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NCF Nation: Zac Lee

Last month, Nebraska quarterback Cody Green announced his plans to transfer.

[+] EnlargeCody Green
Brett Davis/US PresswireCody Green is leaving Nebraska and a few Big 12 schools are on his list of possible landing spots.
Now, in an interview with HuskerOnline.com, Green says he could end up staying in the Big 12. Texas A&M, Baylor and Kansas State joined Tulsa and Houston as schools Green is considering.

"Mostly the guys who already I had a previous relationship with through high school. They were all right there the minute I declared I was going to leave," he said. "I made a visit to Kansas State this week and it went well. Coach [Bill] Snyder and those guys are a class act. When you have a legend like coach Snyder, everything feeds off of him. He's like coach [Tom] Osborne in that way."

Green signed with Nebraska in 2009 as the nation's No. 32 athlete. Rivals.com ranked him as the nation's No. 6 dual-threat quarterback. Since coming to Lincoln, he's started four games and appeared in 18 in two seasons on the field.

In 2009, he spent most of his time backing up Zac Lee, and in 2010, freshman Taylor Martinez.

The Dayton, Texas native has completed 66-of-122 passes for 657 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Green told the site he had been considering transferring for a year, and planned to switch to wide receiver or tight end until injuries to Martinez and Lee forced him back into a starting role in a win against Iowa State. He also admitted that he played most of the game after suffering a concussion.

"I don't think I got as many quality chances as I could have had. It was just one of those things where I'd go in and make a mistake and get pulled. It was frustrating," he told the site.

Early last season, with Martinez becoming a star and the Huskers getting commitments from 2011 signees Bubba Starling and Jamal Turner, I heard from a few unhappy Nebraska fans when I suggested Green's future as a Husker might be abbreviated. Now, that's the case.

As for his future home, I could see him staying in the Big 12.

Texas A&M is a bit of a stretch. Johnny Manziel and Jameill Showers are the likely favorites to replace Ryan Tannehill next year, and even with Green's experience, I doubt his ability to unseat either of them.

As for Baylor and Kansas State, those could both be attractive options. He'd have to beat out some competition at Kansas State, but the Wildcats haven't had a quarterback with his experience or credentials on its roster. Unless Collin Klein, Sammuel Lamur or Justin Tuggle gets a firm grasp of the job this season, the job could be open again next spring.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III, a junior in 2011, has indicated to me on a couple of occasions that he plans to stay in Waco for all four seasons. Behind him, the Bears are thin at quarterback beyond Nick Florence, who started nine games for Baylor in 2009 with mixed results during a 4-8 campaign. Green could add a lot there if he's willing to wait out Griffin. Like Griffin, Green is a mobile quarterback who Art Briles could build his offense around, though Griffin is clearly a much more talented passer.

Green's future is definitely something to keep an eye on, so even though the Huskers are heading to the Big Ten, we could see a former Nebraska quarterback back in the league very soon.

Burkhead gives Huskers QB play a boost

December, 2, 2010
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Nebraska's game Saturday will begin the same way its season did: with everyone in attendance waiting to see who trots out to quarterback the offense on the opening series.

Taylor Martinez broke a 46-yard run in that game on his first career carry, and ran his way into the midseason Heisman conversation before being slowed by injuries and better defenses. A gimpy right ankle and nagging turf toe on his left foot kept him out of last week's North-clinching win over Colorado, and could slow him on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Rex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesRex Burkhead rushed for 101 yards last week against Colorado, but also threw two touchdown passes.
Martinez was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, but left the field with his left foot in a protective boot.

Zac Lee and, most recently, Cody Green, have filled in for Martinez. Green has yet to top 100 yards passing in a game this year, but made his best start of the season with plenty on the line against the Buffaloes, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Martinez torched Oklahoma State for 323 yards in a 51-41 win earlier this year, but since then he Martinez topped out at 167 yards passing against Kansas -- one of just two teams in the Big 12 giving up over six yards per play on defense.

In short, as conference play has progressed, the Huskers quarterbacks have been uninspiring through the air. Nebraska's offensive line and the Huskers third "quarterback" might make that deficiency irrelevant.

"He has an impact on the game in a lot of different ways," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini of running back/part-time quarterback Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead saw plenty of snaps out of Nebraska's Wildcat package against Colorado, and finished with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown. Defenses are forced to respect the high school quarterback's arm, too.

