On Wednesday, news broke that the NCAA could really, seriously, like for real institute a one-time transfer exemption -- which would kick in for the 2020-21 academic year and could lead to a whole lot of chaos this fall. But before this potential hurricane hits, we wanted to run through the quarterbacks who have hit the portal this offseason, grading each of the six big transfer gets. Pencils out and quiet please!
D’Eriq King, Miami Hurricanes -- If at first you don’t succeed, why, just wait for better players. That would seem to be Miami’s motus operandi. Last year, the Hurricanes were a consensus “portal winner” after luring over OSU QB Tate Martell, Buffalo WR KJ Osborn and others. It didn’t quite work out on the field in 2019, of course, with Miami flaming out in spectacular fashion after entering the season viewed as a fringe Playoff contender. Why, just wait for better players. Or more specifically, wait for a better quarterback (sorry, Jarren Williams). And boy howdy did HC Manny Diaz hit this time around with Houston’s D’Eriq King.
Unlike Martell, who joined the Canes with little production, more name recognition, King comes equipped with a history of video game numbers, accounting for 50 (!) total touchdowns in 2018. And granted, he did that in the Group of Five, against AAC competition. He could see a few more bumps in the ACC road. But. Thing of it is, the ACC isn’t very good. It’s got that big ol’ Tiger stomping around in Death Valley, but one team does not a conference make. And Miami ducks Dabo’s crew in the 2020 regular season, anyway.
Miami may have drawn all the media plaudits last winter, but this time around, we think they’ll end up warranted.
Jamie Newman, Georgia Bulldogs -- Tired of watching Jake Fromm turn vanilla ice cream into a football playing style? Jamie Newman is a sundae with the works. And Jamie Newman paired with new OC Todd Monken is the Phish Food in this awkward culinary metaphor. Our question, here, is whether Newman -- who completed 60.9% of his passes in 2019, his first season over 60% if barely -- will be able to hit the ground running for a perpetually loaded UGA team with Playoff aspirations (and more). He cratered out versus Clemson in the fall, completing just 6-of-14 passes for 41 yards and two interceptions on Nov. 16. That’s a nervy line right there, given that Georgia may well have to get through Clemson to get where they want to go upcoming. We would caution not to overreact, though. Newman’s playing with a whole other universe of talent in Athens as compared to his time with Wake Forest. We expect a lot with this one.
K.J. Costello, Mississippi State Bulldogs -- Existentially, there is no purpose to Mike Leach without a quarterback. Like he’s not going to roll with a game manager and run it 30 times a game. Enter K.J. Costello into the portal out of Stanford. Enter K.J. Costello into Leach’s Air Raid. Like the Hurricanes above, Mississippi State tried the transfer route at quarterback last offseason, too, bringing in Penn State’s Tommy Stevens, who went on to struggle with injury and inconsistency in Starkville during the 2019 campaign.
Is Costello the answer, here, in a way that Stevens was not? Maybe. But we will say, it’s not a given, certainly not a given on the order of King, who put up borderline Heisman numbers two years back. Costello, himself, was plagued by injury in 2019, ultimately appearing in just five games for a lost-cause Stanford team. And he played forgettable ball when he did manage to scrape his way onto field, averaging a cringey 6.2 YPA for the fall.
If you’re Mississippi State, what you’re hoping for is that Costello, under Leach, can rediscover the moxie that led to a 3,540-yard (8.6 YPA) season in 2018, one in which he put up a 29/11 TD/INT ratio. That big year came -- another caveat for you -- pumping the ball in to WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Mississippi State has no jumbo receiver on that level. Receiver, not really Mississippi State’s forte as currently put together.
One last caveat to the idea that Costello and Leach instantly mesh, messing with the SEC balance in the process. And that’s Leach himself. Costello probably opens the 2020 season as starter, but Leach dances to the music in his head. Gage Gubrud transferred from Eastern Washington to Washington State to compete for the 2019 right to replace Gardner Minshew, but Leach ultimately ended up swinging with Anthony Gordon, to much offensive success. You should not discount the possibility that Garrett Shrader could jump up for this job. Costello is going to have to earn it.
