Nebraska Football: Why Taylor Martinez Is Slam Dunk as Cornhusker All-Time Great

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Nebraska Football: Why Taylor Martinez Is Slam Dunk as Cornhusker All-Time Great
Eric Francis/Getty Images

If Taylor Martinez gets 114 yards of total offense against Michigan State on Saturday, he will hold Nebraska’s school record for career total yardage.

Holding that record, currently held by Eric Crouch at 7,915 total yards, would mean that Martinez will be the most prolific offensive weapon in Nebraska’s history.

When you consider that he still has his junior season, and likely his entire senior season to go, it is likely Martinez will set a total yardage record at an astronomical level unlikely to be reached any time soon. At his current pace, if you assume no injuries but no conference championship game appearances, Martinez will end his career at Nebraska with 12,292 total yards.

But there is still a debate within and amongst the Nebraska fanbase and around the country as to whether Martinez will go down as one of the great quarterbacks in Nebraska history.

There is a debate as to whether Martinez will go down as one of the top ten quarterbacks in Nebraska history. When you consider the numbers that Martinez is producing, the fact that his standing in Nebraska’s quarterback pantheon is even questioned astounds me.

So let’s unpack some of the arguments against Martinez being placed amongst the Nebraska greats.

 

He’s just accumulating stats

One of the arguments against Martinez is that he’s only got his gaudy numbers because of the amount of games he has played. Give some of the other Nebraska quarterback legends the same amount of snaps, and they would have put up even better numbers.

Well, let’s look at the stats of the guy Martinez is about to pass.

Eric Crouch, in his Nebraska career, accumulated 7,915 yards of total offense in 43 games. That averages out to 184.1 yards per game.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

Martinez currently sits on 7,801 yards of total offense in 34 games. That averages out to 229.4 yards per game, over 45 yards per game more than Crouch. (By the way, Martinez is averaging 280.3 yards per game in 2012, so those numbers could go up even more.)

OK, fine, you say, but how does Martinez compare to other Nebraska great quarterbacks?

Well, let’s take a look.

Player

Games Played

Total Offense

Yards/Game

Eric Crouch

43

7,915

184.1

Taylor Martinez (current)

34

7,801

229.4

Zac Taylor

26

5,777

222.2

Tommie Frazier

37

5,476

156.5

Joe Ganz

24

5,466

213.5

Jammal Lord

39

5,421

139.0

Jerry Tagge

33

5,283

160.1

Dave Humm

36

5,027

139.6

Turner Gill

35

4,910

140.3

Steve Taylor

25

4,780

191.2

Scott Frost

24

4,211

175.5

Vince Ferragamo

21

3,345

159.3

Gerry Gdowski

25

2,609

104.4

As you can see, in terms of raw productivity per game (which is the fairest way I can think of to compare total offensive production), only Zac Taylor and Joe Ganz are in the 200-yard-per-game category with Martinez.

So in terms of total offense per game, Nebraska has never had a more prolific performer than Martinez.

 

He’s in an offense that inflates his numbers

Fine, so Martinez has gaudy stats.

But he plays in a different offense than quarterbacks in the past. As a result, Martinez’s detractors would say, it’s not really fair to compare his statistics with guys like Tommie Frazier and Turner Gill.

And there is something to that argument.

If we rank the quarterbacks solely on total yards per game, here’s what the list looks like.

Player

Yards/Game

Taylor Martinez (current)

229.4

Zac Taylor

222.2

Joe Ganz

213.5

Steve Taylor

191.2

Eric Crouch

184.1

Scott Frost

175.5

Jerry Tagge

160.1

Vince Ferragamo

159.3

Tommie Frazier

156.5

Turner Gill

140.3

Dave Humm

139.6

Jammal Lord

139.0

Gerry Gdowski

104.4

Based on that statistic alone, Frazier and Gill would be the ninth and tenth best quarterbacks in school history, respectively.

Obviously, that’s not true.

Team accomplishments on the field certainly factor in to the discussion on where a quarterback should sit in history.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

But Martinez has some things working against him, as well.

Every other quarterback on the list had the benefit of working in an established offensive system with an offensive coordinator who had years of experience, whether it was Tom Osborne—or someone from his coaching tree—or Bill Callahan.

Martinez had one year with Shawn Watson, then had to change offensive coordinators and work with a coach in his first year calling plays.

Additionally, Martinez came in just as Nebraska was moving conference homes.

