Nebraska Football: Is 2012 a Make or Break Year for Taylor Martinez?

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJuly 23, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 02:  Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is sacked by Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks during the Capitol One Bowl  at Florida Citrus Bowl on January 2, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Whether you are hopping aboard the Taylor Martinez train or joining the group trying to derail it, it's no secret that Nebraska's junior quarterback is one of the more controversial players in college football.

Can he be an effective starter, or can't he?

That seems to be the question that no one but Martinez himself can answer. And even then, there are so many different opinions flying around that it seems impossible to come up with a definitive answer.

So much talk is made about his poor throwing mechanics and lack of field vision, which has translated to subpar passing and ultimately losses, according to the people that bring these up.

But a quick look at the stats suggest that he's already one of the most prolific dual-threats in Nebraska's history—and chances are he'll end up owning the school's career passing and rushing yards records by the end of his senior season.

Frankly, both sides of the argument present solid points, and it's clear that all eyes will be on No. 3 throughout this season.

So that begs the question: Is 2012 a legitimate make or break year for Taylor Martinez?

Before we can answer such a seemingly simple question, we have to define what would make or break a season for the junior.

Martinez has gone 19-8 as a starter, which is pretty respectable, especially for an underclassman. However, the 10 wins he gained in 2010 were probably less attributable to his play than the nine wins he earned in 2011.

Despite those totals, though, Husker fans continue to expect more out of the team, and while it would be hard to put an exact number on a "necessary" win total, it's a safe bet that a Big Ten Championship and/or a BCS bowl berth are important milestones.

Martinez hasn't been shy about his championship aspirations for 2012, so I think it's reasonable to assume he will be expected to back up the talk in order to make his year.

While winning usually takes care of everything, it would be nice to see Martinez make a noticeable improvement in the passing game—such an improvement will probably be important for winning anyway.

As good as Nebraska's defense and running game should be this year, they can't do it on their own. Martinez has to be able to make Nebraska an aerial threat if the rest of the team is going to be optimally effective.

With that said, it goes both ways. There were times in 2011 when Martinez looked to be on top of his game, but the rest of the team looked lost (see Northwestern). If Martinez throws for 2,500 yards on a 60 percent completion rate and a 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio but the team only wins eight games, chances are the blame will not be able to be cast on Martinez.

As far as rushing goes, Martinez has put up solid totals both of his first two seasons, but both years he padded his stats in early games before tailing off towards the end of the year. Being a more consistent threat on the ground against tough defenses would also help his cause immensely.

Taking all of that into consideration, I think statistical improvements will be important for Martinez, regardless of whether the team wins eight games or 11 games. Chances are those potential improvements will only come if his reported offseason advancements prove to be accurate and lasting.

Despite those ultimatums, however, it's hard not to wonder whether Martinez has gotten more criticism than he has deserved throughout his two-year career.

Inconsistency doesn't show up on paper, but neither do drops by receivers and newly implemented offensive systems. Martinez has quite obviously had his ups and downs, but the blame cannot be put solely on him—and that is something no one should try to dispute.

Something else that should go a long way towards deciphering whether Martinez's year is deemed "make" or "break" is how he develops his leadership skills.

As the team's starting quarterback and an upperclassman-to-be, Martinez has to take on what may be the biggest leadership role on the team—even with seasoned veterans like Rex Burkhead and Will Compton stepping up into similar roles.

We saw flashes of this in 2011 against Ohio State and Northwestern, but at other times it didn't seem to be there. That is, of course, only an outsider's viewpoint, but at times it was hard to see any leadership at all in blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan.

This is another aspect of any quarterback's game that is hard to gauge statistically, but the results should reflect it.

A look at the big picture would make it hard to suggest that 2012 isn't a make or break year for Martinez. The fans are getting restless, as are the players and coaches, and a lot will be riding on their junior signal-caller.

If he struggles, three young, hungry quarterbacks—Brion Carnes, Tommy Armstrong and Johnny Stanton (assuming the Elite 11 stud sticks with the Huskers as his stock soars)—will be nipping at his heels.

Where I differ with what seems to be the popular opinion, however, is that I expect Martinez to succeed in the face of the pressure and prove his doubters wrong in 2012.

Carnes, Armstrong and Stanton will likely have to wait their respective turns, because Martinez should earn the right to lead this team through his senior season.