Burkhead threw his first two passes of the season against the Buffaloes. Both went for touchdowns, including a 26-yard rainbow down the right sideline to Brandon Kinnie.

"Nothing he does surprises me," Pelini said. "He does so many things to make a football team better."

Most of the time, that's playing a role as a traditional running back alongside Roy Helu Jr.

"Everyone focuses on the Wildcat, but he runs the ball hard, he's efficient, he can run inside or outside," Pelini said. "He's just a tremendous football player who's continuing to develop and get better."

Running the ball got Nebraska into the Big 12 title game; with 178 yards, Burkhead could become the Huskers third 1,000-yard rusher this season. If it beats Oklahoma for the Big 12 title game, it'll probably be because of that run game.

But if Burkhead has to take snaps in lieu of ineffectiveness from Green or Martinez, it should make running the ball significantly easier.

"They’re physical. It’s going to be a real physical game. They like to run the ball," Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal said, "and we’ll have to stop the run to win the game."
Landry Jones has never experienced a night worse than the one he did the last time he lined up across from the Blackshirts. When he wasn't getting chased by all-everything superstar defender Ndamukong Suh, he was throwing it to the wrong guys in red.

The Oklahoma quarterback threw for 245 yards. His counterpart, Zac Lee, threw for 35 yards. The Sooners outgained Nebraska 325-180.

But, and it was a big but, Jones finished with five interceptions. Oklahoma lost 10-3.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesLandry Jones will face a stiff test in the Nebraska defense Saturday.
His first interception was deep in Oklahoma territory and returned 22 yards to the Sooners' 1-yard line. Nebraska scored the game's only touchdown on the next play.

Three more came in Nebraska territory and the fifth came on an odd, early Hail Mary on second down with time for a few more plays from midfield.

"We moved the ball well against them when we played them in Lincoln, but they really stuffed us and we didn’t get a lot out of it once we neared the red zone," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "They made more plays and stopped us."

Nebraska finished last season as the nation's No. 18 pass defense. The Blackshirts are at No. 2 this year.

"They do a great job in their structure, they’re very disciplined, how they play," Stoops said. "Their coverage is outstanding, in how they cover you and work their coverage. So, they really make you work to execute to play well to move the football."

Nebraska is better, but Jones is, too.

He's a sophomore with 22 starts under his belt, no longer a freshman learning how to fill a Heisman winner's shoes on the fly.

"He's got a huge arm. He's got a quick release. What I love here in this last half of the season is he's really feels his way in the pocket really well," Stoops said. "He's been really stepping up and buying himself more time in a good way. He's smart in what he's doing."

And in the past two weeks, he's been able to do what he couldn't do as a freshman: be the same quarterback away from Owen Field. His quarterback rating was a plump 160.04 at home in 2009, but slimmed to 110.25 on the road.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio was particularly skewed. In six home games, he threw 18 touchdowns to four interceptions. In seven games away from home, he threw just eight touchdowns to 10 picks, including the five in Lincoln.

Jones struggled early with interceptions against both Baylor and Oklahoma State, but rebounded particularly well against Oklahoma State, tossing a pair of long touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter to help Oklahoma clinch the South on its rival's home field. He also tied a school record with 468 yards against an improving Oklahoma State secondary.

Now, he'll face the toughest secondary in the Big 12, with more on the line than any game this season. Nobody will blink at a pick or two, but if Jones makes the plays necessary for Oklahoma to win and reach a BCS bowl once again, that nightmare in Lincoln as a freshman will be a hazy memory in the minds of Sooners fans.

"That’ll be a big key, if we can move the ball, but also in the red zone," Stoops said. "Are you able to score?"

Huskers go (Cody) Green

November, 6, 2010
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Nebraska's quarterback carousel made another stop on Saturday, with Cody Green making his first start of the season in Nebraska's game in Ames against Iowa State.

Taylor Martinez has started every other game this season, but Zac Lee has gotten substantial time after an injury to Martinez last week and the freshman getting benched against Texas.

Green has played only sparingly, but had been given a series sporadically earlier in the year.

Both Lee and Martinez are dressed for the game, but Martinez was limited in practice this week. He also sat out Monday's practice with what coach Bo Pelini said was a sprained ankle on Monday.

