SAN JOSE, Calif. — The college football quarterback transfer dynamic has risen to the top of modern day issues with relaxed transfer rules and impatience among today’s young people.
Alabama and Clemson, the teams that will meet at Levi Stadium on Monday night to decide the national championship, both endured high-profile quarterback competitions with transfer implications this season.
Tide junior QB Jalen Hurts, however, wound up staying in Tuscaloosa and helped lead his team to a 35-28 come-from-behind win over Georgia in the SEC title game.
Former Tigers’ QB Kelly Bryant, however, decided to transfer in September after he was demoted in favor of freshman Trevor Lawrence. This, after Bryant started 18 games and leading Clemson into the CFB Playoff last season.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Saturday at the CFB Media Day at the SAP Center that competition is part of the game, and every player must earn his position from one season to the next.
“We start over every year, and you’ve got to earn it every year,” Swinney said. “Just because you were the best player last year doesn’t mean you are the best player this year.
“At the end of the day, guys are going to come and go.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart knows that better than anyone after the Bulldogs lost talented freshmen Justin Fields to Ohio State on Friday.
Smart did everything he could to give Fields an opportunity to compete and win the job from week to week, but Fields and his family simply couldn’t handle the role of backup quarterback.
Quarterback transfers are nothing new, and it’s a trend that figures to grow, as Smart identified last May at the SEC Spring Meetings Destin, Fla.
“It’s tough keeping them around,” Smart said. “Everybody would like to have a 3-deep (at quarterback), so how many is that — 390? That’s crazy to me that you are not going to have that.
“It is a ‘me now’ society. They want self-gratification. They want to know that they will be able to play. It is different than every other position on the team.”
Swinney explained that all a coach can do is be as transparent as possible and continue to recruit top talent.
“You have to develop relationships with your players, and be able to articulate a clear vision for each individual,” Swinney said. “Not only what your goal for your team is, but also for them individually, and you have to as a coach create the buy-in into it.
“(But) at the end of the day my job is to recruit the very best player — I’m not trying to recruit backups …. I want to recruit the very best player, year in and year out, and then competition drives everything in your program when you are fair.”
Smart had a plan this season to put Fields in situations that would help the team while allowing the young freshman to grow as a player.
Indeed, Fields played in 13 of 15 games even when Fromm was operating at an elite level, posting the third-highest pass efficiency rating in the nation.
Smart explained what his argument would be for a backup planning to transfer, perhaps previewing what he told Fields and his family behind closed doors before Ohio State recruited him away:
“I would argue if you are a parent of a quarterback that you would say, ‘You know what, where is my son going to get the best development?’ “ Smart said last May. “Where is he going to get the best reps and learn to play a quarterback position like it is in the NFL?’ Not necessarily play first, but where is he going to learn to play the position and sit in a meeting room where they teach you protections and the things you have got to learn to play at the next level?
“Because they don’t draft you at the next level just based on your playing performance. They want to see what system you played in and how did you play. Did you grow as a quarterback? Have you learned? It’s tough. It is tough to keep them around because they are all used to going where they can play right away.”
Swinney knows all about that as well, but Clemson was still able to reach the CFB Playoff Championship Game, even after losing a quarterback to transfer during the season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney