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As dominoes fell, NU may have upper hand (or arm)
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As dominoes fell, NU may have upper hand (or arm)

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LINCOLN — No one domino delivered quarterback Casey Thompson to Nebraska late. But if Rivals analyst Mike Farrell had to pick a triggering event, it’d be the day Texas coach Steve Sarkisian decided to grab Quinn Ewers, the five-star quarterback who abruptly enrolled at Ohio State last August, spun his wheels there for four months, abruptly left, and joined UT Dec. 12.

Thompson left less than a week later.

Farrell is a little surprised Hudson Card, the QB who competed with Thompson last season, hasn’t done the same.

“With Ewers, you know he’s got NIL deals in place, you know he’s been guaranteed a starting job, so there’s no point going back because of the deals that are in place now,” Farrell said. “Before it was, ‘OK, this kid’s coming in to take my job, I can compete.’ Now it’s almost like, if they don’t play Ewers, Sarkisian’s in trouble. It’s a different landscape with NIL and the transfer portal.”

It’s a different landscape for Farrell, too — and for all of us who cover college football.

There are now multiple ways for teams to acquire talent. There’s high school recruiting — consider that the draft. There’s junior college recruiting, which increasingly may become a supply of preferred walk-on players. And there’s the transfer portal — free agency — where Nebraska has already added eight players this cycle. As NU sheds scholarship players to the NFL draft or the portal, it gets room for more scholarship players.

The portal churns all day and night, and Twitter — where @RivalsPortal is an essential follow — becomes an all-day ticker of creative edits and hashtags.

“You take an hour away from your computer and seven commitments could occur,” Farrell said. “It’s become like high school recruiting — 1,100 entries in the portal since Aug. 1 — and it’s created a need for additional staffing in everybody in college — staff members dedicated directly to the portal itself.”

In September, I strongly advocated Nebraska using the portal as a recruiting weapon. In a few months, the Huskers have landed a kicker, punter, two wideouts — Farrell loves the potential of Trey Palmer — a safety, two linemen and, of course, Thompson, who joined Texas the same year Adrian Martinez joined Nebraska.

Martinez, now at Kansas State, started for four years at NU. We know what he can do.

Thompson, with one year starting at Texas, is more of a mystery.

Did Nebraska get an upgrade?

“Yeah, I think they did,” Farrell said. “Adrian Martinez was serviceable at times, but he’d run his course. It wasn’t going to get better. He came out very, very good as a freshman, and I think he wasn’t thinking that much, I think he was just using his athleticism and natural instincts. And then I think he got bogged down, and when you lose confidence as a quarterback, forget it.

“I like Casey Thompson. They’re very similar — they can extend plays and they’re both mobile quarterbacks. They both have accuracy issues and they both can struggle at times when they’re harassed. But they both have adequate arms — and arm talent — to be very, very good. It’s really going to come down to between the ears, and I don’t really know how to evaluate that now, still, as a scout. But I think he’s an upgrade because Martinez has shown what he can do, and we haven’t seen yet what Casey can do.”

Not every team improved its quarterback situation.

“Auburn lost Bo Nix and they got Zach Calzada, and I think that’s a downgrade,” Farrell said of the Texas A&M quarterback now playing for the Tigers after Nix left for Oregon. “But it also wasn’t their choice.”

I sense Nebraska had a choice with Martinez.

Coach Scott Frost, heading into a make-or-break fifth year with a new offensive coordinator, likely settled on a fresh start that’ll do both parties well.

Maybe Martinez is the Rich Gannon of college football at K-State, blooming in a new place.

Maybe Thompson is Joe — OK, not that name. Maybe he’s to Nebraska what Peyton Ramsey was to Northwestern in 2020. Or what Cam Rising, once Thompson’s teammate, became at Utah. It’d be nice if the touchdown passes went up — Martinez averaged 1.2 of those per game — and the turnovers went down. It’d be nice if new OC Mark Whipple is stubborn enough to protect his quarterback from an onslaught of carries that by season’s end always left Martinez banged up. It’d be nice if the pieces around Thompson were better — Nebraska’s working on that, particularly at receiver.

