By leading a breakout Big Ten season at Nebraska, Taylor Martinez could break away for the 2013 Heisman Trophy. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Heisman Top 25: No. 17 Taylor Martinez

Only 76 players in the history of college football have earned the designation of Heisman Trophy winners. First awarded in 1935, the Heisman Trophy is considered the sport’s pinnacle of individual achievement. is tracking the race to the 78th Heisman Trophy throughout the 2013 college football season via the Heisman Top 25. Every week throughout the season, we are tracking the progress of the contenders, both their on-field impact and media presence.

Ever since Taylor Martinez burst onto the scene with 12 rushing TDs in his first five games, Nebraska fans have expected more from him. Martinez has never become Tommie Frazier, but he has an outside chance to bring home the coveted Heisman Trophy that eluded Frazier as he did defenders.

The most encouraging sign for Martinez’ pursuit of a Heisman Trophy is his development as a passer. Through his first two seasons the rising senior did little more than keep defenses off balance. Last year Martinez showed he can effectively move the ball through the air, throwing for 2,871 yards and – more importantly – completing 62 percent of his passes, up from his 57 percent through the first two seasons. When defenses focused on keeping Martinez from running he even showed he could light up his opponents – throwing for 300 yards three times in 2012.

Perhaps Martinez’ greatest step forward last year came in a 29-28 comeback win at Northwestern. He had to engineer two touchdown drives – both capped by TD passes – to lift the Cornhuskers to victory.

That said, Martinez can still beat teams with his legs, notching his first-career 1,000-yard season last year. Martinez ran for 100 yards in five games last season, including a 205-yard, 2-TD rushing performance in a pivotal 28-24 win at Michigan State.

How Taylor Martinez Wins The Heisman

First and foremost, Martinez must avoid the disaster games he has shown through his first three seasons. Last year, it was a nationally televised, Thanksgiving weekend game at Iowa in which the triggerman threw for 63 yards and rushed for just 41. Weather was a factor in that game, but weather will be a factor in late-November Big Ten games.

Nebraska must remain competitive at least on the conference scene, and likely in the national scene. A couple potential scheduling issues could greatly benefit Martinez. A Week 3 rematch against UCLA – this year at Memorial Stadium – will likely lead to increased exposure to Heisman Trophy voters on the West Coast. For Martinez to enjoy the other, the Cornhuskers need to win their division, staving off Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern again. That could very well lead to a national-stage showdown with Ohio State and its Heisman candidate, Braxton Miller. The Big Ten Championship Game would give Martinez and outstanding opportunity to make a final argument and it could turn a strong season into a memorable one on the same stage where Nebraska flopped last season.

A four-game stretch in November will determine Martinez’ chances of winning the Heisman Trophy. Nebraska hosts Northwestern and Michigan State and plays at Michigan and Penn State during the four-game run during which a 2-2 record could very well kill his candidacy.

Statistical Overview

• 228-368 (62 percent), 2,871 yards

• 23 passing TDs, 12 INTs

• 195 rushes, 1,019 yards (5.2 yards per carry)

• 10 rushing TDs

Compared To Past Heisman Winners

Tim Tebow, 2007: During his Heisman Trophy season, Tebow threw for 3,286 yards (completing 67 percent of his passes), 32 TDs and just 6 INTs. He also rushed for 895 yards and 23 TDs. Tebow’s outstanding statistics, combined with the fact that none of the nation’s top teams boasted obvious Heisman favorites, helped him bring home the win despite a team 9-3 regular-season record.

Johnny Manziel, 2012: The only freshman in NCAA history to bring home the Heisman Trophy, Manziel lit up opposing (SEC) defenses both through the air and on the ground. All Manziel had to do to become the first freshman to ever win a Heisman was throw for 3,706 yards and 26 TDs and run for 1,409 yards and 21 TDs. Oh, and there was the small feat of playing out of his mind in leading the Aggies to a road win at No. 1 Alabama.

Tags: Big Ten Nebraska Cornhuskers

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