Some might consider the 2020 college football season a wash. It will forever be spun as an outlier, an asterisk, an excuse for any and all shortcomings. One of its most positive outcomes is that despite the uncertainty and downright tense circumstances surrounding it, no player has to worry about losing a year of eligibility. The Nebraska Cornhuskers have one of the programs that can cash in on this most of any at the FBS level.
Big Ten football is set to kick off on Oct. 24 with a schedule that demands the Huskers' best shot from the get-go. But there's a handful of players on the roster that can consider the year a win regardless of record. The ongoing pandemic has caused college football to jump offsides, giving them a chance to zag when they may have originally opted to zig. So here are five Nebraska players all at different stages of their college careers, who gain the most from this truncated season not counting towards their eligibility clock.
Adrian Martinez, QB
Nebraska's starting quarterback made several errors in 2019, which aided the Husker offense in repeatedly shooting itself in the foot. But he was not the lone offender. Early-season high snaps from Cameron Jurgens, missed blocks, and the loss of record-setting receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. all played a factor among others. And, to be fair, Martinez was dinged up to the point of requiring shoulder surgery this past offseason.
Every position on the 2020 offensive line features athletes with the size and mentality to excel in their most appropriate roles, a first in the Scott Frost era. This alone should boost his production. The dual-threat junior signal-caller also is gifted with a number of quality running backs and an overall increase in wide receiver talent despite the loss of JD Spielman to TCU.
One of the biggest concerns for the Big Red heading into a later-than-expected fall camp is whether the true freshman version of Martinez can return. Reviewing other probable offensive starters — which we'll get into shortly — and considering his leaner look, being optimistic about Martinez resembling his old self isn't a huge stretch. And if he can get there that bodes well for both Nebraska, which could benefit from having Martinez around for two more seasons after this one, as well as Martinez, who could jump-start his seemingly sagging NFL prospects with a turnaround campaign and then a strong follow-up effort in 2021.
Zavier Betts, WR
A near-lock to significantly contribute this season, Betts could find himself as Nebraska's third starter along with Wan'Dale Robinson and Omar Manning in short order. Look for a feisty battle between him and the likes of fellow true freshmen Alante Brown, Will Nixon, and Marcus Fleming to name a few. There's a demand for multiple game-changing wideouts to stake their claim. This opportunity exists for several bodies in Matt Lubick's position room, inexperienced though they may be. Betts has all the tools necessary to reach the top of the depth chart and plant his flag by 2020's end and he'll maintain that eligibility even if he plays more than four games, which is the normal threshold to maintain that redshirt.
Ethan Piper, OL
Piper is primed to challenge for a starting spot on the interior, as Brenden Jaimes and Cameron Jurgens are secured at left tackle and center, respectively. Meanwhile, Matt Farniok shifts his focus towards a more comfortable game day experience at right guard, while Bryce Benhart — a gem of the 2019 recruiting class — steps in at right tackle. Piper's size (6-4, 300) lends itself well to assisting at either guard role as needed. A year of development only further solidifies his place at the table for years to come. Even better news for the Huskers: Like Benhart, Piper is only a redshirt freshman
Jamin Graham, OLB
Graham had the look of a pass rush specialist ever since Nebraska brought him in. With good size (6-4, 240), he could easily put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle mass and not lose a step. Couple that with a massive 85-inch wingspan and a path has been set for the Blackshirts to construct a disruptive threat off the edge. The 2020 season allows Erik Chinander to sic the redshirt freshman on Big Ten offensive backfields while not having to worry about fretting over eventual growing pains.
Javin Wright, DB
Already an imposing figure (6-3, 205) in Travis Fisher's secondary, Wright could just as easily morph into a terrorizing linebacker. He'll get plenty of work in on special teams units and occasional minutes with the Husker defensive backs. This season helps both Wright and his coaches determine the best route for the redshirt freshman as he works to sharpen his skills and nature takes its course in terms of size.