Up until the opening kickoff of the 2010 season, I was sure that Zac Lee would be the starter again the 2010 season, despite the new guy, Taylor Martinez, generating all the preseason buzz.
Yet when the Western Kentucky game started, there was Martinez walking onto the field. I was surprised - not because I didn't think Martinez capable (who knew anything about him?) but because Nebraska's stated goal for the season was to win the Big 12 Championship, and winning any kind of championship with a first-year starter at quarterback is difficult at best.
Martinez' explosion wasn't entirely apparent at first. Against Western Kentucky he had seven carries for 127 yards (although his first career touchdown was a 46-yard run, a sign of things to come), and was 9-of-15 passing for 136 yards.
By the time the time the Kansas State game rolled around, Martinez had already rushed for 496 yards, the most ever by a Husker freshman quarterback. Against Kansas State he broke the school's single-game rushing record for a quarterback and tied the single-game record for quarterback touchdowns, totaling 241 yards and four touchdowns.
Then came Texas and the Huskers toppled back to earth. Martinez had only 21 yards on the ground, and completed only 4-of-12 passes for 63 yards (thanks to many dropped passes). The loss hurt, and the hurt got worse as Texas' season crumbled.
Oklahoma State saw Martinez rebound, becoming the first-ever Husker quarterback to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game. The offense scored 51 against the Cowboys, the most given up by Oklahoma State all season.
The Missouri game was a turning point. Even though Nebraska exploded against the Tigers for 24 first-quarter points and Roy Helu set the single-game rushing record with 307 yards, Martinez would suffer an injury that would limit him for the rest of the season. He would sit out against Iowa State, appearing for only one play as a decoy.
Against Kansas, he returned, but the game was a snoozefest. Gone was the explosive nature of the offense, and the offense would almost completely disappear against Texas A&M resulting in a disappointing 9-6 loss as Martinez was injured again. He was seen on the sidelines getting a face full of f-bombs hurled at him by Bo Pelini leading fans to speculate on the cause.
The speculation lead to rampant rumor mongering. Martinez was leaving the team. He appeared aloof on the sidelines, not talking much to other teammates. He stopped talking to the media. He was branded a prima donna and his dad interfered too much.
Things only got worse after Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game only to go on and lose 23-20, three points short of a glorious season.
If the Texas A&M game were disappointing, the Holiday Bowl was a disaster. The offense couldn't score. The Huskers couldn't run the ball against one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation, even though they were missing three starters on the defensive line. To make matters worse for Martinez, the LA Times released an article stating that his father Casey Martinez had a licensing deal with Nebraska to sell merchandise, despite the fact that this was common knowledge to anyone paying attention.
At the end of the season, Martinez is in a position where many Husker fans would like to see him leave. That's an amazing turn-around for a player that only weeks before had been seen as a savior for the offense, the next coming of Tommie Frazier and Turner Gill.
Martinez finished the season with 965 yards on 162 carries, leading the team with 12 rushing touchdowns. He completed 116-of-196 passes for 1,631 yards. He had a 59.2 completion percentage with ten touchdowns and seven interceptions. That's more rushing yardage than Frazier ever had in a season, and a higher completion rate than either Gill or Frazier ever had. In fact, Martinez scored more rushing touchdowns than Gill in his beat season - 1983. When you consider the teams that surrounded Gill and Frazier (oh, those offensive lines!) and the team Martinez had surrounding him, those are some pretty impressive statistics.
Is it fair that Martinez shoulder so much blame? Would it be different if Husker fans would simply see him for what he is - a first-year starting quarterback who was bound to suffer the maladies of turnovers and mistakes suffered by all first-year starters, or is Martinez being vilified because he reached such heights so early, becoming ordinary as the season went on?
The bottom line is - is Martinez being fairly represented by Husker fans, or are we holding him accountable for our unanswered prayers?