It’s the big topic in college football right now, and it’s our discussion topic for this week. No position is in the spotlight or receives more hype than quarterback, and since only one of them is on the field at a time, it comes with the highest stakes when players are battling for the starting spot. When a QB decides to leave a team and seek a transfer, that news gets magnified as well. This post will look at the current situation and see what it could become over the next few years.
Before we dive in, there are a few disclaimers to make worth keeping in mind during the rest of the post.
1. Players transferring is nothing new. But with the transfer portal and social media, the discussion surrounding it is at an all-time high. Each transfer is analyzed and picked apart from every angle until everyone is blue in the face.
2. Players should be able to play wherever they want to play. None of us have any right to tell a player to stay or transfer, and I don’t intend to. Every player has to make the right decision for them. Sometimes that decision is to leave and compete at another school. Other times it’s to stay, put in the work and keep fighting for the starting role, even though that opportunity may not come. Players have been successful and unsuccessful pursuing both paths.
The current landscape
Unless you are brand new to the college football world since September, you already have a pretty good idea of what’s been going on. Multiple highly-touted quarterbacks on a team compete for the starting job. Only one can win, and when one is named the starter, the rest face a difficult decision. Do they stick with the team they pledged to out of high school and regulate themselves to multi-year backup duty? Or do they seek a more fortunate opportunity at another school? It’s a difficult decision and the pressure mounts, even more, when thousands of football fans and dozens of reporters are discussing their every move on social media.
Again, players transferring is nothing new, but what is new when some players are transferring in their college careers. While these may be more rare cases, they are the ones getting more national attention. Here are some of the more recent examples.
Tate Martell is, of course, one of the more significant stories in all of this. Losing a QB battle in spring ball with Justin Fields (who transferred into Ohio State because he didn’t want to sit behind Jake Fromm at Georgia), Martell went to Miami. However, he lost the battle at the U as well, this time to Jarren Williams. More on Martell later in this post.
Washington has had great success signing top-rated quarterbacks under Coach Petersen, but it was no surprise when many of them left the program this year. Oddly enough, many were named some form of Jake. At one time, they had Jake Browning, Jacob Haener, Jacob Eason, and Jacob Sirmon all on their roster as quarterbacks, plus the outlier Colson Yankoff. Browning exhausted his eligibility in the fall and was traded out freshman Dylan Morris, who enrolled in the spring. Let’s break them all down a bit though.
Haener was a 3-star recruit but as the #20 pro-style QB (all rankings here are from 247) in the 2017 class, was certainly no slouch. In a move that seemed odd and destined to end poorly from the start, Washington took two four-star QBs in their 2018 class, Sirmon (#6 pro-style) and Yankoff (#6 dual-threat). While Petersen and his staff must’ve pulled off a heck of a recruiting pitch to secure both, it was destined that at least one of them would end of leaving the program. During this time, they also secured the transfer of Eason, who was the #2 pro-style QB and the #5 overall prospect when he committed to Georgia as a member of the 2016 recruiting class. Dylan Morris, the newest addition, was the number 4 pro-style QB in the 2019 class. Plus, they have 4-star Ethan Garbers who has already verbally committed to the Huskies for the 2020 class. As you probably know, when it was becoming clear Eason would be the starter, both Sirmon and Yankoff entered the transfer portal following spring ball. Then a day or two after Coach Petersen said Haener would have a role in their opening game, he too entered the portal (and recently announced he would land at Fresno State).
The Mountain West isn’t a stranger to quarterbacks leaving either. This year, Boise State lost a true freshman quarterback, Kaiden Bennett, before their final fall camp scrimmage took place. A few days later, he was officially announced as an addition to the Nevada football program. Similar to Washington, he was the second QB to commit to Boise State in the 2019 class behind four-star QB Hank Bachmeier, who went on to win the starting job.
Altogether, 122 QBs are or have been in the transfer portal since its creation per 247.
What could take place in the near future
One premiere QB every few classes
Conventional wisdom over the years has said take a quarterback in every recruiting class, which made sense. But in today’s landscape, it ends up backfiring when one or two leave every year. Teams try to balance it back out by taking two the next year, one high school player and another from a junior college. This means teams are recruiting at least six or seven over five recruiting cycles instead of five. And, players still end up transferring.
