Widespread transfers leave plenty of teams lacking QB depth
The wave of quarterback transfers across college football has left several Top 25 programs without proven depth at that position.
When Florida State’s Deandre Francois, Georgia’s Jacob Eason and Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel all got hurt in their respective season openers, true freshmen ended up taking over the rest of the way. Florida State freshman James Blackman is now the 10th-ranked Seminoles’ starter for the foreseeable future with Francois out for the season due to a torn patella tendon. Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm is expected to make his first career start Saturday when the 15th-ranked Bulldogs visit No. 24 Notre Dame.
Plenty of other schools are one bad break away from a similar dilemma, no matter how much they try to put quality backup plans in place. Six of the top 10 teams in the Top 25 opened the season with true freshmen or redshirt freshmen as their second-team quarterbacks.
“Schools today are always trying to sign at least one quarterback per year because you know the nature of the position,” Southern California coach Clay Helton said. “You’re only going to be able to play one - and a lot of times kids will transfer so they have the opportunity to play.”
The threat of transfers is even greater nowadays.
Three of the top four quarterback prospects from the 2015 class already have switched schools, according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports . Five of the top eight quarterback recruits from the 2014 class also have transferred.
“It’s challenging because these guys are hearing from so many different people, and our society now is to the point where everybody thinks the easiest thing is to take the path of least resistance,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think what we’re trying to do is understand that the guys have a special opportunity to play here at Penn State. Some are going to have to wait for it.”
Florida State lost plenty of quarterback depth when DeAndre Johnson was dismissed from the team in 2015 and former five-star recruit Malik Henry transferred after the 2016 season. The list of quarterbacks to transfer from Texas A&M over the last few years includes former five-star prospects Kyle Allen (now at Houston) and Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) as well as 2014 starter Kenny Hill (TCU). Florida State does have junior J.J. Cosentino backing up Francois. Texas A&M’s depth chart lists freshman Kellen Mond and junior Jake Hubenak — an Oklahoma State transfer - as co-starters.
Mike Farrell, director of recruiting at Rivals, wonders if the increased interest in recruiting played a role in recent quarterback transfers.
“In the early 2000s when recruiting coverage became mainstream, these kids all became household names and stars, and (they) felt embarrassed if they weren’t ‘the guy’ or weren’t treated like ‘the guy’ from the get-go,” Farrell said. “Then they would end up transferring to some other program that promised them the world as well.”
Teams are particularly vulnerable to quarterback transfers when an underclassman seizes control of the position.
After Jalen Hurts emerged as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback early in his freshman year last season, three other Alabama quarterbacks transferred. Blake Barnett is now at Arizona State , Cooper Bateman chose Utah and David Cornwell selected Nevada. Southern California watched former five-star recruit Max Browne transfer to Pittsburgh after Sam Darnold thrived as a redshirt freshman last year.
Alabama now has true freshman Tua Tagovailoa as its No. 2 quarterback. USC’s second-team quarterback is redshirt freshman Matt Fink.
“Quarterbacks that are highly recruited, most of them are probably told, ‘You’re my guy,’ when they’re signed,” said Mack Brown, an ESPN college football analyst and former Texas coach. “And when they’re not the guy, they want to leave and play immediately.”
Some quarterbacks get rewarded for patience.
Mitchell Trubisky redshirted one year and backed up Marquise Williams for two more seasons before finally taking over as North Carolina’s starting quarterback last year. Trubisky fared well enough in his lone season as the Tar Heels’ starter to get taken by the Chicago Bears with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. His decision to leave caught the Tar Heels off guard and has left them in a QB quandary.
But few quarterbacks are following the path of D.J. Shockley, who waited behind David Greene at Georgia until finally winning a starting spot as a fifth-year senior and leading the Bulldogs to the 2005 SEC title.
Shockley said he was “really close” to transferring but stuck around in part because he was a Georgia native and appreciated former Bulldogs coach Mark Richt’s straightforward approach with him. Shockley understands it’s a different era now.
Instead of waiting, he believes today’s backup quarterbacks are more willing to explore their options when they see the way other guys in their position succeeded by switching schools. Shockley cited the indirect path Cam Newton took to winning a Heisman Trophy and national title at Auburn in 2010 after serving as a backup at Florida and spending a year at Blinn College. More recently, former Texas Tech walk-on Baker Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma and finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2015 and third last season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s second nature, but it’s a lot easier for kids to say, ‘All right, I’ll leave and go someplace else,’ just because of all the things that have transpired over the years with other QBs leaving,” said Shockley, now an SEC Network analyst. “You see a lot of guys (transfer and) have that success. There are probably (plenty of) other guys who do the same thing and don’t have success, but you always hear about the ones that do have the success, so you feel like you can be a part of it as well.”
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