It's hard to imagine a quarterback of a winning team being more maligned over the previous two seasons than Taylor Martinez. Of course, it's harder to imagine a worse throwing motion on the quarterback of a winning team, so we probably don't need Dr. House to solve this mystery. Still, in 2010 and 2011, despite Nebraska's relative successes with Martinez leading the way, he was more punchline than anything.
That all changed in 2012. Martinez's throwing motion is...well, it's not good, but it's better. His accuracy and timing are stellar—and it doesn't hurt that he's throwing to what could well be the best set of receivers in the Big Ten.
As a result, Martinez led the Big Ten in passing efficiency this year and was second to Matt McGloin in passing touchdowns. His yards per attempt were the highest in the Big Ten unless you count spot starters Devin Gardner, Joel Stave and MarQueis Gray. We'll give Wisconsin Stave since he's still the team's leading passer. But that's the type of production Martinez has right now: nearly unparalleled in the Big Ten.
Oh, and Martinez can still run. He's sitting at 833 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season, and a couple plausibly good games to finish off the season could have him near (if not exceeding) 1,000 yards rushing and double-digit touchdowns on the year. That's to go along with a passing total that's likely to approach 3,000 yards and 25 more touchdowns through the air.
If you could pick one Big Ten QB to start for your team in 2013, who would it be?
Martinez might not get there on all those counts. He's 517 yards and four touchdowns away from the passing marks and 167 yards and two touchdowns away from hitting the milestones on the ground. Doable, but hardly locks on all fronts. But even if he comes up just shy on any number of those four nice, round numbers, the fact that he's even coming close should give an indication as to how far he's come as a quarterback.
And yet questions still linger as to whether Martinez is "legit." Nebraska's certainly spoiled when it comes to great quarterback play—Eric Crouch, Tommie Frazier and Turner Gill all come to mind as storied signal-callers—and Martinez hasn't gotten to that elite level.
There is a way there, and quickly: Keep winning. Help Bo Pelini shed the "Bo Pellllini" moniker (because there's four Ls, just like every Nebraska season record under Pelini, you see). No, Martinez can't get Nebraska to a national championship game like Gill or Frazier. No, Martinez can't guide Nebraska to a Fiesta Bowl win and a No. 3 ranking to end the year like Crouch did.
Martinez can, however, simply guide Nebraska to wins this weekend and in the Rose Bowl. At that point, Nebraska would be 12-2 with a nine-game winning streak to finish the season—including several Martinez-led comebacks in the mix.
If that doesn't validate Martinez as a starter, we're not sure what would—even by Nebraska's lofty standards.