But, for now, a profile is emerging.

Thompson has the smarts and maturity to do this, and he’s pretty unflappable as former UT/NU coordinator Tim Beck told The World-Herald. That stat line against Oklahoma — 20 for 34 for 388 yards and five touchdowns — is a big-ticket performance that’s hard to ignore, too.

Nebraska’s new QB may not do as well as Ewers at Texas, but Thompson is liable to make good NIL money, too, with the Huskers.

“He has the talent to be an impact guy,” Farrell said. “He’s a talented kid. You didn’t get a slouch. He can play.”

More Husker-related thoughts headed into the week:

Husker staffing: A new running backs coach should be announced early this week along with the expected hire of Bill Busch as a special teams coordinator and Mike Dawson sliding down to coach the entire defensive front. The key candidates for running backs coach includes Florida’s Greg Knox, TCU’s Bryan Applewhite, the in-house Ron Brown option and potentially an NFL name or two that just popped open as of Sunday night, when 18 league teams completed their seasons and a few should fire their coaches by Monday.

Two that would be interesting: the Minnesota Vikings’ Kennedy Polamalu, a longtime NFL assistant who spent seven years at Southern California and four at UCLA; and especially the Chicago Bears’ Michael Pitre, a former UCLA fullback who worked three years at Oregon State and turned Jermar Jefferson into one of the Pac-12’s best running backs.

Recruiting: NU can technically start hosting visitors this week because the NCAA rules allow teams to do so within seven days of the school semester beginning. Nebraska should have a robust recruiting weekend with 2022 and (perhaps) 2023 prospects and maybe a few transfer portal types like quarterback Chubba Purdy. Why would Purdy — who has a single “immediate eligibility” transfer — pick a school where he likely wouldn’t start in 2022 and the coach is on the hot seat?

Watch that situation now that Oklahoma has offered a scholarship.

Women’s hoops: If Nebraska women’s basketball is 2-4 in Big Ten play come next Monday, don’t panic.

That means the Huskers will have lost road games at No. 6 Indiana and No. 22 Iowa, which beat NU 95-86 Sunday. The five games after those two will be against some of the league’s weaker teams.

Nebraska has shot 26.4% from 3-point range in Big Ten games and averaged 17 fouls per game. One number has to go way up — into the 30s — and one has to go down.

The Huskers won’t lose at IU or Iowa easily. They play hard — and angry when provoked.

Men’s hoops: As for the Husker men, here are effective field goal percentages for NU’s last four Big Ten opponents — Michigan: 61.2; Ohio State 60.3; Michigan State: 58.9; Rutgers: 66.7.

That’s regular field goal percentage plus a small multiplier for 3-point shooting. Coach Fred Hoiberg likes the stat as a gauge of how well his offense and defense are playing.

The defense isn’t cutting it in league play. Rutgers’ 66.7% is the second-highest opponent eFG% of the Hoiberg era.

Beating Rutgers was a tough ask from a schedule perspective. NU hasn’t won the second of a multigame true road stretch since Feb. 6, 2018, when the Huskers won at Minnesota one week after winning at Wisconsin.

College football championship: Georgia pretty clearly has a mental block when it plays Alabama. Crucially, the Crimson Tide have the better quarterback, too, in Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.

In the least interesting national title game I can recall, Alabama prevails 21-17 and Indianapolis — already maligned online for its cold weather and high hotel prices — never hosts one of these again.

Fun fact: If Young wins Monday night, he’d become the seventh quarterback in 30 years to win an Associated Press national title and Heisman in the same year, joining Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1993, Florida’s Danny Wuerrfel in 1996, Southern California’s Matt Leinart in 2004, Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010, Florida State’s Jameis Winston in 2013 and LSU’s Joe Burrow in 2019.

Prior to Ward, you had to go back to 1947 — Notre Dame’s Johnny Lujack — to find the last Heisman QB/Associated Press national title combo.

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