They're not listed on the official roster yet, but multiple reports from the start of Louisville's preseason camp confirm that two ex-Tigers, former Auburn quarterback Zeke Pike and former Clemson wide receiver Bryce McNeal, have boarded the transfer train to the River City. Both have been the subject of local rumors over the past week, and the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Monday that both are in the fold pending the obligatory paperwork.
When it's done, Pike and McNeal will be the fifth and sixth defections from other Southern schools to join the Cardinals this year, following Florida tight end Gerald Christian, Florida wide receiver Robert Clark, Tennessee wide receiver Matt Milton and Kentucky offensive lineman David Noltemeyer, a walk-on. Another would-be defection, Ohio State linebacker Jordan Whiting, reportedly agreed to transfer to Louisville in March, but is not listed on the roster or in the preseason media guide.
McNeal was easily the highest rated prospect out of the state of Minnesota in 2009, but fell well short of his blue-chip hype at Clemson, following a redshirt year with only 19 catches in 2010 and only one catch last year before he decided to leave the team just three games into the season. By that point, he'd already been passed on the depth chart by three true freshmen, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake, and had yet to score a touchdown.
Still, McNeal remained enrolled at Clemson to finish his degree, committing in the meantime to transfer to UConn for his final two years of eligibility. In accordance with that timeline, he's set to graduate from Clemson later this week – a year ahead of the standard four-year plan – likely allowing him to bypass the NCAA's usual transfer penalty and play immediately this season as a graduate student. Unexpectedly, though, he will not be playing or studying at UConn, whose admissions office reviewed McNeal's transcript last week and concluded it could not admit a student with "somewhere around a 2.4 grade point average" to the graduate school, regardless of his two-year commitment or his time in the 40-yard dash.
Hence the last-second transfer to one of the Huskies' Big East rivals instead. Louisville has no shortage of viable targets as it is: The top three receivers in 2011 were all freshmen, as was the quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, who established an instant connection with former high school teammates Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers. Looking ahead, Milton and Clark will join the fray in 2013, after their NCAA-mandated season on the bench. But if Bridgewater progresses at anywhere near the same rate as a sophomore that he did as a freshman, there ought to be plenty of passes to go around, especially if Harris continues to struggle with a knee injury he suffered last December.
Pike, an in-state prep star from just outside Cincinnati, arrives fresh from a June arrest for public intoxication and subsequent dismissal from Auburn, where he participated in the Tigers' open quarterback competition in the spring. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Pike was a no-brainer for the scouts' lists of the most coveted "pro style" passers in the 2012 recruiting class, and represented a major victory for Auburn last summer when he committed to the Tigers over the likes of Tennessee, Clemson, Arkansas and Michigan, among others.
From that point on, though, his stock began to sag over the course of his senior year, which began with Pike missing the first game of the season – punishment for being ejected from an offseason 7-on-7 tournament – and ended with him sitting out a playoff game for the proverbial violation of team rules. Even before his arrest, there had been nagging questions about his maturity.
With Bridgewater entrenched for at least the next two years, there is no competition at quarterback in Louisville, probably the main reason Pike is expected to be relegated to tight end. At any rate, he won't be seeing any playing time there, either, until he's eligible in 2013, at which point he'll be competing with – who else? – another SEC transfer, former Gator Gerald Christian.