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Trend analysis: Transfer quarterbacks

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The number of transfers in college football has exploded in recent years, to the point that the term “transfer portal” has become an everyday part of the vernacular. No position has been more impacted by the boom in transfer numbers, the option to graduate transfer and the increase in waivers allowing transfers to play immediately than quarterback. This offseason alone, 21 FBS quarterbacks opted to graduate and transfer to another program. Four of 14 SEC teams could start a quarterback this season who arrived as a graduate transfer, including Missouri. That, of course, doesn’t include the wave of traditional transfers such as former top recruit Justin Fields.

Missouri has been opportunistic in taking advantage of the increase in available quarterbacks. In December, Barry Odom and his staff made national headlines by landing former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. Bryant, who led Clemson to a 12-2 record and a berth in the College Football Playoff in 2017, immediately became the heir to the starting spot vacated by four-year starter Drew Lock. The Tigers could have found their quarterback of the future through the transfer portal, as well, as former TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson will sit out this season then have two years of eligibility remaining.

All the shuffling at quarterback has put Bryant in a situation that has become increasingly common: After arriving on campus in January, he must learn the Tiger offense in time to start the team’s season-opener in late August. It certainly has been accomplished in the past. Russell Wilson, who graduated from North Carolina State then transferred to Wisconsin for his final season, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 2011, is the ultimate graduate transfer success story. However, more often, immediately-eligible quarterbacks have struggled to adjust to a new team so quickly.

As Missouri prepares for a season with Bryant at the helm, we take a look back at a selection of immediately-eligible transfer quarterbacks within the past five years for hints of what Missouri must do to find success this season. Some have provided an immediate impact at their new schools, while others failed to live up to expectations.

Kelly Bryant will start at quarterback for Missouri this season after transferring to the school from Clemson.
Kelly Bryant will start at quarterback for Missouri this season after transferring to the school from Clemson. (Jordan Kodner)

The success stories

1. Gardner Minshew

Previous school: East Carolina (2016-2017)

New school: Washington State (2018)

Stats after transfer: 468-662, 4,779 yards, 38 TD, 9 INT; 11-2 record as starter

Minshew is perhaps the ultimate example of how the perfect scheme can elevate a player. Minshew started his career at Northwest Mississippi Community College, then took a step up to East Carolina, then graduated and joined Mike Leach and Washington State last season. There, the relatively unknown passer put up astronomical numbers, completing more than 70 percent of his passes and throwing 38 touchdowns. He was named the Pac 12 offensive player of the year and to the all-Pac 12 first team, and he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Washington State finished his senior season with an 11-2 record and a victory in the Alamo Bowl, and Minshew was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.

Leach has proven throughout his career he can field a dynamic offense no matter where he’s coaching or who is playing quarterback, and Minshew certainly didn’t take over a struggling team. Washington State had won at least eight games each of the past three seasons and ranked No. 2 nationally in passing offense in 2017. However, even by Leach’s lofty standards, Minshew’s lone season in Pullman was a massive success. Missouri will hope offensive coordinator Derek Dooley can sustain success with a new signal-caller in a similar manner.

2. Shea Patterson

Previous school: Ole Miss (2016-2017)

New school: Michigan (2018)

Stats after transfer: 210-325, 2,600 yards, 22 TD, 7 INT; 10-3 record as starter

Patterson’s situation differs a bit from Bryant’s in that he didn’t graduate before changing schools, but he was still eligible to see the field during his first season at Michigan due to the firing of former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. Patterson, a former five-star recruit, never played a full season for the Rebels, appearing in spots as a freshman and then missing the second half of his sophomore season due to a knee injury. Still, he arrived in Ann Arbor with huge expectations on his shoulders and promptly won the starting job. He led the Wolverines to 10 wins, albeit with a lot of help from the team’s defense, which ranked No. 2 in the country.

Patterson didn’t put up near the numbers of Minshew, but he was efficient, completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing 22 touchdowns versus seven interceptions. He did struggle a bit down the stretch in Michigan’s bitter loss at Ohio State and postseason loss to Florida. While he probably didn’t quite live up to fans’ preseason hype, he was a clear upgrade from the season prior, when Michigan ranked No. 111 out of 130 FBS teams in passing offense.

