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2017: Year of the Transfer Quarterback

The college football season is now less than three months out, and with the official announcement of Malik Zaire’s transfer to the Florida Gators the former Notre Dame quarterback has ended the offseason market for transfer quarterbacks. And although there are plenty of storylines heading into this year, make no mistake about it, the 2017 college football season is the year of the transfer quarterback.

This year transfer quarterbacks will play a huge role in the college football world, filling every void from backups to Heisman Trophy hopefuls. Quarterback transfers from top Big 12, PAC-12, SEC, and Big 10 conferences are expected to play a major role at other big-time programs that will influence not only this year’s college football playoff but the future of college football as a whole.

In the Big 12 Will Grier is the unquestioned starter in one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The former Gator quarterback, and the man who was supposed to be the face of the Florida program, is now the quarterback in Dana Holgorsen’s offense, which is certainly a marriage that should trouble every defense on West Virginia’s schedule. And in that same conference the bottom-dwelling Kansas Jayhawks are hoping Peyton Bender, former signal-caller of the Washington State Cougars can lift up a program that is in dire need of rejuvenation. Just south of Lawrence, Kansas the Oklahoma Sooners are led by another former transfer quarterback, Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield, who started his career at Big 12 counterpart Texas Tech. He and the New York Giants’ 3rd round pick Davis Webb (Cal) as well as Virginia Tech QB Michael Brewer (Va Tech) were all beat out in competition giving a PAC-12, ACC, and fellow Big 12 school valuable starting quarterbacks.

And ask Baylor if quarterback competitions are the only reason quarterbacks transfer. Will Grier’s tenure at in Morgantown West Virginia because of a dispute between him and the coaching staff after a PED-related suspension, and even non-individual troubles like program sanctions force out transfer quarterbacks and will change the landscape of college football this year. Baylor’s massive sanctions and firing of former head coach Art Briles led to the transfer of star quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who went from the player who was supposed to lead Baylor to heights never seen before to a player who is supposed to save Gus Malzahn from the hot seat at Auburn. Of course Baylor this year is looking at their own incoming transfer, Anu Solomon from Arizona to provide a spark. But while Stidham does his best to beat out Sean White and bring offensive greatness back to the Plains, the other powerhouse of the state is without three of its 5-star signal-callers thanks to the ever-growing number of transfers.

Former Alabama quarterbacks Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman, and David Cornwell have all left the crowded quarterback room in Tuscaloosa to play elsewhere. Barnett is set to start for Todd Graham’s Sundevils, and should help bring Arizona State back to relevance after a shaky past few years. Bateman joins Barnett in the PAC-12, fighting for a starting role in Utah’s new offensive system. And while those two quarterbacks look to shake up the PAC-12 South, the third Bama transfer QB, Cornwell is looking to make his mark for the Mountain West’s Nevada Wolfpack.

Of course the state of Alabama is not the only Southern state to be affected by quarterbacks switching sides. The Crimson Tide’s rival LSU Brandon Harris has transferred after being beaten out by Purdue transfer Danny Etling last season. Now LSU is without Harris, who is looking to replace #2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky in Chapel Hill. Fellow SEC West school, Texas A&M, has lost three star quarterbacks to transfers in the past few seasons. Fellow Aggie starter Kenny Hill now starts at TCU, while Kyle Allen is looking to take the reigns for a strong Houston offense. And while those two start this season, Kyler Murray will be the quarterback who steps into Baker Mayfield’s shoes after this season, with the talent to keep the line of great OU quarterbacks going.

Meanwhile in the SEC’s other division the Florida Gators who were set back a year maybe more, in their rebuild with the loss of Grier, may have found an answer at quarterback at least for a year or two. With former Notre Dame’s transfer to Florida, head coach Jim McElwain might finally have a quarterback who can run a not-horrendous offense. Of course that was also the thought last season when two-time transfer Luke Del Rio tore up the Florida Spring game with a multi-touchdown game, and was backed up with another transfer in Austin Appleby.

And the Gators aren’t the only team in the Sunshine State being affected by transfers. Former Seminole backup De’Andre Johnson is now suiting up for FAU and new head coach Lane Kiffin after off-the-field issues forced Johnson out of the FSU program (which is impressive because they don’t kick anybody off of that team). And while the FSU program has lost depth at QB, with Johnson and now the transfer announcement of backup Malik Henry, another ACC school is getting some help at quarterback. Former 5-star prospect and USC starting quarterback Max Browne is joining Pat Narduzzi’s squad at Pittsburgh. The Panthers are coming off a 27 TD year from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman, and look to have the same success with Browne.

Of course it isn’t just the power conferences that are affected by these transfers, as many smaller schools are able to snatch up quarterbacks that left big-time programs in hopes for an easier path to becoming a starter. East Carolina is getting former Duke star Thomas Sirk, who guided Duke to an 8-5 season in 2015. Meanwhile Central Michigan is getting another former 5-star prospect in Shane Morris who could never establish a starting foothold at Michigan. And with eight starters returning to last season’s 26th ranked passing offense the former Wolverine QB is set to tear up the MAC.

And with every major and nearly every smaller conference seeing some kind of effect from quarterback transfers it seems that it is becoming a big part of the game. And coaches know that. More and more head coaches are spending time recruiting quarterback transfers when they feel that they need a “stop-gap” player. Even the best college recruiters are focusing on transfer quarterbacks to help win championships like Nick Saban did in 2015. That year the loaded Alabama Crimson Tide’s roster was completed thanks to Jacob Coker, a transfer quarterback from Florida State.

So the question becomes, not whether or not a transfer quarterback will make an impact this year in the conference races around college football, but whether or not a quarterback under center for his second team can impact the College Football Playoff. And right now, with every conference and nearly every major program being impacted by transfer quarterbacks there is little doubt that 2017 will be the “Season of the Transfer Quarterback.”

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