Justin Fields, the country’s former No. 2-ranked quarterback recruit, is in the midst of exploring a transfer from Georgia. Jalen Hurts is expected to leave Alabama as a graduate transfer. Brandon Wimbush must decide if he wants to try and change positions at Notre Dame or take his 13-3 record elsewhere for another shot at quarterback.
With the college football world preparing for Early Signing Period on Wednesday, the annual flurry of quarterback transfers – both graduate and conventional – is playing out simultaneously with much more drama and buzzy names. As the linchpins of a multi-billion dollar industry, the quarterback-transfer carousel has become one of the most compelling cycles in the sport. For every Gardner Minshew at Washington State and Russell Wilson at Wisconsin, there have been more duds like Malik Zaire at Florida and Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss. “It’s kind of like the new free agency,” said former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.
With the Fields news on Monday night setting the transfer wire ablaze, here are the biggest questions looming over the quarterback carousel.
Where will Justin Fields end up?
The two clear-cut choices for Fields are Ohio State and Oklahoma, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The appeals are clear – the quarterback acumen of the head coaches and the opportunity to play immediately.
“I think he’s looking at schools where he can go in and be the guy,” said a person with knowledge of Fields’ thinking. “If that’s not the case, why not just stay at UGA, you’d be repeating the same process.”
The other appeal is the two young head coaches and their success at the quarterback position. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley helped author back-to-back Heisman Trophy seasons for Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. New Ohio State head coach Ryan Day maximized the vast skill set of Dwayne Haskins in just one year as a starter, developing him into an expected first-round pick in the NFL draft.
“[Both those schools] have two quarterbacks that mirror him,” said the source. “As in throwing it and running it, that’s what they do.”
Will Justin Fields be immediately eligible?
He’s expected to retain noted muckraking attorney Tom Mars, who is known for doing the investigative work that ended Hugh Freeze’s career at Ole Miss and also helped Shea Patterson get eligible at Michigan. With Mars’ track record in NCAA cases and Fields’ special circumstance, the quarterback may be able to gain immediate eligibility. Also, any overt Georgia objections would be greeted with a hailstorm of negativity.
Here’s the situation: During Georgia’s football game against Tennessee on Sept. 29, a Georgia baseball player named Adam Sasser allegedly shouted racist remarks toward Fields. Sasser was dismissed from the baseball team within a week and issued an apology on his Twitter account. Fields could claim under NCAA transfer rules a “mitigating circumstance” that directly impacts his “health, safety and well-being” as one way to obtain the transfer. He also could claim that he’s pondering playing baseball in college, as Fields was considered a high-end prospect in high school. While Fields hasn’t publicly expressed significant recent interest in playing baseball for UGA, he was considered a draftable MLB player. (His sister plays softball for Georgia.) That incident would give Mars fodder to argue that Fields would be uncomfortable playing baseball at Georgia, and perhaps bolster an argument for immediate eligibility elsewhere. He may not need the baseball argument. Regardless, hard to bet against Mars, especially given the sensitivity surrounding the circumstances.
What’s next at Ohio State?
The interest in Ohio State is another indicator of what became obvious the last few weeks of the season – redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins will be declaring for the NFL draft. While Haskins will play in the Rose Bowl, the confluence of his insane finish – 14 touchdown passes and three more rushing in the final three games – and a weak high-end quarterback crop make his NFL decision a formality. As early as October, his quarterback coach Quincy Avery told Yahoo Sports: “If he has a first-round grade, he’s going to be playing in the NFL next year.” His arm talent is rare enough that scouts don’t see him getting past the first round.
That means the Buckeye coaches would be inherently open to a transfer, as they have zero quarterbacks with starting experience on their roster. Tate Martell is the most experienced, but he’s attempted just 28 career passes. Can he throw the ball well enough to be a quarterback who can win the Big Ten? There’s been quiet buzz in the Buckeye facility about true freshman Matthew Baldwin, who flipped from Colorado State to the Buckeyes before National Signing Day last year. Baldwin was limited by a knee injury this spring and early summer, but he’s flashed long-term potential. Is he ready? Not likely. Ohio State’s 2019 commitment, Dwan Mathis, is physically gifted and has a high upside, but there’s no threat of him contributing immediately.
That would leave a logical place for an experienced option from the outside. If Fields ends up at Oklahoma or elsewhere, both Hurts and Wimbush could be explored here.
Who is this year’s Gardner Minshew?
