Friday Five: College football QB transfers set to make biggest impacts in 2019 season
Quarterbacks are transferring more than ever before, and these five are poised to make major impacts
There was once a time, not too long ago, when players transferring from one school to another was rare. That's no longer the case. Players are transferring more freely than ever before and have been given more freedom to do so. The NCAA has even begun to show a bit more leniency about immediate eligibility for these transfers, and all of this is a good thing because the players deserve to have these options. That's why the transfer portal is a good thing, and while all of these transfers may cause more headaches for coaches, they can afford the ibuprofen needed to deal with them.
The one position that's been affected more than any other in this transfer surge has been quarterback. When you take a look inside the transfer portal, you'll find more quarterbacks than any other position as talented players look for greener pastures and ways to get on the field to maximize their potential both as a player and as an earner at the next level.
In this week's Friday Five I'm writing about the five QB transfers that will have the biggest impact on their teams as well as the 2019 college football season. Now, while I have them in order from No. 5 to No. 1, the truth is I'm not really ranking them based on their impact against one another; I just picked the five I thought would be the "biggest deals." Also, it's important to note that I said they'd have an impact in 2019. You won't find Justin Fields or Tate Martell on this list. They're more talented than a few names on it and their impact could be larger, but there's no guarantee either will see the field before 2020 right now.
5. Ben Hicks, Arkansas: Hicks is not a household name. What he is, however, is an upgrade over what Arkansas had at the quarterback position in 2018. Hicks has been the starter for the last three seasons at SMU. The first two of those seasons came with Chad Morris as his coach. During his time at SMU, Hicks threw for 9,081 yards, 71 touchdowns and 34 interceptions while completing 56.7 percent of his passes. Those are not eye-popping numbers, but compare them to Arkansas' passing numbers in 2018 and you can see where the upgrade appears.
The Razorbacks passing attack finished in the bottom three of the SEC in every major statistical category last season, and Hicks's familiarity with Morris' offense should provide an upgrade for the 2019 season. Probably not an upgrade big enough to make Arkansas a contender in the SEC West, but enough of one to make the Hogs a bit more potent than the team that scored 21.7 points per game (17.3 in SEC games) last year.
4. Kelly Bryant, Missouri: Truth be told, I don't believe Bryant is an upgrade over what Missouri had in Drew Lock. Bryant was a serviceable quarterback for Clemson, but the difference between 2017 Clemson as well as the 2018 version with Bryant compared to 2018 Clemson once Trevor Lawrence took over full-time was drastic.
Bryant is a good quarterback and the Missouri offense should be just fine with him, but I'm not sure it'll be as explosive a unit as it was with Lock. Of course, it's also possible that the tutelage Bryant receives in Columbia will make him a more effective passer and help him develop into a more well-rounded QB. That would be a great development for both him and the Tigers. Of course, this is all assuming Bryant remains at Missouri in light of recent NCAA penalties against the school, but I don't think Bryant chose Mizzou for the chance to play in a bowl game. So my gut tells me he'll stick around, no matter what happens.
3. Hunter Johnson, Northwestern: There have been so many transfers as of late that some may have forgotten that Bryant wasn't the first victim of Trevor Lawrence's greatness at Clemson. Months before Bryant decided to transfer and wound up at Missouri, Johnson left to enroll at Northwestern. Unlike Bryant, Johnson was a big-time high school prospect just like Lawrence. Johnson was a five-star QB in the 2017 class and was rated as the No. 2 pro-style QB in the class behind Stanford's David Mills and ahead of Jake Fromm.
He'll be taking over for Clayton Thorson, who won a lot of games and was beloved by his coaches and teammates for his intangibles, but if we're honest, wasn't a great quarterback when it came to performance. I mean, unless you consider a QB who completes fewer than 60 percent of his passes while averaging a whopping 6.3 yards per attempt to be great. Johnson should be a definite upgrade on the field and give Northwestern a lot more options with what it can do offensively. And if Northwestern can win 36 games in four years with Thorson, imagine what it could do with Johnson.
2. Jacob Eason, Washington: Another QB transfer you may have forgotten about, Eason sat out the 2018 season after transferring to Washington from Georgia. The Washington native was the No. 5 overall player in the 2016 recruiting class but suffered a knee injury after initially beating Jake Fromm in Georgia's QB competition. After sitting behind Fromm the rest of the season, and with Justin Fields entering the fray, he saw the writing on the wall and headed back home. That's where I believe he'll have a significant impact on a program that should be competing for a Pac-12 title in 2019, and yes, a possible College Football Playoff berth.
During his sophomore season at Washington in 2016, Jake Browning had a fantastic year. He averaged nearly 9 yards per pass attempt while completing 62 percent of his passes and tossing 43 touchdowns to only nine interceptions. Washington won the Pac-12 and reached the College Football Playoff that season, and Browning's performance had most of us (myself included) expecting great things from him. But he plateaued. In fact, saying he plateaued is probably generous. While he wasn't bad his final two seasons with the Huskies, Browning wasn't as good as he had been in 2016, either, and it limited Washington's ceiling as a football team. Eason, who has a stronger arm than Browning and could prove to be just as accurate, if not more, will raise its ceiling yet again. In a Pac-12 that has no dominant power at the moment, Eason could be the x-factor in making Washington relevant in the playoff picture this coming season.
1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: It's not often that a QB who has started in two national title games and won one -- with some help from Tua Tagovailoa -- suddenly becomes available on the transfer market, but that's the situation with Hurts. It only makes sense that a QB of his caliber would decide to transfer to a program that has had two other transfer QBs win Heisman Trophies the last two seasons with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Now it would be hard to argue that Hurts will make Oklahoma a lot better with his presence seeing how the Sooners have won the Big 12 each of the past two seasons and made the College Football Playoff, and as I mentioned, their past two starting quarterbacks won the Heisman. At the same time, however, you can't deny how big of a story this will be in the 2019 season and the impact it could possibly have not just on Oklahoma and the Big 12, but on the national title picture. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Hurts and the Sooners could meet Tagovailoa and Alabama in a playoff semifinal or possibly even the title game. Can you imagine the hype leading into that game?
As for Hurts, it'll be interesting to see how his game further develops. While he didn't get nearly as many snaps in 2018 as he did the two previous seasons, he appeared to be a better passer this season and now he'll be working with Lincoln Riley. Will Riley continue working on Hurts' progression as a passer or will the Oklahoma offense adapt a bit to better suit Jalen's talents? It will be fun to find out.
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