Tate Martell not starting at Miami says a lot about him and even more about college football in 2019
I’ll be honest. I’m bummed.
I wanted to see Tate Martell become a weekly fixture of college football. You know, for actual on-field reasons and not for him trashing another quarterback on social media. College football needs a villain and Martell would have made for the perfect fit considering he transferred from or decommitted from 3 schools in 3 Power 5 conferences (Ohio State, Washington and Texas A&M).
The big news out of Miami on Monday was that Jarren Williams, and not Martell, will be the Hurricanes starting quarterback for the season opener against Florida on Aug. 24. Martell, who was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility following his transfer from Ohio State, was expected to beat out Williams and part-time 2018 starter N’Kosi Perry.
Needless to say, social media was buzzing with the news that the polarizing Martell didn’t win what appeared to be a favorable quarterback battle. It was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States at midday.
Yes, I made the lame, obvious joke immediately:
Tate Martell entering the transfer portal in 3…2…1…
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) August 12, 2019
Lame jokes aside, there’s a reason so many people are fascinated by Martell. There’s a weird divide between Martell’s confidence — he tweeted “don’t swing and miss … especially not your second time” when there was chatter that Georgia transfer Justin Fields was heading to Ohio State — and his on-field performance.
Let’s be honest. It’s easy to throw stones at the former Gatorade High School Player of the Year with the model girlfriend and the prolific social media reputation when he has now, dare I use his own words against him, swung and missed twice.
In terms of the on-field stuff, Martell’s Ohio State situation was kind of a bummer. He wasn’t going to start over the Big Ten’s all-time yardage leader in J.T. Barrett and when Ryan Day got control of the offense last year, it made even less sense that Martell would beat out Dwayne Haskins or Joe Burrow. Had Meyer stayed, there’s probably a good chance that Martell is still in Columbus as the starter.
That’s not what happened. Day recognized that he needed a skilled, stretch-the-field thrower in his system. Martell wasn’t — and still isn’t — that guy. So naturally, Day brought in someone who he thought would give him a better chance in Year 1. That move to pick Fields over Martell looks even smarter in hindsight.
And to be fair, it was still a smart move for Martell to transfer. Was it a smart move to guarantee he’d start at Ohio State and also subtweet about Fields’ possible arrival? I’d say no. But hey, worse mistakes have been made.
What Martell’s situation says a lot about is college football in 2019. It says a lot about the transfer portal and how seemingly the privileged can get waivers for immediate eligibility but lesser-known players like Luke Ford cannot. And sure, maybe the public lacks patience for someone who seemed to enjoy the recruiting process a bit too much (he committed to Washington when he was 14 and then committed and decommitted to Texas A&M before settling on Ohio State).
A lot of Martell’s situation is peak-2019. Someone with nearly a quarter of a million Instagram followers has yet to start a college game.
But on the field, Martell’s inability to win the Miami starting job is telling. He lost out to a redshirt freshman. Why? Martell still hasn’t developed enough as a passer. That won’t fly in 2019. Dan Enos just worked with Tua Tagovailoa as his quarterbacks coach at Alabama, which is ultimately what got him the Miami offensive coordinator job. Of course he was going to want someone who could throw.
If you’re Enos, you want to start the player who is most difficult to game plan for. That wasn’t Martell. Clearly, Enos believed that Todd Grantham’s defense would have had an easier time against Martell than Williams. Period.
The Enos factor is also why I don’t think Martell’s story at Miami is finished, despite the fact that some rumors are already swirling about that. Remember what Enos did to a run-first Jalen Hurts last year? If you don’t remember, watch the 2017 Iron Bowl and the 2018 SEC Championship (just the fourth quarter) and let me know if you see any major changes.
Martell still needs to develop as a passer with Enos. You can’t just be an average thrower at 5-10 anymore. Guys like Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson overcame the height stereotypes because of how extraordinary they were as passers. I don’t think Martell will ever get to that level, but I definitely wouldn’t shut the door on him making strides and eventually becoming a starting quarterback.
Many have already shut that door on Martell. After all, this is someone who is entering Year 3. If you aren’t a starting quarterback by Year 3, the likelihood of stardom is all but gone by 2019 standards. Your only hope by that point is to find some place to start as a grad transfer.
Maybe Martell does enter the portal again before the NCAA restricts how many times a player can enter it. If Williams balls out as a redshirt freshman, I’d fully expect that to happen.
That’s how this works in 2019.
If this were 1999, the average college football fan probably doesn’t know about Martell. He’s certainly not dominating the college football news cycle because of the development that he, with his 0 career starts, still isn’t starting. Actually, if this were 1999, Martell is probably starting somewhere in some sort of Rich Rodriguez-type system (I’m still secretly hoping Martell lands at Ole Miss and we get him, RichRod and Matt Corral in the same quarterback room).
But on Monday, the internet cackled upon hearing that Martell lost another quarterback battle. They took aim at the massive target that he — in some ways — brought upon himself.
Only time will tell if Martell or his doubters will get the last laugh.