“Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth
Make ‘em go ‘oh, oh, oh’
As you shoot across the sky-y-y”
- Katy Perry, “Firework”
Nebraska football fans, like all good Americans, love Independence Day and relish the chance to watch things explode with color and pageantry. They also love watching their Cornhuskers blow up on the field (metaphorically, of course) and make the Sea of Red “ooh” and “aah” with their performances.
Now, keep in mind, when I say "explode," what I'm really talking about are players who I believe will have a significant jump in their production from last season. Spoiler alert, Kenny Bell isn't on this list. Not because I doubt his contributions—I expect him to be Nebraska's primary threat. But I don't expect his production to be demonstrably greater than last year's.
So, in honor of the coming holiday, here are six Cornhuskers you can expect to put on an explosive show once the 2013 football season starts.
(All statistics are courtesy of the great cfbstats.com, which should be in your bookmark list if it isn’t already.)
When Turner arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska fans saw him as the next big thing. He briefly flirted with challenging Taylor Martinez for the starting quarterback position before converting to wide receiver. In his freshman year, he led Nebraska in receptions for the first five games and seemed on his way to stardom.
And then he disappeared. He misfired on the field, his playing time was reduced and he was eclipsed by Kenny Bell as Nebraska’s go-to receiver.
Make no mistake, Bell remains Nebraska’s primary target and likely its most dangerous offensive weapon not named Martinez. But at the end of 2012, Turner began putting things together. Starting with the Northwestern game, he never averaged less than 12 yards per reception and scored his two touchdowns.
With another year of maturity and a likely transition to a larger role in kick returns, look for Turner to be Nebraska’s breakout player of 2013.
The tide appeared to be turning for Allen in 2013. Coming off his redshirt year, Allen was working his way into playing time and forcing his way on to the field with his execution. He got his first reception of his career against Northwestern, a crucial touchdown grab that helped key Nebraska’s remarkable fourth-quarter comeback in Evanston.
And then he suffered a season-ending injury the following week against Michigan. But with a full offseason to heal, look for Allen to bounce back and become a crucial weapon in Nebraska’s offensive attack.
Yes, Abdullah was Nebraska’s de facto starting I-back last season due to Rex Burkhead’s continuing injuries. But there is a big difference between being the de facto starting I-back, wondering from week to week if he was still the go-to guy, and being the unquestioned starter.
In 2013, the I-back position is exclusively Abdullah’s. With an impressive stable of backs behind him, both to push Abdullah and to rotate and help keep him fresh down the stretch, look for Abdullah to be one of the top running backs in the B1G next season—if he can hold on to the football.
Even with what looks to be an offense-heavy squad in 2013, there should be some Blackshirts that light the field up next season. Of all the likely candidates, Santos seems the one most likely to shine.
He earned valuable game experience last season, including making costly mistakes (like the one leading to a long touchdown run from Northwestern’s Venric Mark) that should provide an opportunity to learn and grow.
Santos will likely be the leader of Nebraska’s young and athletic linebacker corps. Assuming he slots in as the starting Mike linebacker, and given the flashes of athletic brilliance he showed last season, Santos could become the defensive surprise of 2013.
With the departures of Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, most Nebraska fans are sort of writing off the tight end position for 2013. But Long, a senior, is not a talent to be lightly dismissed. Even behind Cotton and Reed, Long caught six passes for 55 yards and a touchdown, and tallied a reception against Michigan State in East Lansing.
Besides, Nebraska’s offense has allowed tight ends to produce for years. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck has used tight ends ever since he took the reins, and his scheme should provide Long with an opportunity to shine next season.
In many ways, Martinez is the epitome of a firework. Sometimes, his play dazzles and leaves you in awe, like the grand finale of a great fireworks show. But when something goes wrong with Martinez’s play, like with a fireworks show, it usually goes wrong in a loud, spectacular and highly damaging manner.
Once again, Martinez is spending his Summer working with quarterback guru Steve Calhoun in California. Last year, after his Summer work, Martinez went from a completion percentage of 56.3 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2012. And this is Martinez’s senior season, one where he knows his Cornhusker legacy will be defined by whether he can deliver a trophy and a BCS bowl game.
With a soft schedule and a third year in Tim Beck’s offensive system, the stars are aligned for Martinez to go off and make Nebraska fans “ooh” and “ahh” in 2013. In a good way.
Or, you could always...Follow @patrickrunge.