Opinion: A bold prediction for JT Daniels and UGA in 2021
Former five-star USC quarterback JT Daniels announced Thursday he is transferring to Georgia. It remains to be seen what Daniels’ impact will be on the Bulldogs in 2020, but a clearer picture is emerging of what could happen the following season.
I predict — with Daniels on the roster — UGA will be the preseason No. 1 team for 2021 regardless of what happens in the upcoming season.
This isn’t because Daniels is a can’t-miss prospect. Truthfully, there probably isn’t such a thing.
Despite his status as a former five-star recruit, Daniels struggled in his first season at USC — completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes and throwing almost as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (14). To complicate matters further, he’s also recovering from an ACL injury and meniscus tear sustained at the beginning of last season.
Had Daniels stayed at USC it’s quite possible he wouldn’t have been the starting quarterback given the success rising sophomore Kedon Slovis enjoyed after replacing the injured Daniels last year.
However, Daniels was still a sought-after transfer, and the fact that UGA landed him is a major victory.
Daniels’ first season at USC in 2018 was a messy one for the Trojans. There were rumors that head coach Clay Helton would be fired, and there were changes made with offensive assistants.
Graham Harrell was brought in as offensive coordinator last season, and Harrell has seemingly stabilized the program, but Daniels didn’t get to benefit much from his coaching due to his injury.
Yet even if Daniels’ experience at USC wasn’t great, the experience he gained there could possibly turn out to be great for Georgia.
Fast forward to 2021. The Bulldogs are expected to have two former four-star signees, Carson Beck and D’wan Mathis, and are expecting the arrival of Brock Vandagriff, a five-star recruit from the 2021 class. The problem is Beck and Mathis aren’t expected to have much experience by then and Vandagriff will be fresh out of high school.
Daniels’ time served as a starter for a Power Five program would make him the favorite to earn the job for UGA and his experience would be invaluable to the Bulldogs — especially in comparison to some of the other expected national favorites.
It’s basically a given that quarterback Trevor Lawrence will leave Clemson — the team UGA opens against in Charlotte in 2021 — after his junior season is done this year, and the same thing can be assumed for Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Playoff mainstay Alabama could have an experienced starter in former five-star signee Bryce Young by then, but the Crimson Tide loses a lot off its roster at other positions after 2020 and has been out-recruited by the Bulldogs two of the last three years.
Oklahoma should still have Spencer Rattler at quarterback, and he could possibly be the Heisman favorite in 2021, but we’ve all seen what the Sooners defense looks like in the Playoff, and we should probably stop pretending they’re a real contender.
UGA adding Daniels into the mix with what could be as much as nine former consensus five-star recruits in either their third or fourth year in the program would be plenty to justify a preseason No. 1 ranking.
However, before Daniels gets to make an impact in 2021, there’s still the matter of what happens this season. Will Daniels receive immediate eligibility like other recent quarterback transfers have, or will he have to sit out a year?
Your guess is as good as mine on that topic.
I’m more confident speaking about what would happen if he is allowed to play this season. I wouldn’t predict him to beat out UGA’s other recent transfer quarterback, Jamie Newman from Wake Forest, for the starting job.
The contrast between Neman and Daniels is an odd one. Daniels was frequently shaky for a team where quarterbacks typically thrive, and Newman was often solid for a team where quarterbacks are usually anonymous.
It’s hard to know how they’d fare when pitted against each other in a competition, but the assumption here is that the praise that’s circled around Newman this offseason isn’t all unjustified hype. I’m not going to make the mistake of discounting him just because a newer and shinier toy arrived at the doorstep.
Either way, whether he’s eligible this year or next, Daniels is a welcome addition to a UGA quarterback situation with too much uncertainty for a team that fashions itself as one of the best in America.
Daniels’ arrival also demonstrates that UGA coach Kirby Smart understands the most important function of any coach — to add enough talent to his roster to feel certain he’s given his team the best chance to win.
Regardless of what happens this season, with the Bulldogs on top of the polls to start next year, it will be obvious that is exactly what Smart will have done.