Breaking down the quarterback transfer trend; more mail
More Mailbag (cont.)
When we last left off, I predicted some sort of major college football news would inevitably occur as soon as I went on vacation. This was based on the precedent set two years ago, when Jim Tressel resigned the morning after my wedding and a whole bunch of other news broke during my honeymoon abroad. So I could only chuckle when, on my second afternoon in Maui, I looked up at a television above the hotel's pool bar tuned to ESPN and saw: "BREAKING NEWS: EVERETT GOLSON NO LONGER ENROLLED AT NOTRE DAME."
While not quite Tressel-level news, I'd say it counts.
With Everett Golson's departure from Notre Dame, the transfer of Gunner Kiel takes on even more importance. It seems that over the years Notre Dame has had trouble maintaining depth at quarterback. Since the late 1990s, quarterbacks to transfer/leave/switch positions include: Zak Kustok, Arnaz Battle, Matt LoVecchio, Chris Olsen, Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones, Dayne Crist and Kiel. While that's not exactly a Who's Who list of Heisman contenders, it has affected depth at a position where players are only a play (or infraction) away from taking the next snap. Is this happening at every major program, or does Notre Dame have a unique problem in retaining its quarterback talent?
-- Adam, Tampa
First of all, I cannot possibly express how much pleasure it gave me just to see names like Zak Kustok (one of my all-time favorite Northwestern players), Arnaz Battle and Matt LoVecchio flash in front of me for the first time in a decade. In fact, as a friendly tip to anyone attempting to get their Mailbag submissions published, a trip down memory lane involving long forgotten, somewhat obscure, but no less revered players from the late '90s or early 2000s is almost certain to catch my attention.
While I'm sure this problem may seem insular for Notre Dame-centric fans, the Irish's rate of quarterback attrition is not all that different from any other program that regularly signs four- or five-star signal callers. The days of blue-chip quarterbacks patiently waiting their turn for two or three years while developing behind a capable veteran are gone. If a guy isn't starting by his redshirt sophomore season, if not sooner -- and in particular, if he's stuck behind a guy who has a similar number of years of eligibility remaining -- he's probably heading elsewhere.
Case in point: Take a look at this list of Rivals.com's top-rated quarterbacks from the class of 2010 (guys who should be entering their third or fourth seasons). Besides the fact it's filled with spectacular busts, what's remarkable is that 14 of the top 20 prospects wound up transferring from their original schools. (The exceptions: Michigan's Devin Gardner, Missouri's James Franklin, Oklahoma's Blake Bell, Tennessee's Tyler Bray. Two others, UCF's Jeff Godfrey and Purdue's Sean Robinson, now play other positions.) It's probably an extreme example, but even the 2009 class, which included such standouts as USC's Matt Barkley, West Virginia's Geno Smith, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd, still saw nearly half of the top 20 transfer. This offseason alone we've seen two rising sophomores who could very well have started at their respective schools, Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt and Penn State's Steven Bench, bolt.
While quarterback transfers are hardly a new phenomenon -- think Troy Aikman (Oklahoma to UCLA) and Jeff George (Purdue to Illinois), among others -- the old model was a program like Florida State, where guys like Casey Weldon, Charlie Ward and Danny Kanell played only as juniors and seniors. Miami (Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, etc.) operated much the same way. Today, however, a more commonplace model is that of Texas, where Chris Simms, Vince Young, Colt McCoy and, in all likelihood, David Ash, will have all started for at least three full seasons. In the meantime, a slew of transfers -- Jevan Snead (Ole Miss), Garrett Gilbert (SMU), Connor Wood (Colorado) -- have gone on to start elsewhere.
Interestingly, Notre Dame is actually in relatively good shape compared to some; it can possibly replace Golson this season with Tommy Rees, a career 18-game starter who got bumped by the younger Golson but opted to stick around. Most major programs are lucky just to have a guy with garbage-time game experience on hand if its starter goes down.
As a UCLA fan, I'm thrilled that Eddie Vanderdoes will play for the Bruins, but I'm obviously disappointed that Notre Dame is playing hardball and won't release him from his National Letter of Intent, thus costing him an entire year of eligibility. From Notre Dame's perspective, I semi-understand wanting to hold a high school senior to his commitment. But from a practical perspective, aren't the Irish shooting themselves in the foot? Will other coaches cite this instance to negatively recruit against Notre Dame? I don't seem to recall Brian Kelly sitting out a year when he left Cincinnati in the middle of a contract.
