In October 2011, after Nebraska’s first really bad loss since ‘08, I wrote a column about Bo Pelini and Taylor Martinez and how much the coach had invested in the player.
Toward the end, I wrote that if Martinez struggled against Ohio State, Bo should look at other QB options. That part especially created a bit of a firestorm. You know all that.*
* Feeling a bit of déjà vu lately, I went back and read the column last night for probably the first time since 2011. Yes, I wish I had softened the tone in a few sentences, but I wouldn’t change the point of the column.
I bring this up again because, two years later, Husker fans are in a familiar spot. Martinez struggled against UCLA (partly because of a bad wheel). His two backups played great against South Dakota State. Now many, including a prominent former Husker I ran into Monday, say Tommy Armstrong is Bo’s best option.
I won’t go that far, not without seeing Armstrong against better competition. If Martinez is healthy, he’s still the guy against Illinois. He’s earned it. He holds countless school records. He’s coming off a season in which he earned all-Big Ten honors (from the coaches; the media picked Braxton Miller). When 100 percent, he’s still one of the most explosive players in college football.
But Martinez is more vulnerable than ever to a QB challenge — even more than in 2011. And it’s not because Armstrong runs the option and throws a pretty deep ball. It’s not because the Huskers appear headed for another mediocre season. It’s because of this: He’s a finished product.
For three years, every Martinez mistake was complicated by the popular belief that he was getting better. According to that logic, the former scout-team wideout was still raw, still learning the position. But if you gave him time to develop, he’d be a transformational player. A star. Sitting him down in favor of Brion Carnes or Cody Green or a hot-shot transfer meant halting his progress. What a shame to interrupt “Project Taylor” before it was complete.
In other words, the mystery of Martinez’s future made setbacks easier to swallow.
I don’t disagree with some of that logic. Martinez COULD do things that other QBs couldn’t. He DID have a higher ceiling. And he HAS turned into a good college QB. I’m not interested in going back and examining whether Bo should’ve started Zac Lee in 2010 or recruited other quarterbacks/transfers. That’s an argument for another day — there are good points on both sides.
What I’m saying today is Taylor has only three months of college football left. And suddenly the clock is his enemy. What he always had working for him — the mystery of how good he could be — is gone. He is what he is. And as a result, fans (and perhaps coaches) are less likely to be patient with him.
Many of the arguments for Taylor in 2010 now apply to Tommy in 2013.
It’s Armstrong who has “potential” on his side. It’s Armstrong who might give the program a spark. It’s Armstrong who, if he plays right now, might pave the way for a breakthrough in 2014, ’15 or ‘16.
Bo Pelini doesn’t have to worry about this yet. He’s still chasing a Big Ten championship. He still has a clear No. 1. But if Martinez struggles (or doesn’t get healthy) in October, Bo will face pressure to make a change. If Nebraska loses to Northwestern or Michigan and falls behind in the Legends race, Bo will face pressure to make a change.
Would he do it? After everything coach and player have been through together? After standing by Martinez — and arguing for his potential — over and over the past three years? I can’t imagine Bo making that call. Permanently benching Martinez, who represents Bo’s tenure at Nebraska more than any other player, would be an admission that “Project Taylor” didn’t work out. That Bo was wrong.
Just as Pelini is intensely loyal to his assistants, I gotta believe he’ll stand by No. 3.
Martinez will go down as the most prolific quarterback in Husker history. He’ll have a highlight tape equal to Tommie Frazier’s and Eric Crouch’s. But if this season doesn’t turn around (which, ironically, has more to do with the defense than the offense), Martinez’s career won’t be a success.
Fair or not, Nebraska quarterbacks are judged not by yards and highlights, but by wins and trophies.
* * *
>> Penn State will return to 85 scholarships in three years. It’s a rather significant moment for the NCAA’s justice system. It’s just as critical for Nittany Lion football.
With the old penalties, I didn’t see any chance that Bill O’Brien would stick it out through the entire probation period. Now I’m not so sure. If O’Brien can develop his quarterback pupil, Christian Hackenberg, get the bowl ban reduced and land a few difference-makers in the 2014 and ‘15 recruiting classes, Penn State may be ready to compete for Big Ten championships in 2016.
And if that happens, the new Big Ten divisions (East and West) will be terribly lopsided. Is it too late for Michigan State to come West?
>> Nebraska’s defense knows exactly how good Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is. Now the rest of college football is finding out.
>> Things are going south at USC and Lane Kiffin will probably take the fall. But a bright spot this year has been the defense. A year ago, Monte Kiffin’s D was terrible. Now Clancy Pendergast’s D is one of the nation’s best. Somewhere in this story may be a lesson for Bo Pelini’s staff — and a reason for Husker fans to hope.
>> It’s really hard to succeed as an NFL quarterback, especially on a bad team. I get that. But things have unfolded about as poorly as possible for Josh Freeman and Blaine Gabbert since they were drafted.
Gabbert’s short career has been a disaster, no thanks to the talent around him. And now Freeman has been benched in Tampa — the Bucs want to trade him ASAP. Both have histories with Nebraska, as you know. But the more useful similarity may be their college competition. Look at recent high-profile QBs from the Big 12:
‘12: Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden
‘10: Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy
Of those seven, McCoy was the only one not drafted in the first round. And of those seven, RG3 and Tannehill are the only two that still look capable of fulfilling their promise.
Again, it’s a really tough league and most QBs fail. But it’s hard not to wonder what impact those terrible Big 12 defenses had on scouts’ quarterback evaluations.
>> Kevin Durant dissed D-Wade pretty bad. This is likely a Gatorade publicity stunt, but regardless, Durant is right. Wade isn’t one of the top 10 players in the NBA and anybody who thinks so is living in 2009. (At the bottom of this link is the full Top 100 players).
>> An ode to the slowest player in baseball, Billy Butler.