There’s no doubt that Adrian Martinez, Maurice Washington, and JD Spielman are an impressive returning core. But just how rare is it to bring back a trio like this? Since 2010, only seven Power 5 teams have had players put up the kinds of numbers that the Huskers trio has while returning the next season. All seven teams had a better first season than the Huskers in 2018. However, most had similar performance in the second season as in the first. For this exercise I looked for teams returning a QB with 2500+ yards passing along with 500+ yards rushing, a RB with 400+ yards rushing, and a WR with 800+ yards receiving.
2010 (7-6) to 2011 (6-7) Northwestern
Players: QB Dan Persa, RB Mike Trumpy, WR Jeremy Ebert
Both of these Northwestern teams are the worst performers on the list. Northwestern’s offense improved from 390 YPG to 420 YPG in 2011. However, some bad fortune plagued the trio with Trumpy only appearing in three games due to a torn ACL. Persa saw a slight decline in his production as well as Kain Colter became a bigger part of the Wildcat offense. Ebert’s yards and TDs both increased in his final season in the Wildcat offense.
2012 (11-2) to 2013 (9-4) Texas A&M
Players: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, WR Mike Evans
Despite returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and stud WR Mike Evans, the Aggie offense saw a slight dip in production going from 558 YPG down to 538 YPG in 2013. The extra two losses, however, were more on a defense that gave up over 11 PPG more in 2013 than 2012. Manziel improved as a passer in 2013 but his rushing totals dropped from his ludicrous 2012 performance. Malena’s rushing output dipped in 2013 but Mike Evans was able to follow up a good 2012 with a great 2013.
2013 (10-4) to 2014 (10-3) Arizona State
Players: QB Taylor Kelly, RB DJ Foster, WR Jaelen Strong
This trio led ASU to great seasons in 2013 and 2014 ranking 10th in scoring in 2013 and 18th in 2014. Kelly improved as a passer in 2014 but injuries kept him from having the same volume of output as in 2013. DJ Foster was able to double his yardage total to lead the Sun Devils in rushing with 1081 yards in 2014. Strong was consistent year over year with 1100+ yards receiving. He was able to get his TD catch total into the double digits with 10 in 2014.
2013 (11-2) to 2014 (13-2) Oregon
Players: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Thomas Tyner, WR Bralon Addison*
*Addison was slated to return in 2014 for the Ducks but missed the entire season due to injury
The last time a Scott Frost led offense returned this kind of production, a Heisman Trophy followed in year two for QB Marcus Mariota. Both squads scored 45+ PPG and had over 545+ YPG of total offense. Mariota threw the ball nearly 60 more times in 2014 resulting in 11 more TDs while matching his 2013 interception total of only 4. With over 700 yards rushing in 2013, Tyner still finished third on the Ducks for rushing yards. His production dropped to only 573 yards in 2014 while still finishing third. With Addison’s absence due to injury Byron Marshall picked up the missing workload with over 1000 yards receiving in 2014.
2014 (12-1) to 2015 (11-2) TCU
Players: QB Trevone Boykin, RB Aaron Green, WR Josh Doctson
Husker fans should remember prized recruit Aaron Green on this list. Green left Nebraska after Ameer Abdullah became the top back in the recruiting class of three talented rushers. TCU was a top ten scoring offense in both seasons with these players. Boykin was very consistent both seasons throwing for 3500+ yards and 30+ TDs. Green followed his 900+ yard, 9 TD 2014 campaign with 1200 yards and 11 scores in 2014. Future first round pick Josh Doctson improved on his 2014 performance with 1300+ yards and 14 TDs in 2015.
2015 (8-5) to 2016 (10-3) West Virginia
Players: QB Skylar Howard, RB Rushel Shell, WR Shelton Gibson
Neither of these Mountaineer squads finished about 35 in the country in points per game. The trio did improve their offensive output slightly going from 479 YPG to 485 YPG in 2016. Shell was not the lead back in either season with his rushing output outshined by Wendell Smallwood and Justin Crawford each season. Shelton Gibson was not able to crack 1000 yards receiving in either season as well.
2015 (14-1) to 2016 (14-1) Clemson
Players: QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Artavis Scott
While 2016 Clemson didn’t win any more games than its 2015 version, it did win one more National Championship and that’s all that matters at the end of the day. Watson threw for over 4000 yards each season while adding over 1000 more on the ground in 2015. His rushing output dropped to a modest 600+ yards in 2016. Gallman put up over 1500 yards in 2015 saw a sizeable drop in production to just 1100 yards in 2016 but was able to find the endzone four more times in 2016. After star WR Mike Williams was injured on the first drive of the season in 2015, Artavis Scott filled the receiving void leading the Tigers with 900 yards in 2015. His total dropped to just 600 yards as he fell to the fourth leading WR on the team.
2018 (4-8) to 2019 (?-?) Nebraska
Players: QB Adrian Martinez, RB Maurice Washington, WR JD Spielman
None of the previous seven teams saw more than two game improvement after returning their trio. A .500 season would have many in Lincoln disappointed this year. Washington may be the most talented back of any on this list. In only three games in 2018 did he lead the Husker backfield in carries (Troy, Wisconsin, Minnesota). Only in the Minnesota game was he the outright carry leader when he had just two more carries than Devine Ozigbo. With his upcoming legal troubles, however, his availability could be limited.
I’ve written about Martinez potential before. By the time he leaves Lincoln, we could be discussing him with the other QBs on this list. I think Spielman will become Nebraska’s second 1000 yard receiver this season. Its important to note that this trio could be back again in 2020. If Wan’Dale Robinson is as good as it sounds he could also hit both the 400 yard rushing and 800 yard receiving total in 2019 giving Nebraska a devastating offensive quartet in 2020.