These 4 SEC teams benefited the most from not losing QBs to the transfer portal in spring
I was bracing for it.
When that May 1 deadline came, I expected that we’d see a handful of SEC quarterbacks announce that they were hitting the transfer portal. It wasn’t that I anticipated likely starters to bolt. What I did expect to see were more cases like 2018 Joe Burrow.
If you recall, Burrow was locked in a battle with the late Dwayne Haskins to become JT Barrett’s replacement at Ohio State. But by the end of spring camp, Burrow didn’t feel like he was going to beat out Haskins for the starting job, so ultimately, he transferred to LSU.
Or perhaps we could go with 2019 Auburn as another example. Out of spring camp, Gus Malzahn declared that Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood were the leaders in the clubhouse to become the starters, so Malik Willis entered the transfer portal. The rest is history.
I thought we’d see a handful of instances in which SEC quarterbacks didn’t really like where they stood and they’d bounce at the end of spring in an effort to play elsewhere in 2022. To be fair, we still could see SEC quarterbacks enter the portal this offseason, but they just wouldn’t be eligible to play immediately.
In spring, these were the only SEC quarterbacks who entered the portal and all of them did so at least a couple weeks before that May 1 deadline:
- Emory Jones, Florida
- Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, Florida
- Dematrius Davis, Auburn
- Lucas Coley, Arkansas
That’s not including someone like JT Daniels, Paul Tyson or Jack Abraham, all of whom entered the transfer portal in January.
Keeping quarterback depth is paramount in the SEC. Every team except Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, MSU and Ole Miss started multiple quarterbacks last year. That’s 9 SEC teams that turned to someone who wasn’t QB1 in Week 1. Maybe that trend will play out this year and we’ll see even fewer SEC teams use just 1 starting quarterback all year.
Either way, quarterback depth still matters. Let’s go back to 2018 Burrow. LSU lost Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan to the transfer portal after his arrival. That was after LSU failed to sign a 2018 quarterback recruit. That meant Burrow’s backup was undersized redshirt freshman Myles Brennan, who was banged up for most of the season. LSU’s lack of quarterback depth meant that Burrow couldn’t be used nearly as much in the running game. That is, until the A&M game wherein Burrow attempted to put the entire team on his back in that 7-overtime thriller.
Ideally, his emergence as a runner would’ve come earlier. Instead, a lack of quarterback depth impacted the offense.
There are certain SEC teams who probably exhaled more than others that they avoided losing a quarterback to the portal:
The key QB who stayed — Malik Hornsby
For about a week in January, it appeared that Hornsby was gone. He reportedly entered the transfer portal but withdrew his name a week later after mapping out a plan with the coaching staff to play some receiver. There could be some DK Joyner vibes to Hornsby’s role. But make no mistake, Hornsby is needed at quarterback with the way KJ Jefferson is used as a physical runner in Kendal Briles’ offense.
Quarterback depth is a major issue for Sam Pittman’s squad. Arkansas lost the aforementioned Coley, veteran John Stephen Jones is gone from the 2021 squad and the Hogs didn’t sign a 2022 quarterback recruit. They did add USF transfer Cade Fortin, but that’s someone who is by no means a proven runner and he doesn’t have experience in Briles’ offense. He’s a career 50% passer with 152 rushing yards in 3 seasons at the FBS level. That’s an emergency quarterback.
Hornsby is the guy who, while he’s still underwhelming as a passer, could execute those up-tempo concepts. The Hogs’ New Year’s 6 Bowl hopes are probably dependent on Jefferson taking another step and staying healthy, but Hornsby is still such a weapon with his legs that he could at least keep the ship afloat if needed.
The key QBs who stayed — Garrett Nussmeier, Myles Brennan
There’s a scenario in which LSU could’ve left fall camp with a quarterback room consisting of a mid-spring enrollee (Jayden Daniels) and a true freshman coming off a season-ending broken leg (Walker Howard). Thankfully for Brian Kelly, that scenario was avoided.
