Imagining 10 Dream CFB Star Transfers If the 1-Year Penalty No Longer Existed
The increased leeway for collegiate athletes interested in transferring has led to plenty of attention on and activity within the NCAA transfer portal. Although the controversial one-year penalty still exists, the NCAA did make it easier for players who endure hardships to receive immediate eligibility.
Former Georgia and now-Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is the highest-profile name to benefit from this. Former Buckeyes and new Miami Hurricanes quarterback Tate Martell is also trying to play in 2019.
But what if the one-year penalty was gone for all, and star talents could move freely? The race for the 2019 national championship would either be filled with loaded blue-blood programs or parity would be as strong as ever.
We're banking on the former and projecting where 10 of the most productive college football stars would fit best if they could swap teams without penalty. The caveat: These transfers are like call-ups from teams unlikely or unable to compete for the FBS championship. Some transfers give excellent Group of Five stars the shot to pilot an elite program, while others are looking to provide a greater stage for their unique talent.
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. to Notre Dame
For Notre Dame to avoid repeating its blowout College Football Playoff loss, it needs better playmakers. Losing senior receivers Miles Boykin and Chris Finke is a tough blow—even if recruit Cam Hart is part of a group ready to take their place. But Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. would help give the Fighting Irish a better chance in these prime-time battles.
The 6'2", 220-pounder burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2018, totaling 1,011 yards and six touchdowns through the air. His playmaking expanded to the ground game, too, as he reached 115 yards and another five scores rushing. His speed, size and ability to finish at the catch point make him a potential first-round NFL draft pick in 2020.
Shenault and Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book would be a tremendous pairing. Buffaloes signal-caller Steven Montez has a good arm but is inconsistent with accuracy and decision-making in ways that Book isn't. The Irish quarterback would maximize Shenault's big-play nature without force-feeding predetermined targets.
Though Shenault wouldn't be a fix-all solution, there's not a better hypothetical marriage than this for both program and player.
Hawaii QB Cole McDonald to Auburn
While Auburn landed 5-star quarterback Bo Nix this past recruiting cycle, the Tigers still have uncertainty regarding the position in 2019. Nix may be a phenom, but giving him a redshirt year while bringing in an experienced playmaker would be ideal. Though not a household name, Hawaii's Cole McDonald is what head coach Gus Malzahn was hoping Jarrett Stidham would be.
The 6'4", 205-pound McDonald led one of the nation's most exciting passing games as head coach Nick Rolovich revitalized the run-and-shoot. A plus athlete who tallied 359 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, McDonald also finished 2018 with eight yards per throw on 484 pass attempts.
Malzahn needs to open up the offense, and McDonald would allow that. He would no longer be a constant underdog with the Tigers and would benefit from Auburn's immense athletic potential across the offense. McDonald would make Malzahn's crew an immediate championship contender.
Cincinnati RB Michael Warren II to Texas
One of the premier backs in the country, Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II took full advantage of his first full year starting in 2018. He ranked 12th in the FBS with 1,329 yards and fourth with 19 touchdowns as a sophomore. The 5'11", 218-pounder enters the 2019 season primed to carry the Bearcats' offensive load once again.
But if Warren could transfer immediately to a contender, the Texas Longhorns would be an ideal landing spot. Tom Herman's Longhorns had a better pass-blocking offensive line than a run-blocking group last year, but the individual rushing talent on the roster was lacking for a program that's historically boasted some incredible backs. Warren would continue that tradition as a powerful back who can spring free for big gains.
One of the biggest storylines entering the 2019 will be Sam Ehlinger's development as a passer. Ehlinger often had to grind out yards on the ground and finished with 16 touchdowns. While impressive, it speaks to a running back stable that wasn't able to transcend the situation. Ehlinger must be allowed to grow organically as a passer this year like he showed at the end of last season for the Longhorns to make the playoff.
With Tre Watson gone, the only proven back on the roster is Keaontay Ingram. Warren and Ingram would be an incredible duo in this hypothetical.
Utah State QB Jordan Love to Wisconsin
With all due respect to senior Alex Hornibrook, who is a mediocre quarterback scheduled to be a four-year starter at Wisconsin, the Badgers have somewhat wasted running back Jonathan Taylor's career next to him. The Badgers lack explosiveness in the passing game, and it's shown. The best upgrade would be Utah State's Jordan Love.
He's a prolific talent and on pace to break into the top-QB discussion for the 2020 draft. Love hit a major growth spurt on the field in 2018, raising his accuracy by 9.1 percentage points (54.9 to 64.0), increased his yards per attempt to 8.6 and threw 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Utah State (11-2) dramatically improved along with him.
Aggies offensive coordinator David Yost recognized the QB's mental acuity and grasp of the game before the season, noting his maturation was key, per the Deseret News' Lafe Peavler: "You get the feeling that this is his team. It's his group. He takes responsibility for not just himself but the offense. That's what the maturation of a quarterback is. He doesn't evaluate himself on, 'Hey, I had a good day.' It's we had a good day."
Yost was spot-on, as the 6'4", 225-pound Love became more than just a strong-armed body who could move well for his size. Love evolved into a highly efficient passer who maximized yards-after-the-catch opportunities with his timing and good accuracy.
A backfield with Love and Taylor would be in competition for the nation's best. The Badgers would vault up to the top of the Big Ten and compete for a playoff berth.
Virginia CB Bryce Hall to Georgia
The best way to replace an All-American talent is to plug in another one. In this hypothetical, the Georgia Bulldogs would swap out Deandre Baker for Virginia's Bryce Hall. The Bulldogs would address their youngest position with a premier cover corner.
