Top Transfer QBs to Watch During 2021 Spring Games
Player movement has been a fixture of the college football offseason, but the impending rule change of a one-time "free" switch is driving an increase of transfers.
And, specifically, more quarterbacks are on the move.
Because only one player can start at the position, QBs have regularly transferred. In many cases, it's the sensible choice too.
But a signal-caller now has even greater incentive to transfer, given that immediate eligibility is expected to be granted. Instead of sitting behind an established starter in 2021, a quarterback can move schools and work to win a competition right away.
This spring, several former top prospects are adapting to a new program. We're highlighting the most prominent players in that group, and the order is based on spring-game dates.
Note: UCF transfer McKenzie Milton would be included, but Florida State has already completed its spring game.
Grant Gunnell, Memphis
Spring game: Friday at 8 p.m. ET
As a freshman in 2019, Grant Gunnell gave Arizona hope. He completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns with a single interception in 155 attempts.
Last season, however, a shoulder injury in the third game limited him down the stretch. And shortly after Arizona fired head coach Kevin Sumlin, Gunnell entered the transfer portal. He landed at Memphis, which must replace three-year starter Brady White―who, incidentally, left Arizona State for the AAC school.
Fellow transfer Peter Parrish (LSU) is Gunnell's top competition but hasn't attempted a pass in college. Gunnell has a great opportunity to lead one of the AAC's top offenses this fall.
Jack Abraham, Mississippi State
Spring game: Saturday at Noon ET (SEC Network+)
Mississippi State returns Will Rogers, but Jack Abraham offers some much-needed competition in Starkville.
Rogers should not be judged harshly for his 2020 performance, given he was a freshman in a pandemic-affected season. Nevertheless, he managed just 5.7 yards per attempt over 346 throws. He's not an untouchable returning starter.
Abraham collected 7,067 yards and 41 touchdowns with 29 interceptions in three seasons at Southern Miss. He averaged 8.2 yards per attempt in 859 career passes.
Rogers and Abraham are the leading candidates, but Chance Lovertich and Daniel Greek are also in the competition.
Tyler Shough, Texas Tech
Spring game: Saturday at 2 p.m. ET
Even though Oregon won a second consecutive Pac-12 title, the offense had a strange year. Tyler Shough wasn't the problem, but he left an unsettled situation in Eugene with two degrees and an opportunity for a fresh start at Texas Tech.
Interestingly, the grad transfer has three years of eligibility. Texas Tech may actually have a long-term answer in a veteran.
Last season, he threw for 1,559 yards at 9.3 per attempt and 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Shough also served as Justin Herbert's backup during the 2019 campaign.
Shough arrived in the middle of spring practice, so expectations for the spring game should be tempered. But throughout the summer and fall, he'll attempt to leap returning starter Henry Colombi and freshmen Donovan Smith and Behren Morton.
Charlie Brewer, Utah
Spring game: Saturday at 2 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)
Easily the most experienced transfer, Charlie Brewer may become a rare five-year starter in college football.
After finishing the 2017 season as Baylor's top QB, he filled the role in each of the last three campaigns. Brewer recorded a pair of 3,000-yard seasons, including in 2019 when the Bears reached the Big 12 Championship Game and Sugar Bowl.
That experience has allowed Brewer to quickly stand out as Utah's leader at the position. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said Brewer is "quite a bit ahead of everybody else" who's available this spring, per Josh Newman of the Salt Lake Tribune.
But the real competition begins when returning starter Cameron Rising (albeit in one game)—who's out for the spring with a shoulder injury—is cleared to play.
Anthony Russo, Michigan State
Spring game: April 24 at 2 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Rocky Lombardi began 2020 as Michigan State's starting quarterback, but he struggled with efficiency and headed to Northern Illinois this offseason. His departure leaves the Spartans with Payton Thorne and Temple transfer Anthony Russo.
At this point of the spring, Thorne and Russo are co-leaders. Each one is ahead in one of two important categories.
Thorne, who started MSU's last two games in 2020, is more familiar with the offense. Russo, conversely, has a significant edge in starting experience; he opened 26 games at Temple.
If Russo quickly learns the system, he'll have a terrific chance to start immediately in his lone season at MSU.
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Spring game: April 24 at 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network+)
Both the Tennessee program as a whole and its quarterback room have experienced an overhaul this offseason.
First, the Volunteers replaced head coach Jeremy Pruitt with Josh Heupel. That alone is a major storyline. Second, they lost quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano (Washington State) and J.T. Shrout (Colorado) but added Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker.
Of all the quarterbacks in Knoxville, he offers the best combination of experience and mobility. Hooker started 15 games at Virginia Tech, totaling 2,894 yards and 22 touchdowns as a passer with 1,033 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
But the big question for Tennessee isn't about the Game 1 starter; no, it's which player will keep the job? The quarterback carousel has been spinning since Josh Dobbs graduated in 2016.
Tanner Mordecai, SMU
Spring game: April 30 (time TBA)
SMU is hoping for another productive Big 12 transfer.
During the last two years, former Texas quarterback Shane Buechele led the Mustangs. He set program records in single-season yards and touchdowns. Now, they've brought in Tanner Mordecai from Oklahoma, where he'd served as the backup to both Jalen Hurts in 2019 and Spencer Rattler in 2020.
Although he doesn't have an immense body of work, Mordecai played in 12 games at OU and finished 50-of-70 for 639 yards (9.1 yards per attempt). While a small sample, it's an encouraging one.
Mordecai is competing with Preston Stone, a 4-star prospect who is SMU's highest-rated signee in the era of recruiting rankings (since 2002).
Jack Coan, Notre Dame
Spring game: May 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET (Peacock)
Jack Coan earned the full-time starting job at Wisconsin in 2019, helping the Badgers reach the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl. He wrapped up the campaign with 2,727 yards, 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
But last season, a foot injury sent Coan to the sideline. His absence moved Graham Mertz into the lineup, and the highest-rated quarterback signee in UW history is now the starter in Madison.
Coan found a nice landing spot, though.
Notre Dame must replace three-year starter Ian Book. Though the Irish have Drew Pyne, Tyler Buchner and Brendon Clark, they all have downsides. Pyne and Clark have little college experience, and Buchner―a 4-star recruit from California―hasn't played a competitive snap since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In all likelihood, Coan will be the starter as Notre Dame pursues its third College Football Playoff trip in four seasons.