-- Jason Kingston, Los Angeles
I don't think anyone is going to use it to negatively in recruiting because they'd all do the exact same thing. I can't imagine any coaches are pitching recruits by telling them, "If you sign with us, we'll let you change your mind." As Andy Staples wrote on Tuesday, neither Kelly nor Florida State's Jimbo Fisher (who is refusing to release touted linebacker Matthew Thomas) wants to be the coach who sets the precedent that allows future recruits to start disregarding NLIs entirely.
Also, as Andy wrote, the NLI contract is entirely one-sided. Much like our discussion in the last Mailbag about Mike Gundy blocking Lunt's transfer options, it reeks of hypocrisy given the fact that coaches routinely break contracts. But even if the current NLI were scrapped, there would still need to be some sort of binding commitment from recruits. There comes a fair point -- whether it's the first Wednesday in February or some later date -- when coaches need to know if they should still hold a scholarship spot open or move on to someone else. Otherwise they could never fill out their class. And there are more logistics involved with bringing in a player than just handing him his practice gear. Dorm rooms need to be reserved. He needs to enroll in classes. However, when a situation like Vanderdoes' does arise, there should be some lesser form of recourse than losing an entire season of eligibility.
Stewart, in your last Program Pecking Order column, you had Louisville listed in the Peasants group. In the last year alone, the Cardinals won the Sugar Bowl over a pretty good Florida team, won the NCAA basketball championship and have one of the nation's best baseball teams. Is it time to move Louisville up to Knights?
-- Tucker Harvick, Springfield, Mo.
To begin with, while Louisville's athletic department is unquestionably on fire right now, this is a football-specific column. If Seth Davis or Luke Winn were to write the basketball equivalent to my feudal system, I'm sure they would have long ago put Louisville in one of the highest tiers.
Louisville has, in fact, been a constant conundrum for me in these rankings. In the initial edition in 2007, I left it out entirely because it didn't fit any particular profile. It had almost no history, but by that time was a top-10 program. Then it imploded after Bobby Petrino left, while the Big East continued to lose stature, so five years later it was a Peasant. I try not to overreact based on one or even two great seasons, as perceptions are built and maintained over a long period of time. But there's a wild-card factor in play here with conference realignment. While Cincinnati has arguably been more successful than Louisville over the past six years (save for last season's Sugar Bowl win), there's no question Louisville will be held in higher regard nationally going forward simply by joining the ACC.
So let's revisit this question in a couple of years when we see just what Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater accomplish -- and how much the latest round of conference realignment affects the perceptions of not only Louisville, but programs like Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers and Maryland as well.
Taking his inflammatory comments into account, does Ohio State president Gordon Gee have a point? Do his views have merit?
-- Dan, Hawaii
The only views Gee gave merit to are those of myself, Jay Bilas and many others who believe college presidents are some of the least qualified people imaginable to run college athletics. Since I'm fresh from Hawaii, Dan, I'd highly recommend Waimea Canyon on Kauai for more enlightening views.
And I wish Dr. Gee well in his post-academia ventures.
No wide receiver since 1991 has won the Heisman Trophy, and even then Desmond Howard won in part because of his performance as a returner. Is it time to acknowledge that wide receivers are just as far out of the Heisman race as defenders unless they contribute in multiple roles?
-- Eric, Michigan
Right now there certainly seems to be more momentum for defenders, as evidenced by Manti Te'o's finish last year and the hype already building for Jadeveon Clowney. I wouldn't say yet that defenders have a better chance than receivers, since the latter are more capable of producing tangible stats and highlight-reel plays than, say, a defensive end. But considering all the great receivers who have come through college in recent years (Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree, A.J. Green, Justin Blackmon and Tavon Austin, just to name a few), the notion that one hasn't even been a finalist since runner-up Larry Fitzgerald 10 years ago is pretty astounding. At this point, the Heisman is almost exclusively a quarterbacks' award (even running backs are taking a back seat), and since a big-numbers receiver usually has an even-bigger numbers quarterback throwing him the ball, voters are more likely to focus on the man standing in the pocket.
One guy this coming season who could possibly buck that trend is USC's Marqise Lee. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner finished fourth in Heisman voting last year, upstaging his team's more heavily touted quarterback (Barkley). And this year he'll be by far the bigger name than whoever winds up throwing to him; voters can easily distinguish his individual talent at this point. However, like Howard, Lee doubles as a return man. Even with 118 catches for 1,721 yards last year, he was more frequently billed as an all-purpose threat. Going forward, that moniker will probably remain a receiver's best hope, just as it helped 2005 winner Reggie Bush and 2011 finalist Tyrann Mathieu. The same goes for Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, who is most commonly considered a running back but notched 45 percent of his touches last season as a returner or receiver.
