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CFF Series - BYU's Superstar RB Has Just Begun His Concerto of Greatness
LJ Martin is already making noise in CFB, and he's just getting started...
MISS MULLENS: “I'm sorry to interrupt, but Miss Lemmons said she heard music coming from the classroom.”
DEWEY FINN: “Music? Uh, music… I haven't heard any music… Uh oh, you know what, Miss Lemmons must be on crack, right kids?”
- Jack Black, School of Rock (2003)
In the world of college fantasy football, there are few players who stand out not only for their athletic prowess, but also for their unique journeys and the harmony they bring to their teams—as true freshman.
One such player, BYU's frosh running back LJ Martin, is making waves on the gridiron while embracing a theme straight out of the hit movie "School of Rock." In a narrative that combines youthful exuberance, determination, and a dash of musical inspiration, Martin is proving that he's not just another name on the roster; he's the lead guitarist in BYU's quest for success. Just as Jack Black's character, Dewey Finn, turned a classroom into a rock 'n' roll spectacle, LJ Martin is turning the BYU football field into his own stage for CFF greatness, leaving us — mere mortals — to watch in awe. For those about to rock, we salute you.
Today, we will delve into the profile of LJ Martin, the freshman sensation who's bringing a whole new rhythm to Provo.
Coaching & System
Head coach Kalani Sitake — who looks like he could suit up at DL right now — has been with the BYU Cougers since 2016. His background is on defence, so he most likely hasn’t been involved in calling the plays on offence. Even still, there is a solid track record of volume pigs at the tailback position during his reign with the Cougs.
I should also mention that the current OC—Aaron Roderick, has been with the program since 2018, so there’s some overlap between the two. In the end, I supposed it doesn’t really matter whether BYU’s proclivity for producing VPs at RB is due to Sitake or Roderick, as both are still on staff this season.
Last year’s squad didn’t produce an exceptionally productive RB, but Christopher Brooks did have a solid season, rushing 130 times for 817 yards and six scores, plus 10 receptions for 98 yards receiving. However, in 2021, the Cougers’ lead back—Tyler Allgeier, had an exceptionally strong season. During that campaign, Allgeier rushed 276 times for 1606 yards and 23 TDs, and added 28 receptions for 199 yards receiving. Those numbers would account for approximately 26 FPG over a 13 game season.
In 11 games during the COVID season in 2020, Allgeier rushed 150 times for 1130 yards and 13 TDs, with another 174 yards coming through the air on 14 receptions. These numbers come out to approximately 20 FPG.
Before that there is a bit of a gap to the next notable performance. In 2016, Jamaal Williams rushed 234 times for 1375 yards and 12 TDs, and caught seven passes for 80 yards, which is around 18.7 FPG over a 12 game season (I’m too lazy to check if they made a bowl game that season, either way, the numbers were good).
As mentioned, the OC—Aaron Roderick’s been with Sitake since 2018, but in 2015 and 2016 he was the co-OC of Utah. During those seasons, Joe Williams carried the rock 210 times for 1407 yards and 10 TDs, and caught nine passes for 107 yards (~18.36 FPG over 12 games) in 2016, and Devontae Booker rushed 268 times for 1261 yards and 11 TDs, with an additional 37 catches for 318 yards (~21.74 FPG in 12 games) in 2015.
And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Luke Staley’s legendary 2001 season, where he accumulated 1930 yards combined in receiving and rushing, for an orgasmic total of 28 TDs on the season. That was under a different staff, however.
Overall, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are some ties here between the Utah Utes program and BYU. And I know, I know, these fanbases probably hate being compared to each other, I can hear them arguing through this article already…
“You're A Fat Loser And You Have Body Odor.” — Utes fans to the Cougs.
“You're Tacky And I Hate You.” — The BYU faithful reply…
Wait—that might just be the movie School of Rock I have playing on in the background… yes, it definitely is—totally forgot that was on. See how locked in I am when writing these things?
