Nebraska Cornhuskers: Taylor Martinez

The brother of former Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is leaving the Huskers after one year.

Drake Martinez, a freshman safety who likely would have contributed in 2014 as a backup, plans to transfer this offseason, his father, Casey Martinez, confirmed on Saturday.

The elder Martinez said by text message that his son “lost quite a bit of weight and strength” recently after battling health issues that caused him to miss part of spring practice.

Drake Martinez has recovered, according to Casey Martinez, though “he was pretty adamant about getting a fresh start in a new school."

“Not much a parent can do at that point,” Casey Martinez wrote.

Drake Martinez, listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds by Nebraska, starred at Laguna Beach (Calif.) High School, earning MVP honors of the Orange Coast League as a senior in 2012.

He possessed speed similar to his brother, Taylor, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback from 2010 to 2013.

A foot injury limited Taylor Martinez to five starts in his senior year. Lingering problems caused him to fail a physical last month with the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed Martinez to a free-agent contract after the NFL draft.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 15, 2014
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The spring meeting of Big Ten athletic directors is over. Back to the offseason lists and polls.
  • Wrapping up from Rosemont, the “cost of attendance” discussion remains alive.
  • Good take by Andrew Logue on the complexities of Jim Delany.
  • More Big Ten athletic directors weigh in on the eastward movement of the league. Just don't expect the football championship game to go the way of the basketball tourney.
  • Iowa AD Gary Barta comments on the status of the Hawkeyes’ series with Iowa State.
  • Illinois wants to make it clear: No alcohol sales at Memorial Stadium. But is Michigan heading in a different direction? Other athletic directors discuss the issue.
  • Michigan State and Notre Dame would like to keep playing, but the format of the series will change.
  • More details from the incident that that led to the arrest of former Minnesota and Rutgers QB Philip Nelson.
  • Former Chicago prep star running back Ty Isaac is leaving USC. Next stop, the Big Ten?
  • Solid results for Big Ten football programs in the NCAA’s new report for 2012-13 on academic progress rates, including a big jump for new member Maryland.
  • Rare insight into the work of Mark Pantoni, the Ohio State director of player personnel, a job with a wide range of responsibilities.
  • Tom Shatel remembers the football career of a former two-sport Nebraska star who continues to bring a grinder mentality to his alma mater.
  • Ex-Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez fails a physical with the Eagles. Some insight into the alleged bike theft by Nebraska linebacker Josh Banderas.
  • A Rutgers offensive line recruit brings plenty of intensity.
  • Eugene Lewis looks like a worthy replacement for Allen Robinson at Penn State. James Franklin has watched “Moneyball” at least seven times. A new Nittany Lions logo arrives as part of a $10 million scoreboard replacement project.
  • It’s a tradition at Michigan for its quarterback pledges join in the recruiting battle.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 13, 2014
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Big Ten athletic directors' meetings are under way at league headquarters. Check back for updates throughout the week.

Link time ...
Tired of NFL draft rewind posts? Well, it's nearly over. And besides, not much else is happening in mid-May.

We're taking a closer look, roundtable-style, at the Big Ten's draft: how certain teams did, the risers, the falls and more. Noted draft hater Brian Bennett is somewhere in Italy, so Big Ten reporters Mitch Sherman, Josh Moyer and Austin Ward are kind enough to join me in breaking down the draft.

The draft roundtable is on the clock ...

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Elsa/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier ended a three-year drought without a Buckeye in the first round.
Let's start off with individual teams you cover -- Nebraska (Sherman), Penn State (Moyer) and Ohio State (Ward), for those who need a refresher. What stood out to you most about each team's draft showing?

Moyer: Penn State had just three players drafted, so what really stood out to me was how divided the opinion was on Allen Robinson, who was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round. At times, he was a projected first-rounder. At other times, he wasn't projected to go until Day 3. Some lauded the Jags' pick; others labeled it a reach. Let me add my two cents: He's going to succeed in the NFL. I spoke with two former PSU and NFL wideouts, O.J. McDuffie and Kenny Jackson, and they both said last season that A-Rob boasts more physical skills than they ever did. That has to count for something.

Sherman: NFL organizations continue to rate Nebraska defensive backs highly. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second round to the Saints) was the 11th draftee from the secondary in the past 10 years. Since 2003, though, just two Nebraska offensive players, including new Redskins guard Spencer Long, have landed in the top three rounds. Receiver Quincy Enunwa, despite technical shortcomings, offers value to the Jets as a sixth-round pick. As expected, all others, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, had to take the free-agency route.