Shea Patterson led Michigan to 10 wins during his first year with the team.
Shea Patterson led Michigan to 10 wins during his first year with the team. (Brandon Brown)

3. Trevor Knight

Previous school: Oklahoma (2013-2015)

New school: Texas A&M (2016)

Stats after transfer: 193-362, 2,432 yards, 19 TD, 7 INT; 7-4 record as starter

Knight is probably the closest player to Bryant on this list in terms of his level of accomplishment prior to transferring. He exploded onto the scene as a true freshman, when he threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 2013 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The performance got Knight tabbed as a potential Heisman Trophy hopeful as a sophomore, but he didn’t quite live up to the hype, throwing nearly as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (14). Midway through his junior year, he was supplanted as Oklahoma’s starter by Baker Mayfield.

That gave Knight the opportunity to graduate and transfer, and he quickly beat out the returning quarterbacks (including Kyler Murray) at Texas A&M. Knight led the Aggies to a 6-0 record and No. 6 national ranking to start the year, and although they came back to earth down the stretch, he finished the season having thrown for 2,432 yards and 19 touchdowns plus running for another 614 yards and 10 scores. The team’s struggles in the second half of the season were largely defensive — the Aggies gave up nearly 38 points per game in their four-game SEC losing streak to close the year — but Knight’s passing and rushing production both marked career highs.

4. Jake Rudock

Previous school: Iowa (2011-2014)

New school: Michigan (2015)

Stats after transfer: 249-389, 3,017 yards, 20 TD, 9 INT; 10-3 record as starter

A second Michigan quarterback makes the list. Rudock didn’t see the field until his redshirt sophomore year at Iowa, but he started all 13 games for the Hawkeyes in both 2013 and 2014. His career there was a bit up-and-down; Iowa won eight games in 2013, but lost each of its last three games the following year, with Rudock completing 21 of 46 passes in the final two combined. He transferred to quarterback-needy Michigan, however, and improved as the season progressed. Rudock set a Michigan record by throwing for more than 250 yards in five consecutive games, including a 440-yard, six-touchdown performance against Indiana. Like Patterson, Rudock led Michigan to a 10-3 record on the season, and while it may have seemed slightly unfulfilling to Wolverine fans due to losses to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, it was easily the most productive season of Rudock’s career and a huge step forward for a program that had gone 5-7 the year prior.

The cautionary tales

1. Keller Chryst

Previous school: Stanford (2015-2017)

New school: Tennessee (2018)

Stats after transfer: 23-51, 450 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT; 0-0 record as starter

Chryst took over the starting quarterback job as a sophomore at Stanford and initially appeared to be the answer for the Cardinal. During the 2016 season, Stanford went 6-0 in games started by Chryst. He threw for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions during that span. However, he lost the starting job to K.J. Costello the following season and opted to graduate and transfer. Tennessee, which largely overhauled its roster in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season, took Chryst in, but he never seized the starting job. Chryst shared playing time with Jarrett Guarantano for a bit, until Guarantano seized the starting job midway through the season. Chryst’s worst performance came against Missouri, when he replaced an injured Guarantano and completed just 7 of 19 passes while throwing two interceptions. Chryst certainly never showed production comparable to Bryant, and the expectations on him never should have been as high, but Pruitt certainly hoped for a bit more production out of Chryst.

2. Wilton Speight

Previous school: Michigan (2015-2017)

New school: UCLA (2018)

Stats after transfer: 126-208, 1,527 yards, 6 TD, 6 INT; 2-5 record as starter

Speight followed Rudock at Michigan as the starter for the 2016 season, and for a time it looked like he would be able to build on Rudock’s success. Michigan started the season 9-0 with Speight at the helm, but a 14-13 loss to Iowa that saw Speight get injured derailed the season. The Wolverines lost each of the last three games Speight started. He began the 2017 season as the starter once again, but struggled with accuracy, opening the door for backup John O’Korn to receive some playing time. Speight’s season ended when he got injured midway through the season. Even though he was ultimately cleared to return, he declared that he would graduate and transfer.

