When Curt Dukes arrived on campus, he was already the toast of the town. He hadn't taken a snap, yet was the most accomplished QB on the field. He hadn't been in a game, yet was easily the most savvy of all the candidates for the signal-calling position. Heck, he had been hampered by injuries, concussions or what have you throughout much of his high school career, yet he was without a doubt the guy that was going to take NU to the promise land.
Well, it's not because of what he has done, but because of what he didn't do last year. More to the point, throwing less than 50% on the season and having what would be considered one brain cramp after another, that was Dukes' greatest asset last year in that it wasn't him making those mistakes, but his talented, but somewhat equally raw counterpart, Jammal Lord.
All Dukes had to do last year was nothing at all and the pervasive injury issues not withstanding, some still consider him the odds-on favorite to bring NU out of it's single-season funk.
Due to a variety of reasons, Jammal Lord has been NU's only realistic option at the QB position and because of that, the whims of criticism and praise (mostly the former this last season) were for him to bear, mostly alone. Though Turner Gill was a very present crutch for the oft-timed breakdowns of confidence from Lord, Jammal sat very much alone, very much a target for the opponent, but more for the media.
It really was a no-win situation for Lord as he would have to have led the team to a national title or at the very least, a showing in the conference title game to silent the ever-watchful Husker fan. With little to no experience because of his predecessor, Eric Crouch, he was basically thrown to the wolves and with an offensive line that is still trying to gel as we speak.
How would you want that to be you? We're going to put the pressure of an entire state on your shoulders, give you no room for mistakes and because of a lack of experience on both sides of the ball and worse, an offensive line that is hardly adequate to boot, you still have to be just about perfect, simply to be good enough.
On top of that, you have to be a friendly, cheerful, glowing figure in front of a media you have no good reason to love. To be congenial, even downright happy, you have to put aside any of those obstacles that are clearly stacked against you aside, so that the "loyal" fan base can revel in your confidence, thereby finding confidence themselves.
That's what the NU QB is considered. He's not just the signal caller for the Big Red Machine, he's at times a conduit, an expression of the Husker fans themselves. To be such, the pressure is daunting to say the least, but replacing a legend or a Heisman Trophy winner, well that plain and simply put, sucks.
You could ask Scott Frost what Jammal is feeling right now as he was actually booed off the field, his first year considered to be a disaster as he tried to replace the legend, Tommie Frazier, little experience in this type of offense, coming straight from Stanford under Bill Walsh and being thrown to the wolves following the greatest college football team of all time. Lord didn't have that much pressure, but I doubt he would say that his position is so much more of a positive one at that.
One question though if we are going to use hindsight as a reference, if Scott Frost can go from being inept to almost perfect in a single season, why is it that Jammal Lord is not even as good as a kid that's never seen the field in an actual Division 1-A game?
Lord has become the victim not of just his own failure, but that of his entire team. You see, Eric Crouch, replacing the aforementioned Frost in his first year had one of the best defenses in the country. Even against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, NU was able to hold the Wildcats for almost a full three quarters, before finally wilting under the strain of being on the field so much. Lord didn't have that defense, thus his teams were out of it far sooner, far more, with yes, a far more devastating result.
In fact, NU's losses were as much a team effort as any of their wins, Nebraska tallying 7 either way. Nope, this wasn't a one-man debacle, but despite all the coaching changes, despite all the potentially new faces on offense and this new facelift for the defense, Lord stands alone, a man burdened by the perception that success or failure completely depends on him.
The end result is that players that have either not seen the field, seldom seen it or yes, haven't even stepped on campus are the would-be saviors for NU's hopes of getting back to being NU. And, it's for no other reason then "potential".
Lord had that same potential and let me tell you something, a potentially good QB is markedly better than any decent QB that ever actually took the field and made even one mistake that might have cost the team a game. It's a mistake that this recruit or back-up didn't make, so that automatically makes them better.
Doesn't make sense, does it? Nope, but that's the way it is, so a guy like Curt Dukes who has been hampered by one thing or another seemingly since he arrived, well, his best move might have been taking the redshirt, because it cemented him as the best QB on the team. Not because he did so much to prove it, but Lord did so much to prove that Dukes couldn't be any worse.
