Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was on a full upswing heading into the 2013 season. He was on the fringes of the preseason Heisman conversation, the Cornhuskers were ranked No. 18 in the preseason AP poll and Martinez was set to go down as the best quarterback in program history since Eric Crouch.
Is Taylor Martinez leaving Lincoln on a positive note?
But that's not how the story was written for Martinez this season.
Instead, the senior out of Corona, Calif. was limited to four games before a foot injury cost him his final year in Lincoln. But even before that, Martinez was struggling. In the four games he played, he only reached the 200-yard mark through the air once and only totaled 117 yards on the ground.
His last game was on Oct. 26, a 34-23 loss to Minnesota where, after taking three weeks off to try and heal, he threw for just 139 yards, rushed for 16 more and had a QB rating of just 96.6.
One week later, Martinez watched Nebraska fans almost completely forget about him and embrace a new hero: Ron Kellogg III.
In the Cornhuskers' first game in the post-Martinez era, Kellogg III came in to relieve Tommy Armstrong and etched his name into program history with a Hail Mary pass in the game's final moments that was caught for a game-winning touchdown.
In those moments, the Cornhusker players mobbed their quarterback on the field. Fans in Lincoln had their icon. But it wasn't Martinez.
It doesn't seem so long ago that Martinez was the talk of college football as the hot new freshman commodity. His coming out party was on Oct. 7, 2010, a Thursday night in a nationally televised game against the Kansas State Wildcats. There, Martinez torched his opponent to the tune of 241 yards rushing, another 128 yards through the air on just seven attempts and five total touchdowns.
Martinez finished his freshman campaign with 2,596 total yards and 22 total touchdowns. Over his first three seasons in Lincoln, the hotshot quarterback for Bo Pelini continued to toast opposing defenses. He led the Cornhuskers to three bowl appearances and compiled a 31-14 record as a starter.
|Year||Pass Yards||Comp %||Rush Yards||Total TDs|
Nebraska official website
But this year, Martinez's foot injury, which reportedly happened in Week 1 according to his father, was just the tip of the iceberg for the superstar. Perhaps his first real disappointment was the Cornhuskers' collapse against UCLA early in the year.
Late in the first half against the Bruins, Nebraska held a 21-3 lead. Martinez had thrown for three touchdowns and it looked as though the Cornhuskers were going to cruise to a huge win over the No. 16 team in the country.
Not so fast.
Behind UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins stormed back and scored 38 unanswered points, 28 coming in the third quarter alone, and beat the Cornhuskers in Lincoln 41-31. While it's hard to blame the loss on Martinez considering the total lack of defensive stops by the Cornhuskers, it's not like the offense did any favors.
After that game, Martinez missed three contests in a row before playing that final game against Minnesota.
Instead of having a terrific senior year and riding into the sunset as one of college football's best quarterbacks in 2013, Martinez instead will leave Lincoln on a note of uncertainty.
He's not projected to be drafted into the NFL according to CBS Sports, and he likely won't play in the Gator Bowl against Georgia.
So now, fans are left to wonder what Martinez's legacy is. The questions that'll be asked will certainly include:
What if Martinez didn't get injured?
What if Nebraska didn't collapse against UCLA?
But perhaps the most important question that needs to be asked regarding Martinez's legacy, the one that should cement him as a legend at Nebraska, is this one:
What would've happened to Nebraska had Martinez never been there?