Ward: Ohio State has long been a pipeline for the next level, but it had actually been three years since it had produced any first-round picks until Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby on Thursday night. The Buckeyes followed that up with four more players being selected, which suggests the talent level is starting to get back to the level the program is accustomed to after going through a bit of a down stretch. It seems a bit backward that two guys from a beleaguered defense were the top picks while the record-setting offense wasn't represented until Carlos Hyde and Jack Mewhort were grabbed in the second round, but either way the Buckeyes appear to be back as a favored target for NFL organizations.

Turning our attention to the entire Big Ten, which player surprised you by how high he was drafted, and which player surprised you with how far he fell in the draft?

Rittenberg: I was a little surprised to see Michael Schofield go before the end of Day 2. We knew Michigan’s poor offensive line play wouldn’t impact Taylor Lewan, but I thought it might make teams hesitant about selecting Schofield. He’s a good player who enters a great situation in Denver. Another Big Ten offensive lineman on a struggling unit, Purdue’s Kevin Pamphile, surprised me with how early he went. I didn't see Darqueze Dennard, the nation’s most decorated cornerback on arguably the nation’s best defense last season, dropping to No. 24 overall. Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Ohio State’s Hyde went later than I thought they would.

Sherman: Long's rise to the third round surprised me after he missed the final six games of his senior season with a knee injury that kept him out of the combine and limited him at Nebraska's pro day. I pegged the former walk-on as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. And I thought Lewan might slip past the first 15 picks because of character questions from a pair of off-field incidents at Michigan. Conversely, I thought Borland’s exemplary résumé at Wisconsin might propel him into the top 50 picks. At No. 77 to the 49ers he's a steal.

Ward: There really weren't guys who made shocking jumps up the board in my mind, though Ohio State safety Christian Bryant sneaking into the seventh round was a feel-good story after he missed the majority of his senior season with a fractured ankle. The Big Ten also had a handful of first-round caliber players slide to the second day, so Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Indiana's Cody Latimer, Hyde or Penn State's Robinson all qualified as minor surprises -- and great values for their new teams.

Moyer: How many people thought Dezmen Southward would be the first Badger drafted? I sure didn't. The Atlanta Falcons scooped him up early in the third round, and they probably could've snagged him two rounds later. As far as guys who fell, I expected both Latimer and Dennard to go sooner. They didn't free-fall, but you kept hearing before the draft how those two improved their stock -- and then Latimer nearly fell to the third round, anyway.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis went in the fifth round to the Green Bay Packers.
Which Big Ten players will be the biggest sleepers/best values in the draft?

Ward: General managers and coaches might view running backs as easily replaceable in this new era in the NFL, but the league’s most recent champion offered another reminder of how important it is to have a productive rushing attack and an elite tailback. Hyde hasn’t proven anything at the next level yet, so comparing him with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is a bit premature. But Hyde has all the physical tools to be a star, from his well-built frame to his often overlooked speed, and he's going to a team in San Francisco that has a system that will put him in position to thrive.

Rittenberg: Southward’s high selection surprised me, too, but the other four Wisconsin players -- Borland, Jared Abbrederis, running back James White and nose tackle Beau Allen -- all are good value pickups. White is an extremely versatile player who might never be a featured back but can block, catch passes and do whatever his coaches need. Allen gained great experience as a nose tackle last fall. I think the New York Jets get a sixth-round steal in Enunwa, whose blocking skills should help him get on the field. Big Ten coaches loved DaQuan Jones, who looks like a nice value pickup for Tennessee in the fourth round.

Sherman: I'll place Robinson (second round to Jacksonville) and Abbrederis (fifth to Green Bay) together in a category of undervalued Big Ten receivers. Perhaps it illustrates a general stigma about offensive skill players from the conference; throw second-rounders Latimer and Hyde into the discussion, too. NFL decision-makers might not respect the competition these players face on a weekly basis and count it against them in evaluations. If so, that’s a big problem for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten had eight more players drafted this year than in 2013, but its champion, Michigan State, had only one selection. What does this say about the league and its trajectory?

