Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 14 Nebraska. The Cornhuskers return 14 starters, including running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez. The defense returns most of its core, but must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Is Nebraska's Taylor Martinez One of the Big Ten's Top Quarterbacks?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s consider the field for a moment: Denard Robinson is a clear No. 1 in the Big Ten. After that, who should we consider? Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the next best passer. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has the most potential. Northwestern’s Kain Colter was a supersub for Dan Persa. Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray is a fantastic runner but still struggling as a passer. Wisconsin’s Danny O’Brien was last seen losing his job at Maryland. Although Martinez struggled to remain in the conversation for the second tier of Big Ten quarterbacks last season, he is poised for a better season in 2012. His numbers regressed in some areas as a sophomore, but that’s not a shock. He was dynamic early in his freshman season in 2011 against weaker competition before returning to Earth in a second half hampered by injuries. In 2012, Martinez will have two years of starting experience under his belt, one year of experience against Big Ten opponents, one of the Big Ten’s best receiver groups, plus all the ability to be one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks. All the pieces are in place for Martinez to have a breakout year. Still, Nebraska doesn’t necessarily need Martinez to be an All-America quarterback, since running back Rex Burkhead is the likely centerpiece of this offense. Martinez simply needs to be very good, limiting mistakes and turnovers. That might not be enough to be a national superstar, but it will be enough to keep Nebraska in contention for a Big Ten title. By his junior year, Martinez should be up to the challenge.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Will he be the Big Ten's best quarterback in 2012? No. Can he lead his team to a Big Ten title by playing efficient and composed football within the framework of the offense thus making him one of the best? Absolutely. He had mental toughness and maturity issues in his first season under center back in 2010. And Martinez possibly took too much blame for the public dust-up with head coach Bo Pelini against Texas A&M considering he was a redshirt freshman — and that Pelini has a tendency to blow a gasket. Martinez also showed flashed of brilliant athletic ability and play-making skill. It appears he conquered those woes, as well as mastering the playbook, in year No. 2 as the starter in Lincoln while still exhibiting one of the quickest first five yards of any signal caller in the nation.
Now he faces his biggest challenge yet: Refining his accuracy in order to consistently and efficiently complete key passes in key situations. Easier said than done. T-Magic has never completed 60% of his passes and has dedicated his off-season work to honing his throwing motion and developing proper footwork. No one expects Martinez to be a pocket-passer with perfect drops, but should he simply improve his accuracy and protect the football, year No. 3 under center will easily be his best. It is the next step in his development process and it isn't an unreasonable expectation. Nebraska features one of the nation's elite tailbacks and arguably the Big Ten's top pass-catching corps, so, with his ability to make game-changing plays on the ground, there is no reason Martinez can't simple manage games through the air. If he can do this, Nebraska could be headed to Pasadena.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
There’s not a lot of turnover among Big Ten quarterbacks, but some of the conference’s best (Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson and Dan Persa) are gone. Denard Robinson should be the Big Ten’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback, but after that is where the debate gets interesting.
Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is going to emerge as a star in Urban Meyer’s spread offense and even though he didn’t turn in an overwhelming performance last year, he has to be considered for the No. 2 spot. Outside of Miller, Iowa’s James Vandenberg, Martinez and Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray could be the top options to rank No. 3 among the quarterbacks for the 2012 season. Vandenberg is coming off a solid season, but the offensive line is a question mark, while top target Marvin McNutt is gone. Gray showed progress last season, but needs to develop as a passer.
When you look at the field, it’s easy to see why Martinez should be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten this year. Sure, he’s had his ups and downs, but Martinez is entering his third year as the starter and threw only one interception over the final five games of last season. His rushing ability makes him one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, but how much he can improve as a passer will determine how high Nebraska can climb in the Big Ten standings.
Martinez is putting in extra work on his passing skills and drew positive reviews throughout spring. Nebraska also returns one of the Big Ten's top receiving corps for 2012. The lack of other options certainly help Martinez's case, but all of the pieces seem to be in place for the junior to have a career year.
In terms of where we stand and what we know right now I would say yes, but in Martinez's case, that distinction is due more to the lack of quality quarterbacks in the Big Ten more than anything else. Michigan's Denard Robinson, Ohio State's Taylor Braxton and Martinez are probably considered to the top three signal callers in the Big Ten this season. All three are similar in style in that they can beat you with their arm or their legs, although with varying degrees of success.
Robinson finished ahead of the other two last season and fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a completion rate of a little better than 55 percent and despite throwing 15 interceptions compared to 20 touchdowns. Miller completed fewer passes and had a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio (13:4), but he also attempted the fewest passes of the three by far. Martinez had the best completion percentage of the trio (56.3) and attempted the most passes (288 to Robinson's 258), but had 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Of the three, Miller is in a position to make the greatest leap in production this season as the sophomore will be running new Buckeyes' head coach Urban Meyer's spread system, the same system that helped Tim Tebow develop into a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback during Meyer's tenure at Florida.
That said, Martinez also could continue to improve in his own right, but in the end, the fact he is considered one of the Big Ten's best under center in 2012 is probably more an indication of who's no longer around, namely Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, and Northwestern's Dan Persa. That also doesn't mean that Martinez won't be outplayed at his position this season by Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase or Iowa's James Vandenberg or someone else, showing just how precarious the Nebraska junior's top-tier "status" in the Big Ten is, and it's only May.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it’s fair to say that Martinez is one of the best signal callers in the Big Ten, but he will have to become a more efficient passer to reach elite status in the conference and nationally. T-Magic is at his best running the ball, and his speed and athleticism have produced an outstanding 1,839 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground over the last two seasons. However, the NU quarterback had a meager completion percentage of 56.3 without enough big plays during the 2011 campaign. If coordinator Tim Beck puts less emphasis on quarterback runs due to schematic decisions or to protect Martinez’ 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame, the Nebraska offense could become extremely predictable.
As good as tailback Rex Burkhead is, the Huskers need their quarterback play to improve to contend for the league crown and/or the BCS. In double-digit losses to Wisconsin, Michigan and South Carolina last season, Martinez completed a combined 30 passes and ran for less than 150 yards total. The NU staff and others have worked with the California native on his passing and mechanics, and marked improvement could lead to big results for Bo Pelini’s team. Martinez will always be a threat on the ground, and I think he’ll become an effective enough passer to be among the Big Ten’s best QBs.
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