Winds are high in Ames on Saturday, so with the quarterback uncertainty, look for plenty of touches for running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu Jr. Burkhead, a former high school quarterback, should see some time in the Wildcat, too.
Nebraska will decide on quarterback Taylor Martinez's status on Saturday, but the freshman has practiced each of the past three days.

"He's getting better each day," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told reporters after Thursday's practice. "It will be probably a game-time decision, but he's getting better every day."

Martinez's lower body took a hard hit late in the second quarter of last Saturday's win over Missouri, and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle. He left the facilities in a walking boot after sitting out the entire second half.

Zac Lee replaced Martinez in the game.

Martinez sat out Monday's practice, but on Tuesday offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Martinez had no swelling or discoloration in the ankle.

Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard also returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out most of the week with a concussion suffered early against the Tigers. Pelini said Dennard hasn't been ruled out of the game.

Dennard was replaced by freshman Ciante Evans on Saturday.

The Huskers play at Iowa State on Saturday.

Nebraska nabs a meaningful win

October, 30, 2010
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- There were 10 months of anticipation leading up to Nebraska's previous outing on this field. A summer kerfuffle that ended with Nebraska packing its bags for the Big Ten poured gasoline on a fire white-hot from a controversial end to the Big 12 title game.

The Huskers wanted to beat Texas, and wanted to do so badly. Probably more than Missouri, a rivalry that in some ways stretched the definition of the word since it was one-sided for so much of the past three decades.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Dave WeaverBo Pelini's Nebraska team rebounded from their home loss to Texas earlier this month and took down No. 6 Missouri.
Nebraska wrote the final chapter of a rivalry more than a century old with a flurry of long runs and a quarterback-flustering defense, beating Missouri 31-17 and taking a firm grasp of the Big 12 North.

For all the sweet satisfaction that would have come with slapping around the Longhorns on the way out the door, a win against Missouri was the parting shot Nebraska needed. For the here and now, the Tigers were the team standing between Nebraska and a substantial 2010 season.

Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. broke through the line untouched on the Huskers first offensive snap. His 66-yard run was only part of a 24-0 first quarter pounding that was enough offense for the game. Nebraska hung 31 points on the board without taking a snap in Missouri's red zone.

"You're not doing anything magical," said coach Bo Pelini of his team's start. "It's just by executing -- doing what you've been coached to do."

Injuries to a pair of stars, quarterback Taylor Martinez and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (both plan to return next week), didn't change the outcome. Martinez's replacement, Zac Lee, only needed to throw three passes and run twice to secure the win in the second half. Dennard's replacement, true freshman Ciante Evans, mostly went unnoticed by everyone but Missouri's offense, which is exactly what happens when good cornerbacks play well.

Gone were the fumbles and dropped passes that ended many Nebraska drives against the Longhorns here two weeks ago.

"We've been working on it, can't you tell?" said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. "It's good to see their freakin' hard work finally pay off. It means practice pays off."

Said Pelini: "The big part of the football game was no turnovers ... You win the takeaway battle in a game like this and that's big."

Helu finished with a school-record 307 yards rushing -- the best performance by a runner in college football this season -- after two more long touchdown runs and a handful of punishing runs up the middle. Helu had to be notified, along with the rest of the 85,907 in attendance, of his record by the public address announcer. After the game, teammates gave him a water bottle bath, the little brother of the 20-gallon Gatorade bath reserved for championship-winning coaches.

"They were acting like we won the Super Bowl or something," Helu said with a laugh.

So maybe this didn't provide the state-wide pleasure a win over Texas might have, but it meant a whole lot to the Huskers on the field. While Missouri will have to spend postgame Saturday nights checking the scoreboard in hopes of some luck, Nebraska knows that if it does what it did on Saturday for the next four weeks, it'll get another chance at the Big 12 title game that so narrowly eluded it a season ago.

[+] EnlargeRoy Helu Jr.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikRoy Helu Jr. set a school record after rushing for 307 yards against Missouri.
"You have to go earn it every Saturday," Helu said. "We know that as an offensive unit, and whoever we play has to earn it as well."

Said Lee: "The Texas game was very unlike us, and I think this is us. This is just how we play. You can call the Texas game an outlier, probably. It's just one of those things that happened, and we learned from it."

Nebraska's early sprint out of the gates wouldn't have meant much against a Missouri offense that hadn't been held below 24 points this season since their opener. The Blackshirts dropped back into coverage and rushed just three or four linemen most often, forcing Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert to buy time with an unsure shuffle in the backfield and run when he would rather have passed.

