The 2016 SEC quarterback class signaled a new era in the nation’s top conference.
Three of the top five quarterbacks in the nation, according to the 247 composite rankings, signed with SEC teams. Shea Patterson — the nation’s top-ranked quarterback — signed with Ole Miss. Jacob Eason, the No. 2 quarterback, stuck with Georgia even after Mark Richt’s departure. No. 5 Feleipe Franks signed with Jim McElwain and the Florida Gators.
All three coaches those players signed with are now gone. And, at this point, two of those three have transferred. Patterson, after the Hugh Freeze scandal and NCAA violations at Ole Miss, transferred to Michigan. Eason headed back to Washington after the emergence of super freshman Jake Fromm.
In the 2016 class, eight 4-star quarterbacks signed with SEC schools. Two years later, four of those players have transferred, and there’s a very real chance that seven could finish their careers elsewhere.
The only safe bet in the class to finish at the school they signed with? Jake Bentley at South Carolina. He was one of two 4-star quarterbacks the Gamecocks signed in that class. Brandon McIlwain, ranked 10 spots ahead of Bentley at the position, transferred to Cal following his freshman year after he was replaced as starter by Bentley.
2016 SEC quarterback signing class
|Ranking||Name||Signed with||Transferred to|
|1||Shea Patterson||Ole Miss||Michigan|
|9||Brandon McIlwain||South Carolina||Cal|
|16||Woody Barrett||Auburn||Kent State|
|19||Jake Bentley||South Carolina|
Though not trying to project players who will transfer, there are certainly reasons to wonder about the future for the remaining class of 2016 quarterbacks. Feleipe Franks and Jarrett Guarantano both played in 2017 to very mixed results, and now have to deal with a new staff at Florida and Tennessee, respectively.
Perhaps the most discussed potential transfer is Alabama’s Jalen Hurts. Tua Tagovailoa, a 5-star freshman in the 2017 class, replaced Hurts after halftime of the National Championship Game and led Alabama to a come-from-behind win over Georgia. Hurts has not announced his intentions, but at the very least there will be a quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa this spring.
In many cases, those quarterback battles end with one player transferring.
The SEC’s recent history with highly ranked quarterbacks is eyebrow-raising, to say the least. From 2014-2016, the SEC signed 22 4- or 5-star quarterbacks. As of Monday, Jan. 22, 14 of those quarterbacks (64 percent) transferred before their eligibility expired.
Transfer rates of 4- and 5-star quarterbacks by conference, 2014-2016
|Conference||4/5-star QBs signed||4/5-star QBs transferred||Percentage|
The SEC is far and away the leader in terms of high-profile quarterback transfers during the past three recruiting cycles. The 2017 class — which just wrapped up its freshman year — is not included in this data.
There are plenty of reasons for a high number of quarterback transfers. It’s the most limiting position on the field, as coaches usually shun rotations at quarterback. The top guy plays, the backup either sees situational snaps, mop-up duty or waits his turn. It’s also the position that appears to give the recruiting services the most difficulty in evaluating. From 2012 to 2016, these were the top three quarterbacks in each class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings:
- 2012 — Jameis Winston, Gunner Kiel, Zach Kline
- 2013 — Max Browne, Christian Hackenberg, Shane Morris
- 2014 — Kyle Allen, Deshaun Watson, Will Grier
- 2015 — Josh Rosen, Blake Barnett, Kyler Murray
- 2016 — Shea Patterson, Jacob Eason, KJ Costello
That’s not exactly a who’s who of the nation’s elite — and certainly, the overall performance of that group was not indicative of their recruiting rankings.
From 2014 to 2016, there was a 51 percent transfer rate among the nation’s former 4- and 5-star quarterbacks, and that rate can still rise with plenty of those players still on college rosters. That rate received a big bump courtesy of the SEC posting a 64 percent transfer rate. Though there are extenuating circumstances across the board — NCAA violations, coaching changes, graduate transfer rules — quarterback transfers are a form of a perpetual motion machine.
College coaches attempt to sign at least one quarterback in every class to prepare for transfers, like doomsday preppers stocking can goods in a basement. Only it creates stacked depth charts at a position where, ideally, only one guy will play.