When you’re bucking for a championship with a freshman quarterback, you’re just asking for trouble. And when you’re a freshman quarterback playing for a program that is so used to winning that it's expected, you’re just asking for more criticism than you probably deserve.
And that is precisely why, despite a 10-4 final mark for 2010, the year will be viewed with mixed emotions in regards to both Nebraska’s end result and Martinez’s showing.
Martinez has the "it" factor, there is no denying that. In college football quarterbacks can be broken up into three distinct categories. The guys who don’t belong on the field ever, the moderately talented passers who make up for their shortcomings with effort and grit, and the guys with the "it" factor. The quarterbacks in that third and most notable group have the potential to be awe-inspiring stars. Unfortunately, they don’t always live up to their potential.
Last season was one featuring a series of hits and misses for Martinez and his Huskers team. At times Martinez was shockingly good for an inexperienced player. When he embarrassed the Kansas State Jayhawks defense both through the air and on the ground, single-handedly dominating them to no end, Martinez looked like the second-coming.
Then, in one of the most Jekyll-Hyde scenarios you will ever see, you also had him playing horrifyingly bad versus the likes of Texas and Texas A&M, with Bo Pelini getting so agitated with his play against the latter that he got into his face and screamed at him as only Bo Pelini can.
Now, to be fair, Martinez’s inconsistent play wasn’t as single-layered as it may seem. On top of the natural growing pains that every young quarterback has to go through, Nebraska’s polarizing star also became noticeably more hobbled after an injury he sustained to his ankle during his squad’s game against Missouri.
From that point on, he was no longer the same threat to rush – and opposing defenses took note of that. When your dual-threat, speedy quarterback suddenly loses his ability to run and move, chances of success decrease substantially.
And despite the turmoil that he experienced last year, Martinez kept his spirits as high as can be. Even during the summer when Nebraska was busy pursuing quarterback Bubba Starling -- attempting to lure him away from the Kansas City Royals -- there was no ill will from Martinez. With an attitude like that, it’s clear to see why even despite some of his struggles last year, he’s quickly endeared himself to the Nebraska fan base.
Everyone involved sees Martinez’s run last year as fairly typical for a young passer, especially Pelini. Recently, the Nebraska head coach commented on the way the media and college football experts build stars up quickly, only to tear them down at the first sign of distress.
“It was interesting because last year he had such tremendous success early on that everybody wanted to jump ahead. The pressure went up in a hurry. People were talking Heisman candidate, all those things. He was two, three games into his career, which was crazy. Then he got hurt later on in the year. But the young man is committed.”
Martinez has an undeniable trait in him that is innate in all great quarterbacks, something that can’t be taught. On top of that, he’s already proven to have the thick skin and right mentality for success at the collegiate level. Assuming his ankle isn’t hindering him anymore, and he came away from last year with some lessons that can only be learned via experience on the gridiron, a noticeably better year out of him doesn’t seem like that farfetched of a notion.
This isn’t a make or break year for Martinez by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, it’s simply a shot at redemption for last season’s bumpy ride – and given everything he’s shown us thus far, it’s safe to assume that he’ll make the doubters see the error of their ways this time around.