Coming back to reality, philosophically speaking both programs seem somewhat aligned in their approach. While neither of these offensive systems would typically be considered avant-garde in the world of college football, both tend to rely on a single runner in the backfield, which is good news for us as CFF players. Although the Cougers’ track record isn’t quite as extensive as with Utah’s head coach Kyle Whittingham, I’d say BYU is almost a ‘Utah-light’. The occasional dalliance with an RB1 light or committee not withstanding, they’ve got a good enough pattern at RB under the current staff to make me excited about what’s to come for LJ Martin. Speaking of, it’s about time we looked closer at the man of the hour (LJ Martin, not Jack Black, in case there was any confusion…).
LJ Martin — 6’1, 210
BYU’s true freshman Martin was a super producer at the high school level in West Texas. As a senior, he was named to the TSWA Class 5A First-Team All-State, eclipsing 1,900 rushing yards and tallying 17 rushing touchdowns in 2022. In 2021, Martin ran for over 2,700 yards which ranked in the top five in Texas.
The former four-star originally committed to Stanford during the 2023 cycle, but flipped late to BYU after David Shaw’s firing. He was already on my watchlist due to his size profile, the system he plays in, and his production in high school. The quotes from the coaches were just the cherry on top. Here is OC Aaron Roderick on Martin this summer:
LJ Martin is a standout in camp so far . . . He's one of the best players on this team. He will play this year. He's a very good football player... I try not to get too excited about freshman sometimes. But he's already proven that he's going to be a player for us this season.
Admittedly, though I was high on Martin this offseason, I wasn’t expecting him to make much of an impact in year one. I drafted him in a dynasty league I’m in, but suspected that he’d be — at best — the RB2 behind transfer Aidan Robbins. It seems that Martin has accelerated past my expected timeline, as he was named the starting RB before BYU’s Week Three contest vs. SEC opponent Arkansas. In that game, he carried the rock 23 times for 77 yards and two scores, plus caught two passes on two targets for 11 yards (22.8 points). This type of performance is promising for his prospects in B12 play, and if BYU continues to ride him, it stands to reason that he’ll be in for a big season. One caveat being that Aidan Robbins has been described as less than 100% over the past few weeks by BYU’s head coach, so we’ll just have to wait and see how the split looks when the backfield is at full potential.
No matter what happens, though, it is already clear that LJ Martin is likely going to be a CFF stud at some point in the future, whether that be this season, as a sophomore, or as a junior.
This section is a little different than usual because we’re already in the season, so my listed concerns here are more from a macro perspective rather than focused solely on this season, though they will apply to 2023 also.
BYU will take some time to acclimate to the level of competition in the B12. While the B12 might not have the reputation as the best P5 conference, it is still a higher level of play (on average) than what BYU would be used to playing on a week-by-week basis. That being said, of the teams that joined in 2023, I’d assert that the Cougers are best positioned for their transition to the B12, as they routinely played P5 competition before their move this season. As I write this article we have only one data point to look at as it relates to this point: Week Four vs. Kansas. Martin continued to lead the backfield with 11 carries to the next highest runner’s four, but the game script was such that BYU relied much more on passing the ball to catch up. This might be a common theme this season and the next, or it might just be Kansas’ run defence being pretty solid, without further information on the matter currently, we are simply left speculating at this point.
Regarding Aidan Robbins, his situation raises portentous questions. If he misses a substantial portion of the season, it becomes increasingly likely that he may choose to return with eligibility for the next season. Such a development would undoubtedly be a wet blanket for Martin (think George Holani returning to Boise State, but in a world where he didn’t get injured this season, and how that would have affected Ashton Jeanty’s campaign so far).
As far as the rest of this season, BYU has a tough game this weekend vs. Cincinnati, but it’s not a terrible matchup all things considered. Like the Cougs, Cincy is also in its first year of promotion from the G5 level, and so I would expect Martin and Co. to be be able to find some success. There are some tough games vs. Texas and Iowa State, who both look to be well-equipped along the defensive line, there should be enough mid-level opponents on the schedule such that Martin (if he remains RB1), could finish with a fairly respectable stat line. I’m circling the TCU, Texas Tech, WVU and Oklahoma State games as instances where I think Martin could really do some damage if he gets the carries.
Since it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, I’ll also throw in a quote of the day to leave the reader with as we head into the weekend:
“Ms. Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, he’s burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock ‘n roll, but guess what, oh no, the Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV!”
- Dewey Finn (2003)
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