Chase Brice, Duke Blue Devils -- At the top of this column, we started out waxing poetic on Miami. Let us turn our eyes toward another ACC program in Duke, now. The Blue Devils, themselves, reeled in a quarterback out of the portal in Clemson’s Chase Brice. Brice isn’t King -- the reason we keep mentioning King is that he was bar-none the best quarterback to move on this winter -- but does come with experience in arguably the best-run program in the country.
Unfortunately, just because you’ve spent time around Trevor Lawrence doesn’t mean you excel by osmosis. Lawrence has now forced two quarterback transfers in two years. Kelly Bryant to Missouri ended up a non-starter. We’ll see if Brice strikes out on his own in more emphatic fashion. The bottom line for Duke, though, is that coming off a 5-7 season, with nothing cooking in the position room for 2020, Brice (who has two years of eligibility) could work as an immediate stabilizing presence as HC David Cutcliffe looks to get to bowl eligibility following the team’s gap-year post-Daniel Jones.
Jake Bentley, Utah -- Bentley saw the light that was freshman Ryan Hilinski after being knocked out with a season-ending foot injury to open the 2019 season, opting to move on to Utah with his transfer. Reader, be aware if you aren’t already, this author loves the Utes. Like on a basic emotional level (no cheering in the press box, of course). Loves how HC Kyle Whittingham runs the program, loves that Whit consistently churns out killer defenses in a conference which tends to be defense-averse, loves of all of it. All of that is just context for what we’re about to say -- we feel a little nervous about Utah’s outlook for 2020. Not only do the Utes have multiple pieces to replace from 2019’s nasty defense, but they’ll be out their offensive rock in Zack Moss, too, as well as the ever-underrated Tyler Huntley.
We wish we could say that we have the utmost faith that Bentley comes into his own under Whit’s watch. Utah needs that out of him. We just can’t say that with any real confidence. For all of his occasional flash and sizzle - never more fully on display than in a virtuoso 510-yard, five-touchdown showing against Clemson in 2018 - Bentley isn’t a particular accurate quarterback (62.5% completions for his career) and more distressingly, turns the ball over like his bakery is about to shut down. He was picked off 26 times combined between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Some of that is undoubtedly on South Carolina’s general offense, and we do trust Utah. We just aren’t sure if Bentley has it in him to guide his new program to a Pac-12 title, let alone a Playoff berth. Not with what Utah is losing across the board.
Feleipe’ Franks, Arkansas Razorbacks -- Meh? Meh? Meh? As a get-me-over option, Franks is fine, we guess. He has SEC experience! He has a big arm! He can be the guy until raw dual-threat frosh Malik Hornsby is ready! But really, we don’t trust Franks. We never trusted Franks, not even when Dan Mullen was somehow making him a thing at Florida (he owned a 24/6 TD/INT ratio in 2018, somehow). Franks frustrates in that he has shown little development since coming out of high school. And guess what? He had a big arm back then, too. Unless they start awarding points for “deep balls to nowhere” we couldn’t frankly care less about how far Franks can fling it. Arm strength might be the most overrated attribute for a quarterback. Far more valuable, how they see the field, their accuracy, their decision-making, their composure. Being able to throw the ball through a piece of plywood like a human tornado tossing a playing card through a tree only does so much for us. Oh, and he suffered a season-ending dislocated ankle four games into the 2019 season, with Florida’s offense chugging on fine with Kyle Trask taking over.
Now, we’re not going to blame Arkansas for giving this a shot. They were a Power Five tire fire in 2019 and, might as well, might as well. Because they do need somebody to steer the ship until Hornsby is ready. It’s just that Franks could easily end up steering this wounded boat into a rock pile.
Bonus QB -- Peyton Ramsey, TBD -- Ramsey might be the least recognizable name on this list, but we low-key love him as a potential guide for a team in need of a one-year starter. Or let’s put it this way -- we definitely, definitely would have preferred Ramsey to Franks. Hitting the field in 11 games last season (largely due to Michel Penix’s injury), Ramsey completed 68% of his passes at an 8.2 YPA clip for the Hoosiers, both marks standing as the best in his career. His essential competence is far more appealing to this author than Franks’ mega-cannon, anyway. Think Illinois and Brandon Peters last year. Peters didn’t post eye-popping numbers, but he gave the Illini some level of consistency at quarterback. And Ramsey is far, far more accurate than Peters. Some low-level Power Five program is going to give Ramsey a shot and it’s going to pay off. Just a matter of who.