Oklahoma and Ohio State are both national title contenders, both ranked in the top five and both led by new quarterbacks who started playing college football elsewhere.
The Sooners turned their offense over to Jalen Hurts, formerly of Alabama. The Buckeyes’ new frontman is Justin Fields, by way of Georgia.
Fields’ arrival in Columbus, Ohio, prompted Ohio State’s redshirt sophomore quarterback Tate Martell to transfer to Miami, where he lost a quarterback competition in fall camp.
The Washington Huskies have playoff aspirations, too, thanks to their new quarterback Jacob Eason, who redshirted last season after transferring from Georgia.
And how about poor ol’ Clemson. The Tigers lost not one but two quarterbacks in a year — one to Missouri, the other to Northwestern. Guess the defending national champions will just have to continue to make do with Trevor Lawrence.
Welcome to College Football 2019, otherwise known as the Great Quarterback Shuffle.
Grab a scorecard. Or a map. The hopscotch nature of quarterback movement becomes dizzying when trying to monitor.
“You have to manage that position differently because it’s the one position where basically one guy plays,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters at SEC Media Days. “I can understand why a guy does [transfer]. If he loses his job and he has one or two years to play, I mean, I get it. That’s not the way it used to be, but that’s the way it is, and you’ve got to manage that part of it going forward and always be aware. That’s why I think you’re constantly recruiting quarterbacks. Because you don’t ever know how many of those guys are going to leave.”
Quarterback mobility — either via graduate transfers or the NCAA’s new transfer portal — has become a far more acceptable option in terms of optics and career path if a player desires a new home.
Six Big Ten teams are expected to start quarterbacks this season who began their careers at another school. As many as five SEC teams will start graduate transfers at QB. Ohio State alone has four QB transfers on its roster.
The College Football Playoff likely will hinge on the play of quarterbacks who transferred and now lead legitimate contenders. That list includes Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU and Washington.
Russell Wilson shined a spotlight on the graduate transfer rule when he took Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in his one season (2011) with the Badgers following his stint at North Carolina State.
The launch of the NCAA transfer portal last fall gave players more control of their situations and made transferring more convenient. The NCAA’s waiver process that grants immediate eligibility in some cases provides even more incentive for school-hopping.
“I’m for the graduate transfer rule,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “You graduated, if the situation doesn’t fit you, you got one year to go. Especially if a quarterback has one year left, but he’s not going to play, he should be afforded the opportunity to go play somewhere.”
The rate at which undergraduate quarterbacks change schools attracts more attention and debate. Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy blames the trend on parental influence and a sense of entitlement that high-level recruits often feel while being recruited.
McElroy, now an ESPN analyst, believes a burgeoning industry of private quarterback coaches also has contributed to player movement. A growing number of high school QBs seek individual training outside of their season, often at a significant cost. Parents wants a “return on their investment,” McElroy said.
“Quarterback is an expensive position to learn,” he said. “You can’t just roll out there and start playing quarterback. Most of these guys have quarterback trainers that have been working with them forever. That’s expensive. So parents are probably more involved.
“If you’re a great corner or great wide receiver, you’re just a great wide receiver. It’s not like you need to send them to receiver camp. With quarterbacks, there’s a lot of investment that’s been made in these kids.”
McElroy took a redshirt season at Alabama and was a backup for two seasons before becoming the starter on Alabama’s 2009 national championship team. He said he never considered transferring when he sat the bench.
“If you’re not starting, it’s because you’re not ready,” McElroy said. “It’s not because the coaches are trying to play favorites. Coaches are tasked to win games. They’re going to put the best guy out there.”
McElroy believes the allure of the NFL creates a perception that a quarterback’s future is doomed if he doesn’t start early in his career. That, in turn, fuels the urge to transfer.
“You can play one year as a fifth-year senior and get drafted in the top five,” he said. “That’s very possible and reasonable. There’s the misconception nowadays that, ‘Oh, I’ve got to play early and if I’m not, I’ve got to get out of there.’ You can wait, develop and [if] you put 14 great games on tape as a 22-year-old junior, you’re going to be just fine.”
Coaches don’t expect to the transfer trend to slow down. If anything, quarterback shuffling will continue to rise, forcing coaches to adjust how they handle that position, including potentially recruiting multiple quarterbacks in the same class.
“You’re going to have holes because guys are going to either not be good enough, leave, whatever,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “It’s always a fluid process that you just got to keep massaging. Once you think you got it right, it’s going to change quickly anyway.”