Ranking Possible Landing Spots for Jalen Hurts' Likely Transfer from Alabama
As if Alabama's recent run won't be etched in enough history books, Jalen Hurts made sure the Crimson Tide's 2018 march had a storybook flavor as well in the SEC Championship Game.
After losing his job to Tua Tagovailoa—who went on to finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting as a sophomore—Hurts chose to stick around in Tuscaloosa rather than transfer during the season like Clemson's Kelly Bryant.
It paid off in the SEC Championship Game after a Tagovailoa injury followed his ineffective start. Hurts came in and led the Tide back to a resounding victory that propelled them into the College Football Playoff and kept their No. 1 ranking.
The junior was relegated to backup duties in the semifinal game against Oklahoma, though, and despite the way he handled himself in helping Alabama this season, chances are he wants to go somewhere else to play his final year even if he hasn't said it.
It's easy to see Hurts is a better quarterback than he displayed as a freshman and sophomore, and there's always a chance he stays at Alabama. But with Tagovailoa entrenched, NFL teams probably want to see Hurts run his own program and watch the improvements over a larger sample set.
That's why his father Averion believes there's a possibility Hurts will become "the biggest free agent in college football history," according to B/R's Matt Hayes.
So, if Hurts elects to become a graduate transfer, where will he go? Let's make some educated guesses where he could wind up based on previous relationships, need and fit for Hurts' unique array of skills.
8. Florida Atlantic Owls
It was a hard fall from grace for Lane Kiffin in his second year at Florida Atlantic. After shocking the nation with an 11-3 record during his first year in Boca Raton, which included a 10-game winning streak to close the year, Kiffin's Owls went 5-7 this year and missed a bowl game.
The Owls struggled at the quarterback position after Jason Driskel announced he'd no longer play, and now the third-year coach must deal with life after star running back Devin Singletary, who announced he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, according to the Palm Beach Post's Jake Elman.
He would benefit considerably from a Hurts transfer.
There's only one problem with that: Hurts is going to have better options.
The quarterback and Kiffin had a nice one-year run when Kiffin was Alabama's offensive coordinator, and considering Kiffin's play-calling acumen and familiarity with Hurts, the signal-caller could decide his talents would be best utilized under somebody familiar with his skill set.
Hurts completed nearly 63 percent of his passes as a freshman under Kiffin in 2016, throwing for 2,780 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions while running for 954 more yards and 13 touchdowns.
It would be a coup for the Owls, and it isn't like NFL teams won't be able to see Hurts' progression at a smaller school. He could light up scoreboards in Conference USA as well.
But when the big boys come calling, Hurts will probably look elsewhere. If you're Kiffin, you need to take a big swing here, but don't be surprised if FAU is ruled out fairly early in the process.
7. Oklahoma Sooners
No other collegiate program has experienced as much recent success as Oklahoma when it comes to transfer quarterbacks.
After all, the past two Heisman Trophy winners were Sooners quarterbacks whom coach Lincoln Riley molded into the nation's premier player at his position, and neither originally committed to play college ball in Norman.
Baker Mayfield was a walk-on at Texas Tech who left for Oklahoma when Patrick Mahomes beat him out for the job with the Red Raiders. Kyler Murray left College Station and Kevin Sumlin, dropping Texas A&M for the Sooners.
Though there's the potential for Murray to remain in Norman for his senior season, it's much more likely he'll opt to take his Major League Baseball money or try his hand at the NFL. There's not a lot left from an individual standpoint that he can strive for in college football.
If that happens, will the Sooners go after a one-year stopgap in Hurts to get them to the Spencer Rattler era? That's debatable, as veteran Austin Kendall was neck-and-neck with Murray in the race to replace Mayfield and has waited his turn.
Oklahoma is a perennial powerhouse, and if the Sooners think Kendall can keep them there, they probably won't go in another direction. Also, like some other teams on this list, they may want to take a long, hard look at Georgia's Justin Fields.
The Sooners would make sense for Hurts if they elected to go after him, but there's no guarantee the Alabama signal-caller would start if he headed to the Sooner State. That's a major deterrent in a potential marriage.
6. Florida State Seminoles
When looking across the college football landscape at potential fits for Hurts, Florida State has to be an enticing option.
There haven't been many whispers around the internet about the possibility of the Alabama quarterback heading south to Tallahassee, but he'd be a logical choice, especially given the depth chart and the opportunity to lead a high-profile national program back to prominence.
Willie Taggart's first year was sour as the 'Noles went 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the first time in 36 years. The quarterback situation in the immediate future is up in the air, too.
Incumbent Deondre Francois is "weighing his options" after graduating in December, Taggart told the Tallahassee Democrat's Jim Henry. But even if he returns to FSU, Hurts would still be a probable upgrade.
If Francois goes elsewhere, Hurts has a clear path to playing time, as James Blackman would be the only scholarship signal-caller remaining on the roster. And with blue-chip quarterback Sam Howell flipping from the Seminoles to North Carolina in the early signing period, their depth is dire.
The biggest question Hurts needs to ask himself (as with another team on this list) is whether he believes the offensive line woes will be fixed.
Francois is probably weighing that, too. FSU allowed Francois to be sacked 29 times in 2018, and he completed less than 50 percent of his passes over the final third of the season.
Hurts can't afford to go somewhere during an NFL-showcase season and get hurt or spend much of the year on the turf. If FSU pursues him, will the depth chart and the chance to play for dynamic new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles be enough?
5. Tennessee Volunteers
When it comes to familiar faces, Hurts would see a few if he decided to head up the road to the rival Tennessee Volunteers.
That's where former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is now the head coach. Plenty of the support staff in Knoxville was at Tuscaloosa during Hurts' days; Brian Niedermeyer is the Vols tight ends coach, and offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy joined the team this year after transferring.
Given Pruitt's recruiting acumen and relationships in Tuscaloosa, this would be a mutually beneficial pairing. Hurts likely would come in and unseat Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback, and if Guarantano stuck around, he'd be in line to play again next year.
The Vols also have some promising quarterback prospects coming in with Brian Maurer in 2019 and Harrison Bailey in 2020, but they've got to have improvement from that position after what occurred this year. Hurts would bridge the void to the future and upgrade what Guarantano gave them this year.
There are negatives for UT, though.
The Vols had a bad offensive line in '18 that needs fixing in a hurry. A strong recruiting class will help, and he would have playmakers around him like sturdy pass-catchers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, but is that enough to convince Hurts to come to Knoxville?
How much does Hurts want to play against Alabama? Could he go to Florida and feel like he has more resources in place to win right away? If Tennessee wants to be a legit player in this race, Pruitt needs an offensive coordinator who can utilize Hurts' skills.
There are positives and negatives, but Hurts would upgrade Tennessee right away. He'd be familiar with several faces, and he'd still be in the SEC, where he's proved he knows how to win.
4. Florida Gators
If Hurts wants to stay in the SEC, arguably the most attractive option he could have is Florida.
After all, the Gators surprised everybody during Dan Mullen's first year in Gainesville, as they upset LSU at home and completely flipped the script from the Jim McElwain era. Mullen did all this with Feleipe Franks at quarterback, too.
Franks wound up having a serviceable year, but he is far from the type of athlete Mullen is used to running his spread-option scheme. Hurts, on the other hand, would be perfect. Plus, it isn't like he'd have to play all his buddies at Alabama unless the Gators made it to the SEC Championship Game.
The real rub here is there are no previous ties to Hurts from anybody on Florida's staff, but how big of a deal is that going to be?
Florida was one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this year, and the Gators are only going to improve once Mullen gets his kind of players into the program to run his scheme. If he could have the type of success at Mississippi State that he had, what's he going to do with Florida's resources?
The depth chart isn't rife with quarterbacks who are prototypical Mullen maestros, either. Jalon Jones is coming in, so that will help. There's also the possibility Mullen will go after Georgia transfer Justin Fields.
Freshman signal-caller Emory Jones looks like the future in Gainesville, but he was far from ready in 2018. What better way to bridge the gap to him than with a one-year, plug-and-play potential star like Hurts.
