On October 15th, 2018, the NCAA eased the transfer rules for collegiate athletes. Previously, the coach and the university could partly control the destination that a departing athlete would land at. They had the ability to “block” certain universities the athlete could transfer to. Not any more. Now student-athletes enter the Transfer Portal, after stating their intent to transfer to their current university, and become free agents with the ability to go where every they please.
With the news breaking that Former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts was transferring to the University of Oklahoma, it seems fitting to take a look at some of the most impactful transfers* in college football over the past decade.
*Disclaimer: Every player is a quarterback because they have the highest propensity to transfer, due to the fact that only one guy starts, and because they have arguably the greatest impact on the football field.
Let’s begin with the man that Hurts will be trying to replace, Kyler Murray. Murray, the number one dual-threat QB in 2015, committed to Texas A&M. As a freshmen at A&M Murray was relegated to backup duties the entire season, and in December, announced his decision to transfer to Oklahoma. Murray sat out the entire 2016 season due to NCAA rules and played sparingly behind future number-one pick Baker Mayfield in 2017. In 2018, his lone season as the starting quarterback, Murray electrified college football and put up video game numbers in the process.
He threw for 4,361 yds with 42 TDs and only 7 INTs. Coupling his passing stats with over 1,000 yards rushing and 12 additional TDs on the ground, Murray was as dynamic as any player in the country and deservedly won the Heisman Trophy. He led Oklahoma to the CFP (College Football Playoff) Semifinal, which they ultimately lost to Alabama. Murray will be remembered as having one of the most memorable and impactful careers amongst one-year starters.
As mentioned above, Baker Mayfield was Kyler Murray’s predecessor at OU. Mayfield began his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech. He started and won the first five games of his true-freshmen season until an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Baker announced he was transferring to Oklahoma in December 2013, and actually enrolled in classes at OU in the second semester of his freshmen season. He sat out the 2014 season, watching OU limp through an 8-5 season, and won the starting job prior to the 2015 season. Mayfield reenergized the Sooners in 2015, throwing for 3,700 yards and a 36 to 7 TD to INT ratio. He finished 4th in the Heisman voting and led OU to the CFP Semifinals. His 2016 was better than 2015 and it was highlighted by an insane matchup against Texas Tech and Patrick Mahomes. He threw for 3,965 yards, 40 touchdowns, and 8 INTS. He finished third in the Heisman voting and was the Sugar Bowl MVP.
Mayfield’s 2017 season was the epitome of “going out with a bang.” He had the best statistical season, in every passing category, of his career, and deservedly won the Heisman Trophy. He accumulated 4,627 yards, 43 TDS, 6 INTs, and broke the NCAA Record for passer rating in a season at 203.8. He once again took OU to the CFP Semifinal, and they once again lost. Mayfield’s success set the table for the aforementioned Murray, and potentially Jalen Hurts, to lead and be showcased in Coach Lincoln’Riley’s high-octane offensive system.
Russell Wilson had a tremendously different path to transferring than both Murray and Mayfield, but his impact on his new team was just as impactful and actually changed the landscape of college football. Wilson redshirted his freshmen year at North Carolina St. At the start of the 2018 season, Wilson was rotating playing time with two other quarterbacks, but ultimately won the job outright after Week 5. He concluded his freshmen season with 1,955 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Further, he was the first freshmen QB to be named to the All-ACC First Team. In 2009 he built on the success of his 2018 campaign by throwing for 3,027 yard and 31 TDs to 11 INTs. The following season was similarly statistically for Wilson, but it was in the Spring of that year where this story gets interesting.
In the Spring of 2011, Russell Wilson, a dual-sport athlete at NC State, attended Spring Training for the Colorado Rockies. He had the intention of returning to play football his senior season but he was not welcomed back. Therefore, he chose to utilize the graduate transfer rule and be immediately eligible at whichever university he chose to continue at. He ultimately chose Wisconsin. In his lone season at Wisconsin, Wilson did not have the same statistical success that he had in previous seasons, but he experienced a tremendous amount of team success. He led the Badgers to a victory in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, as well as an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Wilson did not burst onto the scene with crazy numbers like Mayfield and Murray, but Wilson’s impact on the future of college football recruiting was vastly more transformational.
The final transfer QB on the list is Cam Newton. The greatest “one-and-done” in College Football history. Cam began his career at the University of Florida. His freshmen season he was the back-up to Tim Tebow and played in five forgettable games. In 2008 he was granted a medical redshirt after an ankle injury sidelined him for the entire year. It was in this year that Newton was arrested, suspended from the team, and led him to transfer. The following season he played JUCO football in Texas at Blinn College, and was a man among boys. He dominated the competition, which you would expect a former 5-star recruit to do at that level, and eventually signed to play for the Auburn Tigers.
In his lone season at Auburn, against vaunted SEC defense, Newton passed for just shy of 3,000 yards and 30 TDs against just 7 INTs. Those passing statistics were accompanied by an unreal 1,515 rushing yards and 21 more TDs on the ground. He was by far and away the most dominate player in the country and won the Heisman Trophy by an enormous margin. More stats from that season for Newtown: first SEC player to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000, third player in CFB history to rush for 20 TDs and throw for 20 more, and the most rushing yards by a QB in SEC history.
Finally, he won an SEC Championship and ultimately a National Championship at Auburn. Newton would declare for the draft at the end of the season, capping and concluding the most incredible and dominant “one-and-done” season.
Other Transfers to Watch
There is clearly a track record of successful transfer QBs at Oklahoma, so Hurts will definitely be watched closely. Other transfers to pay attention to are: former five-star recruit Justin Fields at Ohio State, former Clemson starter Kelly Bryant at Mizzou, Tate Martell from Ohio State to Miami, and Brandon Wimbush from Notre Dame to Central Florida.