Since all of this transferring is occurring because teams put all their QB eggs in one basket, why not take it another step? What if a school only recruited one high school quarterbacks every three years? Do coaches want to put in months of time and energy on a player who may end up decommitting come December after seeing the current QB play or else leave less than a year after being on campus? Instead, recruiting a big-time QB, letting them play three or four seasons and then recruiting another big-time QB two to three seasons later, groom them for a year or start them right away depending on what the older player does. It keeps everyone happy.
There is a big issue, however. What to do about the depth chart? Especially if the starting QB goes down.
Depth chart filled out with transfers and walk-ons.
Again, this is already happening more and more often, so move full speed ahead with it. Picture this: a redshirt freshman starts with a JUCO QB or grad-transfer backing him up. Perhaps a walk-on who has been in the system for two or three years fills out the depth chart, and maybe his hard work and dedication to the program gets him a scholarship. When that young starter becomes a junior or senior, he’s again backed up by an older transfer from the junior college ranks or transferred in, and the next young big-gun is a redshirting.
Is this system ideal? Not really. Is it likely players will be lining up to come being team depth? Very doubtful. But will college teams have another choice? That is the question.
Big fish in small ponds
This is one that would be a nice trend to see and potentially can help lots of quarterbacks down the line. Football players love competition, and to be as great as they are, they have to embrace position battles and believe they will win. Teams want players like that. Players want to earn their spot.
However, the reality is that not everyone can start. If someone wins a position battle, that means others have to lose it, especially at quarterback, where only one player sees the field. Just because a player is good enough to be at ________ school doesn’t always mean they are good enough to see the field at ________ school. That isn’t mean as a knock on any player, but it’s an important distinction. If a team has four four-star QBs, they can’t all play, despite their talent. Not all of them can be a big fish in a big pond. Instead, what if some chose to be a big fish in a smaller pond?
Derek Carr. Brett Rypien. Hank Bachmeier. What do these quarterbacks have in common? They were former four-star recruits who chose Mountain West Conference schools to attend college. Once there, they dominated the competition and had long, successful careers. If they had gone to more prominent schools, they might have played, or they may have gotten beaten out by someone else. It’s almost certain they would not have played as a true freshman and may have never ended up playing at all.
What if more top QBs ended up searching for places they can not only be multi-year starters but excel as the center-piece of the team? What if more four-stars chose MWC or other Group of 5 schools? What if QBs who were talented enough to play in the Group of 5 went straight to the FCS and became the next Caron Wentz? It may end up being better for both the player and the school.
As mentioned above, Martell didn’t win the quarterback battle at Ohio State or Miami this year, so he’s trying to get on the field (and did) as a wide receiver and wildcat guy. Riley Smith didn’t win the spot at Boise State, and the redshirt freshman was in for a play as a wide receiver thanks to his listed 6’4” frame.
Could the backup QB who plays another position become a new trend in college football? If Martell does well, the answer is probably. Even look at Taysom Hill in the NFL. He’s made quite a name for himself with the Saints, carving out a do-everything type of role that he’s excelling in. It’s not hard to imagine athletic backup quarterbacks doubling as wide-receivers, tight ends, or special team players in certain packages and roles. Maybe they fully convert to a new spot, perhaps they switch positions for a year before competing for QB again the following year, or maybe they moonlight at other positions while still serving as a backup at the quarterback spot.
Of course, the biggest detractor against this, of course, the injury risk, especially if the player is #2 on the depth chart. But for those who are 3rd or 4th string, it’s an excellent way to get on the field, show some production, and develop skills while they bide their time. Even if a player is the primary back, it may be worth risk to get them on the field if it means keeping them from transferring.
In summary, college football players have a right to transfer if they so choose and will continue to do so. However, the ideas presented above may give players more options at their disposal than either leaving for a chance at another school or sitting on the bench at their current school. Keep an eye out to see if trends begin to change over the next few seasons.