His freshman year was Nebraska’s farewell tour in the Big 12, with all the difficulties surrounding that contentious move. His sophomore year was Nebraska’s first in the B1G, meaning he had to learn twelve new opponents in addition to learning a new offense.

So, yes, Martinez gets the benefit of a more dynamic offense.

But he also has faced challenges that few of his predecessors had to deal with.

 

He hasn’t won anything

Otherwise known as the Dan Marino argument.  

Quarterbacks are judged, the argument goes, by wins and losses.

Martinez hasn’t put any silverware in the trophy cabinet, the detractors argue, so he can’t possibly be considered alongside the great Nebraska quarterbacks.

Obviously, Frazier stands alone with four conference titles and two national championships.

Jerry Tagge won three conference titles and two national championships, and Scott Frost won one conference title and one national championship. Eric Crouch, for all his great statistics, only won one conference title (1999) and got Nebraska to one national championship game.

But Martinez did win a divisional title in 2010, putting him equal in accomplishment with Zac Taylor. Nebraska fans (rightfully so) don’t consider divisional crowns as “real” accomplishments, of course.

So what about conference championships?

Jammal Lord, Joe Ganz and Zac Taylor never won a conference title. And a number of quarterbacks on the list—Vince Ferragamo, Steve Taylor, Gerry Gdowski and Dave Humm—only won one championship during careers that were either equal to or longer than Martinez’s to date.

And those were Big 8 championships, meaning Nebraska only had seven conference game, and some against historically bad opposition, to navigate.

So it’s fair to downgrade Martinez because he hasn’t won any trophies.

But to knock him completely out of contention—especially when his career is just barely halfway done—isn’t fair.

 

We don’t like him

And here we get to what I believe is the real reason Martinez doesn’t get credit from the Children of the Corn.

When Martinez burst onto the scene in 2010, Nebraska fans were thrilled and excited. But when his ankle was injured against Missouri and Nebraska’s offense struggled down the stretch, much of the blame was placed on Martinez.

That wasn’t unfair.

Martinez was clearly hobbled, threw the ball poorly and made terrible decisions resulting in turnovers. In 2010, much like in 2009, Nebraska was in position to win a Big 12 title and go to a BCS game if its offense gave even an average performance.

But the failure of the offense—and Martinez in particular—cost Nebraska its shot at a fond farewell to the Big 12.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

Martinez hasn’t helped himself with his demeanor, either.

Not speaking to the media at all and leaving teammates to answer for his poor play after losses didn’t endear him to the fans. The controversy surrounding the 2010 game against Texas A&M, where Martinez called his dad without permission during the game and ultimately had rumors swirling of his transfer after Bo Pelini chewed him out on national television, made him a lightning rod for criticism.

It created an image of Martinez as aloof and arrogant, which doesn’t play well in middle America. Martinez giving himself the “T-Magic” nickname doesn’t exactly help with the arrogance perception, either.

He also is perceived by some as not a tough player, because he avoids contact when he runs the ball.

Never mind the fact that he played through a lingering ankle injury through the end of 2010 and most of 2011. Never mind that he hasn’t missed a start since 2010. Never mind that he had the self-confidence to admit a deficiency in his passing and work very hard in the offseason to make improvements.

I’ve never understood that criticism—say what you will about Martinez, but I don’t think anyone with a straight face can say the kid isn’t tough.

Of course, if Martinez leads Nebraska to a conference title and a BCS bowl, all will be forgiven by the fans.

But for now, some people have made up their minds that Martinez isn’t good enough. As a result, they simply cannot stand the thought of Martinez standing alongside respected legends who wore the 'N' like Frazier, Gill and Frost.

Heck, even with a Heisman Trophy, Crouch still struggles with that problem, and for the same reason as Martinez.

If you are one of those people, I would suggest you consider this.

The question isn’t whether Martinez will be one of the most beloved quarterbacks in Nebraska history.

The question is whether Martinez will be one of the greatest quarterbacks in Nebraska history.

Given the staggering statistics Martinez has and likely will continue to accumulate, and the unique circumstance in the history of the program in which he has played, I think that it is (pardon the mixing of sports metaphors) a slam dunk that Martinez will go down as one of Nebraska’s greatest quarterbacks, even if Nebraska doesn’t win a conference title during his era.

If you’d like to contact Patrick to schedule an interview, provide feedback or get advice on which type of chocolate goes best with fresh fruit (spoiler alert: dark), then send an e-mail to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

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