SAM KELLER NEVERimagined his college career would go like this. After throwing for 16touchdowns in his first four games as a junior at Arizona State in 2005, he wasbeing touted as an NFL prospect and a dark-horse Heisman candidate, only tohave his season ended two games later by a broken thumb on his passing hand. Itappeared he had won back the starting job the following August, but then coachDirk Koetter, heeding the advice of a handful of players, changed his mind andgave the job to sophomore Rudy Carpenter. Two days later Keller transferred toNebraska, where he had to learn the intricacies of coach Bill Callahan's WestCoast offense while taking snaps with the scout team during his redshirt seasonin '06.
"It's beenawfully crazy," says Keller, who's now a senior. "The weirdest part wasgetting acclimated with the new place, new teammates. I tried to stay in thebackground until it was my turn to make an impact."
With thegraduation of Zac Taylor, the 2006 Big 12 offensive player of the year, thattime has arrived. Keller hasn't officially been named the starter over juniorJoe Ganz (a decision isn't expected until close to the opener), but hisexperience (20 career starts), size (6' 4," 230 pounds) and arm strengthmake him the best bet to be under center when Nebraska faces Nevada.
A self-confessed"cowboy who tries to make crazy throws sometimes," Keller will have totame his wilder instincts and exhibit control in an offense that demandspatience. "The beautiful thing about Coach Callahan's offense is thatthere's always someone open," says Keller. "With all our shifting andmotion there's a chance the defense will be completely confused."
To speed hislearning process, Keller spent the summer poring over video. Twice a week hegot together for throwing sessions with his receivers, an athletic andexperienced group that has six of its top seven pass-catchers coming back.
Success used tobe as synonymous with Nebraska football as option quarterbacks, but the resultshave been mixed since Callahan took over in 2004. The Big 12 North title theCornhuskers won last year was the school's first since 1999; however, an 0-3record against Top 10 teams in the midst of a five-loss season showed just howfar Nebraska has to go to be a player on the national stage again. With a roadgame at ACC champion Wake Forest followed by a home date with USC in the firstthree weeks, the Huskers will have a couple of early opportunities to showthey're back among the elite. "We've been taking small steps," saysjunior wide receiver Todd Peterson. "It's time to make that bigleap."
CONFERENCE: Big 12
COACH: Bill Callahan
2006 RECORD: 9-5
(6-2 in Big 12)
FINAL AP RANK: NR
Offense 7, Defense 6
LT Carl Nicks (Sr.)
QB's blindside protector has two career starts
DT Ndamukong Suh (Soph.)
Had eight tackles for loss and 3½ sacks in '06
WR Terrence Nunn (Sr.) Three TDs and team-high 42catches last year
Sept. 1 NEVADA
8 at Wake Forest
22 BALL STATE
29 IOWA STATE
Oct. 6 at Missouri
13 OKLAHOMA STATE
20 TEXAS A&M
27 at Texas
Nov. 3 at Kansas
10 KANSAS STATE
23 at Colorado
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"The beautiful thing about our offense," saysKeller, "is that there's always someone open."
BRUCE THOMPSON/US PRESSWIRE
Keller has the tools to run the West Coast attack.
DENNIS HUBBARD/ICON SMI (MASCOT)