College QB shuffle: about half of FBS starters are transfers

Spencer Rattler, Chandler Morris and Tanner Mordecai were all once in the same quarterbacks room at Oklahoma.

A couple of years ago, JT Daniels and Kedon Slovis were studying the Southern California playbook together.

All are now starting for different programs. And they are only a few examples of the increased mobility of quarterbacks because of the transfer portal and the extra season of eligibility for players who were part of pandemic-altered 2020 season.

There are more opportunities, and more time, for quarterbacks to seek different situations. Sometimes that means being QB1 elsewhere for coaches looking to fill gaps, make changes — or both.

“You guys are smart enough to know we changed a lot of things offensively,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said after four-year Nebraska starter Adrian Martinez made his debut with the Wildcats. “I mean, we were not what you saw last year or even some in the bowl, and we were tempo most of the time.”

About half of the starting quarterbacks for the 131 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in this season’s openers didn’t initially attend their current schools. That includes 32 of the 65 Power Five teams — with 19 of those first-year transfers like Martinez and Emory Jones at Arizona State.

“My mindset when I came here was, ‘I’m going to be the starter.’ That’s how I conducted myself every day,” said Jones, a 12-game starter for Florida last season who didn’t get to Tempe until the summer.

Jones went through only two spring practices with new Gators coach Billy Napier before going into the transfer portal. Arizona State coach Herm Edwards needed a new quarterback after three-year Sun Devils starter Jayden Daniels suddenly left for LSU, where he now starts.

Now circle back to Oklahoma, which has seen four quarterbacks leave and start for other schools.

That exodus left room for Dillon Gabriel to transfer from UCF in time for spring practice with the Sooners and new coach Brent Venables.

“He was very literally minutes away from him to have to make a decision without visiting,” Venables said. “We had a Zoom call. It was a very pressure-filled Zoom call. He had to make the call, and I’m just thankful that he did.”

Gabriel made the move up from a Group of Five school, though UCF joins the Big 12 next season. But most of the 68 FBS transfer quarterbacks who started 2022 openers were from Power Five programs — with 27 from other P5 schools, and 19 others now with G5 teams. Nine of those transfers switched G5 schools.

Caleb Williams, who as a true freshman replaced Rattler as the Oklahoma starter midway through last season, followed coach Lincoln Riley to Southern Cal. Rattler went to South Carolina. Those departures from Norman came about a year after Mordecai (now the second-year starter at SMU) and Morris, who started TCU’s opener last weekend.

The revolving door has been just as fast at Southern Cal and Georgia.

Three former Trojans quarterbacks now start for other teams. The same goes for the reigning national champion Bulldogs — though Daniels, now at West Virginia, counts on both of those lists. Daniels, who started 11 games for the Trojans as a true freshman in 2018, was the season-opening starter for Georgia last year before injuries sidelined him in the title season.

Slovis is now QB1 at Pittsburgh after 26 starts for USC the past three seasons. Jaxson Dart, who started three games as a freshman for the Trojans last year, transferred to Ole Miss.

D’Wan Mathis has started Temple’s last two season openers after taking Georgia’s first snap in 2020. Matthew Downing appeared in four games as a Bulldogs freshman in 2018 and transferred to TCU, where he started the 2020 opener, before going to Louisiana Tech with new coach Sonny Cumbie, his QB coach when with the Horned Frogs.

Seven of the 12 teams in the Pac-12 had a first-year transfer quarterback start their openers. The only of those transfers that didn’t come from another Power Five school was Cameron Ward at Washington State.

Ward set school records with 6,908 yards and 71 touchdowns passing the past two seasons at Incarnate Word. His head coach at that FCS school in San Antonio was Eric Morris, now the offensive coordinator for the Cougars.

Jayden de Laura, the Pac-12’s top offensive freshman at Washington State last season, stayed in the Pac-12 with a move to Arizona, where he struggled early in fall camp. Coach Jedd Fisch said de Laura needed a lot of coaching to learn a whole new offensive system and different techniques.

In the Wildcats’ season-opening 38-20 win at San Diego State, de Laura completed 22 of 35 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns. He never lost his confidence when learning the system.

“It starts from calling the plays. If you’re calling the play and the whole huddle doesn’t hear a confidence in your voice, then they’re not going to trust you or want you back there,” de Laura said. “And then the confidence in making throws, confidence in making reads, confidence off the field. It’s needed to be a quarterback.”

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AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, Cliff Brunt, John Marshall, Dave Skretta and Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.

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