Three of the four quarterbacks in the College Football Playoff are transfers from other programs. Those same quarterbacks — Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, LSU’s Joe Burrow and Ohio State’s Justin Fields — were three of the four Heisman Trophy finalists before Burrow won the esteemed award.
There was a glut of quarterbacks in the NCAA transfer portal before that trio’s remarkable success. According to 247Sports.com, the count last August was 46.
Now? Stanford, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, BYU, Arizona State, Colorado State and Wyoming all had quarterbacks enter the portal last week. Kansas State and Colorado had players who began their careers as quarterbacks before switching positions enter the portal as well.
“I know the transfer thing is popular because they kind of took the rules away and kids can be free agents so to speak,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Sean Gleeson said, referencing the NCAA’s less-restrictive policies on college transfers. “You can fill a gap you might have at a particular position...”
This is most conveniently done at quarterback, since players there are accustomed to immediate success and the glamour that comes with it. Take a quarterback’s waning patience, combine that with fewer restrictions and add the Hurts/Burrow/Fields model for instant success, we have the potential for a full-on revolution.
We might also allow Gleeson to finish his thought process.
“...But I think if you asked if any of those coaches, would they rather have a kid, or rent a kid, for a year, or would they rather have a player in their system for four years, changing their culture and practicing every day, I think all of us would choose to have them around for that long,” he said. “That, to me, is the perfect model.”
To that end, Gleeson signed four-star quarterback Shane Illingworth from California’s Norco High School last week. That isn’t to say OSU is averse to transfers. Former Hawaii QB Dru Brown is proof of that.
“My preference is whatever the head coach tells me to do,” Gleeson deadpanned. “But if you’re asking me, I would rather have a kid in my room for a long time than try to get them up to speed in one year.”
It is an interesting, delicate balance. Ohio State struck gold with Fields, but still signed four-star high school quarterback CJ Stroud last week. LSU struck platinum with Burrow, but signed four-star high school quarterback Max Johnson.
OU signed five-star prep quarterback Spencer Rattler last year amid the glow of Heisman-winning transfers Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield.
Coach Lincoln Riley brought in Hurts last January. He did not sign a quarterback last week.
But don’t equate that to a sudden reevaluation of how Riley recruits the position.
“For me, for that room, for any room, it’s about do you feel like you have what you need? Do you feel like you need to add somebody?” Riley said. “Whether it’s signing a player, whether it’s taking a transfer, whatever it is.”
The quarterback room is the focus when it comes to transfers, and OU has become a case study.
“We know we’ve got to be really good at that position. We know what the standards are here,” Riley said. “Look at the four teams in the playoff. Look at those four quarterbacks right now. You have to have pretty good quarterback play. We have and we want to continue to do that, continue to get better.
“So wherever we can find the right guy, the right guys, we’re going to do it. I don’t know that we ever put it in a scenario of, it’s not a big picture of, ‘I want to bring in a transfer, I want to do this.’”
Riley just wants to uphold the standard. He wants to keep winning.
No coach is different, Gleeson included.
“I think having those kids together from the start, through high school into their college experience, is the ideal way,” the OSU coordinator said. “But we all know you have to make exceptions to the rule if you’re trying to win football games.”
Expect Gleeson to strike a balance, then, regardless of his preference. Expect Riley and any coach interested in success to follow suit.
The transfer portal might be bursting with quarterbacks. The two Bedlam schools might take advantage now and then.
But the idea remains the same as it was before the NCAA relaxed those restrictions and the portal took shape — win with the players you have, however you add them.