Sherman: After 2012, the Big Ten presumably had nowhere to go but up in producing quality prospects. The influx of Urban Meyer-recruited talent will soon impact the Big Ten in the draft. Same goes for Brady Hoke, even if he’s not making gains in the standings. Penn State and Nebraska, too, are upgrading their talent, so the trajectory figures to continue upward. As for Michigan State, it was young on offense and clearly better than the sum of its parts on defense, a testament to Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi. The absence in the draft of Max Bullough and Denicos Allen caught me off guard.

Moyer: Having more picks shows the Big Ten is on the right track ... but it still has a long way to go. Yes, it improved on last year -- but it still finished behind the SEC (49), ACC (42) and Pac-12 (34) this year, in terms of players drafted. As far as Michigan State, I think their success serves as a reminder that the right coaching and the right schemes can still trump a roster full of NFL-caliber players. Penn State's success during the sanctions also helps to reinforce that.

Ward: It's another reminder of how well-coached the Spartans were a year ago, particularly in turning a defense that had just one player drafted into the nation’s best unit. Dantonio deserves another bow for the job he and his staff did a year ago, even if they didn’t have much to celebrate during the draft. The league does seem to be on the rise again in the minds of top athletes around the country with Meyer, Hoke and now James Franklin upping the ante on the recruiting trail. Those efforts should produce even better weekends than the one that just wrapped up.

Rittenberg: It says something when arguably the best Big Ten team in the past seven or eight years -- MSU had nine double-digit league wins plus the Rose Bowl triumph -- produces only one draft pick. Still, I think the arrow is pointed up after a horrendous 2013 draft. The Big Ten has struggled to produce elite prospects at both cornerback and wide receiver in recent years. This year, the league had three corners drafted in the first two rounds, and while I agree the Big Ten's wide receivers were undervalued, the league still produced five picks. The next step is obvious: generating better quarterback play as no Big Ten QBs were drafted this year.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 12, 2014
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Happy belated Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I got to spend the first part of Sunday with mine before flying home to see my wife on her first Mother's Day. Good times.

To the links ...
Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
The NFL draft begins Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.com. And for the first time since 2011, when cornerback Prince Amukamara was selected 19th by the New York Giants, a Nebraska player is under consideration to come off the board in the first 32 picks.

The second and third rounds begin Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with the final four rounds set for Saturday at noon. A year after placing two players in the draft -- their fewest since 1962 -- the Huskers again look on track for a low figure.

Here’s a cheat sheet for the top Nebraska prospects:

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Measurables: 6-2 5/8, 218

Going for him: Jean-Baptiste possesses the size coveted by NFL organizations. Physically, he’s a heavier Richard Sherman, and he posted numbers similar to Sherman at the NFL combine in February. Jean-Baptiste learned to play in the secondary quickly at Nebraska after his shift from wide receiver in 2011. He showed excellent durability throughout his career after he began at junior college out of high school in Miami. A solid week at the Senior Bowl proved his worth and launched him on a rise that leaves Jean-Baptiste with an outside shot to land late in the first round.

Going against him: Despite his age -- Jean-Baptiste turned 24 last month -- he’s still fairly raw as a cornerback in comparison to other top prospects. His 4.61-second 40-yard dash time rated as mediocre, and Jean-Baptiste plays a bit stiff in the lower body, according to some reports. He feasted on nonconference competition as a senior, intercepting a pass in each of four games. But as Big Ten teams scouted Nebraska (and avoided Jean-Baptiste), he did not record a pick in league play.

OG Spencer Long
Measurables: 6-4 5/8, 320

Going for him: Long has an impeccable résumé as a leader, rising from walk-on status to team captain and the cornerstone of Nebraska's offensive line in 2012 and 2013. After he suffered a right-knee injury in the sixth game of his senior season, the Huskers’ offensive production dropped markedly. He has good size, bulk and strength, huge hands and displayed excellent awareness on the field. Long is also a student of the game. He studied pre-medicine in Lincoln and was accepted to medical school.

Going against him: Long benefited from the draft’s later date, which allowed him to heal from knee surgery. Still, scouts were unable to see him run at the combine or at Nebraska’s pro day, so some questions remain about his recovery. Much like his situation out of high school, Long’s athleticism has not wowed scouts. But he massively exceeded expectations in college and looks to offer value in the mid to late rounds.

WR Quincy Enunwa
Measurables: 6-2, 225

Going for him: Enunwa is a physical specimen. His toughness and durability are top end, traits that helped him extensively as a blocker in Nebraska’s perimeter run game. He broke 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Nebraska’s pro day and measured above average in arm length and hand size. Enunwa enjoyed a breakout senior season with 51 catches for 753 yards and a school-record 12 touchdown receptions, including a 99-yarder against Georgia in the Gator Bowl. He also showed consistent ability to gain yards after the catch.

