The important thing to remember is that there's a reason a quarterback is transferring.
Sometimes, it works out brilliantly -- like with Russell Wilson going to Wisconsin -- but often expectations get out of whack when a college team brings in a new quarterback from another program. Fans get excited enough about backup quarterbacks when the starter struggles; bringing in new blood from elsewhere is something entirely different. It's an unexpected surprise, usually involving a quarterback who just "wasn't given a fair shot" by the coaching staff, or another excuse along those lines.
But as the years go by, the transfer market gets bigger and better. One reason is that touted quarterbacks have become increasingly impatient when stuck behind a starter. Everyone wants to play, and play early, and it's rare that a quarterback is satisfied waiting his turn for two or three years. The other is the graduate transfer rule, passed in 2006, that allows players who graduate with eligibility still remaining to finish their careers elsewhere while entering grad school -- without having to sit out a year. Wilson is the biggest success story among graduate transfers, and now we're seeing quarterbacks who graduate in three years, with a redshirt included, and move to a new school with two seasons of eligibility remaining, making college football's free-agent market even more valuable.
Of course, reasons for transferring are all over the map, as are the actual results.
Aside from Wilson, the best transfer in recent history was Ryan Mallett, a five-star recruit from Texas who began his career in Lloyd Carr's pro-style system but had no place in the offense when Michigan brought in Rich Rodriguez. Mallett transferred to Arkansas, sat out a year, then posted two seasons with at least 3,600 yards, 30 touchdowns and an average of nine yards per attempt. His second season ended with a Sugar Bowl bid, and he was drafted by the Patriots.
There have been plenty of middle-of-the-road type moves, and then there are also the cautionary tales. Rob Bolden, Joe Paterno's first opening day true freshman starter, left Penn State after losing the job to former walk-on Matt McGloin, but instead of aiming for an easier path to playing time, he ended up at LSU, where he failed to crack the three-deep last year and moved to wide receiver this spring. Other similarly regarded recruits have gone through similar struggles, like Phillip Sims (Alabama to Virginia to Winston-Salem State), Mitch Mustain (Arkansas to USC) and Jake Heaps (BYU to Kansas). For a compendium of notable transfers in recent history (not including those who passed through the juco ranks first), click here.
So while it's important not too expect too much out of most transfers, the 2014 season in particular appears primed for an influx of impact moves behind center, including both graduate transfers and undergraduates who have sat out the required one season. The list could have even been bigger: Former USC QB Max Wittek spent the spring visiting other schools (most notably Texas and Hawaii), but he reportedly won't graduate until the fall semester now; and there's LSU's Stephen Rivers -- the brother of Philip Rivers -- who decided to leave the Tigers in February but has not officially settled on a destination, although rumors have tied him to Vanderbilt.
Here are this year's key (non-juco) transfers at quarterback, ranked by potential impact:
1. Jacob Coker, Alabama (from Florida State)
Rarely is a preseason top-five team dependent on a transfer, because rarely does a team like Alabama need someone else's backup to fill an obvious hole. Alabama recruits five-star prospects at every position, meaning it's usually deep everywhere, and it's not often that someone like Nick Saban will let quarterback depth become a problem. Because this is Alabama, though, when an immediate need springs up, the Crimson Tide get only the best that the transfer market has to offer.
Coker has been the recipient of incessant praise, despite limited playing time, and in retrospect he's been considered overlooked as a three-star recruit coming out of high school in Mobile. It's not as if his time spent as a backup is an indictment of his talent: There literally may not be one quarterback in the country who would have beaten out Jameis Winston for the Florida State starting job last offseason. Not wanting to spend another year behind Winston, upon graduating this spring in three years, Coker made the obvious choice, deciding to switch to the other best program in the country, in his home state, and automatically become the favorite for the starting job with AJ McCarron gone and no Winston-like opponent to worry about.
The job won't be handed to Coker, but after an underwhelming spring from senior Blake Sims and redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman, and given that David Cornwell is a true freshman, it's not hard to see the writing on the wall -- no matter what Nick Saban says. This should be Coker's job to lose. We haven't seen much of him, as he attempted 36 passes last year, mostly in garbage time, but fortunately an enterprising citizen put together all of his 2013 plays, including the Florida State spring game, and uploaded it to YouTube:
It seems pretty difficult for Coker to live up to such massive expectations at this point, but ultimately, his job could be a lot harder. Alabama has won national titles with Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron, two very good players who also aren't transcendent talents. Should Coker win the job, he'll be tasked mostly with avoiding mistakes and keeping the Alabama engine running.