Sometimes Nebraska got to him with those three or four up front, thanks to a defensive backfield that was dominant for 60 minutes. When the Huskers did blitz, they often got to Gabbert quickly -- including a big hit from the front he never saw coming.

"When we saw indecision on his face, you definitely know you've got him, but you can't quit pushing," said defensive lineman Jared Crick.

The Huskers sacked Gabbert five times with no Nebraska defender getting more than one. Plenty of the sacks were a result of blanket coverage downfield, giving Gabbert no place to go with the ball.

"I though the defense played well. They played inspired. They executed," Pelini said. "They played hard and they played with passion. That's all you can ask for from them."

That passion was never on display more than during the Huskers' goal-line stand in the third quarter. They stopped Missouri three times from gaining the final yard before a false start forced Missouri to settle for a field goal that brought them to within 14 points. The third stop set off a raucous Blackshirt celebration and a few fist pumps from a happy coach on the sideline.

"That was a heck of a deal. A lot of times teams get into that situation and it's almost like it's conceded," Pelini said. "Our players, yeah, they weren't conceding anything out there."

Nebraska doesn't plan on conceding the North division in its final year of membership either.

"I'm always emotional," Pelini said of the win, "but I was excited."
LINCOLN, Neb.--Before Missouri's last drive, neither team had converted a third down.

Long drives are pretty impossible without them, but Missouri converted four on a 12-play, 78-yard drive that brought the Tigers to within 24-14 after taking a Husker haymaker in the first quarter.

No conversion was bigger than the last one, when Missouri sent slot receiver T.J. Moe in motion and completed a 23-yard touchdown pass over the middle to the sophomore.

Just when Missouri looked like it might turn the corner with Nebraska star Taylor Martinez on the bench and the offense finding a rhythm, flashes of the first quarter resurfaced once again from the Huskers.

Roy Helu Jr. took a shotgun handoff and sprinted through the middle of Missouri's defense for a 53-yard touchdown -- his shortest of the day -- to put the Huskers back up by three possessions with a 31-14 lead.

Lee in for Martinez, struggles early

October, 30, 2010
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Taylor Martinez took a hard shot to his lower body late in the first half, but came back on the field to finish the half.

Bo Pelini made the switch to Zac Lee for the second, but a rough start for Lee has the Huskers fans a little nervous early in the second half.

He overthrew a deep ball on his first attempt, which was nearly intercepted by a pair of Tigers. Penalties dug the Huskers in a deep hole on third down, but he overthrew another short pass to send the Huskers to a three-and-out.

Lee played well in relief of Martinez against Texas, but he hasn't looked like he did in that game -- his first action since the season opener -- today.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 18, 2010
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Here's a look back at the best and worst of the week that was in the Big 12.

Best offensive player: Tie, Justin Blackmon (OSU), Landry Jones (OU), Ryan Broyles (OU), Robert Griffin (BU). Call it a cop out if you must, but there's really no way to differentiate between these guys. Blackmon had a career-high 207 yards receiving and a huge 62-yard score. Jones completed 30 of 34 passes in a 52-point conference win. Broyles had 10 catches for 131 yards and a score two minutes into the second quarter. Griffin engineered a conference road win, throwing for 234 yards and running for 137 more. I honestly just can't pick between these guys. You could make a solid case for any one of them.

Best defensive player: Brad Madison, DE, Missouri. Splitting time with Michael Sam in place of injured end Aldon Smith, Madison sacked Jerrod Johnson three times to help Missouri beat the Aggies 30-9. Honorable mention: Orie Lemon, LB, Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTexas Longhorns players celebrate
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireTexas surprised Nebraska in the Longhorns' upset victory over the Cornhuskers.
Best team performance: Texas. Shock the world is probably too strong, but the Longhorns mildly disturbed the majority of the population by knocking off the then-No. 4 Huskers in Lincoln, ruining one of the most anticipated games in Nebraska history.

Best offensive freshman: Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State. Randle carried the ball 17 times for 95 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys 34-17 win over Texas Tech, providing a great second option to Kendall Hunter. Honorable mention: Baylor WR Tevin Reese and Oklahoma RB Roy Finch.