Going against him: There’s a lot here. Enunwa failed to impress many -- evidenced by his lack of All-Big Ten recognition -- because of deficiencies in route running and inconsistency with his hands. Largely unrefined as a receiver, he suffered a hand injury in practice before the East-West Shrine Game and injured a hamstring at the combine. Some organizations will steer clear, fearing he’s a project in adjusting to the NFL game, though Enunwa offers good intangibles and competitiveness as a late pick.

The others: Taylor Martinez presents the most intrigue among Nebraska’s likely free-agent signees. The four-year starting quarterback faces a position switch at the next level and a significant adjustment period, but he offers great speed and athletic ability. Cornerback Ciante Evans, another team leader at Nebraska, showed versatility in college, but a lack of size hurts him. Offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale also figure to get an opportunity in addition to defensive end Jason Ankrah.
Two weeks and one day from the start of spring practice at Nebraska, it’s time to identify the top spot in our countdown of players to watch during March and April workouts.

To review, we’ve examined a young running back, a pair of veteran defenders who could help solidify a pair of units and a newcomer on the defensive line.

Did you think we’d forget the most important position on the field? Atop the list, of course, is a quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTommy Armstrong Jr. could be pushed this spring by a few young signal-callers.
Sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Why to watch: Why not? Armstrong is the clear leader to earn the spot as Nebraska’s starting QB in 2014 after he started eight games in place of injured incumbent Taylor Martinez last season. There was plenty to like about Armstrong, notably his 7-1 record (with help from senior Ron Kellogg III) and poise in tight spots. Armstrong shined at Michigan in handing the Wolverines their first home loss under Brady Hoke and again in the Gator Bowl over Georgia.

What to watch: Nebraska likely won’t endanger its quarterbacks in the spring with risky play calls in scrimmages. The objective for Armstrong and top challenger Johnny Stanton, a redshirt freshman, is to demonstrate command of the offense. With his experience alone, Armstrong enters a step ahead, though don’t underestimate Stanton, who, like Armstrong, showed great leadership and a knack for winning as a high-school quarterback. Armstrong has earned the confidence of offensive leaders like Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell, an important factor. He's a natural in the option run game, but Armstrong can improve his decision-making as a passer.

What to expect: Look for a spirited competition between Armstrong and Stanton, with freshman Zack Darlington and walk-on sophomore Ryker Fyfe in the background. Armstrong, for a player of any age -- let alone a first-year contributor -- displayed impressive maturity last year in a highly scrutinized spot. All eyes followed his every move, and that will only intensify as he moves forward, starting next month. Armstrong is cold-blooded in his approach to the game; pressure does not bother him. If he progresses at an expected rate, Armstrong should finish the spring in even better shape than he starts it.

Countdown of Nebraska players to watch in spring practice:
No. 5: RB Terrell Newby
No. 4: S Charles Jackson
No. 3: DE Joe Keels
No. 2: LB Zaire Anderson

A new era for Nebraska quarterbacks

February, 11, 2014
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Our countdown continues with a look at Nebraska position groups with most room to improve. Next on the list is not so much a group of positions, but just one spot.

It’s important enough, though, to warrant inclusion on the list. At No. 4, the quarterbacks:

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsTommy Armstrong Jr. was inconsistent at times as a redshirt freshman, but his 7-1 record as a starter is nothing to scoff at.
Major losses: Taylor Martinez is gone after an anticlimactic senior season in which the returning three-year starter played in just four games. He started all four and lost two after suffering a plantar plate tear in his left foot during the Cornhuskers’ season opener against Wyoming. He leaves as the school record-holder in passing yardage, total yardage and starts at QB, among many other marks. Also departed is Ron Kellogg III, a former walk-on who rose to prominence and turned into a popular figure following his Hail Mary heroics in Nebraska’s November win over Northwestern. Kellogg came off the bench to lead the Huskers to victory at Penn State and earned his first career start on Senior Day as Nebraska fell to Iowa.

Top returnees: Tommy Armstrong Jr. played in nine games and started eight in his redshirt freshman season. His numbers, in retrospect, appear rookie-like: 68-of-131 passing for 966 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Still, as things unfolded, it felt as if Armstrong was working magic at times behind a makeshift offensive line. And his record -- despite help from Kellogg against Northwestern and Penn State -- sits at 7-1 as a starter, with wins at Michigan and over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Sophomore Ryker Fyfe and junior Tyson Broekemeier are also back; both are untested walk-ons.