He has the best running backs in the country to hand off to (T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake), arguably the most talented wideout (Amari Cooper), an obvious breakout candidate at tight end (O.J. Howard) and a solid offensive line that returns three starters. The presence of Lane Kiffin as the new coordinator is a never-ending wild card, but this isn't an Alabama team that will need to rely on Coker to win games by himself. If he brings a bit of mobility that Alabama hasn't really had to the table, combined with a 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame and a strong arm, then all the better. Given the history behind it, a Winston-Coker showdown in the playoff could be a whole lot of fun.
2. Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State (from Florida)
For some inexplicable reason, N.C. State has become Transfer Quarterback U, beginning with Russell Wilson. After three successful years as the Wolfpack's starting QB, Wilson became college football's most famous graduate transfer, going to Wisconsin after spending his offseason time dabbling in professional baseball. Wilson went on to set an NCAA record for single-season passing efficiency with the Badgers, leading them to the Rose Bowl before going on to NFL glory.
Then, former Colorado State starter Pete Thomas transferred to N.C. State after the 2011 season, sat out the required year, played in nine games last year and is now transferring to Louisiana-Monroe. Former Arkansas backup Brandon Mitchell left for N.C. State last year as a graduate transfer and shared time with Thomas. And upon getting lost in the incoming transfer shuffle, Manny Stocker transferred out to Tennessee-Martin. Mitchell was a senior, so he's gone, while Thomas was out of luck as soon as the season ended and Brissett became eligible to win the starting job. In fact, Brissett was immediately named the starter in December, erasing any doubt about who's in charge this offseason.
A former four-star recruit at Florida who played sparingly in two seasons in Gainesville, Brissett is expected to provide a much-needed spark for the Wolfpack offense after a brutal first year of rebuilding under Dave Doeren. Doeren got the job through his success at Northern Illinois, where he oversaw high-powered offenses with a pair of mobile quarterbacks in Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch. While Brissett isn't going to be the same sort of star as a runner -- one of the reasons he lost the Florida job was because coaches considered Driskel a better runner -- he is mobile for someone with a 6-foot-4, 236-pound frame and provides a strong arm and a quick release. For an offense that ranked 100th nationally in yards per play and had more interceptions (15) than passing touchdowns (14), Brissett is a welcome change of pace who may be able to push the Wolfpack back to bowl eligibility after a frustrating season in which they went winless in the ACC with an 0-4 record against in-state rivals Wake Forest, North Carolina, Duke and East Carolina. It really can't get any worse, and while two transfers didn't work out last year, there's reason to believe the third time's a charm.
3. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati (from Notre Dame)
The Todd Graham of quarterback recruits, Kiel originally committed to home-state underdog Indiana, then switched to LSU, then ultimately signed back home at Notre Dame … where he was unhappy behind Everett Golson, causing a transfer to Cincinnati that ended up occurring just before Golson's suspension last spring. Now finally established with a new team -- coach Tommy Tuberville told SI.com that Kiel was "pretty deflated" by the time he got to Cincinnati -- with three years of eligibility remaining, Kiel has had a year to settle down and learn the offense under Tuberville while he sat out. He's in good position to win the job, with Brendon Kay gone and sixth-year senior Munchie Legaux still rehabbing his knee after suffering an injury last September.
Rated by many as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2012, Kiel has an opportunity to shine for the Bearcats, who have been left out of the Power Five conferences but are one of a handful of favorites for the Group of Five's automatic bid to one of the major bowl games in the playoff rotation. He's surrounded by talented players, including an All-America candidate at left tackle in Eric Lefeld, plus a solid, experienced group of backs and receivers. Cincinnati is a pretty stable place to land for someone who's yet to settle into a starting role and has been through so many ups and downs without even seeing the field, and while he'll be thrown into the fire early with first-half road trips to Ohio State and Miami, if he develops as expected he can have the Bearcats in position to win the American Athletic Conference. As just a redshirt sophomore, he still has a lot of time to establish himself as the top pro prospect everyone thought he could become.
4. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech (from Texas Tech)
The Hokies offense can't get much worse, and any outside help is a reason for optimism. They ranked 12th in the ACC in yards per play, and that was with a three-year starter at quarterback in Logan Thomas, who never seemed to improve and also never got much out of those around him. With Thomas gone, the Hokies were left with a wide-open QB race thought to be led by senior Mark Leal, before sophomore Brenden Motley took a surprising lead during spring ball. Now, both will have to overcome the addition of Brewer, a graduate transfer who still has two years of eligibility remaining.
Brewer was expected to be Kliff Kingsbury's starting quarterback last year, but preseason injury problems limited him -- a back injury he later claimed was misdiagnosed -- and buried him behind the Red Raiders' freshmen. Blocked from going to another Big 12 school, he ended up in Blacksburg, which, despite the offensive problems of late, is a solid landing spot. For one, he has a pretty clear path to the starting job. Two, the offense doesn't need to suddenly become Texas Tech-like and score 50 points per game. This is a defense-led team with the nation's best secondary and an active front four, and even a jump from awful to mediocre on offense will make the Hokies frontrunners in the ACC Coastal. Brewer can help achieve that goal, especially if the running back situation led by Trey Edmunds, J.C. Coleman and Marshawn Williams finally stabilizes around him.
Brewer represents a startling change from Thomas for second-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, as Thomas was a 6-foot-6, 254-pounder who led the team in rushing in 2012. Brewer stands just 6-foot-1, 185 pounds and surely won't lead the team in rushing, although he does have some mobility. He actually played in high school under acclaimed current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, meaning he'll undergo an odd jump from Morris' version of the spread to pass-happy Texas Tech to an offense that went 5-of-26 passing in last August's opener against Alabama.
5. Wes Lunt, Illinois (from Oklahoma State)
For as bad as Illinois has been overall, the offense actually wasn't terrible last year. In fact, coach Tim Beckman wisely hired former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit to run the offense, and Cubit took the unit from last in the Big Ten in yards per play to fourth. Gone is four-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase, an inconsistent but versatile threat, leaving a competition between senior Reilly O'Toole, who has seen the field a decent amount for a backup; sophomore Aaron Bailey, a dual-threat former four-star recruit; and Lunt, who looked like Oklahoma State's quarterback of the future as a freshman in 2012 before injuries opened the door for Clint Chelf to take the job.
Lunt opted to transfer, and after controversy over Mike Gundy's restrictions, he ended up back in his home state of Illinois. With the Cowboys, Lunt played in seven games, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,108 yards (8.5 yards per attempt), six touchdowns and seven interceptions. He even attempted 60 passes in his first start against an FBS opponent, throwing for 436 yards with four touchdowns and three picks in a loss at Arizona. Based on what we've seen, Lunt seems like the obvious choice and is ahead in the race right now, although it will be interesting to see if Bailey, the former prized recruit, eventually pushes him. If he does hold the job, fortunately Lunt gets four offensive line starters back, along with the solid backfield duo of Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young, because he'll be dealing with an entirely new receiving corps. He'll need all the help he can get, given that the Illini -- who have won just one conference game in the last two years -- face road trips to Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State, which may make bowl eligibility an insurmountable goal.
6. Tyler Murphy, Boston College (from Florida)
There were some brief flashes early last season, when Murphy replaced the injured Jeff Driskel, where it looked like maybe Murphy could provide some sort of spark to a lifeless Gators offense. Alas, that was merely a dream; nothing could save that offense. Florida struggled all year no matter who played quarterback, from Driskel to Murphy to Skyler Mornhinweg, and with Driskel back healthy, it's not surprising that Murphy opted to spend his senior year elsewhere.
Boston College is a logical fit for three reasons: 1) four-year starter Chase Rettig is gone, with no obvious replacement waiting in the wings; 2) the Eagles are coached by former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who helped recruit Murphy to Gainesville as an unheralded two-star recruit; and 3) Murphy happens to be from New England as a Connecticut native. Murphy graduated in December too, meaning he participated in spring practice and was already able to secure the starting job.
Murphy has always flown under the radar, and he likely would have passed through his college career anonymously had Driskel not gotten hurt against Tennessee last September. Murphy had never attempted a pass until then, and ultimately he finished season with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns, five interceptions and 61 rushing yards in seven games. Now, he takes over a passing game that was merely a footnote last year thanks to Andre Williams' 2,000-yard rushing season. If losing Williams isn't bad enough, the Eagles must also replace top receiver Alex Amidon, who had nearly half the team's catches and was the only player with more than 14. Even without Williams, it's likely that Murphy will mostly be asked to manage games quietly, because Addazio is a Muschamp-style power football enthusiast.
