple of levels.

First, Witt was the Cornhuskers' backup in their final game last season, playing after Joe Ganz was dinged in the Gator Bowl against Clemson.

So the presumption was that Witt would get the first shot -- or at least a good one -- when the Nebraska starting quarterback job was contested at spring practice and beyond.

But his decision has ratcheted up competition and opened a three-way battle involving Zac Lee, Kody Spano and freshman Cody Green. It's left the Cornhuskers with as little depth and experience at the position as any Big 12 team.

Lee is perceived by most to be the most immediately ready, although coaches hope he will work on managing a game better in their offensive philosophy.

Spano is a long shot to earn the starting job, but does have his moments as a runner and thrower.

Green likely has the best athletic tools. It might not be a surprise to see coach Bo Pelini utilize him like Ohio State did with Terrelle Pryor last season. Green would receive work early in the season to build confidence in hopes he could be a major contributor by the end of the season.

Any thoughts that Nebraska could afford to redshirt Green likely left when Witt made his announcement. Pelini's insurance plan has suddenly gone kaput.

The uncertainty likely plucks Nebraska from the favored role in the North Division, even with all of the other returning weapons the Cornhuskers have. Nebraska has a talented offensive line, strong running backs in Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille, a dominant defensive player in Ndamukong Suh and an improving secondary.

But they also have only three real players at quarterback. None of them have any college game experience.

That might be a legitimate concern, although offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's work with some journeyman quarterbacks in the past leads me to believe he might be able to build something with the players he currently has on his roster.

Remember that Watson helped win the 2001 Big 12 championship at Colorado with a rotation of Craig Ochs and Bobby Pesavento -- arguably the least talented quarterback group of any Big 12 title winner.

Watson later helped the Buffaloes win another division title the following season with Robert Hodge as his starter. So he's won championships with what would have been acknowledged as less-than-stellar players at the position.

Witt was recruited to Nebraska by Bill Callahan. Again, the choice of one coach doesn't necessarily impress other coaches who may come along later in a player's career.

The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Witt's interest in transferring was sparked when Pelini refused to give his father assurances that the starting job would be settled at the end of spring practice. Witt was hoping the job would be settled, so that if he hadn't won the starting position he would be free to compete at another school.

But the three remaining quarterbacks have at least one advantage. The lack of many quarterbacks on the roster assures all of them they should get plenty of repetitions when the Cornhuskers start spring practice on March 21.

It's also made the trio's performances in Nebraska's spring game on April 18 even more important heading into fall practice.

And for Spano, Green and Lee, extensive work with Watson's offense in that highly charged atmosphere can't help but be beneficial.