Best defensive freshman: Tre' Porter, CB, Texas Tech. Porter takes home the award for a second consecutive week, with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

Best play: Eric Hagg, S, Nebraska. Yeah, it was in a losing effort, but Hagg's school-record, 95-yard touchdown return of Justin Tucker's pooch punt injected some unexpected late drama into a Nebraska-Texas game that needed it. He made plenty of guys miss, shook off a few tackles, and put Nebraska within a recovered onside kick of having a chance to send its game against Texas into overtime.

Worst play: Tie, Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead, WRs Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie. All three dropped touchdown passes that weren't necessarily easy grabs, but trailing to Texas in a game of that magnitude, those are plays that have to be made. None of them did, and the team added a handful of other drops that added up to a frustrating day for the Huskers.

Worst call: Dan Hawkins, Colorado. If someone can explain to me the rationale behind going for two after first touchdown of the game late in the first quarter, I'm all ears. Going for it again (and failing again) only makes it worse.

"That is just the same thing that we did against Georgia. You get it and you`re feeling good," Dan Hawkins told reporters after the game. "And as it ended up it was kind of negligible anyway, so then we had to go for two in a sense the second time."

Maybe that's over my head, but the only teams in America that do that are dominant high school teams. Colorado would be a dominant high school team, no doubt. But this is the Big 12. Take the points and the Buffs Hail Mary to tie the game becomes a field goal to win it. That's not hindsight. That's common sense.

Worst quarter: Kansas' second quarter. Kansas let Carson Coffman run in a pair of touchdowns, throw for another and gave up a rushing touchdown to get outscored 28-0 in the quarter. The Jayhawks were in it after 15 minutes, down just 3-0. After the second quarter, it was officially ugly.

Worst team performance: Kansas. I said enough on Thursday night, but still. Almost two weeks to prepare. Rivalry game at home. 52-point loss. Can't do that.

Best game: Texas 20, Nebraska 13. Baylor's win over Colorado had the drama and late heroics, but Texas' masterful job covering Taylor Martinez provided a shock of its own: Martinez getting benched in favor of Zac Lee. Lee played well and led a lengthy drive that nearly ended in seven points. The shock of the Nebraska crowd, as well as that of everyone watching, provided somewhat of a surreal scene.

Benching Martinez a questionable move

October, 16, 2010
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Nebraska coach Bo Pelini called on Zac Lee late in the third quarter, benching Taylor Martinez, who has struggled running 13 times for 21 yards and completing 4-of-12 passes for 37 yards.

The Huskers trail, 20-3.

Staring at a 17-point deficit, Nebraska needs a big play. On offense, there might be no better player in America (more 20-plus yard runs than both LaMichael James and Denard Robinson) to provide that than Martinez.

The best guess here is that Pelini wants more consistency in the passing game, including looks for receiver Niles Paul, who got a deep ball from Lee on his first drive. In that case, the senior is the best option.

Against a Texas secondary full of experienced, NFL-caliber talent, that's not a great idea, either.

Granted, the best option is just to not fall behind 17 points to a defense like Texas', but Nebraska has already expended that luxury. Whether it comes from Martinez, Lee, Paul or the defense, Nebraska has to make something happen fast, or it will suffer yet another painful loss to the Longhorns.

Evaluating Nebraska's QBs

September, 4, 2010
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Taylor Martinez's first run of the game -- a 46-yard touchdown -- was his longest.

But his legs got more work -- running for 126 yards on seven carries -- as he helped Nebraska cruise to an easy 49-10 win over Western Kentucky.

As expected, all three quarterbacks played. And, as expected, all three had success against the Hilltoppers, who have now lost 21 consecutive game. Despite the success of the other quarterbacks, it would be a surprise if Martinez is not the starter for next week's game against Idaho.

Here's how the three compared in Game 1:

Taylor Martinez
  • Passing: 9-15, 136 yards
  • Rushing: 7 carries, 126 yards, 3 TD
Cody Green
  • Passing: 5-6, 66 yards, TD
  • Rushing: 3 carries, 16 yards
Zac Lee
  • Passing: 3-4, 47 yards
  • Rushing: 3 carries, 20 yards

We learned a little bit today -- but not much beyond "Taylor Martinez is really, really fast," which we already kind of knew from the spring game. Martinez is probably the starter by default unless he struggles, but we won't know for sure who's driving the bus for the Huskers until their first big test: Sept. 18, when they travel to Seattle to face Washington.