7. Brandon Connette, Fresno State (from Duke)
No transfer, should he win the job, has bigger shoes to fill. Yes, McCarron was an important face of the program at Alabama who won two national titles, but the team's success didn't revolve around him. At Fresno State, all Derek Carr did was throw for more than 12,000 yards in three seasons as a starter, including a national-best 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns as a senior. Not only does Fresno State lose the most famous last name in school history, but also gone are receivers Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse, who totaled 213 catches between them in 2013 alone. Needless to say, regression can be expected for the Bulldogs, who must rebuild while facing a daunting early-season trio of games at USC, at Utah and vs. Nebraska.
Junior Brian Burrell is the in-house favorite to replace Carr, but Connette, a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility left, may be the best bet. Although he comes from outside Fresno State's system, he has by far the most on-field experience of the Bulldogs' quarterbacks, as he split time with Anthony Boone at Duke, completing 90 passes for 1,212 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions last year while rushing for 337 yards and 14 touchdowns as a short-yardage specialist. Even if he isn't the full-time starting quarterback, it's pretty clear he'll get on the field in some capacity, adding some different wrinkles to an offense that previously piled up points behind the precise passing of Carr.
8. Matt Joeckel, TCU (from Texas A&M)
TCU's offense was a mess last season, and an inability to win close games ended up causing a spiral that resulted in an embarrassing 4-8 record in the program's second year in the Big 12. After off-the-field issues for Casey Pachall forced Trevone Boykin into the starting job in 2012, the combination of the two struggled last year with a combined 13 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. Pachall is gone, and now the job won't simply be handed to Boykin, a junior, because Joeckel graduated from Texas A&M and elected to play his fifth season in Fort Worth. The brother of former All-America left tackle Luke Joeckel, Matt Joeckel is most known for starting last year's Texas A&M season opener against Rice because of Johnny Manziel's one-half suspension. He completed 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown against the Owls, then threw only 18 passes the rest of the season -- giving him 48 attempts for his Aggies career.
Defensive-oriented coach Gary Patterson opted to cobble a bunch of pieces together from various Texas schools to fix the offense: Joeckel joins as a transfer from A&M, while the new co-offensive coordinators are from Houston (Doug Meacham) and Texas Tech (Sonny Cumbie). Expect an up-tempo spread attack, given who Patterson hired, and while Boykin offers more versatility because he can run, neither coordinator comes from an offense that depends on the QB to move the chains with his feet. In other words, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Joeckel -- who at Texas A&M played for coaches in the same Air Raid universe -- should feel right at home. Boykin will play no matter what, shifting to a slash role that he often played last year, if Joeckel wins the job.
9. Kendal Thompson, Utah (from Oklahoma)
A lot has changed since last Oct. 12, when Travis Wilson played a solid game to lead Utah to a shocking upset of Stanford. A concussion and a subsequent health scare over a pre-existing condition ended Wilson's season early, but despite doubts about his future ability to play football, he was cleared to return before spring practice and appears set to take the field for his junior season.
Coming back from the health scare, Wilson faces a very different situation: Former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen is the new offensive coordinator, and there's new competition in the form of Thompson, a running quarterback who could be a solid fit in Christensen's attempt to push the tempo out of the spread. Thompson never really got a chance to win the Oklahoma job last summer because he broke his foot in August, taking him out of the running behind Trevor Knight and Blake Bell. Thompson's upside may be high, but there is not a clear path to the job yet. If Wilson's healthy and remains cleared, it's his job to lose.
10. Andrew Hendrix, Miami, Ohio (from Notre Dame)
Hendrix has been buried on the Notre Dame depth chart his entire career, whether it was behind Tommy Rees or Everett Golson, and there was no way he'd see the field as a senior, with Golson back from suspension and the touted Malik Zaire pushing him. So Hendrix made a practical graduate transfer move to the RedHawks, following Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, who's now the head coach in Oxford. After losing the solid Zac Dysert following the 2012 season, the Miami passing offense plummeted from 22nd nationally to 121st. Needless to say, it shouldn't be difficult for Hendrix to win the job, especially given that, despite being a newcomer, he's the only one familiar with the offense. Getting playing time is one thing, though; actually leading the RedHawks to success is another. They finished 0-12 last year, as one of only two teams that couldn't even average 10 points per game.