3. UCLA Bruins
Things improved a little for Chip Kelly toward the end of his first year in Westwood, but UCLA has to make some serious strides if it is going to be successful in this new regime. Kelly needs to prove he still has the magic touch when it comes to luring players to suit up for the Bruins.
A recruiting class that ranked 48th nationally doesn't give Bruins fans a case of the warm-and-fuzzies. When you throw in the fact that the quarterback who took the most snaps in '18 (Michigan transfer Wilton Speight) is out of eligibility, there are plenty of concerns.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson is an intriguing, encouraging prospect, but he may need more time to season.
It would benefit UCLA right away and help Thompson-Robinson's future if Kelly can convince Hurts to transfer to Westwood for his final season. There's arguably no better teacher of the spread than a guy like Hurts, who has proved at the highest level that he can run and pass for big chunk yardage.
Having Hurts behind center would immediately make UCLA a force in a down, wide-open Pac-12 South division. This team already beat USC in Kelly's first year, and though Utah looks like it'll stay near the top of the division and Herm Edwards' Arizona State is going in the right direction, too, UCLA doesn't have far to go.
Hurts would be the best player in the division, and Yahoo Sports writer Pete Thamel noted he thinks UCLA is the best fit out there from a scheme standpoint.
It would be a match made in college football heaven. Hurts would be far away from any potential SEC comparisons, and he could do his own thing for a program that would appreciate his talents. But right now, the possibility is just a hypothetical match.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
You can go home again.
Hurts' Houston home is less than four hours from Fort Worth, and if he wanted to head back to the Lone Star State to play football, coach Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs are the perfect destination spot.
His hometown Cougars already have D'Eriq King, Texas has Sam Ehlinger, Texas A&M has Kellen Mond, Baylor has a slew of budding signal-callers, and Texas Tech does, too. But TCU only has question marks.
Rising star Shawn Robinson surprisingly elected to transfer out of the program after an injury cut his 2018 season short. He will play his next college football season at Missouri. Senior Grayson Muehlstein is out of eligibility, leaving rising junior Michael Collins and promising freshman Justin Rogers as the only options.
Four-star Max Duggan is coming in the 2019 class to give Rogers some future competition, but a Hurts transfer would give both of those youngsters more time to season. It's surprising this transfer option isn't being talked about more than it is.
TCU needs QB help, as evidenced by its Cheez-It Bowl performance.
Patterson is known as a defensive guru, but that hasn't stopped the Horned Frogs from having quality offenses year in and year out. Robinson's exit is a tough blow, but that will be completely minimized if Hurts decided to finish his days at TCU.
With budding stars at receiver such as Jalen Reagor and Taye Barber and two senior running backs in Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua coming back, there are enough pieces to the puzzle for Hurts to be surrounded by a successful supporting cast.
They lose just Chris Gaynor off the offensive line, too. So there's another check mark in the Horned Frogs' favor. Even in a down year in '18, they went 7-6, and that win total could go up considerably with Hurts in purple.
1. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland makes a lot of sense for Hurts, and Hurts make a lot of sense for the Terrapins, too.
Though Kasim Hill was supposed to be a star under former coach D.J. Durkin, he hasn't panned out yet because of injuries and inefficiency. Injuries at that position have kept Maryland from being a bigger threat in the Big Ten the past two seasons, as well.
Remember, this is a program that beat Texas early in the year the past two seasons only to finish 6-7 and 3-9, respectively.
Neither Hill nor Tyrrell Pigrome is going to scare off Hurts, and he would get to play for his 2018 offensive coordinator Mike Locksley if he headed to College Park. There's also the familiarity of offensive assistant Butch Jones, who is now on the staff at Maryland.
Hurts would walk into a situation with the Terrapins that is more conducive to winning than you may think because he'll have offensive playmakers around him. But Maryland is facing a rebuild along the offensive line.
Four seniors who played a lot in 2018 will be departing, and that could be a major negative for the Terrapins. Again, it's hard to see Hurts going to a place like Maryland, Tennessee or Florida State unless he feels better about the offensive line situation.
But Locksley is a huge draw. For the same reason, he could choose to stay in Tuscaloosa with Dan Enos.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.