Nebraska names starting QB

September, 4, 2010
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So, maybe Bo Pelini won't wait until the first play to announce his starting quarterback.

On his pregame radio show, Pelini announced redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez will start at quarterback for the Huskers.

My guess is all three quarterbacks will play in what should be a blowout win over Western Kentucky, but Martinez can keep Cody Green and Zac Lee solidly behind him if he impresses in his debut.

Anyone think Martinez comes off the field if he puts points on the board on his first three drives? Me neither.

Martinez showed off his game-breaking speed in the spring game six months ago. Now, he'll finally get to do it for real.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
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The season's opening weekend is always a little overwhelming. After all the scrimmages, practices and NFL preseason games, it's hard to believe meaningful football will be arriving as early as tonight.

Here's what to keep an eye on in Week 1 across the Big 12:

1. The triple option has new meaning in Lincoln. Who knows who will take the first snap for the Huskers? Well, Bo Pelini seems to have a pretty good idea, for one. The safe bet is Zac Lee, but fan momentum and preseason murmurs lean toward redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez over Cody Green. It's a pressing matter, but the Huskers Week 1 starter might not be the same guy as its starter for the conference opener, a tough Thurday night road game against Kansas State on Oct. 7.

2. Missouri moves on without a captain. In the most impactful story of the week across the conference, Missouri euphemized the exit of starting running back and captain Derrick Washington, calling it a "permanent suspension." Regardless, he's gone and the spotlight will be on co-starters Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore against Illinois on Saturday.

3. Potts calling shots for the black. Taylor Potts beat out Steven Sheffield to win the starting job in Tommy Tuberville's first season at Texas Tech. A big opener in a losable game against SMU will help him regain some of the fan support he lost last season.

4. He's back. Robert Griffin, that is. Baylor's quarterback is itching to get back on the field after missing nine games last season with a torn ACL, and he'll finally get his chance on Saturday, albeit in an untelevised game against Sam Houston State.

5. The Air Raid heads east. The Cowboys open up against Pac-10 doormat Washington State, and will debut their version of the Air Raid implemented by new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. First-year starter Brandon Weeden will run the show.

6. The return of the Wrecking Crew? Stephen F. Austin will be a poor gauge for growth, but holding the Lumberjacks to single digit points will be a good sign for Texas A&M. The Aggies will debut Tim DeRuyter's oft-blogged 3-4 from Air Force on Saturday.

7. Pressure on for the Cyclones. Northern Illinois isn't the sexiest opening opponent, but there isn't a team in the Big 12 who needs a win more in Week 1 than Iowa State. Drop their Thursday debut, and a 1-3 nonconference record is in play with Utah and Iowa looming. Win, and a 3-1 start becomes a possibility.

8. Rice is no Alabama. Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert's test this weekend will be just a bit different than his first, an unplanned first-quarter entrance into the national title game against one of college football's best defenses. Hopes are high and signs out of Austin have been nothing but positive since the spring. Gilbert's legend could continue on Saturday.

9. A better start for Snyder? Kansas State's began last season with a tight win over UMass before suffering losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and another this year's Week 1 opponent, UCLA. It still managed to win six games and played for a North title in their 2009 finale. Winning six games -- and beyond -- will be easier if the Wildcats can get on track for a 4-0 nonconference record with a win over the Bruins in Manhattan.

10. An improved Colorado? Colorado needed to improve on both sides of the ball after a disappointing 3-9 season in Dan Hawkins' fourth season. Anything near that will likely bring the Buffaloes a new coach in 2011. Their attempt for the first winning season under Hawkins will begin with a rivalry game at Invesco Field in Denver, where Colorado State knocked off its rivals a year ago.

Scouts, Inc. has released its list of the top 150 NFL prospects Insider for the 2011 draft, and it's got plenty of Big 12 talent from top to bottom. You'll need an Insider account to see the whole list, but here's a bit of how it relates to the Big 12. Three Big 12 teams were among the nation's top 10 in possessing the most players on the list. Here's where they stood: T-3. Nebraska. (6) T-3. Oklahoma (6) T-10. Texas (4) North Carolina and Ohio State topped the list, with seven total prospects in the top 150. But let's take a closer look. Here's a few notes/thoughts.

