Around a year ago Iowa fans were buzzing about the upcoming football season and the possibility of a big addition via the transfer portal. Much-hyped hometown Iowa City star recruit Oliver Martin was leaving Michigan after a few years in Ann Arbor, with rumors suggesting he'd be heading to the hometown team he turned down a few years earlier. A year later Oliver Martin and the transfer portal are in the news again.
Martin, of course, did end up coming to Iowa last year after leaving Michigan and even managed to secure a waiver to play immediately right before the season got underway. The return of the prodigal son did not go quite as planned, though, and given today's development, it doesn't look like a storybook ending is meant to be for Martin and Iowa.
The best moments of Martin's Iowa tenure came at the very beginning; he had two catches for 14 yards in Iowa's season-opening win over MIami (OH) -- and also caught his lone touchdown pass as a Hawkeye.
That game ended up being half of Martin's entire production for the season; he finished the year with five catches for 28 yards and one touchdown. He didn't catch a pass after September and didn't play at all in four of Iowa's last five games. Needless to say, this is not how anyone envisioned things turning out for Martin at Iowa.
There weren't any reports of injuries or off-field issues for Martin at Iowa -- so what doomed his chances here? It might just be a case of lousy timing. After a decade of irrelevance and (mostly) subpar play, Iowa's wide receivers last year were actually... good. Really good, in fact. Thanks to breakout campaigns from the likes of Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, and Tyrone Tracy, Iowa's wide receiver unit was the best it had been in a decade, since the glory days of Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Four receivers (the aforementioned trio plus Nico Ragaini) had at least 36 receptions and over 400 yards receiving. Smith-Marsette and Tracy emerged as speedy big-play threats that could take the top off a defense unlike anyone Iowa had had in years -- and they were in an offense that found ways to use their speed and explosiveness more effectively (unlike poor Tevaun Smith, trapped in Greg Davis' mostly-horizontal schemes). Smith used his exceptional leaping ability and sturdy hands to become a reliable target on the outside as well, while Ragaini plugged in as Iowa's latest steady option in the slot. There are only so many receptions to go around on offense, especially in a scheme like Iowa's.
The lousy timing for Martin also reflects other issues outside of the crowded wide receiver depth chart at Iowa. He didn't arrive at Iowa until August, missing out on most of the offseason practices that enabled Nate Stanley to develop such continuity with Smith-Marsette, Smith, and Ragaini (as well as Tracy once he arrived for preseason camp). And this offseason the COVID-19 pandemic robbed him of practice opportunities in the spring and summer to try and develop chemistry with Stanley's replacement, Spencer Petras.
Martin's transfer to Iowa last year was an exciting development and one that seemed to set the stage for a fairy tale ending for Martin's college career. Alas, that's not going to happen. His decision to transfer away in light of his minimal playing time is understandable and the emergence of so many receiving options for Iowa over the last year cushions the blow of his departure (although Smith-Marsette and Smith will both be gone after the 2020 season, so Iowa's 2021 receiver depth chart will have some big holes on it). We wish Martin the best of luck as he moves on from Iowa; hopefully his new destination will be the right spot for him.