Speight’s arrival was highly anticipated at UCLA, where former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly had landed after a stint in the NFL. The season didn’t go nearly as well as planned for Speight or the team. Speight was injured once again in a season-opening loss to Cincinnati. He didn’t return until the seventh game of the season, and by that point UCLA had a record of 1-6. In the seven games he started on the year, Speight threw an even six touchdowns and six interceptions. He clearly walked into a worse situation than the one Bryant will inherit; UCLA ranked No. 100 or worse nationally in rushing defense, total defense and points allowed last season.

3. K.J. Carta-Samuels

Previous school: Washington (2014-2017)

New school: Colorado State (2018)

Stats after transfer: 183-298, 2,261 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT; 3-6 record as starter

Carta-Samuels is perhaps the most noteworthy name on this list for Missouri fans. Had Lock opted to leave school for the NFL following his junior season, It’s no secret that the Tigers would have at least considered bringing in Carta-Samuels, the younger brother of offensive analyst Austyn Carta-Samuels, to replace him. Carta-Samuels found himself in the same class as four-year starter Jake Browning at Washington, so after three seasons as Browning’s backup, he opted to graduate and transfer.

Instead of Missouri, Carta-Samuels wound up at Colorado State, which was coming off five consecutive winning seasons. This year, however, the Rams struggled mightily, finishing the season 3-9. The defense was the big reason why — Colorado State ranked No. 113 nationally in rushing defense and No. 117 in scoring defense — but Carta-Samuels wasn’t blameless, either. He completed 18 of 23 passes in a loss to Colorado and 15 of 27 in a loss to Northern Illinois, and he was ultimately benched during the ninth game of the season. It’s impossible to know how Carta-Samuels would have performed had he wound up at Missouri, which would have been an upgrade from Colorado State, but Tiger fans are surely grateful that Lock chose to stick around for his senior season.

K.J. Carta-Samuels struggled in his lone season as Colorado State's starting quarterback.
K.J. Carta-Samuels struggled in his lone season as Colorado State's starting quarterback. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Takeaways:

So, what do all these guys tell us about Kelly Bryant and Missouri? For one, it’s good to go transfer to a winning team. With the exception of Rudock, all three of the players listed as “successes” took over a roster that had won at least eight games the season before. Chryst and Speight, on the other hand, both went to teams coming off losing campaigns and coaching searches. In that regard, Bryant’s situation at Missouri looks promising. Not only did Missouri win eight games last season, Odom’s third at the school, but the Tigers will return seven of 10 offensive starters aside from Lock.

Not surprisingly, a reliable running game has also benefitted transfer quarterbacks. This season, Michigan ranked No. 30 nationally in rushing. Texas A&M ranked No. 34 with Knight at the helm, and Michigan came in at No. 84, albeit at more than 150 yards per game, during Rudock’s season there. By contrast, UCLA ranked No. 86 in rushing this season, Tennessee No. 114 and Colorado State No. 124. (As usual, Leach’s Washington State team is the major outlier, coming in at No. 129 in rushing last year). With running back Larry Rountree III back after a 1,200-plus yard season last year, Missouri could have an even better running game than a season ago, when it ranked No. 33 nationally on the ground.

As for the quarterbacks themselves, it’s more difficult to pick out similarities. Starting experience doesn’t appear to be a major factor in determining a transfer’s success at his new home (Chryst had made more starts than Patterson, for instance). Nor do wins, as Speight won far more games at Michigan than Minshew did at East Carolina. The most important factor, it appears, is finding the proper fit with a new team. The turnover-averse Patterson fit in well with Michigan’s defense-first build, for example, and a Texas A&M offense built around Johnny Manziel needed a quarterback with Knight’s dual-threat ability. Speight, meanwhile, didn’t fit in with Kelly’s up-tempo offense at UCLA.

Until the season arrives, it’s impossible to say how well Bryant will fit into the offense at Missouri. But there is certainly optimism that, after he was able to marry concepts from his preferred pro-style offense with the spread system Missouri ran under Josh Heupel, Dooley is an ideal candidate to make sure the Tiger offense fits its new leader.