“QB room is gonna be full.”
That was one family member’s response Thursday afternoon when a text from one of my brothers passed along the surprise word that the Dawgs are getting another quarterback.
Actually, observations about Georgia having a “crowded” quarterback room were a fairly widespread reaction nationally, even among sports media types, as former Trojans starting quarterback JT Daniels announced he was transferring to UGA from the University of Southern California.
After all, Daniels, a redshirt sophomore, will be joining a position group that already included four scholarship QBs as well as several preferred walk-ons (including Will Muschamp’s son, Jackson, who turned down a scholarship at Colorado State to walk on at UGA).
Currently on the roster are presumed starter Jamie Newman, a recent graduate transfer from Wake Forest; junior Stetson Bennett, last year’s backup; redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis, who finally has been cleared to play after recovering from brain surgery; and incoming freshman Carson Beck. The Dawgs also have a commitment from 5-star Brock Vandagriff of Bogart, who’s set to join Kirby Smart’s team for the 2021 season.
So, yes, that’s a jam-packed QB room for new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to oversee, but I remain convinced of one thing:
It will thin out.
Let’s face it, in an age when each of the past three Heisman Trophy winners — and three of last year’s Heisman finalists — all had transferred from another school, you’re not going to see any program stockpile highly rated QBs like FSU did in its heyday. You can carry a bunch of tailbacks successfully, because at least three of them probably will see considerable playing time, but that doesn’t happen with quarterbacks, as the Dawgs have seen in recent years with Jacob Eason and Justin Fields transferring elsewhere when they couldn’t dislodge Jake Fromm from the starter’s spot.
In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if to see Georgia lose at least one of the quarterbacks currently on its roster before the season begins.
And, looking ahead to next season, when Newman’s one-and-done time at UGA is over, the eventual winner of the battle for the starter’s job will be lucky to have even one of the current scholarship QBs sticking around to back him up.
To borrow a phrase we’ve heard all too often over the past couple of months, that is the “new normal” in college football. Very few elite QBs are inclined to wait on the sideline a couple of years for their chance to be the starter. That’s why the transfer portal is so busy these days.
So, yes, it’s good for Georgia to have all these QBs on the roster right now, but it probably won’t last very long.
If Daniels gets his NCAA waiver, he’ll be the most experienced QB on the roster after Newman, and he’ll have three seasons of eligibility left. That’s sparked a lot of speculation that Bennett may see the writing on the wall and decide he’ll need to transfer elsewhere in order to see playing time. And, unless Mathis wows the coaches in camp and moves into starting contention, you’ve got to wonder if he’ll stick around past this season, too.
After Newman is gone, if the 2021 starting QB competition ends up being between Daniels, Beck and Vandagriff (assuming he doesn’t take a redshirt year), you’re talking about two 5-star players and a 4-star player. Nobody gets the luxury of carrying a QB roster like that anymore, so chances are that at least one, if not both, of the players who don’t win the starting spot will move elsewhere as well.
Yes, any coach would love to have a pair of highly rated backups as an insurance policy, but, again, that’s not the new normal in college football: If you have an established starter, you’re probably going to have to keep recruiting highly rated talent to compete with him, knowing that those who lose out are unlikely to be content sitting on the bench or playing mop-up duty more than one season.
And, while Smart has been aces at drawing top QB talent to UGA, he so far hasn’t been successful in keeping a highly rated backup from going elsewhere.
CBS Sports’ Barton Simmons summed it up nicely when he tweeted about Daniels’ move: “This is the way you have to recruit (if you’re able to). Load the room with the best guys you can and assume some attrition.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly noted in 2018, “When you’re recruiting, you’re going to have to have it in your mind that if your No. 2 doesn’t feel like he’s going to get a shot, you may lose him. I’ve come to grips with it a couple years ago. I don’t see it changing.”
As for what Daniels’ arrival in Athens means for the 2020 quarterback situation, there’s been a lot of speculation that he might challenge Newman for the starter’s spot, if he’s given a waiver by the NCAA to play immediately for UGA. Some even have floated the idea that Smart brought Daniels in because he has concluded he needs an option besides Newman.
I’m skeptical about that idea, however.
Yes, Daniels was the third highest rated QB in the 2018 class (behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields), and only the second true freshman quarterback to start an opener for the Trojans. And, he did that after graduating one year early from the vaunted Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California (which also produced Bama’s Bryce Young).
Still, his freshman numbers were solid, but not spectacular (the USC team wasn’t very good that year). And, while he did win the initial battle to keep the starting job last season, he lost it due to injury. Rising sophomore Kedon Slovis, who stepped in for Daniels and proceeded to shatter USC’s freshman records on his way to Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year honors, was widely expected to retain his starting job this year, leaving Daniels as the odd man out, according to Ryan Kartje, the USC beat writer at the Los Angeles Times.
Thus, Daniels transferred.
Meanwhile, Newman is a dual passing-running threat who put up some impressive numbers the past couple of seasons at Wake Forest, and already is drawing NFL interest.
If Daniels is eligible and physically able to participate fully in preseason camp, I’m sure he’ll be given a chance to compete for the starter’s job, and competition usually makes the eventual starter better (certainly, Fromm played better the two seasons when he had to beat out highly rated competition).
However, the biggest reason I’m skeptical about Daniels’ chances of taking the starter’s spot this season is simply the fact that he’s coming back from a major injury. Assuming preseason practice begins sometime in July or August (based on the current prevailing wind favoring starting the season on time), it still will be less than a year since Daniels suffered a season-ending ACL injury in USC’s first game of last season. Had USC been able to hold spring practice this year, Daniels wouldn’t have been cleared to participate fully, because he still was recovering from a second clean-up surgery on his knee.
He is expected to be good to go by August, but it’s the rare athlete who gets back in top form that quickly after rehabbing a knee. Remember, as good as Nick Chubb was in 2016, returning from knee surgery, it wasn’t really until the 2017 season that he was his old self. And it wasn’t until late last season that Zamir White, also coming back from knee surgery, appeared to be regain his form fully.
So, while Daniels might be available as a backup in 2020, if needed, I tend to think that, in bringing him in to the program, Smart really has his eye more on 2021, and the chance to have an experienced QB behind center when the Dawgs open with Clemson in Charlotte.
Finally, there’s one more reason for Bulldog Nation to celebrate Daniels’ arrival in Athens: Tennessee, which has been drawing considerable hype with its own recruiting lately, was hoping he’d wind up in Knoxville after he entered the transfer portal in April. Instead, we get the latest example of the stratospheric level at which Smart is recruiting these days.