And then, there's Joe Dailey. When he pledged his services to the Huskers, his impressive balance of passing and running made him intriguing as a future Husker. Size, speed, mobility, a good arm and he could actually throw the ball, that had some fans already thinking about what he could do.
Yet, he hasn't even hit the campus as anything but a visitor, yet the injury situation with Dukes and the continuing belief in not being able to believe in Lord, Dailey finds himself squarely where Dukes has been over the last year or so.
The paradox to this entire issue is that with either Dukes or Dailey, you will have two players that will hit the field (whenever that is) that have literally no "live" experience at this level of play, close to the same as what Lord had prior, thanks to the almost exclusively-used, Eric Crouch. And realistically, the only thing that will make either of these two successful where Lord wasn't is if he isn't necessarily better, but the team is, so that the pressure isn't squarely on him.
Why does that then make them so special and Lord not because he wasn't given that in his first year at the helm?
I'm not sitting here saying that Lord is the man, he's the guy for the job and that nobody can give him a run. What I am saying is that everyone out there is willing to give a guy that's never taken a snap so much credit, while Lord sits there with more experience than every QB on the team combined, a simpler offense in front of him and what is perceived to be a better team overall and nobody wants to even give him a shot.
If someone else got that shot and was successful, chances are, nobody would care and just laud the credit to the QB responsible, as long as it wasn't Jammal. Curt made the difference or it was Joe's diversity that put NU over the hump, whereas if Jammal were to do the same thing, it would be the offensive line responsible or a defense that took the pressure of the "shaky" QB.
Where people are looking to many of the same faces in confidence because of their experience at almost every other position, the QB position has found itself sitting in a bit of a quandary, everyone wanting to give the most credit to the people have done the least to earn just that.
Recruits should be given credit for what they are and what they were to get to Nebraska. Curt Dukes and Joe Dailey were both recruited, offered and coveted for very good reasons. Each is talented and has every right to see the field and get that shot to compete. However, each should be given that shot in fairly similar circumstances or the opportunity itself is a bit suspect.
Would you put Dailey and Dukes behind a better team and relegate Lord to the bench, not even wanting to see what he could do with the new offense and what should be a better team overall? Is that fair? Is that even smart? Or, would you at least give the guy a chance to prove that his success or lack of was indeed a product of his own doing and not of an entire team going south in unison?
If anyone has paid their dues, it's Lord. No, most of the time, it wasn't pretty, but sometimes, even if it was only a sparse amount of times, that "potential" was seen. And, it was against better competition than either Dukes or Dailey has ever faced, playing with what might be the worst team any of them will ever know as a Husker. It's that potential that should be ridden until it's proven to truly be either non-existent or what people thought it was at the time.
It's easy to love a recruit, because that potential hasn't been seen, thereby somehow making it that much more significant. And, every year is the year of the recruit, because it's that potential that somehow makes them better than everyone else.
I'll go with the proven commodity though, regardless of how much it would seem they haven't proven a thing, because one recruit, starter or even, "star" has never and will never make a Husker team turn a season around. They will just be a big part of it, how big, well, believe it or not, that's not for them to decide but us because unless there's a title strapped to anything they do, it will all come down to perception.
And perception isn't kind at Nebraska when there are no titles. It becomes skewed, a bit hazy and all of a sudden, players that have never seen the field are the best players on the team. In any other world, that would be considered just nuts, but here, that's just a typical day. Your potential defines you, your "rating" makes you a stud and as long as you never take the field, you can live that life to the fullest.
It doesn't make sense. It never will, but when you are used to stomping people by forty, contending for national titles every other year if not every other, perception is indeed distorted and a utopian attitude permeates, demanding of everyone, forgiving to none and woe betide the person that doesn't live up to their own high school hype.
Whether Lord lives up to that hype or not isn't a matter we have seen already, but a matter yet to be. If people are willing to give unproven commodities the chance behind a better team, why not give it to the guy that has taken the lumps in the worst season in forty years? He wasn't the only one responsible for the downfall? He should be given the chance for the rise back.
Bottom line though, wouldn't you rather have the guy that has proven he's the best and not the one that hasn't proven he's the worst for the job? Besides, who has more potential? A guy who's seen it about as bad as it can get or a guy who's never seen it at all?
Curt Dukes isn't Tommie Frazier and chances are, Joe Dailey isn't either. It's just a shame that everyone keeps treating every new QB like they all are going to be.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619