The Nebraska Cornhuskers' much-awaited spring game will take center stage this Saturday in the midst of the most turnover among Nebraska starters in recent memory.
And as enjoyable as it has been to speculate on possible outcomes of Saturday's scrimmage and potential starting lineups for the Big Red come fall, let's take a step away from wild predictions and abstract interpretations of practice reports.
Instead, let's take a look at the five players Husker fans hope will show up this Saturday and demonstrate the ability the Big Red will need this fall in order to fill crucial vacancies in the Nebraska roster.
During the 2012 season, Ciante Evans was frequently touted as the most talented member of the Blackshirt defense. So heading into his senior season for the Big Red, it is not surprising that many are looking to him to step up as the leader of the secondary, if not the entire defensive unit.
But truth be told, Evans was not the superstar he was hoped to be during many of the key games of the 2012 season, particularly the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Huskers will need Evans to accept the role as a leader and star of the defense in 2013 if they hope to improve upon an embarrassing 2012. And a strong showing in the Red-White Game would do a lot to aid the confidence of fans, players and coaches alike.
Nebraska has turned into Place-Kicker U over the past few seasons. But for the first time in recent memory, there is some uncertainty surrounding that position.
Enter Mauro Bondi.
Bondi will assume a role that has produced four years of All-Conference performers, both of whom were in-state prospects. Now the Huskers will feature a kicker who was recruited from out of state, not a walk-on soccer player from a local high school.
Bondi will only have a few moments on Saturday to prove himself, but a few confident kicks will do well to calm the concerns of a fanbase that is facing the possibility of losing its constant upper hand in the special teams game.
With very few exceptions, spring games across the country will focus on the establishment or development of starting quarterbacks. And despite his three years of experience, Taylor Martinez will be no exception.
He will be the starter in September, no doubt, but that by no means lifts the gaze of skeptics from his performance this Saturday. Martinez has been subjected to some of the harshest scrutiny Husker Nation can offer during his time as the starter.
And that scrutiny will not cease, even heading into his senior year.
Despite his incredible portfolio of highlights, including arguably one of the greatest runs in Husker history against Wisconsin, Martinez still attracts the criticism of his coaches, the media and fans. Nebraska wants to see maturity and confidence this Saturday. Solid decision-making and ball security would demonstrate that.
Jake Cotton is trying to establish himself as a replacement for one of the few vacancies in the Husker offense this fall. And according to many reports emerging from spring practice, he is making some serious headway.
But seeing is believing.
Nebraska knows that for it to achieve its goals for the 2013 season, it needs to score points in bunches. And offensive production begins and ends with the success of the offensive line. With a strong showing from Jake Cotton this Saturday, Nebraska's offense will show that its most uncertain piece will not be a weakness next year.
There is no question that the spotlight this spring is on the linebackers. Some players like Zaire Anderson seem like virtual locks for starting roles, but other positions are still as uncertain as ever.
Although David Santos and Jared Afalava (as well as many others) are certainly still well in the mix for starting jobs, Thomas Brown seems to be the forgotten man in the linebacker race.
If Brown can rise to the occasion this Saturday and show his potential, he will not only make significant progress toward a starting role in the Blackshirt defense, but also raise the confidence the Huskers have in their defense as a whole heading into the 2013 season.
It is no secret that Nebraska has a wealth of young talent at the position. It just needs a player like Brown to step up and snatch the opportunity for some substantial playing time early in his career.