College football transfer quarterback tiers: From playoff hopefuls to position stabilizers

Player movement across college sports has become increasingly common across the last decade. Even more so, we are seeing those who do seek a transfer have an opportunity make an instant impact. One of the most common ways we’ve seen that impact has been from immediately eligible graduate transfers, and according to the NCAA, the number of graduate transfers more than doubled from 2013 to 2018. But even since then, we’ve seen the options increase for undergraduate and graduates alike. 

The creation of the transfer portal in 2018 streamlined the process for all student-athletes. The four-game redshirt rule allows for players who plan to transfer midseason to preserve a year of eligibility. Plus, there is a proposal for a one-time transfer rule that would allow one move without penalty. That rule proposal follows a couple offseasons where, in college football in particular, the high-profile waiver cases have ended in the players’ favor. 

The quarterback position has always been on the forefront of increased player movement because of the nature of the position. Since there can only be one on the field at a time, the path to playing time may require a change of scenery. But even 10 years ago, it would be a stunner to think that three of the top four teams in the country would have transfer quarterbacks under center, but by the time Joe Burrow, Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts took the field in the College Football Playoff, even the most common fans were well versed in the Year of the Transfer Quarterback. 

With Fields now well-rooted as an Ohio State Buckeye, the impact transfer quarterback club is looking for new members. There are more than a half-dozen potential candidates and we’ve separated the group into a few categories, taking into consideration the expectations for each player and what kind of difference they can make for their respective teams.

Tier 1: College Football Playoff hopefuls 

Jamie Newman, Georgia. The former Wake Forest quarterback has the potential to be one of the most impactful players in the country in terms of his role in the College Football Playoff race. Newman is going to be the face of what appears to be the biggest transformation of Georgia’s offense since Kirby Smart took over in Athens. Not only is Newman arriving to take over an offense led by Jake Fromm for the last three seasons, but Smart also hired Todd Monken as the team’s new offensive coordinator and former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke as the new offensive line coach. 

With Monken and Luke’s recent schematic history and Newman’s success running an up-tempo attack at Wake Forest in 2019, the signs are pointing to Georgia opening things up on offense. The lack of spring practice clearly hurts the Bulldogs in a big way, lacking the reps that help quarterback, running back, offensive line and wide receivers get their timing and communication in sync to run at game speed, but run-pass options with Newman, running back Zamir White and wide receiver George Pickens could be an anchor of one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC.

Anthony Brown, Oregon. The replacement for Justin Herbert at Oregon might be a player who can take the Ducks offense to the next level. Brown, who has had two seasons end prematurely because of injury, is expected to be healthy for the scheduled start of the 2020 season but had been limited in his workouts during the transfer process. When healthy, Brown was able to bring a downfield passing element to Boston College’s offense that, combined with prolific running back A.J. Dillon, saw the Eagles jump from the bottom of the ACC in 2016 to a top-five offense in the conference in 2019. 

Mario Cristobal, like Smart, is not only bringing in a new quarterback but also a new offensive coordinator, hiring former Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead to replace now-UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo. That fresh start for the quarterback competition puts Brown right in line with Herbert’s gifted backup from 2019, Tyler Shough, in a battle to see who will lead the offense for the Pac-12 favorites and College Football Playoff hopefuls in Eugene.

Tier 2: Conference Title Contenders 

D’Eriq King, Miami (FL). After a woeful finish to 2019 for the Hurricanes (the offense in particular) that saw three straight losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech, fans are going to be quick to jump on whatever optimism is available from Manny Diaz’s offseason changes. A change at offensive coordinator seemed inevitable, and hiring Rhett Lashlee brought some encouragement after his success with Shane Buechele and Sonny Dykes at SMU in 2019. But to land King, arguably one of the top quarterbacks available in the transfer portal, brought a whole new set of expectations for Miami in 2020. 

Last time King played an entire season, he racked up 50 touchdowns (36 passing, 14 rushing) and was one of just seven quarterbacks — alongside the likes of Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa, Dwayne Haskins and McKenzie Milton — to average more than eight yards per play in total offense on the season. Miami was able to get a few spring practices in before things were shut down, and while those sessions and reps might have been light, the fact that King went through the preparation process to lead the team this spring should give him a head start compared to some of the other quarterbacks on this list when players are allowed to return to campus. 