Numbers to know: Armstrong connected on 5 of 7 throws for 59 yards on the game-winning drive as the Huskers snapped Michigan’s 19-game streak at Michigan Stadium with a 17-13 victory. That possession, likely more than any other, offered a glimpse at the kid’s poise. Nebraska fans also soon won’t forget the 99-yard strike to Quincy Enunwa on New Year’s Day.

Key question: How serious is Nebraska about giving redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton an opportunity to challenge Armstrong this spring?

The outlook: Armstrong enters the spring with a big advantage over Stanton, the former Elite 11 co-MVP and state-champion California prep star. But let’s not anoint the confident Texan as the starter in 2014 unless he earns it in March and April.

Armstrong ranked 13th nationally and second in the Big Ten by averaging 14.2 yards per completion. Of his pass attempts, 6.9 percent went for touchdowns -- behind only Braxton Miller in the conference. But Armstrong has plenty of room to improve. His QBR index of 54.4, which measures total quarterback performance, ranked 10th in the Big Ten.

He needs to cut down turnovers and increase his awareness in many situations as a passer. Improvement figures to come with time.

The competition with Stanton could turn intriguing. Stanton is listed as one inch taller and five pounds heavier. He brings a different set of skills but similarities with his attitude and likeability factor.

Freshmen Zack Darlington -- who is already in school -- and A.J. Bush will likely redshirt.

Countdown of Nebraska position groups with most room to improve:
The official invite list for the 2014 NFL combine is out, and 36 Big Ten players will try to impress pro scouts during workouts in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-25. In case you were wondering, that's fourth most among conferences behind the SEC (71 invitees), the ACC (48) and the Pac-12 (45).

Here are the Big Ten players who were invited, broken down by position:

Quarterbacks (0)

Running backs (2)

Wide receivers (8)

Tight ends (2)

Offensive linemen (8)

Defensive linemen (2)

Linebackers (7)

Defensive backs (7)

Specialists (0)

Breakdown
It's a strong list of players, but were there any snubs. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen and Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery jump out right away as missing, though Martinez has injury (and position) concerns, while Allen's small frame means he'll have to prove to scouts he can play at the next level.

I'm also a bit surprised not to see Indiana's Ted Bolser on this list; he's not a traditional blocking tight end, but his receiving skills would seem to translate to the NFL. Only nine kickers and punters were invited to Indy, yet it's a little disappointing that Purdue's Cody Webster and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien weren't included in the specialists.

Others who could have gotten an invite include Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Ohio State guard Andrew Norwell and Nebraska defensive back Ciante Evans.

That doesn't mean those guys won't play in the NFL. But their path to the league might be a little more winding.

Offseason to-do list: Nebraska

January, 23, 2014
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In the three weeks since Nebraska beat Georgia to extend its streak of nine-win seasons, the Huskers have replaced secondary coach Terry Joseph with Charlton Warren, who is already making himself known on the recruiting trail, and retained I-back Ameer Abdullah for his senior season. That's not a bad start to the offseason, but there’s more to do.

We continue our Big Ten offseason to-do lists with Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTurnovers have been a big issue for the Huskers under Bo Pelini.
1. Fix the turnovers. Enough is enough, we know. You don’t want to hear how the Huskers must address their issue with turnovers before taking the next step as a program. But it’s that important so we’ll keep talking about it. Nebraska extended an ugly trend under coach Bo Pelini last season, finishing 117th nationally in turnover margin at minus-11. In games after the nonconference season, the Huskers were dead last at minus-15; no other team was worse than minus-12. And those numbers include the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in which Nebraska finished plus-1. Without its two forced turnovers against the Bulldogs, the Huskers would not have won. It’s a good launching point into an offseason in which all of the Huskers -- offensive, defensive and special teams players -- ought to work regularly to make this area a strength next season.