  • [+] EnlargePrince Amukamara
    AP Photo/Nati HarnikPrince Amukamara (21) is the Big 12's top NFL prospect -- and No. 3 overall -- according to Scouts, Inc.
    The Big 12's top overall prospect? Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who is the No. 1 cornerback. That echoes what NFL scouts have been saying for the past few months, and it'll be interesting to see the battle between him and Aaron Williams (No. 6 cornerback) as the season moves on. They'll both see plenty of good offenses.
  • For all the talk about Nebraska's offensive struggles, they placed three players in the top 150, including Mike McNeill, who is ranked as the No. 6 tight end, despite moving to receiver in the spring. Running back Roy Helu Jr. and receiver Niles Paul both rank in the top 150, at No. 12 for their respective positions. That should prove just how important Nebraska's quarterback situation is this year. Clearly, they've got some individual talent at the skill positions and a great offensive line, but without good quarterback play, they might not be much better than they were in 2009. If Zac Lee pulls a Joe Ganz and has a nice senior year, the Huskers are almost assured a finish in the top half of the Big 12 in scoring offense.
  • Everyone wants to talk about Texas' defense, the list is a reflection of why. The Longhorns have three cornerbacks (Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown) in the top 150 and Williams and Brown are in the top 10 in their position. Sam Acho rounds out Texas' group as the No. 133 best overall prospect and No. 14 defensive end. That ranks as the best DE in the Big 12.
  • Surprising that Oklahoma's Quinton Carter is rated as the No. 2 safety and a better projected pro than teammates Jeremy Beal, Ryan Broyles, Adrian Taylor and DeMarco Murray, all in the top 10 at their positions. No other safeties in the Big 12 rank in the top 10, but the next best is Nebraska's Eric Hagg.
  • You can see how every prospect at your school is rated by Scouts, Inc. if you have Insider, but here's how the rest of the Big 12 ranked in players who made the top 150. If your school doesn't have a player in the top 150, here's a list of the top prospects for each team in the Big 12 from Mel Kiper.
4. Colorado - 2 (Nate Solder, No. 8; Jimmy Smith, No. 74) 5. Texas A&M - 1 (Von Miller, No. 20) 5. Baylor - 1 (Phil Taylor, No. 94) 6. Missouri - 1 (Blaine Gabbert, No. 39) 6. Kansas State - 1 (Daniel Thomas, No. 47) 7. Oklahoma State - 1 (Kendall Hunter, No. 147) 8. Iowa State - none 8. Kansas - none 8. Texas Tech - none
If you haven't noticed just yet, Friday's college football content at ESPN.com is all about the quarterbacks. We've ranked the conference's top 5 individual quarterbacks, but now it's time to take a broader look at who's in good shape behind center and who's in trouble across the conference.

The discrepancy between the South's QBs and the North's is somewhat jarring, especially when you see it on paper (bandwidth?) like this. Only one North team made the top six, and the bottom five teams are all from the North.

Five schools (four in the North) still have their starters up in the air, and that makes this a little tricky, but here's how I'd rank them:

[+] EnlargeJerrod Johnson
Brett Davis/US PresswireJerrod Johnson is not only the best quarterback in the conference, he's also the best player.
1. Texas A&M: The Aggies boast the preseason player of the year at quarterback and the man at the top of our Big 12 player list from earlier this summer, Jerrod Johnson. I also got a few e-mail requests from some Aggies fans to stress -- once again -- that it's juh-RAHD, not Jared from Subway. Word has apparently not reached every corner of Big 12 country just yet. It might if the Aggies can win more than six games like they did in 2009. But Johnson broke out in a big way last season, throwing for 3,579 yards, 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions while also running for 506 yards and eight touchdowns.

2. Baylor: Trust in Robert Griffin's knee lands the Bears here, significantly higher than they're used to considering the strong quarterback tradition across the Big 12 for the past decade. But Griffin will still have to regain his status as the conference's most electrifying player on a reconstructed knee after missing the final nine games of the previous season with a torn ACL. Baylor also has a nice situation at backup quarterback because of the injury with sophomore Nick Florence, who threw for 427 yards in Baylor's lone conference win -- at Missouri -- last season.

3. Missouri: Blaine Gabbert has a claim as the conference's best quarterback, and he'll try to snatch it as a junior after playing much of his sophomore season with a bum ankle, courtesy of a soggy Ndamukong Suh sack. Despite being hobbled for most of conference play, he still racked up 3,593 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. If he stays healthy, he might get a chance to showcase his underrated wheels, too. Freshman James Franklin is impressing in camp and hanging on to his job as Gabbert's backup over Jimmy Costello, Ashton Glaser and little brother Tyler Gabbert.