The 6'1" Hall is tall, long and versatile. Before his senior season in 2019, it was surprising he didn't jump to the NFL after his impressive 2018. He logged a career-high 21 pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
He'd immediately fit into Kirby Smart's defense, as he can play press-man, press-bail, off-man and zone effectively. His dominant performance against Duke last year also showed his ability to slide into the slot. He's not your typical tall, stiff cornerback.
The Bulldogs have some terrific young talent, but Hall's presence would reduce the strain on former 5-star recruit Tyson Campbell and Co.
North Texas QB Mason Fine to Syracuse
The Syracuse Orange had one of the most entertaining offenses of the 2018 season. Head coach Dino Babers led the team to a 10-3 campaign that highlighted quarterback Eric Dungey's tremendous skill set. With Dungey out of eligibility, Babers could use another explosive signal-caller.
Enter North Texas' Mason Fine. Though he possesses a drastically different toolbox than Dungey's, Fine would allow the 10-3 Orange to compete for another double-digit-win season. His fit in Babers' system is especially intriguing.
The coach's offenses at Bowling Green often featured a dynamic deep passing game that allowed his playmakers to win one-on-one. Fine, coming from Seth Littrell and Graham Harrell's explosive offense, would instantly benefit from the familiar route patterns and combinations.
His accuracy, yards per attempt and efficiency all increased in 2018. He's also shined in his play under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Fine had an adjusted completion percentage of 79.9, threw for 898 yards under pressure and only had three turnover-worthy plays in such situations.
Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa to Oklahoma
Oklahoma's already benefited from the graduate transfer of former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts this offseason. Imagine if the Sooners could double dip and address their woeful pass rush with a premier edge player. Their pick of the litter would almost surely be Iowa's A.J. Epenesa.
As a sophomore in 2018, the Hawkeyes defensive end racked up 10.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. The 6'5", 277-pounder is a premier talent and has lived up to his 5-star prospect billing by combining brute strength and great quickness to overwhelm his blockers.
Adding such a talent to a rebuilding defense could spark a national title run. The Sooners' leading sack artist in 2018, Ronnie Perkins, garnered only five. While most Big 12 offenses prioritize getting rid of the ball quickly, dominant talents aren't contained easily. Epenesa would immediately challenge to be the conference's best defensive player.
Though he'd likely be just a one-year rental since he'll be draft-eligible after 2019, he'd also buy time for the slew of pass-rushing recruits Lincoln Riley landed this year. That could lead to a legacy of talented edge players.
Tulane DE Patrick Johnson to Ohio State
Being an NFL draft factory has its consequences, as Ohio State and other top programs churn underclassmen through the doors. The difficulty in replacing quality defensive line depth is especially hard because of the position's physicality. The 2019 Buckeyes must replace Nick Bosa and Dre'Mont Jones, two elite pass-rushers.
There are better overall players than Tulane defensive end Patrick Johnson, but he's a good fit for this hypothetical call-up. The 6'3", 255-pounder tied for 10th in the country with 10 sacks in 2018. He also showed good consistency with sacks in seven straight contests.
Put into a rotation across from superstar Chase Young, Johnson could feast on opponents with the opportunity to win one-on-one against blockers. He's strong enough to hold his own in the run game, which would be welcomed on a defensive line that often struggled at the point of attack in 2018.
His relentless energy as a pass-rusher and quickness would also buy time for the rest of the Buckeyes roster to develop.
Charlotte RB Benny LeMay to Iowa State
The Iowa State Cyclones have boasted a terrific running game under head coach Matt Campbell. Some of that was because of their commitment to developing quality trench players, but it was also because of talented runner David Montgomery. With Montgomery on to the NFL, Campbell could use a star with similar traits.
Charlotte 49ers running back Benny LeMay is an unconventional answer to this need. The 5'9", 218-pounder is like the 5'11", 216-pound Montgomery with his stature and uncanny ability to bully through defenders. Though Montgomery's 4.7 yards-per-carry average isn't impressive at face value, he earned those yards through grinding and shedding tacklers.
LeMay (5.4 YPC) has the same ability to fall forward and make the best of his situation. Finishing 18th in the nation with 1,243 rushing yards and adding another 282 as a receiver, LeMay is a workhorse. He doesn't have the name recognition of past high-end recruits or as impressive of a resume as the nation's true elites, but he's one of the country's best nonetheless.
Stanford QB Davis Mills to Mississippi State
A coaching change can be a major positive for a program's health, but sometimes coaches have to shift schemes to accommodate pre-existing talent. If Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead could have his way and start fresh in his second season with the Bulldogs, he might opt for a pro-style quarterback in Stanford's Davis Mills.
There are two exciting, potentially dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks on the roster in Keytaon Thompson and Jalen Mayden, but Moorhead already had to scrap his scheme in 2018 to accommodate Nick Fitzgerald's skill set. If former 5-star Davis Mills opted to escape his backup situation at Stanford, he'd have a terrific opportunity in Starkville.
Mills is an accurate thrower to all levels, boasting above-average arm strength but especially good ball placement. He's quick to identify mismatches and can buy time in the pocket by shuttling away from defenders. Though he's only thrown two career passes with Stanford, he was considered an elite recruit because of his skill set.
Moorhead could run an offense more like the one he developed at Penn State if he had Mills in tow. While Thompson and Mayden may prove capable in time, Mills would be perfect for the Bulldogs.
Recruit rankings via 247Sports.