2. Solidify the QB spot. Tommy Armstrong Jr. started eight games as a redshirt freshman. He was brilliant at times against Michigan and Georgia and played well against lesser competition like Illinois and South Dakota State. Inconsistency was a concern, but Armstrong figures to improve in the coming months. After all, he was thrown into the mix with little warning after Taylor Martinez's toe injury forced the senior out in September. Armstrong has plenty of time to prepare the right way for next season. And that’s the point: Give him time. Nebraska can have a nice quarterback competition in the spring with Armstrong and redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton, and even walk-on sophomore Ryker Fyfe and true freshman and early enrollee Zack Darlington. But by mid-April, offensive coordinator Tim Beck would be best served to identify a leader and define his role before August. If it’s Stanton, go with it. But likely, the Huskers' offense will go as far as Armstrong can take it next fall.

3. Plug holes in the secondary. Spring practice will be big for the defensive backs. Not only do they get to work out the kinks with Warren, their new position coach, but those 15 practices in March and April must go a long way toward identifying replacements for departed cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Start with Josh Mitchell, who collected two turnovers in the Gator Bowl. Mitchell will be a senior and part of the Huskers’ core of leadership. Safety Corey Cooper gives them another solid piece in the secondary. Harvey Jackson and LeRoy Alexander showed flashes last season, but the Huskers need more bodies. From a promising group of inexperienced players like Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose, D.J. Singleton and Boaz Joseph, Nebraska will search for key contributors this spring.

More to-do lists:
Taylor Martinez missed all but one Big Ten game in his senior season because of a plantar plate tear of the second metatarsal phalangeal joint in his left foot, according to his father and foot doctor.

Basically, it’s a torn ligament in his toe.

Three weeks after his record-shattering career unceremoniously ended on the sideline at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., as his understudy, Tommy Armstrong Jr., flipped a 99-yard touchdown pass in the Huskers’ Gator Bowl win over Georgia, we know what really happened with Martinez last fall.

So why now?

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesTaylor Martinez's injury -- which caused debate, conspiracy theories and even a rushed comeback -- was finally explained and allows him to move on.
Because Martinez’s father felt the time was right. Casey Martinez revealed the details of Taylor’s much talked-about foot injury on Wednesday to clear the air. And to move forward.

The mystery that surrounded Martinez’s injury, from the days that followed Nebraska lost to UCLA on Sept. 14 through late October after his painful comeback attempt against Minnesota, bordered on silly.

Coach Bo Pelini rarely offered detail on the injury. When he did, even that was vague. His answers only led to more questions.

According to Casey Martinez, Nebraska never exactly diagnosed it. Surely, though, Pelini knew more than he said. It's normal for coaches at all levels of football to conceal information about injuries. They do it to protect their players’ health and privacy and to maintain a competitive edge.

In the case of Martinez, the secrecy just led to rumors and conspiracy theories. Was he being shoved aside? How badly was he hurt? Did Nebraska mismanage his injury?

In the end, Nebraska did nothing wrong; neither did Martinez. His father said he didn’t question the Huskers' handling of the situation, even the decision to play the QB at Minnesota when he needed more rest.

The important thing is this: Martinez is moving on. He’s feeling better and training at home in California. He’s set to make a splash on March 6 at Nebraska’s pro day.

He’s open to playing positions other than quarterback in the NFL, which should enhance his value.

Martinez endured a sad finish to an illustrious collegiate career. At least there are no more questions about how it ended.

Season wrap: Nebraska

January, 15, 2014
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All paths lead back to the same place for Nebraska -- or so it seems after a sixth consecutive season under coach Bo Pelini with nine or 10 wins and four losses. This season, the Huskers finished 9-4, but the ride was anything but mundane as Nebraska lost starting QB Taylor Martinez for all but one game of Big Ten play.

It needed late-game heroics to escape at home against Northwestern and to win at Michigan and Penn State, an impressive double even in a down year for the traditional league powers. Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong emerged. The defense showed solid improvement. And a TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia sent the Huskers into the offseason with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Offensive MVP: I-back Ameer Abdullah. He stepped into a leadership role in Martinez's absence and at times carried the Huskers. Abdullah set an example with his work ethic. He rushed for 1,690 yards, the top total in the Big Ten this season and fourth on Nebraska’s single-season charts. And he’s coming back as a senior.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Randy Gregory. The sophomore newcomer arrived in Lincoln only a month before the season opener but needed little time to acclimate. He was a force from the start off the edge as a pass-rusher, accumulating 10˝ sacks. Gregory, despite playing underweight most of the season, posed huge problems for opponents because of his athleticism.

