Sure, he had already been playing very well so far this year, but putting up 241 rushing yards and four touchdowns on a Thursday night game when everyone is watching makes him stand out quite a bit more.
At this point, it’s a no-brainer that Martinez is the hands-down choice for national freshman of the year. But can he challenge for the Heisman?
I think we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves in that regard. There is a long way to go in the season and he has yet to face a defense that presents a serious challenge to Nebraska’s attack. We know that he is capable of brilliance, but let’s not forget that he also struggled against South Dakota State. Like most freshman, he’s likely to hit a wall at some point.
But let’s say he doesn’t.
Assuming Nebraska makes it to the Big 12 title game, he’s currently on pace to finish the season with 1,916 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns, with another 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air. If you factor in the bowl game, he’s on pace to break Ron Dayne’s record for single-season rushing yards by a freshman.
This is the kind of production that only Denard Robinson could look down on.
Still, all this and a lot more would have to happen for Martinez to make a serious Heisman run. Voters are reluctant to give much attention to freshmen since they feel there will be more chances later to place them on a ballot (if they aren’t flashes in the pan) and that upperclassmen are generally more worthy of being rewarded given their career productivity. The rest of the field would probably have to collapse for Martinez to really have a shot. That’s not going to happen.
That doesn’t mean Martinez can’t be a factor in the race, though. More and more voters seem prepared to defy convention these days, as exemplified by the late surge to Ndamukong Suh last year. The last Big 12 freshman running phenom (Adrian Peterson) finished second in the Heisman vote. Martinez can set himself up nicely for a run in 2011 with a productive season capped by a top five finish in the balloting. And if he ends up leading Nebraska to the BCS title game, then he’ll probably end up making it to New York, the first freshman to do so since Peterson.
The big test for Martinez come in the next three weeks, as the Huskers take on Texas, Oklahoma State and Missouri. None of these teams have great defenses (though the Longhorns are talented and certainly capable of rising to the occasion), but if Martinez can maintain his production while navigating his team to three more wins, his Heisman hopes might start to blossom.
But this is still just speculation based on a few games. The safe bet is that Martinez will end up having a great freshman year, but come nowhere near the Heisman….in 2010.
Let’s face it: He may be T-Magic, but some spells are really hard to break.