4. Oklahoma: Landry Jones should benefit from his first full spring and preseason camp taking the first-team reps, but he'll need a second reliable target opposite Ryan Broyles to emerge if he wants to improve on his 26 touchdowns and 3,198 yards as a redshirt freshman. Jones also needs to limit his turnovers after throwing a league-high 14 interceptions in 2009, but it's worth noting that seven of those came away from Owen Field against top-tier defenses in Texas and Nebraska. He didn't play a good defense in Norman, but he threw 18 touchdowns to just four interceptions and helped the Sooners stretch their home streak to 30 games. Backup Drew Allen is untested and inexperienced, but has potential and wouldn't inspire panic if Jones finds injury in 2010.

5. Texas Tech: No team has two quarterbacks with as much skill and experience as Texas Tech, but unlike receivers or running backs, the Red Raiders can't play both of them. Regardless of who wins the competition in Lubbock, Texas Tech will be in great shape with Taylor Potts or Steven Sheffield. You heard a few hundred words on the details of this race earlier this morning.

6. Texas: This may look silly in November, but it's tough to put Garrett Gilbert on top of anyone else on this list who has already proven themselves. Clearly, the potential is there, and he's inspired a lot of confidence from his coach and team, but making good on that potential will mean finding a solid target to replace the only player he's ever thrown a real touchdown to: Jordan Shipley. If Gilbert goes down, Texas would have to rely on a pair of true freshmen: Connor Wood or Case McCoy, Colt's little brother.

7. Oklahoma State: This won't be the last time you hear about the Cowboys 26-year-old former minor leaguer, Brandon Weeden. Just make good decisions, make easy throws to open receivers who make plays with the ball and he should put up big numbers in new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's version of the Air Raid. Oklahoma State got to see Houston's offense in person last season and wanted it for themselves. Now they've got the man who coordinated the best offense in college football a year ago and an unquestioned, mature starter to run it. If he's injured, the Cowboys would have to rely on one of two freshmen, Clint Chelf or most likely Johnny Deaton, to run the offense.

8. Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads says no player on his team has improved from Year 1 to Year 2 more than Austen Arnaud, but he'll need to prove it on the field to move up this list. He's probably likely to improve on his 2,015 yards passing to go with 15 touchdowns, but he's right behind Jones in the interception column, with 13. That number has to shrink for the Cyclones to get back to a bowl game. Talented sophomore Jerome "JT" Tiller led the Cyclones to their marquee win over Nebraska and should take the reins next year. The future looks bright in Ames.

9. Colorado: Tyler Hansen not emerging from preseason camp as the starter would be shocking, and he'll get a lot more help this year with a beefed-up receiving corps that's among the conference's most underrated. Newcomers Paul Richardson, Travon Patterson and preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Toney Clemons will join the reliable Scotty McKnight. If Hansen goes down, at least they'll have an experienced vet behind him in Cody Hawkins. Freshman Nick Hirschman looked good in the spring and provides some hope for the position in the future.

10. Nebraska: A two-quarterback system is never ideal, but it might work for the Huskers. Zac Lee is the best passer of the group competing for the starting job, but using the athletic Taylor Martinez or Cody Green in spot duty, similar to last year, could very well happen. But Bo Pelini would much prefer if one player -- most likely Lee, in my opinion -- would emerge and improve on his play from 2009, when he threw for 2,143 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

11. Kansas: Kale Pick is untested, and so are Jordan Webb and junior college transfer Quinn Mecham. Pick, however, seems like the favorite to win the job. The Jayhawks need a spark on offense, and Pick could provide it. He'll have some nice receivers to throw to in sophomore Bradley McDougald, senior Johnathan Wilson and tight end Tim Biere. Former cornerback Daymond Patterson looks ready for a good year in the slot.

12. Kansas State: Carson Coffman needs to improve from his play last year that cost him his job early last season. Beating out Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamur won't be easy -- and the competition between the three is still pretty tight -- but Coffman's experience gives him a slight edge. Whoever wins the race will lean on the league's leading rusher, Daniel Thomas, and a revamped receiving corps with transfers Brodrick Smith from Minnesota and Chris Harper from Oregon. The Wildcats hope the duo will add the spark that was missing from the team's offense in 2009.

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