The Big 12 Conference is turning into a destination for former SEC quarterbacks, with ex-Florida passer Will Grier's transfer to West Virginia marking the second such move in the past four months.
Grier joins former Texas A&M quarterback Kyler Murray, now at Oklahoma, as top-tier passers whose circumstances prompted them to make a move and a Big 12 school proved to be the best option. Neither will be eligible until 2017—and Grier's eligibility remains in doubt because of an outstanding NCAA suspension—but their arrival will only improve the overall quality of that conference's QB play.
West Virginia announced (h/t ESPN's Travis Haney) Wednesday that Grier will enroll in May and will have two years of eligibility remaining. The 6'2”, 201-pound Grier announced in December he was leaving Florida, where he played six games (starting five) as a redshirt freshman, but in October, he was hit with a one-year suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Grier has said the failed test was due to an over-the-counter supplement, and Haney wrote that "WVU officials were satisfied with Grier's explanation."
It's unclear how Grier's transfer will impact what remains of his NCAA suspension. It's supposed to be for one calendar year, and an appeal to have the suspension limited to just the remainder of the 2015 season was denied. If his transfer-mandated year off doesn't get counted toward the suspension, he might not be eligible until October 2017.
Regardless of when Grier is allowed to play for the Mountaineers, his addition helps address a positional need that has been in effect for the majority of coach Dana Holgorsen's tenure. It's also continuing Holgorsen's reliance on transfers, as Grier could be the third such transfer QB to start since he was hired in 2011.
Skyler Howard, a junior college transfer who came to Morgantown in 2014, is set to be West Virginia's starter for the second year this fall. He took over the starting job late in 2014 from Clint Trickett, who began his career at Florida State.
Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns last year as a junior, but he was intercepted 14 times and his 54.8 completion rate was worst among FBS quarterbacks with at least 400 pass attempts. He threw for 532 yards and five TDs in the Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State but also had two interceptions and finished the year with four games where he had a sub-50 percent completion rate. Despite his struggles, however, he remained West Virginia's best option over then-freshmen William Crest and David Sills.
Crest played in 11 games but was just 11-of-25 with an interception along with a rushing TD, while Sills—who once committed to USC as a seventh-grader—played eight games at wide receiver and had seven catches with two TDs, including the game-winner in the Cactus Bowl. The Mountaineers' 2016 roster lists six quarterbacks, including one from the 2016 recruiting class (Cody Saunders) who enrolled early.
None, however, was as highly rated coming out of high school as Grier. Rated by 247Sports as the No. 2 pro-style passer in the 2014 class, Grier threw for 1,204 yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions on 65.8 percent passing with Florida, helping the Gators to a 6-0 start. He was 24-of-29 for 271 yards and four TDs in a win over Ole Miss, his second-to-last game before getting suspended.
West Virginia hasn't had a non-transfer start at quarterback since November 2013, when Paul Millard started at Kansas as a junior. The only multiyear non-transfer starter in Holgorsen's tenure was Geno Smith, whom he inherited from previous coach Bill Stewart.
Grier's move to West Virginia not only boosts that school's quarterback lineup but also that of the Big 12, which, outside of Baylor and Texas, hasn't been that successful in recruiting (and retaining) prep passers. Grier and Murray (the No. 1 dual-threat QB in 2015) will make for a major talent upgrade in 2017.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.