Imagine being told a year ago that JT Daniels would be the starting quarterback for Georgia to open the 2020 college football season. It would have sounded ridiculous and seemed equally absurd just 100 days ago before Daniels announced his transfer destination.
But when projected Georgia starterthat he is opting out of the 2020 season, the possibility of Daniels leading the Bulldogs this season turned into reality.
Daniels is still not fully cleared for contact as he continues to rehabilitate from the torn ACL he suffered at USC almost exactly a year ago. If the Bulldogs training staff gives him the all-clear at some point this month, though, he will presumably take the first snap of the 2020 season for Georgia when the Bulldogs play at Arkansas on Saturday, Sept. 26. It's a remarkable twist of fate for Daniels and Georgia, and it could have an impact on the wider college football landscape, depending on which version of Daniels shows up under center for the Bulldogs.
If it's a hobbled version who's not adequately acquainted with a new offensive system, then you can go ahead and crown Florida as the SEC East champion. But if the Bulldogs get a healthy version of Daniels, their ceiling is arguably just as high or even higher than it would have been with Newman, and an SEC title and College Football Playoff berth will be within Georgia's grasp.
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Yes, Daniels was on track to start the season backing up Newman, but there were a couple of reasons why that had nothing to do with Daniels' talent or potential.
For starters, Newman arrived in January, and though COVID-19 wiped out spring practice, he had the opportunity to acquaint himself with his teammates and first-year Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken several months before Daniels arrived. Whether it's the right decision or not, coaches often let those types of intangible factors influence their thinking when it comes to formulating depth charts.
Then there is the fact that, until six weeks ago, it seemed likely that Daniels would be forced to redshirt due to NCAA transfer rules. The NCAA, however, granted Daniels a waiver for immediate eligibility in July, so it effectively created a quarterback competition that no one saw coming. By then, many looking ahead to the post-Jake Fromm era at Georgia had already begun to pencil in Newman as the Bulldogs' unquestioned starter, and he even began to generate buzz as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
That's why Wednesday's news hit with such force and begged the question: A Georgia team returning just two offensive starters lost its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback only three weeks before the season?
You can see why the knee-jerk reaction is to immediately crown Florida as the new division champion. But it all comes down to Daniels, his health and his grasp of what Monken wants to do.
If he's in a good place physically, the Bulldogs will be in great position amid the standings come November. This is a player who ranked as the No. 3 quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, even after he reclassified and graduated high school a year ahead of schedule.
Daniels then won the starting job at USC as an 18-year-old freshman and performed at a serviceable capacity in that role during a dismal season for the Trojans. He was set to take a significant step forward last season until he suffered the ACL in the team's season-opener against Fresno State. Kedon Slovis took over in Daniels' absence and grabbed a firm hold of the job in first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell's system.
That left Daniels with a choice: try and win the job back from a younger player or hit the road in search of a new opportunity. He chose the latter and ended up at Georgia.
In some ways, his career arc is playing out like that of former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason, just geographically-reversed. Eason made the cross-country trek from Washington to play for the Bulldogs and put together a solid -- but not spectacular -- freshman season. But when he got hurt early in his sophomore season, a young phenom in Jake Fromm stepped in and stole the job. That sent Eason to the transfer market, and he ended up back home at Washington where he put together a great season in 2019 as a redshirt junior. Eason threw for 3,132 yards, 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while completing 64.2% of his passes.
Though it was just Eason's second full season of college football, he lived up to the hype he generated as a star prospect coming out of high school, even after suffering a knee injury, and played well enough to be drafted by the Colts in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft.
Who's to say Daniels can't do the same at Georgia after leaving his home state?
There is one key difference to note, however. Eason did not receive a waiver for immediate eligibility at Washington. He sat out for a season, learned the system and recovered fully from an injury that was not as severe as the torn ACL Daniels suffered at USC.
Daniels is skipping a step. How well he pulls it off could determine how far Georgia goes in 2020.