Last November, after suffering an ankle sprain three weeks earlier, Taylor Martinez was finally feeling like himself when Nebraska visited Texas A&M. Early in the game, however, the quarterback was seen wiping blood from a cut on his right arm. He later suffered what would be diagnosed as turf toe. Then center Mike Caputo inadvertently stepped on his previously injured right ankle. "It was really painful," Martinez says.
Nebraska fans didn't learn until well after the season just how much the freshman QB was hurting during the second half of the season. After rushing for more than 100 yards in five of the Cornhuskers' first seven games, T-Magic, as he'd come to be known, had just 95 total rushing yards in his last five starts (he missed two games to injuries) and failed to throw for more than 167 in a game. He and the Huskers bottomed out in a 19--7 Holiday Bowl loss to Washington—the same team Martinez shredded for 137 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 56--21 road win three months earlier. "He had so much success early people almost forgot he was a freshman," says coach Bo Pelini, whose nationally televised tongue lashing of his quarterback during the A&M game, a 9--6 loss, prompted rumors that the QB might transfer. (Martinez now says he "loves" Pelini and that the incident was a misunderstanding.)
To resurrect the Magic and rejuvenate the Huskers' attack as they enter their first year in the Big Ten, fourth-year coach Pelini parted ways with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and promoted running backs coach Tim Beck. Under Watson, Nebraska employed a complex West Coast passing playbook. Beck, the pass-game coordinator at Kansas when the Jayhawks went 12--1 in 2007, has simplified things and picked up the tempo. "It will be a little more upbeat," says Martinez. "It should be more fun to watch."
Nebraska may have the Big Ten's best defense, led by All-Americas Jared Crick at defensive tackle and Lavonte David at linebacker. But after scoring more than 20 points once in their last five games in '10, the Huskers need more than a new playbook. A fit, savvier Martinez will be the biggest difference-maker. "He's healthy," running back Rex Burkhead says. "He'll be the explosive player he's known to be."
10 Fresno State
24 at Wyoming
1 at Wisconsin
8 Ohio State
22 at Minnesota
29 Michigan State
12 at Penn State
19 at Michigan
Rushed for 951 yards (5.5 per carry) and seven touchdowns while splitting time last season.
A second-team All-America last season, he ranks seventh in school history with 19 career sacks.
Set a school mark for tackles in 2010 with 152 after transferring from junior college.
Conference Big Ten
Coach Bo Pelini (4th year)
2010 Record 10--4 (6--2 in Big 12)
Final AP Rank 20
Returning Starters 11
Offense 5, Defense 6
JED JACOBSOHN (MARTINEZ)
Martinez didn't let on how much his toe and ankle were hurting late last season; now that he's healed, Huskers fans are hopeful that the Magic is back.
BRETT DAVIS/US PRESSWIRE (DAVID)