Yeah, Brennan announced he was returning to LSU in Year 6. But if another Power 5 program came along and all but guaranteed him a path to starting, that temptation to leave could’ve been there. Remember, Daniels was added after Brennan’s announcement. This is Brennan’s last year of eligibility. He’s seeking a path to a starting job. If he felt like the coaching staff favored Daniels or even Nussmeier, Brennan could’ve bounced.
But instead, Kelly played it down the middle. If anything, his post-spring game comments made you believe that Daniels was looking up in the battle. Whether that’s true or not is somewhat irrelevant. Nussmeier looking the part in Year 2 and not transferring was key. Remember, LSU granted him his desire to preserve his redshirt by not playing in the Texas Bowl in order to remain at that 4-game threshold.
There are plenty of factors impacted by LSU’s depth. If Daniels is the starter, Kelly would prefer to have the entire playbook opened up. If Howard could redshirt his true freshman season and avoid being second in command by virtue of transfers/injuries, that would also be ideal. It appears Kelly set himself up well to have plenty of options in Year 1.
The key QB who stayed — Luke Altmyer
Picture this scenario. Jaxson Dart transfers to Ole Miss, tears it up in spring ball and is clearly QB1 in Oxford.
Some sort of assumed that would be the case. But it wasn’t. Instead, we saw in the spring game that this is a legitimate battle, and if anything, Altmyer looks like the guy who has a leg up because of that extra year of experience in Lane Kiffin’s offense. Any notion that a subpar Sugar Bowl showing meant Altmyer wouldn’t be the guy was extremely premature.
The alternative scenario could’ve been that Altmyer felt he was being squeezed out and that someone from his same class was a no-doubter starter. Had that been the case, let’s remember how thin Ole Miss is at quarterback. Matt Corral is obviously gone to the NFL, as is former lightning rod John Rhys Plumlee (UCF). Ole Miss’ 2020 signee Kade Renfro transferred to Arkansas (and switched to receiver) in 2021 and in case that wasn’t enough, Kiffin didn’t sign a 2022 quarterback recruit.
In other words, Altmyer leaving would’ve left 4th year veteran Kinkead Dent (4 career pass attempts) and Dart. That would’ve been a major hurdle in the sport’s toughest division. We know Kiffin typically likes his quarterbacks to be contributors in the ground game. A quarterback room with such little depth would’ve limited that.
Let’s also not gloss over the fact that Dart still needs to show he can be a legitimate SEC starter. Kiffin was honest about some of the ill-advised throws Dart had in the spring game. If Dart wins the job and struggles out of the gate, there’s no guarantee that Kiffin is as loyal to him as he was to Corral amidst that 6-interception game in 2020. Altmyer’s presence gives Ole Miss options. Don’t be surprised if that option ends up being QB1 at some point in 2022.
The key QBs who stayed — Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff
I know seeing Arik Gilbert healthy and looking like the old version of himself was about as big of a spring win as Kirby Smart could’ve asked for, but keeping both of his veteran blue-chip quarterbacks on the roster was even more important.
No matter what anyone tells you, QB1 is Stetson Bennett IV until further notice. Winning a national title changes things. But obviously, there are 2022 implications and beyond with keeping Beck and Vandagriff. In the immediate future, it means Smart will have a legitimate competition for Bennett’s backup. In other words, when UGA fans inevitably get frustrated with a slow offensive first half, they have 2 different backups that they can bang the drum for.
Beck was the best Georgia quarterback in the spring game, though his improvement last year still had him at No. 3 on the depth chart, so who knows that that truly meant. Vandagriff was a bit hit or miss on G-Day after generating plenty of practice buzz in his first school year. After Justin Fields transferred following his true freshman season, it was natural for UGA fans to fear a potential departure with another 5-star like Vandagriff.
Beck and Vandagriff technically have 4 years of eligibility remaining and would be highly coveted on the portal market. Of course, both of them would generate plenty of excitement if they get a chance to start either this season or in a post-Bennett world in 2023.
Who knows? Maybe keeping that possibility alive could be what helps lay the foundation for Smart’s next title.