Watching Michael Penix, Jr. and Bo Nix amass nearly 700 yards of passing offense as the Washington Huskies defeated the Oregon Ducks 37-34 with a final-minute field goal underscored for me just how important transfer quarterbacks have become in the college game.
Certainly, Ohio State is no stranger to quarterbacks and the transfer portal. When Joe Burrow couldn’t wrestle the starting job from Dwayne Haskins, he transferred to LSU – where he won the Heisman Trophy and the national championship for the Tigers. Similarly, Justin Fields left his backup role with the Georgia Bulldogs to star for two years with the Buckeyes, leading them to the playoffs both seasons. Loaded with blue-chip quarterbacks in 2021, OSU lost two of them – Quinn Ewers and Jack Miller III – to the transfer portal.
The combination of the ease of transferring with new NCAA rules and the extra season of eligibility due to the 2020 COVID-19 season has led to some old-timers playing an extra year for a new team, a new start. There are so many transfers that I thought it would be fun to rank them. I’ve not included Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker, one of the best in the country, because he’s in his second season in Knoxville after transferring from Virginia Tech before the 2021 season.
1. Bo Nix: Auburn -> Oregon
It’s a tough call between Nix and Penix Jr. Penix’s stats look more impressive because Washington passes on nearly every down. Oregon’s offense, on the other hand, is more balanced. Nix has completed almost 73% of his passes this season, with 24 touchdowns against five interceptions. His efficiency rating is currently No. 5 in the nation among college quarterbacks. Highly recruited with an Auburn legacy, Nix simply wasn’t able to bring consistent wins to the Plains. Of course, Auburn’s doing much worse this year, without him. Smart and experienced, Nix is a really good fit for the Ducks and will have a good shot now at the NFL. New team, new start.
2. Michael Penix Jr.: Indiana -> Washington
I loved Penix Jr. as Hoosier in 2019 and 2020. He led Indiana to a couple of good seasons, with a legitimate buzz about the team and its QB. Then, last year was a disaster for the Hoosiers, and Penix Jr. was a disappointment. Anyone who really followed Indiana football, however, knew that he no longer had the same quality of receivers or running backs. The transfer has given Penix Jr., like Nix, a new start. He ranks first in the nation in passing yards, 12th in passing touchdowns, and 21st in efficiency. Pro scouts will look at those numbers and take a chance on him.
3. Caleb Williams: Oklahoma -> USC
Williams, who tagged along to the West Coast with his head coach Lincoln Riley, is having a great season for the 9-1 Trojans. Williams has thrown only two picks to accompany his 31 touchdown passes. He ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing yards, passing TDs, and passing efficiency.
4. Jaxson Dart: USC -> Ole Miss
Obviously, when your new coach brings his favorite QB with him, it’s time to polish your resumé and start looking around. That’s what Dart did, finding a home in Oxford, Mississippi. He couldn’t quite finish off Bama last week, but his strong season has helped the Rebels to an 8-2 mark so far. Dart has completed over 60% of his tosses for 2123 yards, 15 touchdowns, and an impressive 8.6 yards per attempt average.
5. Dillon Gabriel: UCF -> Oklahoma
With Williams and Spencer Rattler (see below) departing from Oklahoma, room opened up for Gabriel, who’s had a good year. I’d likely push him up in these rankings if the Sooners (5-5) weren’t so awful this season. Gabriel has 16 TD passes and only four interceptions. His completion percentage is around 64%. No, the Sooners’ problems aren’t at QB – just everywhere else.
6. Adrian Martinez: Nebraska -> Kansas State
How long did Martinez play for the Cornhuskers? Seemed like forever, and he was supposed to be the savior that would bring glory days back to Lincoln. Never did, and, essentially, took the blame for many of Scott Frost’s blunders. Now Martinez is finally playing for a winning team – and, frankly, doing all right. K-State is sitting at a more than respectable 7-3, and Martinez has completed 64% of his passes for over 1,200 yards and six TDs (only one interception). Always a good runner, he’s also rushed for a little over 600 yards for the season. After maligning him for so long, I admit that I’m happy to seeing him do well.
7. J.T. Daniels: USC -> Georgia -> West Virginia
The Mountaineers, at 4-6, haven’t been as successful with their transfer quarterback as most of these other teams. But that record isn’t all Daniels’ fault. Highly recruited coming out of high school, Daniels has had trouble finding a good fit. Things are starting to come around for him this year, as he’s completed 61% of his throws for 2,200 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has thrown nine picks, and his 6.4 yards per attempt suggest the lack of big plays.
8. Spencer Rattler: Oklahoma -> South Carolina
This guy has gone from being the frontrunner for the Heisman at the beginning of the 2021 season, to getting benched, to transferring, to leading the Gamecocks to a somewhat surprising 6-4 season. Although he’s thrown more interceptions than TD passes (nine to eight), he’s completed 65% of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards. South Carolina isn’t used to a QB of Rattler’s caliber, and doesn’t have the supporting personnel to allow him to demonstrate his full talents.
9. Quinn Ewers: Ohio State -> Texas
Ewers eventually won the starting job for the Longhorns, and I’m guessing that for Texas fans the No. 1 overall recruit has been nearly as disappointing as the team (6-4). He’s played in seven of the 10 games and is completing only 55% of his passes. His TD to interception rate is pretty good at 13 to six, but his average yards per attempt isn’t very high. Watching him in the close loss to TCU, I thought to myself “what a peculiar throwing style he has” and “I bet he wished he could have brought a couple of Buckeye receivers with him through the portal.” To be fair, he left high school a year early, hardly played last year, and is really still feeling his way.
10. Kedon Slovis: USC -> Pitt
Slovis hasn’t been a godsend for the Panthers, but he’s having a decent season. His completion rate is a pretty good 59%, and he’s approaching 2,000 passing yards. He’s thrown as many picks as touchdown passes (six), and Pitt’s 6-4 record is really a team effort, rather than QB stardom.
For the curious Buckeye fans, Jack Miller III, who transferred from Ohio State to Florida, hasn’t seen action for the Gators. Although he’s on the Florida roster, he’s been suffering from injuries, most notably one to his thumb. Whether a healthy Miller III would start in Gainesville remains to be seen.
And then there’s our guy — not a transfer at all. How does C.J. Stroud stack up against all of these transfers? Quite well, thank you. Stroud leads the nation in touchdown passes (34) and in passing efficiency. In passing yards, he’s currently ranked No. 18, but keep in mind that he plays on a team that rushes for 208 yards a game.
We need to get used to first-rate QBs leaving top football powers (Southern Cal, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio State). These programs have the ability to recruit the four and five-star QBs season after season, but, obviously, they can’t all start. Some are patient, waiting their turn, but others aren’t and quickly seek pastures that they hope will be greener. With new transfer rules now firmly in place (at least until transferring becomes even easier – just a lawsuit away), a season like this one is the new normal.