Roundtable: Martinez's Husker legacy

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
9:00
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Taylor Martinez exploded on the scene during the 2010 season, breaking off big runs and making a national name for himself -- his catchy nickname, T-Magic, didn't hurt -- as a redshirt freshman for Nebraska. Martinez's Husker career seems to be ending much more quietly, as a foot injury suffered in the season opener might prevent him from returning to the field. Colleague Joe Schad tweeted Monday that Martinez's injury won't improve without rest and might require 6-8 months to fully heal.

Asked Monday about whether Martinez can return this season, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said, "I don't know if the chances are really good. It's not a good injury to have."

It appears as though we've seen the last of Martinez in a Nebraska uniform. If so, he finishes his career with several notable team records, including career passing yards (6,591), career total offense (9,449 yards), career touchdown passes (46) and career starts by a quarterback (39). He helped Nebraska to a pair league championship games – and maybe even a third this season -- but struggled at times on the biggest stages.

Today's roundtable looks at Martinez's unique career for Big Red.

What is Taylor Martinez's legacy at Nebraska?

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesTaylor Martinez has had an up-and-down career at Nebraska, but he'll leave Lincoln holding many Cornhuskers records for a quarterback.
Mitch Sherman: Despite his statistical greatness, Martinez failed to embrace a leadership role until his senior year. And even that, at times, seemed forced before the injury situation simply turned everything into awkwardness. A lasting quarterback legacy in Lincoln also involves signature victories, and Martinez fell short there, too. The Huskers lost two conference-title games and three bowl games with the offense under his guidance. Fair or not, he’ll be remembered as much for the shortcomings as his inventory of records.

Adam Rittenberg: It’s definitely a unique one as Martinez had so much production, provided so many highlights and endured so many extremes, both positive and negative. He never led Nebraska to a championship and had some big-game blunders, which are part of his legacy. But he also improved significantly from his sophomore to his junior season, and he showed resiliency in leading many comebacks during his career. Like his coach, Pelini, Martinez struggled at times to connect with Nebraska’s fan base. He leaves a mixed legacy and an incomplete one because of his injury issues this season.

Brian Bennett: Ultimately, you're judged on championships at Nebraska, and Martinez didn't deliver so much as a league title during his four years (sure, it's still possible this season, but it won't be because of him). And that's a little unfair, because although Martinez struggled with turnovers in big games, he also often had to try and make things happen himself because his defense let the team down. But even with all his records, Martinez will not be remembered as an icon in Huskers history like Tommie Frazier, Turner Gill or Eric Crouch. Respected, yes. Revered? No.

What could Martinez have done this season if healthy?

Bennett: I was convinced Martinez was due for a fantastic senior season. He did lead the Big Ten in total offense in 2012, after all, and this was his third year in Tim Beck's system. By all accounts, he was in total command of the offense in the spring, and he finally seemed comfortable -- or at least at peace -- with being the face of the program. Unfortunately, his season never really got going, as he looked tentative in Week 3 against UCLA and afterward clued us in to his problems by wearing a walking boot. He was a shell of himself at Minnesota. I think Martinez would have made a serious run at Big Ten offensive player of the year honors this year had he been healthy.

Rittenberg: Martinez could have had a monster senior season, especially looking at how much he improved from 2011 to 2012. The turnovers still would have cropped up, but he had a strong supporting cast of receivers and an excellent backfield mate in Ameer Abdullah, not to mention a solid line. Pelini was very excited about Martinez’s potential as a passer before the season, and Martinez’s explosive running ability added another threat to the offense. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition.

Sherman: Everything set up well. Teammates trusted him and looked to Martinez for guidance. He had more talent around him than at any point in his career and more capable backups than since 2010. Abdullah and the receivers would have helped shoulder the load, and Beck could have taken more risks with his QB because of the depth. All of it may have contributed to a consistently explosive element to his game, last seen in the first half of his freshman year. More motivation for Martinez existed, too, to shape that aforementioned legacy.

Where does Martinez rank among Nebraska's top quarterbacks:

Rittenberg: He never won a championship, so he’s a notch below players like Frazier, Gill, Scott Frost and Crouch. But he played in two different offenses and put up record-setting numbers. Although his passing motion often sparked ridicule, he made tangible strides as a junior, improving his completion percentage by six points and throwing 10 more touchdowns. Martinez was more of a complete quarterback than Nebraska typically has, but he struggled at times with decision-making.

Sherman: He didn’t earn a seat at the table among the greats. That requires, at minimum, a conference championship. Athletically, few to play the position at Nebraska matched Martinez’s skill. He was likely the most dangerous dual threat in program history, but his supporting cast paled in comparison to many predecessors. And unlike the championship-era quarterbacks, Martinez often struggled to improve the productivity of those around him.

Bennett: In the top 10 all time, but not in the pantheon with guys like Frazier, Gill, Crouch or Frost. Those guys have the hardware.

What will you remember most about Martinez's time in Lincoln?

Sherman: The excitement that surrounded his torrid start as a freshman. His performance in wins at Washington, Kansas State and Oklahoma State were electrifying. Just as impressive were the string of comeback wins last year and the Ohio State victory in 2011. The meltdown that same year at Michigan was equally memorable. But more than anything, I’ll remember that by the time Martinez finally meshed with the Nebraska football culture, his career was well on its way to a premature ending.

Bennett: When he turned the corner and took off, it was a thing of beauty. Few players could cover as much ground as quickly as Martinez. I'll remember the comeback he led at Michigan State in 2012. And though it was in a losing effort, the insane scramble for a touchdown in the Big Ten championship game. Martinez was rarely ever boring to watch.

Rittenberg: I found the dynamic between Martinez and Nebraska fans really interesting. He took a lot of abuse at times and probably didn’t help himself by being so reserved, although he opened up more toward the end of his career. Just when everyone was ready to write off T-Magic, he'd lead a comeback like Ohio State in 2011 or Northwestern and Nebraska last year. This might have been a year where Martinez won over more Husker fans. Unfortunately, we'll never know.

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