How heavily should rivalries factor into conference scheduling? Andy Staples recently wrote about the SEC's concerns with fixed and rotating schedules, but how important do you think they really are? It seems like in the two oldest leagues, the Big Ten and SEC, every team has a "traditional rivalry" with every other team in the league.
-- Steve, Tulsa
Selfishly, as a bit of a purist, I wish rivalries would be remain of utmost importance in scheduling. Back on planet earth, though, rivalries are already becoming one of the most notable casualties of both realignment and college football's shift into a playoff-centric sport.
I have no scientific data to back up this assertion, but my sense is that 15 or 20 years ago, fans cared as much about beating their rivals as winning a conference championship or reaching a certain bowl game. My guess is that 10 years from now, only a handful of absolute A-list rivalries (Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Texas-Oklahoma) will still carry such importance. The overriding goal for nearly every team and fan will be making the playoff, and any scheduling matter that doesn't directly impact a team or conference's ability to achieve that goal will be largely forgotten. In a world where Texas no longer plays Texas A&M and Missouri no longer plays Kansas, Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia can't be far behind on the chopping block.
Hi Stewart, the ACC just released its conference schedules through 2024. Miami won't play in Death Valley until 2022! UNC won't play Wake Forest until the same year! What's the point of being in the same conference as a school if, as a fan, you can't travel to away games against half the conference more than once a decade? Twelve years between visits?!
-- JC, Miami
Remember a couple of years ago when people were foaming at the mouth at the idea of superconferences? Well, they're here. Yay.
You often write that -- with the advent of the selection committee -- the polls will become a nonfactor in the selection of the playoff participants. Obviously, we don't know the makeup of the committee yet, but isn't it possible (even likely) it will rely on the polls as one of the metrics for making its decisions?
-- Chris, Hampton, Va.
It would be naïve to think the people in that room won't be aware of who's ranked where in the polls, because the polls will still be ubiquitous. The committee members will still see those numbers in front of teams' names when they turn on the television. And if college basketball is any indication, fans will still get worked up over where their team gets ranked even though the AP and Coaches' polls become completely irrelevant once the regular season ends.
However, if the committee members do what we hope they'll do, they won't get caught up in the week-to-week horse race that primarily dictates the current polls. It won't matter whether Georgia was ranked third or 13th the week before it lost to Alabama. No one will move up or down. The committee should simply rank the teams once all games have been played based on their overall body of work.
Stewart, love the column. With the push toward nine-game conference schedules, and with many coaches still looking to keep four out-of-conference games, do you think there is any chance college football could move to a 13-game regular season? It seems like it would solve both problems and make more money for everyone.
-- Michael James, Jonesville, Va.
No, in fact that's every coach's worst nightmare. A whole bunch of teams that would have gone 6-6 will go 6-7 instead.
Hi Stewart, longtime reader and very depressed UConn fan. I think without a doubt UConn is the biggest loser in conference realignment. Do you think if Randy Edsall stayed at UConn and continued having similar success in the Big East -- or if the school had hired an up-and-coming young coach as his replacement instead of Paul Pasqualoni -- that UConn would be in a better position conference-wise than it is today?
-- Ken, Philadelphia
Timing is everything, right? I don't believe UConn was ever in serious consideration for the Big Ten. While Jim Delany wanted to go east, he wanted big markets. And while the Connecticut border is just as close to New York City as Piscataway, N.J., Rutgers is still viewed as more of a New York area school. However, there were many reasons to think UConn was a more natural fit for the ACC than Louisville, beginning with the fact that Hartford is a bigger market than Louisville. Perhaps the conference would have made a different decision if the situation had unfolded in 2011, when the Huskies were coming off both a BCS bowl appearance and an NCAA tournament championship. As it was, in November 2012, Louisville was the program en route to that same combo, while UConn had returned to mediocrity in football and was at that time banned from the basketball postseason for academic penalties. That probably didn't sit well on Tobacco Road.
Stewart, it's only June and I miss college football. I mean, I REALLY miss college football. I have an empty aching hole in my heart and gut. It's the same feeling I had when I was dumped in 10th grade and sat in my room, in the dark, and played a borrowed Debbie Gibson cassette tape over and over and over again. AGGGHHHH!
-- Scott Saxton, Windsor, Ontario
While I feel your pain, mostly I just feel embarrassed for your 10th-grade self. Please tell me you're not on YouTube right now going back down that well.