Leistikow: Now that he's eligible, what should the Hawkeyes expect from Oliver Martin?
In the initial stages after Oliver Martin’s transfer from Michigan to Iowa in early June, I pegged his chances at obtaining immediate eligibility at 30%. And, admittedly, that felt a tad optimistic.
Even Martin was braced for the fact that, more likely than not, he would lose an entire year of eligibility. And he was willing to pay that price to be a Hawkeye.
But on Wednesday morning, the perceived longshot officially came through. The NCAA-Big Ten approval parlay hit. The golden ticket cashed.
Martin is free to play for the Hawkeyes, starting Saturday night against Miami of Ohio.
What a way to start the new season.
There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to what the NCAA approves and doesn’t, but hey — Kirk Ferentz finally got one to go his way.
If you’re in the Hawkeyes’ camp, this is news worth celebrating. A blue-chip recruit that got away has not only come home, but he’s also got three years of eligibility remaining.
Martin could be suiting up for the Hawkeyes for three years of gamedays to come — in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
In other words, this summer's biggest Iowa football story is only beginning.
Let’s start there. What should we expect from Martin as a now-eligible redshirt sophomore?
Before we get to playing time, let’s first start with development. The guy who Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said in July had been atop the seventh-ranked Wolverines’ depth chart coming out of the spring would have been relegated to Iowa’s scout team had his waiver been denied.
And that approach would have made sense. The Hawkeyes would have been foolish to spend precious game-week time with Martin in the rotation with 1s and 2s if he was next eligible to play on Sept. 5, 2020, against Northern Iowa.
Kudos to the NCAA, whatever the reasons were in Martin's case, for ruling in favor of a 20-year-old's continued development. Thanks to the approval, Martin will now be folded into Iowa's first-team reps for the next 14 weeks, plus any bowl preparations. That time will be instrumental for his acclimation to all three receiver positions in Brian Ferentz’s offense, not only for this season, but for 2020 and 2021.
And as we get to what to expect on the field, it bears mentioning once again: He was at the top of Michigan's depth chart.
The kid can play. That's something the Iowa City community has known for years, as he rewrote the West High (and state) record books as a smooth, dynamic wide receiver. He's also incredibly smart. Combine those two attributes, and already there's reason to believe the growth could happen quickly.
And it has.
In fact, it's already been on display.
During the Kids Day at Kinnick scrimmage Aug. 10, Martin mostly ran with the second-team offense in three wide-receiver sets, with a backup quarterback running the show. Yet he still stood out. A sensational, leaping, 22-yard catch in between two defensive backs along the sideline was one of those "wow" plays you don't often see from an Iowa receiver. Unofficially, he made four catches for 35 yards that day.
He'll make an impact at Iowa. The question, given his situation's uncertainty and a recent injury that forced him to miss practice time, is how soon?
We don't know how heavily Iowa used him this week in practice, considering Ferentz didn't know for sure about Martin's eligibility until the word came in late Wednesday morning, to the UI's compliance office. But Ferentz did say Tuesday that Martin would "absolutely" play against the RedHawks, not only alleviating any concern about Martin's health but indicating the confidence and trust the Hawkeye staff places in his ability.
And murmurs I've heard from closed practices (when Martin's been available) could best be described as giddy, tempered enthusiasm.
If I had to take a stab at Martin's 2019 floor, presuming good health? Fifteen to 20 catches in a run-first offense with four other valued wide-receiver mouths to feed.
The ceiling? A total game-changer by season's end.
So, let's take a peek ahead, shall we?
Here are the first five Saturdays of Iowa’s schedule: Miami, Rutgers, Iowa State, bye week, Middle Tennessee State. Those 30-some days will give Martin a lot of time to refine his craft and understanding of the playbook. The more time on the practice field and game field with Nate Stanley, the better during that first month.
And you do know how his second month on the field begins, right?
That game on October 5: Iowa at Michigan.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.