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Rex Burkhead's All-Big Ten honor, 2011 Team MVP award and team captain status exemplify his leadership. Taylor Martinez is another valuable leader because he’s Nebraska’s Offensive MVP for a season that will be fully defined Jan. 2 in the Capital One Bowl. Burkhead and Martinez are Nebraska’s two most consistent playmakers. They’re the 1-2 punch that Top 10-ranked South Carolina must solve, and know this: Burkhead and Martinez aren’t just an extraordinary quarterback-running back rushing tandem. They’re the third most productive such tandem in college football.
Together, Burkhead (with 1,268 yards) and Martinez (with 837 yards) have rushed for a combined total of 2,105 yards, ranking behind only QB-RB tandems from Northern Illinois (2,314) and Michigan (2,174) this season. The five QB-RB combinations behind Nebraska also had productive seasons: No. 4 Wisconsin (2,079 yards), followed by Virginia Tech (2,043), Kansas State (2,032), Missouri (2,007) and Baylor (1,991).
So often, it seems, college football focuses strictly on running back tandems, such as Reggie Bush-LenDale White (USC), Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson (Alabama) or Clinton Portis-Frank Gore (Miami), all tandems that landed their respective teams in national championship games. But with Nebraska unveiling a new offense under Tim Beck this year, an equally symbiotic tandem is emerging – a quarterback-running back combination that can keep defensive coordinators burning the midnight oil trying to discover ways to slow fast-moving, ground-eating cleats.
Martinez Continues to Grow, Mature
This statistical comparison is meaningful, especially when you think about how Martinez has two remaining seasons after spending his sophomore year learning the intricacies of game management, the key measurement for all quarterbacks. In the process, Martinez has learned how to ignite other weapons at his disposal instead of thinking he has to be the biggest stick of dynamite on the field. That’s not an easy transition for someone as explosive as he is, but it’s a good mindset that will continue to pay off because in his new role, Martinez has stayed healthier and seen his confidence multiply, both as a team leader and overall field general. No wonder Beck says “I love the kid” whenever he talks about his quarterback.
All of that feeds into my core conclusion: Burkhead and Martinez are the third most productive quarterback-running back rushing tandem in college football for good reason. They believe in each other, reinforce each other, lead each other, defend each other, praise each other and, most important of all, respect each other.
Call it Nebraska Transformation 101. Two high school players arrive in Lincoln from two major metropolitan areas where they were both considered legends. Burkhead earned the nickname “Superman” at Plano High School in the suburbs of Dallas. Martinez took a more circuitous route to stardom, attending three different high schools before landing at Centennial High School and leading that Corona, Calif., school to a state championship season. He came to Nebraska anointed as the California State High School Player of the Year by the Los Angeles Times.
Bowl Game Worth 10 Ratings Spots
The important thing is those are faded pictures from the superstardom each left behind. They’re teammates now, brothers in the Big Ten, mutually dependent on and committed to helping Nebraska reach 10 wins for a third consecutive season. They know a win can position the Huskers for incremental respect and improvement in 2012 when Burkhead will be a senior and Martinez a junior. Beat South Carolina and winter conditioning will be better, spring practice more motivational, summer conditioning more exciting and fall camp infinitely more meaningful because the Capital One Bowl is worth at least 10 pegs on anyone’s preseason Top 20 ratings.
So here’s hoping Burkhead and Martinez will click in Orlando better than they have all season. With a healthier offensive line and time to heal their own nicks and bruises, this highly ranked tandem seems poised to succeed together, reinforcing the trust they already have and building it into something much bigger than it is now. Who knows? If Burkhead and Martinez get hot at the same time in Florida, off-season discussion might focus on their relationship and how it stacks up with a QB-RB rushing tandem that defines the very essence of on-the-field respect and trust. Remember Mike Rozier getting the ball from a well-schooled Turner Gill?
Are we overzealous here? No doubt. Out of the question? The blunt answer is no, especially when coaches and players approach greatness the old-fashioned way – with teamwork, hard work, homework and constant reinforcement. It’s a daily process that stretches year-round, and it resumes Monday when the Huskers fly to Orlando with a revitalized quarterback and an inspired running back/captain that will do whatever it takes to inspire everyone around him.
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