Jalen Hurts has secured a place in college football history, regardless of whether he wins a national championship at a second program or if he joins Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick from Oklahoma.
No, what Hurts will forever be known for is his standing as the last great backup quarterback in college football history. Hurts played behind Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama last year despite being one of the 20 best quarterbacks in the game.
When is that ever going to happen again? Probably never. Consider who might be the best backup in the SEC this year. Don’t think too long. There’s not a single team in the league with more than one quarterback who has ever made a play in a college game when the outcome was still in doubt.
Mississippi State was going to be the one exception, but Keytaon Thompson immediately entered the transfer portal last week as soon as he was informed that he wouldn’t be the starter. He’s just the latest to choose that path.
The player who was supposed to be Kentucky’s backup (Gunnar Hoak) is at Ohio State. Georgia will have former quarterbacks starting at Washington (Jacob Eason) and Ohio State (Justin Fields). What should have been Alabama’s depth chart can now be found at Oklahoma (Hurts) and South Florida (Blake Barnett). Texas A&M’s expected backup (Nick Starkel) is competing for playing time at Arkansas. Those are just some of the moves that are changing college football.
Like Alabama and Georgia, the Clemson Tigers will have two former quarterbacks starting elsewhere. In this case the starters will be at Missouri (Kelly Bryant) and Northwestern (Hunter Johnson). Clemson does have a career backup in Chase Brice who has helped the Tigers win when injuries have forced him into action. That makes him the best backup in the country, even though he will probably finish his college career without ever logging a single start.
Auburn has managed to hang on to two freshmen quarterbacks to this point, but does anyone expect redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood to stick around long term now that true freshman Bo Nix has beaten him out for the job? The Tigers will face Woody Barrett in Week 3, an Auburn transfer who is established as the starter at Kent State.
Losing the starting job to a longtime teammate then deciding to transfer, as Hurts did, is so 2017.
In 2019, the trend is to leave the school you originally chose coming out of high school because you lost your job to a player who transferred in because that player couldn’t win the job at his previous school. Call it the double transfer phenomenon.
That’s what happened at Mississippi State, where Thompson left after being outperformed by Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens.
At Washington, Jacob Haener left when he lost the job to Eason, who couldn’t win the position at Georgia.
It’s a vicious cycle that is not likely to change anytime soon, especially considering that the last two players to win the Heisman Trophy and be selected No. 1 in the NFL Draft – Mayfield and Murray – were transfers to Oklahoma after playing at Texas Tech and Texas A&M, respectively.
With the recent success of Mayfield and Murray, it should come as no surprise that four transfer quarterbacks are among the 11 favorites to win the Heisman. They are joined by six quarterbacks who haven’t transferred and one running back.
Take a look at the seven teams with the best odds to win the national championship this season. Three are in the SEC (Alabama, Georgia and LSU), while three others are led by former SEC quarterbacks – Shea Patterson (previously of Ole Miss) and Michigan; Hurts and Oklahoma; and Fields and Ohio State.
LSU’s returning starter is Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow.
At Alabama, the play of Tagovailoa led to Hurts leaving. At Clemson, the play of Trevor Lawrence led to Bryant and Johnson leaving. At Georgia, the play of Jake Fromm led to Eason and Field leaving. And those are the most stable quarterback situations among the top contenders.
Nobody is blaming these quarterbacks for doing what is best for their individual careers. Hurts, in particular, handled his situation at Alabama with class and poise before moving on to try to become the next great quarterback at Oklahoma.
But even if he becomes a great player and has a chance to face his former teammates in the College Football Playoff, that will not be his legacy.
Hurts’ place in college football history will be that of being the last great backup quarterback in college football before being a quality backup and devoted teammate became as out of date as the leather helmet in college football.
Randy Kennedy has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 17 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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