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Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Big 12 on the spot: Holiday Bowl

By David Ubben

There are all kinds of reasons for Nebraska to be unhappy with its bowl placement. It already beat Washington 56-21 in Seattle earlier this year. It beat Arizona 33-0 in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl last season, and plenty of fans made the trek to San Diego this time last year.

Only 7,500 of the school's allotment of 11,000 have been sold, and I don't blame Huskers fans for being a little underwhelmed with the bowl destination.

But they're here. The game's going to be played.

And who has to step up for the Huskers to win? It's pretty simple.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez. There's plenty of talk about Martinez's ankle, which never looked like it fully healed after originally getting injured against Missouri. That said, defenses got a read on how to slow down Martinez before he got hurt. Texas did it. Missouri -- Roy Helu Jr.'s 307 rushing yards aside -- didn't let Martinez do anything or go anywhere without being hounded by defenders.

The point is, after somehow throwing for over 300 yards and five touchdowns against Oklahoma State -- he didn't throw for more than 170 yards or more than one touchdown pass in any other game in 2010 -- Martinez was mostly ineffective. Part of it was the ankle. Part of it was defenses making him complete difficult passes, which, more often than not, fell incomplete.

Despite his threat to run that forced defenses to keep an eye on him as much as Nebraska's receivers, Martinez completed only 58 percent of his passes. Only Kansas' Jordan Webb and Colorado's Cody Hawkins competed a lower percentage of throws. He didn't run for another touchdown after his transcendent 241-yard, four-touchdown performance against Kansas State, and only topped 21 yards twice, despite logging double-digit carries in his final six starts. The Big 12's rushing leader after the road win against the Wildcats, Martinez slid all the way down to ninth by the end of the season.

Martinez should be healthy by kickoff on Dec. 30. He'll be playing a defense that has already seen him once. If the redshirt freshman can bounce back, recover the passing mechanics that suffered with the injury and have a good game with his legs and arm, he'll inspire a lot of confidence from Nebraska fans about the position moving forward into 2011.

Huskers fans may yawn when they see that score back in September, but you're kidding yourself if you think Washington had any idea how fast and elusive Martinez really could be. The Huskies looked entirely unprepared defensively. Smart money says that won't happen again.

If Martinez struggles like he did late in the year, it'll be a tight, low-scoring game, and one or two bad bounces could mean an embarrassing loss for the Huskers. If Martinez plays well, one or two big runs or big completions early could mean another blowout.