PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Taylor Martinez's dream of playing in the Rose Bowl is about to come true, even if it's in scarlet instead of blue.
As a kid growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs, Martinez didn't fall under the spell of Southern California's run of conference championships, BCS appearances and national titles. He embraced UCLA instead, hoping he would throw passes and win big games at the picturesque venue.
"I loved UCLA growing up as a kid," Martinez said. "I just loved watching UCLA."
Martinez was recruited by the Bruins, all right — but as a free safety. Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel wasn't the only coach who wasn't sold on the 6-foot-1 Martinez's prospects as an offensive player, but by the time Martinez led Corona Centennial High School to a state title as a senior, Nebraska had already signed him.
"I really didn't know who Nebraska was," Martinez said. "But once I started looking more into them, I really fell in love with Nebraska."
Martinez leads the No. 17 Cornhuskers (1-0) into the Rose Bowl against UCLA (1-0) on Saturday, with both schools hoping to build on their strong starts to the season.
Each of the Huskers' eight California players — all from the south end of the state — had reason to circle this trip on the schedule. In fact, playing well in Los Angeles is important for the entire Nebraska program, which has recruited California aggressively in coach Bo Pelini's tenure.
Martinez will have about 50 friends and family members in the stands cheering him on, and receiver Quincy Enunwa — from Moreno Valley — expects about the same number of well-wishers. Those are cozy gatherings compared to the 200-plus people supporting senior defensive end Cameron Meredith, who's from Huntington Beach.
"I heard there's going to be as much red as blue in the stands, so that's exciting for us," said UCLA receiver Ricky Marvray, Martinez's high school teammate at Corona Centennial. "We love the challenge."
UCLA never offered a scholarship to Martinez, who started out at Nebraska as a redshirt receiver before surprising many by becoming the starting quarterback as a freshman two years ago. Martinez's sometimes-strange throwing motion and injury history might have affected his progress, but the junior looked awfully sharp in the Huskers' season-opening victory over Southern Miss, throwing for a career-high 354 yards.
"A lot has been made about whether he could take the next step, and all indications are that he took a leap," said UCLA coach Jim Mora, who's also making his Rose Bowl debut on Saturday
Martinez reminds Mora of Jeff Garcia, the undersized, under-recruited quarterback who became a three-time Pro Bowler with the San Francisco 49ers while Mora was their defensive coordinator.