The news that quarterback Travis Jonsen, who came to Oregon to become the next Marcus Mariota, will transfer only becomes an issue for the Ducks if starter Justin Herbert, who looks like the next Mariota, goes down and UO must turn to freshman Braxton Burmeister.
Unless, of course, Burmeister is the next Herbert.
Jonsen's decision, revealed yesterday, came as no big surprise. In fact, the most surprising aspect is that it took so long for the redshirt sophomore to pack up his locker and move on ten months after falling behind Herbert, and others, on the depth chart.
Players want and expect to play. Especially quarterbacks, like Jonsen, once rated as the No. 3-dual threat prospect in the nation coming out of high school in 2015. He didn't go to Oregon to hold a clipboard and wear a headset. He went there to be the starter.
Redshirt as a freshman? Fine.
Play the backup role for a year? Okay.
Spend the next three seasons sitting behind a potential superstar like Herbert? No thanks!
The moment last fall when Herbert raced up the depth chart to become the backup to graduate transfer Dakota Prukop, Jonsen should have packed his bags. Adding insult to injury, Jonsen also fell behind true freshman Terry Wilson Jr., whom the Ducks planned to redshirt and did.
The fact that Jonsen stayed, gutted it out and returned for spring drills is a testament to his commitment to try and make things work for the Ducks. Those criticizing him for running are being unfair. The window in life to play college football is brief and nobody remembers the faithful backup who wasted his talent on the sideline for the betterment of the team.
New coach Willie Taggart, who took over for Mark Helfrich last December, offered a fresh start for all on the roster by stating that nobody had a guaranteed starting job. That opened the door for Jonsen to maybe seize the starting job away from Herbert. But Taggart had watched game video. He had seen Herbert throw for 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions over seven starts. Taggart watched Herbert throw for 489 yards against Arizona State and the six touchdowns thrown against California.
Jonsen had, as well. Live. So had Wilson. Each had to have known that beating out Herbert was a long shot. Wilson got the hint sooner than Jonsen and left Oregon during spring drills. Jonsen held on two months longer before deciding that his best path to see the field would be to play a season at Riverside City College and then wait for offers from FBS programs looking for a transfer starter in 2018.
Jonsen could have picked the program last fall, transferred, sat out a year and now be eligible to play. However, now he can put together a body of work on the field at a level higher than high school and maybe entice more programs to seek his services.
Jonsen is leaving not because he couldn't cut it. Taggart has said he loves Jonsen's talent and believes he is a starting-caliber quarterback. But Herbert is simply more gifted and more proven.
So where does this leave the Ducks? Well, let's say the situation is not dire but certainly not optimal.
Oregon has been in this position before.
In 2004, freshman quarterback Dennis Dixon beat out redshirt freshman Johnny DuRocher to earn the backup job behind junior Kellen Clemens. DuRocher transferred to Washington leaving the Ducks thin at quarterback. Oregon went 5-6 but Clemens never missed a start.
In 2012, Mariota, then a redshirt freshman, beat out redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett, who immediately considered transferring. Had he done so, the Ducks would have had to rely on true freshmen, Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues to backup Mariota. Oregon avoided that potential hazard when then-coach Chip Kelly convinced Bennett to remain at UO for a season before he ultimately transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, where he proved dominant.
Taggart couldn't work that same magic on Wilson or Jonsen and now finds himself with just two scholarship quarterbacks. Three if you count redshirt senior Taylor Alie, who saw action at quarterback in 2015 before being moved to wide receiver last fall.
Burmeister is the wild card in all of this. A 4-star recruit Taggart calls a football version of a "gym rat," Burmeister has put in countless hours of extra work on the field and in the film room.
If he is ahead of where Jonsen and Wilson were as true freshmen, the Ducks could be just fine if Herbert were to go down for a game or two.
While Burmeister didn't shot much during the spring game in terms of throwing the ball accurately, he did display a live arm and very capable running skills that would serve him well in a spot start or two.
Where things could become dicey is if Herbert went down for a lengthy period of time. In that situation, Jonsen could have stepped in and given the Ducks starting-caliber play, at least based on Taggart's view of his potential.
Burmeister might be able to provide the same level of performance. He is just more of a mystery given that he has just 15 practices under his belt at the college level.
A downside to playing Burmeister at all is that Oregon would have to burn his redshirt. Ideally, Oregon could have sat him this season and created a two-year gap in eligibility status between him and Herbert.
Another possibility at No. 3 behind Alie could be in-coming freshman athlete Bruce Judson, a four-star recruit out Cocoa High School in Cocoa, Fla. He figures to play receiver at Oregon but did play quarterback in high school.
But let's be real. Should Oregon be forced to dig that deep into the quarterback depth chart, figure that the Ducks at best would be headed to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Things certainly have become more interesting at quarterback for the Ducks. But when you have a starter good enough to scare off two players as gifted as Jonsen and Wilson, that can't be considered a bad thing.