If Nebraska Never Left the Big 12, Taylor Martinez Would've Had a Better Career

Carl Stine@@CFBAllDayCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2013

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 27: Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers gets his offense ready to snap the ball against the Michigan Wolverines during their game at Memorial Stadium on October 27, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska beat Michigan 23-9. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Since arriving in the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and the Huskers have never quite gotten over the hump.

In 2011, the team's first conference game was a brutal 48-17 beating at the hands of Wisconsin.

Martinez struggled in that game, completing 11 passes to Cornhuskers, and three to Badgers, while averaging only 3.1 yards per carry on the ground.

His performance that night prompted plenty of questions, particularly about his ability to handle the leadership role.

Prior to that game, the team was 4-0 and ranked number eight in the nation.

By season's end, they had the fifth best record in the conference, and finished with four losses, three of them in the Big Ten.

Last season, the stars aligned, Martinez was good enough to lead the team to the Big Ten title game, and the Huskers were facing a familiar opponent, Wisconsin, who came into the game with a 7-5 record.

The Badgers were there by default, as Ohio State and Penn State were both dealing with postseason bans.

When the dust cleared, Martinez had thrown two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and the Badgers again ground the Huskers into dust, 70-31. 

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Not to say this was all Martinez, the man didn't play defense, but his three turnovers certainly didn't help, nor did his inability to get the offense into a rhythm.

Martinez is now entering his final season as the leader of Nebraska's offense, and must have an excellent season to quiet the doubters, who question his ability to be an elite college football quarterback.

If he can cut down on the turnovers, he has a shot at finishing the season with a surprise Heisman surge.

The Huskers' successes under Bo Pelini are tied to their turnovers. Under Pelini, they are 35-2 when even or on the positive side of the turnover margin. When negative, the team is 13-19.

Martinez and his ability to make good decisions will be key to Husker success in the Big Ten this season.

In spite of his struggles passing that ball, there has been noticeable progression from his freshman season to now, and if that continues, he will be a solid passing quarterback, though not elite.

This improvement, coupled with his ability to run the ball in a manner similar to such popular Heisman picks as Johnny Manziel and Braxton Miller, could lead to a trip to New York in December. The likelihood of that trip increase if he continues to break off runs like his incredible scamper against Wisconsin in the 2012 Big Ten title game.

While he's been a good quarterback, one who is better than average with tremendous upside, it is still interesting to look back and consider where his career might have gone if the Huskers remained in the Big 12.

In his two seasons in the Big Ten, Martinez has put up good numbers, posting 4,960 yards passing; a completion percentage of 62 last season and 56.3 the year before; over seven yards per passing attempt; 58 total touchdowns and 1,893 rushing yards.

But it is his penchant for turning the ball over that is in issue for detractors. He's thrown 18 interceptions in his two seasons in the Big Ten, and fumbled the ball 47 times since he began his career at Nebraska.

If Martinez and Nebraska had remained in the Big 12, it's easy to see how he would have had better numbers, and received more positive national hype.

In 2011, the team faced Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State, every one of which was a top twenty team in total defense that season.

Meanwhile, Texas was the only Big 12 team to finish in the top 50 in total defense that season. Oklahoma checked in at 55th and Texas A&M at 59th.

While it's questionable whether the Huskers would have improved their performance that season, as the improved offenses in the Big 12 would provide a challenge for Bo Pelini's defense, Martinez would have had a field day against such atrocious defenses. Who wouldn't?

In 2012, it was more of the same. Michigan (13), Michigan State (4), Wisconsin (15) twice, Ohio State (34), Minnesota (33), Northwestern (48), Penn State (29) and Iowa (49) all played Nebraska, and all checked in inside the top 50 in total defense in 2012.

By the same token, TCU (16), Texas Tech (38) and Kansas State (46) are the only Big 12 teams that finished inside the top 50 in total defense last season.

Martinez is extremely talented, as evidenced by his good numbers, and his steady improvement in multiple categories, including completion percentage and yardage. There is no question that the man, for all his faults and foibles, would find a way to produce even bigger numbers against what passes for defense in the Big 12.

During his freshman season, Martinez dropped five passing touchdowns on then number 13 Oklahoma State. He finished the season with only five other passing touchdowns all together, going through freshman growing pains during his initial time at quarterback.

Seeing his progression over the past two seasons against far superior defenses has been entertaining, exciting and at times frustrating.

Nebraska fans have alternated between cheers and jeers as Martinez struggled to complete passes, then rumbled into the endzone on a ridiculous rushing touchdown.

Against defenses that are a step below his current level of competition, Martinez would look like the second coming of Michael Vick.

No offense to Big 12 football players, the conference, or anyone else in anyway affiliated or with affinity for it's culture intended, but the defenses are atrocious.

Martinez is due for a big season in 2013, especially if he finds a way to hold onto the football and complete more passes to the Huskers than to their opponents.

If he, and Nebraska, had remained in the Big 12, the Huskers' controversial quarterback would be heralded as one of the greatest offensive weapons in the nation.

It is all a matter of perspective.