Best moment: A 49-yard Hail Mary pass from senior quarterback Ron Kellogg III to freshman Jordan Westerkamp provided the winning points in Nebraska’s 27-24 defeat of Northwestern on Nov. 2 at Memorial Stadium. Things appeared decided in the waning minutes before Kellogg, a former walk-on, engineered an 83-yard drive. Only its final play, though, will live in Husker history.

Worst moment: Just a week before the miraculous finish against Northwestern, the Huskers lost 34-23 at Minnesota, marking the Golden Gophers’ first win in 17 tries against Nebraska, dating to 1960. More disheartening than the outcome, though, was the method through which Minnesota won: The Gophers pounded the Huskers, piling up 271 rushing yards against the Blackshirts.

Nebraska helmet stickers

January, 2, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Top performers for Nebraska in its 24-19 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl victory over Georgia on Wednesday:

WR Quincy Enunwa: You can’t overlook the game’s MVP, though there are many strong candidates for the Huskers in their ninth victory of the season. Enunwa lunged to catch a four-yard touchdown from Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the second quarter to give Nebraska a lead it never relinquished. The play of the game -- and likely his career -- came in the third quarter, with the Huskers backed up just an inch or two from the goal line on third down. Enunwa got free and snagged Armstrong’s throw near midfield. The senior from Moreno Valley, Calif., sprinted home for a 99-yard touchdown. With his 12th TD catch of the year, Enunwa broke Johnny Rodgers’ 42-year-old record.

IB Ameer Abdullah: If Wednesday served as Abdullah’s final game at Nebraska, he went out in style -- just like Enunwa. The junior from Homewood, Ala., rushed 27 times for 122 yards and one score, reaching triple digits for the 11th time this season. Abdullah was the force that kept the Huskers afloat all season, and it was no different in Jacksonville. Even on drives that ended in punts, Abdullah often dug Nebraska out of poor field position. His season rushing total of 1,690 yards ranks fourth in Nebraska history, remarkable considering the slew of injuries suffered on the offensive line this season and the absence of QB Taylor Martinez for all but four games. Abdullah, if he turns down a jump to the NFL, could become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher ever at Nebraska next season.

CB Josh Mitchell: What a time for the junior from Corona, Calif., to turn into a ball-hawking specialist. Nebraska would not have beaten the Bulldogs without the two turnovers secured by Mitchell. He pounced on Reggie Davis’ second-quarter punt-return muff after four Nebraska possessions produced four punts. The first turnover set up a 14-yard scoring drive. Mitchell intercepted Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason in the third quarter, returning the football four yards to the Georgia 38 to set up a seven-play drive for the Huskers’ second touchdown. The positive turnover margin (plus-1) came after a putrid October and November in which Nebraska was minus-16 in the category, worst in the nation. It must correct the problem in 2014. Mitchell’s New Year’s Day performance serves as a good start.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska seeks to avenge its loss in the Capital One Bowl from a year ago against No. 22 Georgia on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2. Here’s a preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks are a good place to start. They won't be Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray, the record-setting senior duo who led these teams to a combined 76 points last year in Orlando; rather freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. is expected to start for the eighth time this season for Nebraska, and junior Hutson Mason gets the call for the Bulldogs for a second straight game. Also, keep an eye on Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, an SEC-caliber star with size, speed and strength. If he’s not the best player on the field, it might be Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

What to watch: Statistically, it’s difficult to identify too many spots at which one team might exploit the other. Remember, though, Georgia was challenged by a schedule that featured five teams arguably as good or better than Nebraska’s best foe. So the numbers matter little in gauging matchups. Here’s a hunch that the Huskers, who couldn’t stop Minnesota or, for one quarter, South Dakota State, will struggle to contain Gurley. He was in contention for the title of best SEC back before the midseason injury. And watch the matchup of UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett against Nebraska defensive backs Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It should be good.

Why to watch: The trio of Big Ten-SEC clashes on New Year’s Day is always entertaining -- at least, it is for fans of the SEC teams. Seriously, the Big Ten is 0-2 in bowls (0-4 if you count 2014 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland), and the SEC is 3-0. Perhaps this game presents the Big Ten with its best chance to win on Wednesday. If that doesn’t get you, tune in to see if Nebraska's Bo Pelini can join the likes of Mack Brown, Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Barry Switzer as the eighth BCS-conference coach in history to win nine games in each of his first six years at a school.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 24. A big day for Gurley and a typical turnover or two will spell doom for the Huskers. Look for Ameer Abdullah to keep the Huskers close for a while, but like last year, the Bulldogs will make plays when necessary late.

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