QB transfer chaos: How Russell Wilson changed college football

In December, college football fans were stunned when a flurry of transfers -- many of them quarterbacks who were eligible to play immediately -- took over the news cycle.

Trevor Knight was going from Oklahoma to Texas A&M, where he could play right away. And Oregon, for a second straight year, locked up an FCS star, Montana State's Dakota Prukop, who's the favorite to take over the Ducks' high-powered offense.

Such moves have created a tension between recruiting for the long-term (blue-chip high school quarterbacks) and looking for the quick fix (fifth-year grad transfers). So where do we go from here?

Let's start at the beginning and look at the future NFL star responsible for shaking up the idea of where schools could look to find a starting quarterback.


Though it's former NC State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson who often gets the credit for bringing the graduate transfer rule to the forefront of college football players, coaches and fans' minds, the credit might be due elsewhere.

After all, it was Mike Glennon who got the job that forced Wilson out and made him look at other options on the college football landscape. Without Glennon, maybe there would be no Wilson Effect.

It's a similar situation now for so many graduate transfer quarterbacks -- players who might get beat out or have a better opportunity elsewhere; a chance to start or compete better at another school; an opportunity for more exposure to boost an individual's NFL Draft stock.

But when Wilson transferred in 2011, he left because he had lost a spot. The NCAA rule he utilized was created in 2005 as a proposal that was meant to reward student-athletes who had graduated early and had eligibility remaining. But by 2006 the rule was gone, and not brought back until 2010 as a waiver process.

In 2011 it was back, but conferences were split. The Mountain West said yes. The SEC said absolutely not. But now it's widely accepted (and used) across every conference.

Last year in the ACC, Everett Golson appeared at Florida State. In the Big Ten, Jake Rudock graduate transferred in-conference from Iowa to Michigan. In the Pac-12, Vernon Adams, who had wrecked a few Pac-12 defenses at Eastern Washington, committed to Oregon. In SEC country, Jake Coker found his way to Alabama, and Greyson Lambert moved to Georgia.

This year Oregon has taken another graduate transfer in Prukop. Former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb graduate transferred to Colorado and Texas A&M landed Knight.

Over the past year and moving forward, it's clear that the popularity and usability of graduate transfers is exploding. But where do we go from here?


The most high-profile graduate transfer of last season was Oregon snagging Adams.

First, there was the element that he was coming from the FCS level to the FBS level. Add on top of that all the general comparisons between Adams and Wilson (undersized, shifty, graduate transfers). Finally, his math exam that he needed to pass to qualify for Oregon put the Ducks in the spotlight time and time again, as his transfer came down to the 11th hour for Mark Helfrich & Co.

Then, this winter, the Ducks hit the headlines again when they took a second consecutive FCS graduate transfer in Prukop.

"What I'm telling kids is to take the academic side very seriously, get yourself in position to graduate early. Your primary focus should be, 'Let's take advantage of the opportunity we have that allows us that extra spring semester and the extra summer school to get ourselves ahead and be in that much better position to take advantage of things, if they go awry, down the road.'"

QB coach Steve Clarkson

Analysts and writers wondered if Helfrich was on to something -- a new proving ground of quarterback recruiting. The Ducks had proven they could develop their own guy with Marcus Mariota, but they also proved they could develop a graduate transfer in three weeks of fall camp with Adams.

Could they be on to something? Two years is a bit short to call a trend, but it's obviously a route that Helfrich isn't shy about pursuing and given how well it worked for the Ducks last season, it's understandable why.

Add to Adams' success that of Coker's and Rudock's (a national title and Citrus Bowl title are nothing to scoff at) and there's a decent argument to be made that the pros of taking a graduate transfer far outweigh the cons for the individual schools. Golson, on the other hand, didn't have that level of success and was largely ineffective at Florida State.

Even coaches who don't like the new system find themselves admitting that it's a good idea.

"I'm not necessarily a fan of it, but with players' rights and all those deals, it's not going away," one Power 5 coach said. "You're wise to look at it. I bet every coach would tell you that."

Said another Power 5 coach: "It's something that I wouldn't rule out, but I'd try to avoid. I'd try to have someone I recruited, that redshirted that I worked with who followed a good example set for him. ... That's what I would prefer. And not by a little. By a lot."

But the biggest question posed at the successes of the Adams' and Coker's and Rudock's of the world is why did those schools -- schools that have historically (or quite recently) been so successful -- need to turn to an outsider for the most important position on the field? What went wrong in their own development and quarterback depth building that there wasn't a player to step in after Mariota left? After Sims left? After Jameis Winston left?

"I think it's an issue with developing," one high school coach said. "I think it definitely looks negative as far as a program's ability to develop a young man."

That coach said it's something he has urged his players to ask college coaches on the recruiting trail -- how apt they might be to take a graduate transfer over a lump year from a developing quarterback. It's impossible, he admits, to predict whether a school will go that route or not but already certain coaches might be showing trends in one direction or the other.


Steve Clarkson, widely regarded as the most high-profile high school quarterback guru in the nation, agrees that it's impossible to predict whether a graduate transfer may or may not end up at a certain school. So there's not a lot of use in a player asking a coach for his feelings on it.

So, he explains to recruits, don't waste time thinking about it. Don't worry about what the system might do to you, but rather think about how you can use the system to you benefit. Namely: How can you, the quarterback, graduate early and take advantage of the graduate transfer landscape if that's what you decide to do?

"What I'm telling kids is to take the academic side very seriously, get yourself in position to graduate early," Clarkson said. "Your primary focus should be 'Let's take advantage of the opportunity we have that allows us that extra spring semester and the extra summer school to get ourselves ahead and be in that much better position to take advantage of things, if they go awry, down the road.' "

The first part of this puzzle is getting players on campuses early and the trend toward that has already been growing for a few years.

In 2013, there were fewer than 25 high school quarterbacks who early enrolled. This year, there are 41 total high school quarterbacks who will enroll early. Of those 41 high school quarterbacks, 35 will enroll at Power 5 schools, meaning that this year more quarterbacks will early enroll than not -- and that's not even counting the junior college or transferring quarterbacks, either.

Unsurprisingly, that's similar to the advice Adams -- who almost missed the opportunity to play at Oregon due to academics -- would give players, as well.

"The most important thing is getting a degree, whether you're going to transfer or not," Adams said. "You should try to get your degree in four years. ... Don't be cutting classes and just getting by. Do what you have to do and get that degree. Then, if you want to leave, you leave."