As you well know, Minshew transferred from East Carolina to Washington State and transformed from a mediocre AAC quarterback to a Heisman candidate. His endearing mustache and gaudy statistics (4,477 passing yards and 36 touchdowns) helped him become one of the faces of college football in 2018.
Who else could emerge from the ether in 2019? The best candidate may be Ball State quarterback Riley Neal, who decided earlier this week he was transferring to Vanderbilt. Neal won’t replicate Minshew’s numbers, as Vanderbilt’s system isn’t set up for insta-success like Mike Leach’s at Washington State. But Neal may have a better shot at the NFL than Minshew. Yahoo Sports spoke to three coaches who’d faced him this year, and there’s a distinct buzz about his ability. “That kid,” said an opposing coordinator, “is a draftable kid.”
Neal is impressive physically at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. He completed 58 percent of his passes for Ball State this year, totaling 1,917 yards and 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
“I was impressed with him,” said another opposing coach. “He was a difference maker for Ball State, and he is a guy NFL scouts have on their radar. He was long and athletic and had a good arm. He could extend plays, made good decisions and I think he will solidify the quarterback position for a team in need.”
What will Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush do?
With a five-star pedigree, 13-3 record as a starter and a high-character reputation, Wimbush will certainly be coveted for his experience. He faces a tricky choice, as he’d only have one year of eligibility remaining. He could stay at Notre Dame, where his options include potentially changing positions to receiver or tailback to flash for the NFL. He could also work toward an MBA if he sticks around, as the coaches at Notre Dame have raved about his off-field potential all season. Does he try and be a CEO immediately? Or give the NFL a shot? There’d certainly be programs willing to try him at quarterback, though his well-documented accuracy issues could scare off high-end suitors. Wimbush’s decision is rooted in whether he’d like to attempt a career in football, and what position he’d like to try it at.
What will Jalen Hurts do?
The Alabama quarterback has a 26-2 record as a starter, which is good enough to get you a statue built at most schools. His spot duty to save Alabama in the SEC title game reminded everyone of his dual-threat ability and dynamism. The most popular speculation spot is Maryland, where he’d follow offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. In terms of scheme, UCLA looms as the most logical fit. In terms of familiarity, he could go to FAU where he’d be aligned to thrive again under former Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Ohio State could loom as a possibility considering Day’s work in Haskins’ lone season as a starter. Regardless, with Alabama heavily favored to play for the national title on Jan. 7, it will be a quick turnaround for Hurts to find his next home.
What other Power Five programs are in the market?
With the usual flurry of quarterback transfers, there are always a handful of programs in the market. Louisville is one that stands out, as they finished last in the ACC in offense and offensive efficiency last season and missed on Neal.
“We only have two quarterbacks right now,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield told Yahoo Sports this week. “We’re looking to add some more at that position, for sure.”
Who else could be in the market? We’ve already covered Ohio State. Minnesota, Maryland, UCLA, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Miami, Auburn, TCU, Florida State and Arkansas were other Power Five programs that came up calling around as potentially adding a transfer quarterback. They certainly aren’t the only ones, as just about everyone can use a competent quarterback or some depth. The market is robust.
Both Indiana and Iowa State are among the schools who’ve already added transfers. Another intriguing option remaining is SMU’s Ben Hicks (there’s heavy Arkansas speculation as he played for Chad Morris). TCU’s Shawn Robinson is also on the move and will reportedly land at Missouri, where he’ll sit for a year while incoming graduate transfer Kelly Bryant is at the helm.
What decision are people waiting on?
Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson is a name on the lips of a lot of college coaches as a transfer possibility. A third party has been gathering information for him on his future, as his options include staying at Buffalo, transferring to a Power Five school where he’d be immediately eligible or potentially going to the NFL.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” said a source with knowledge of the situation. “He’s got a bowl game to play, then he’s going to look at his options.”
Jackson is intriguing, as he’s 6-foot-7, 245 pounds and has a body prototype the NFL likes. He also has mechanical flaws – including a long release – that make the NFL a reach in this draft cycle. His issues with accuracy (55 percent completions) and consistency don’t ensure a seamless transition to a Power Five school. Jackson led Buffalo to a 10-3 season, throwing for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Buffalo coach Lance Leipold said that Jackson is focused on beating Troy in the Dollar General Bowl. Leipold added that Jackson has told him he’s going to sit down with his family and figure out his future after the bowl game.
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