Jake Bentley, Utah. This is a great opportunity for Bentley to put together a strong finishing statement for his college career. Bentley left South Carolina as one of the top statistical quarterbacks in program history, ranking in the top five in passing touchdowns, passing yards, completions and completion percentage, but injuries and interceptions limited the warm feelings for fans when reviewing his career. Now there’s a chance to start fresh with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who brought immediate results to Utah in 2019. No longer was Utah’s offense simply tasked with bringing some balance and holding their own opposite an elite Utes defense. Last year’s group was aggressive and combined with that strong defense, they finished top-10 nationally in average scoring margin. 

But Bentley is not going to be totally plug-and-play here, as Utah has a major overhaul ahead on the offensive line and no spring practice to allow that group to gel. It’s an uphill battle for sure, but Bentley has overcome adversity throughout his career and should be prepared to welcome the challenge as QB1 of a program looking to make its third straight Pac-12 title game.

Tier 3: Bringing stability to the position 

K.J. Costello, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were not without options in the quarterback room for 2020, but Costello has more experience and production than any of the competitors for the starting job in Year 1 under Mike Leach. Injuries kept Costello limited in 2019, but the Stanford offense opened up with him under center in 2018 in a preview of what might be to come in Leach’s Air Raid system. Perhaps it was the Stanford-Washington State game that season, when Costello completed 34-of-43 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions that Leach took note of what the 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback could do with the kind of heavy workload we’ve come to expect from his signal callers. 

Feleipe Franks, Arkansas. At his best, Franks can be one of the five best quarterbacks in the SEC. No one doubts his arm strength or other physical gifts, but his ceiling will be determined by the intangibles. Franks ran hot and cold during his time at Florida, a trait that appeared even more stark in contrast to Kyle Trask, who took over after Franks’ injury against Kentucky early in the 2019 season. But when you consider the instability at quarterback for Arkansas over the last couple of years, the arrival of Franks brings much-needed experience and potential to the position.  

Chase Brice, Duke. Dabo Swinney’s respect for David Cutcliffe and opportunities beyond the 2020 and 2021 season paved the way for Brice to bring his championship experience to Durham. Brice, a folk hero of sorts for Clemson fans after he led a comeback win against Syracuse to preserve an undefeated 15-0 national championship campaign, has two years of eligibility left and has expressed enthusiasm for what he calls a “quarterback friendly” offense. Cutcliffe stopped short of naming Brice the unquestioned starter for 2020, but as he takes over the play-calling duties for the first time as Duke’s head coach, you have to think that Brice’s involvement is a big key in the future of the Blue Devils’ offense. 

Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern. The Wildcats thought they had their instant impact transfer quarterback with former Clemson quarterback Hunter Johnson. But Ramsey brings a longer track record of success and production following three years as one of the primary signal-callers for Indiana. Ramsey ranked in the top-30 nationally in passer rating and yards per attempt last season as Indiana finished with its best record since 1993. He’s got dual-threat skills and has far exceeded what might have been expected from his three-star rating coming out of high school. He now joins a quarterback room that saw four different players register a pass attempt in 2019 and none of them top 1,000 passing yards on the season. 

Tier 4: Impact potentially delayed until 2021 

Phil Jurkovec, Boston College. After seeing some spot duty backing up Ian Book at Notre Dame, Jurkovec will face off against Dennis Grosel to be the starting quarterback in Year 1 for Jeff Hafley. Jurkovec is a big, athletic quarterback with a dual-threat skill set, so how he fits in the scheme with Frank Cignetti is yet to be determined. But no matter the scheme, pro-style or spread, the one thing both coach and quarterback have going for them is a strong offensive line position group ready to provide protection and be the anchor of the offense in 2020.  

Joey Gatewood, Kentucky. Even if Gatewood is able to get a waiver for the 2020 season, quarterback is not a position of need as long as Terry Wilson is healthy. But given how the Wildcats’ quarterback depth was tested in 2019, with injuries leaving all-purpose-everything Lynn Bowden as the one taking snap, the coaching staff would love to have Gatewood eligible and ready for action. Even with Wilson as the starter, we could see Gatewood take the field as a change-of-pace or short-yardage option similar to his role at Auburn alongside Bo Nix at the start of the 2019 season.

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