We have seen many versions of Taylor Martinez during his Nebraska career.
In 2010, he was T-Magic, a dynamic freshman who put himself on the national radar with lengthy touchdown runs, eclipsing 120 rush yards in five of his first seven games and shattering team records in the process. By the end of that season, he seemed to be Martinez the Malcontent, sustaining ankle and toe injuries and absorbing the wrath of Mt. Pelini during the Texas A&M loss. He became the subject of transfer rumors, which his father diffused.
Big Ten fans got their first extended look at Martinez in 2011, and it wasn't pretty. Still hampered by the ankle injury, the Husker quarterback didn't run nearly as much and regressed as a passer, completing just 56.3 percent of his attempts and being mocked for his shot-put-like motion. Criticism for Martinez spiked in the football-crazed Cornhusker State, and while he had some good moments, like the Ohio State comeback, his approval rating suffered.
Before this season, Martinez became Taylor the Proclaimer. A man of very few words, he gained attention for two statements: that Nebraska would contend for a national title, and that he would complete 70 percent of his passes. Both were summarily dismissed, and while the national title talk never seemed realistic, Martinez has been much more accurate with his passes.
A new version of Martinez has emerged this season, one Nebraska fans are glad to see and one that shows how far he has come.
Taylor Martinez, clutch quarterback. There's no argument about it.
Martinez has led second-half comebacks in three of Nebraska's four Big Ten victories, including last Saturday's crucial Legends Division win at Michigan State. He helped Nebraska erase a 17-point third-quarter deficit in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin; a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit Oct. 20 against Northwestern; and a 10-point fourth quarter deficit at Spartan Stadium.
His fourth-quarter numbers in the Northwestern and MSU wins: 323 yards of offense, three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown.
Martinez is responsible for two of the three biggest comebacks in Husker history (last year against Ohio State and this year against Wisconsin). He's also responsible for two of the three biggest fourth-quarter comebacks in team history (Northwestern and Michigan State this year).
"We've been in that situation before a couple of times," Martinez said after Saturday's game, "and we know that we can't be stopped."
Nebraska found itself in the situation in Week 2 against UCLA, but couldn't erase a 9-point fourth quarter deficit.
"That UCLA game prepared us for these next three comebacks we had," Martinez said. "There was a reason we lost to UCLA, and we're figuring out how come."
Martinez is far from perfect. No player epitomizes the 2012 Huskers more than the junior signal caller, who can go from terrible to incredible in a flicker. He can be maddening and masterful. But like his team, Martinez also hasn't let low moments sink him, and he has had his share the past three seasons.
In the Northwestern game, Martinez threw near interceptions -- which likely would have sealed a loss -- on consecutive plays. How did he respond? By completing 10 of his final 11 pass attempts for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the final eight minutes.
He threw three interceptions Saturday against Michigan State, but the Spartans couldn't finish him off. His 35-yard touchdown run cut Nebraska's deficit to three points, and he completed two long passes on the decisive drive before finding Jamal Turner in the end zone for a 5-yard score, the game-winner, with six seconds remaining. Despite an ankle injury, Martinez rushed for 205 yards, the fourth-most by a Husker quarterback in team history.
"He made some mistakes, but you know, everybody does," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said of Martinez. "When it came right down to the end, he didn't blink an eye. He put this football team on his back."
Pelini is right. Martinez has made his share of mistakes, even in an improved junior season. He has been fortunate at times, like when Northwestern dropped those interceptions or when a Michigan State pick-six was nullified by a personal foul penalty. He still takes criticism for his flaws, even from opponents (some of whom are later eating crow).
But football is all about response and opportunity, and Martinez has maximized his chances more often than not this season. With the game on the line, he and his teammates have been very good, which bodes well for the future.
"We have a lot of heart on our team," Martinez said.
Martinez is racking up milestones with the Huskers. He holds the Nebraska career record for total offense (8,166 yards). He already holds team records for total offense by a freshman (2,596) and a sophomore (2,963) and needs five yards to set the mark for a junior. He and former Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch are the only Husker players to record at least three seasons of 2,000 offensive yards. He needs just 189 yards to become Nebraska's all-time passing leader, and five passing touchdowns to hold Nebraska's career record.
How will Martinez be remembered in Nebraska? He'll undoubtedly leave a complex legacy. He'll never be loved like Crouch and Tommie Frazier. But his accomplishments shouldn't go unnoticed.
There likely will be more versions of Martinez to come. Remember, he'll be back in 2013 as a fourth-year starter.
But the latest version -- a clutch quarterback -- is one the Huskers should savor.
It's one that could lead them all the way to Pasadena.