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Steven M. Sipple: Why Martinez's play should rise; and B1G quietly gets stronger at bottom
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Steven M. Sipple: Why Martinez's play should rise; and B1G quietly gets stronger at bottom

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Minnesota vs. Nebraska, 12.12

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez looks to throw down field against Minnesota in the first quarter Dec. 12, 2020, at Memorial Stadium.

Steven M. Sipple, Parker Gabriel and Chris Basnett discuss the latest in Nebraska football recruiting -- some developments on the 2022 quarterback front and what the coming weeks and months look like -- what's still in play for Fred Hoiberg's men's basketball team over the next week and the NU baseball team's season-opening series against Purdue down in Texas. That plus some volleyball and women's basketball talk, too, on this week's Husker Extra Podcast. 

It's never a bad time to hear what's on your mind. 

So let's delve into some readers' questions. 

Thank you, by the way, for making this idea work. 

Minus injuries and the rare benching, Adrian Martinez has started the last three years at quarterback for Nebraska. In some regards, I think we have seen all that he is capable of, his ceiling, in other words. Obviously, his play is tied to the talent around him to some degree, but do you think there is any reason to believe we will ever see him perform significantly better than he has the last three seasons? — Glenn.

Yes, there actually are a few reasons that Martinez could take his game to a significantly higher level in 2021.

Confidence and maturity are critical factors for any athlete. Even Martinez's harshest critics must acknowledge that he played well down the stretch last season, and could derive confidence from it. 

During the final four games of 2020, the California kid completed 71 of 105 passes (67.6%) for an average of 195.5 yards per game. He threw four touchdown passes and just one interception. In the final two games, he rushed 38 times for 253 yards (6.7 per carry) and three touchdowns. Granted, he turned the ball over four times against Rutgers in the season finale. But when he wasn't turning it over, he was electric.

There's another factor that could enhance Martinez's confidence. His coach, Scott Frost, watched him closely all last year — the good and bad — but clearly locked in hard on the good parts. In fact, the fourth-year Nebraska head coach has said he plans to "work a little more with Adrian this year," going beyond the coaching Martinez receives from quarterbacks guru Mario Verduzco. I've said it before: Frost's QB plan amounts to excellent news for Martinez. It's typically a good sign when the boss decides to devote more time to you. Frost clearly believes in Martinez. That's the message here.

Martinez's maturity as a person could be helpful as well. He's not a kid anymore. He has talked openly about the inherent challenges Nebraska faces in striving to become a national power again. He's carried that weight. He's taken it personally. But as people mature, they often are better able to put certain aspects of their lives in proper perspective. Hopefully, Martinez can shed some of that weight (read: pressure) and have more fun competing. 

But, yes, his play is indeed tied to the talent around him, to a large degree. Frost said recently he now has "for sure the most talented receiver group we've started an offseason with." That obviously could help Martinez (if Frost's assessment is accurate). Plus, USC transfer Markese Stepp, a 6-foot, 235-pound running back, appears capable of taking pressure off Martinez by enhancing the running game. That's critical.

A major chunk of Frost's responsibility this offseason has to be finding ways to alleviate pressure on Martinez. Along those lines, it's possible Luke McCaffrey's transfer to Louisville could help matters. If nothing else, it reduces complications, for both Adrian and the coaching staff. 

What do you see in Nebraska programs that are doing well, such as volleyball and wrestling, that you do not see in the programs that are doing poorly (football and basketball)? — Chris 

Let's focus on Nebraska volleyball. Mainly, I see all-Americans. We're talking first-team all-Americans. We see them in John Cook's program virtually every season. Granted, the Huskers were shut out of AVCA first-teamers in 2019, but middle blocker Lauren Stivrins was named to the second team in 2019 and this season is playing at a first-team level. She was a first-teamer in 2018 along with Mikaela Foecke. NU had first-team AVCA all-Americans in eight of nine seasons from 2010-18. 

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On the other hand, Nebraska football last had a first-team All-American in 2011 (Lavonte David). 

Nebraska men's basketball? You have to go back all the way to 1978 to find the last first-team All-American. Carl McPipe was a force in the paint. 

Since beginning Big Ten play in 2011-12, the Husker men's basketball team has had only two first-team all-conference selections — Terran Petteway in 2014 and James Palmer in 2018. 

Yes, it matters. It matters a lot. 

Steven M. Sipple: Making sense of a remarkable Monday for Nebraska men's basketball

I'm an avid listener of the 93.7 FM shows, including "Early Break." You mentioned Omar Manning is full-go from what you've heard. With spring ball coming soon and providing our offense plenty of reps, do you think this is the year Nebraska can finally turn the corner under Frost (especially with the returning defensive starters)? — Ethan 

If "turn the corner" means becoming bowl-eligible, yes, I think Nebraska has enough firepower (and coaching) to win six games and really should push toward eight. It likely will come down to whether Nebraska can win close games. How many Big Ten teams do you think the Huskers can handle easily?

In fact, the bottom of the Big Ten quietly has gotten stronger. Athlon recently ranked Illinois at No. 14, Rutgers 13th, Michigan State 12th and Purdue 11th.  

Nebraska, which fell hard to Illinois last season, was ninth.

You get the idea. 

How many on the current returnable Nebraska basketball roster will depart? — Scott 

We could find out as soon as next week as Fred Hoiberg begins to meet individually with players. 

At least a couple of scholarship players will pack their bags. That's the way it works these days. 

But it's difficult to imagine Fred Hoiberg making a third straight major roster overhaul. If it comes to that, you have to wonder if Hoiberg will ever get this thing off the ground. 

He has a decent core of returning players, led by Trey McGowens and Derrick Walker. Keep the core together, recruit a true point guard out of the transfer portal and hope at least a couple of players in the incoming recruiting class (most notably 6-foot-6 sharp-shooter Bryce McGowens) are ready to compete at a high level. That seems like a decent formula. 

For now, Hoiberg will give his guys a needed break from the gym. They've been going hard since June. What a year. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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