Friday Five: College football transfer quarterbacks poised for standout seasons in 2019

If you’re running a college football program, ideally, you’d hope to find a quarterback who can walk onto campus and be “The Guy” for four years. Or, at the very least, could be “The Guy” for a few years after sitting for a season, letting “The Other Guy” finish being “The Guy” first. That doesn’t happen very often, though. At least not anymore.

With transferring being easier than ever before, we’ve seen a considerable spike in the overall number of transfers in recent years, and perhaps no position has been impacted as much as the QB position. Here’s what Jake Lourim wrote about that at FiveThirtyEight earlier this week.

Since 2000, 94 players have attempted at least 50 passes in a season for two different schools. Here we see the trend over time: five quarterbacks joined a new team between 2000 and 2004, while 13 transferred schools between 2005 and 2009. Twenty-eight quarterbacks transferred between 2010 and 2014, and 48 of those 94 have departed for greener pastures since 2015.

So, of the 94 players to do so since 2000, 51 percent of them have done it in the last five years. That’s an incredible rate of acceleration in the trend — but that’s not what Lourim was writing about in his story. Instead, he was writing about how most transfer quarterbacks don’t show up at a new school and magically perform better than they had at their old one.

For every Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, there are a lot more players who don’t amount to much of anything for their new programs. Yet that doesn’t stop nearly every fan base in the country from believing that the new QB who transferred in over the summer is a major upgrade over everybody on the roster, and will be the difference between a good and a great season.

All of which has inspired this week’s Friday Five topic. This week, I’ll be ranking the five transfer QBs I believe are in line to have the most impressive seasons for their new teams in 2019. Let’s get to recklessly speculating!

5. Shane Buechele, SMU

Buechele’s career began at Texas where it got off to an encouraging start. As a freshman in 2016, Buechele threw for 2,958 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The problem was Texas went 5-7 in that year, leading to Charlie Strong being fired and Tom Herman taking over. As we so often see, new coaches — particularly offensive-minded coaches — don’t always love the quarterbacks they inherit, and Buechele’s playing time dropped after that. During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, he appeared in 11 games and threw 257 passes for 1,678 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

Now Buechele is at SMU, and will be playing for Sonny Dykes. Dykes’ QBs tend to put up numbers, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any different for Buechele. There’s a decent chance he’ll improve upon his 2016 output, particularly in a league that should be easier to manage than the Big 12 was.

4. Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State

Stevens was named Mississippi State’s starter this week, and he finds himself with an advantage not many transfers get. Stevens came to Mississippi State from Penn State, where he spent the bulk of his career learning an offense coordinated by Joe Moorhead. The same Joe Moorhead who is now the coach at Mississippi State, so Stevens is stepping into an offense he’s familiar with.

Still, Stevens saw limited time at Penn State as the backup to Trace McSorley on the depth chart. In 20 games with the Nittany Lions, Stevens only threw 41 passes while running the ball 76 times and catching 14 passes. So taking over as the full-time QB will be new for Stevens, but it’s the reason he left Happy Valley, and his familiarity in the offense should lead to a nice season for the graduate transfer.

3. Jacob Eason, Washington

I felt like a lot of people were a bit too hard on Jake Browning the last few years. He was far from a perfect quarterback, and he failed to live up to the promise he showed as a sophomore when he threw 43 touchdowns and led Washington to the College Football Playoff. Browning’s flaw was that he didn’t have the cannon arm that could consistently threaten defenses vertically.

Jacob Eason might. Eason is a local kid who began his career at Georgia but has now returned home. He sat out the 2018 season, and while Washington hasn’t made it official, it’s widely believed he’ll be the team’s starting QB in 2019. He’ll be doing so behind a veteran offensive line, and I think Eason’s skill set will allow Washington coaches to be a bit more aggressive on offense than they have been in recent years. This should lead to Eason putting up numbers more in line with Browning’s 2016 season rather than the “game-manager” seasons of 2017 and 2018.

2. Justin Fields, Ohio State

We don’t know a whole lot about Justin Fields yet. We know he was in the same recruiting class as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and if you asked any recruiting evaluator which one was better at the time, half would have told you Lawrence and half would have told you Fields. But it hasn’t worked out that way in college. Lawrence won a national title last season while Fields served primarily as a backup to Jake Fromm and is now at Ohio State.

While a lot of questions about Fields remain unanswered at this point, there aren’t many better situations for him to step into if he didn’t want to stay at Georgia. Ohio State’s loaded with talent at the skill positions, and Ryan Day may be in his first season as a head coach, but he’s widely regarded as one of the more innovative offensive minds in the sport right now. Fields may not be Trevor Lawrence, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be one of the best quarterbacks in the country on one of its best teams.

1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

Duh. I mean, what is there to explain? The last two quarterbacks at Oklahoma — Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — have won the Heisman Trophy. Both of them were transfers. But you know what neither of them had when they transferred to Oklahoma? A ring. Jalen Hurts does. Hurts won a national title at Alabama, and he was a part of two Alabama teams that lost title games as well. This isn’t your typical transfer.

This is a proven QB who was passed on the depth chart by a possible No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft next spring who has left one national title contender for another. The knock on Hurts during his first two seasons at Alabama was that he wasn’t a great passing threat, but he made some terrific strides forward in that department last season, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. And now he’s playing in a Lincoln Riley offense? Video game numbers, people. Video game numbers.

Honorable Mention: Kelly Bryant, Missouri; Hunter Johnson, Northwestern, Brandon Wimbush, UCF, The Arkansas QB, Arkansas

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