It should always start with transferring quarterbacks, because quarterbacks so often determine whether a Saturday night on campus will turn out rowdy or sullen. For ease of comprehension, these quarterbacks can divide into subgroups.
There’s the preposterous-stats group, and it’s a group of one this year. Sam Hartman threw for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns at Wake Forest, the latter a record for all the stars and schlubs who have ever thrown in the ACC, but he took his brain and arm to Notre Dame. He is already underway with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 19-for-23, 251-yard performance against Navy in Week Zero in Ireland, plus the mirth of spending Week Zero in Ireland.
Marquee openers were a staple of college football. This year, there’s only one.
With transfers so fashionable, the new season boasts six men in the category of three-schoolers. They are the accomplished vagabonds unafraid of plural transferring. Long, long ago, Tanner Mordecai began at Oklahoma, where he completed 50 of 70 passes, which is a fine percentage but maybe not ideal across three seasons. He transferred to SMU and threw 897 times across two campaigns (completing 596 for 7,152 yards and 72 touchdowns), and you might remember Nov. 5, when he threw for a mere nine touchdowns against Houston.
Now he’s at Wisconsin with its splendid new coach, Luke Fickell, but if Mordecai throws for nine touchdowns one day in Madison, it still will not boost the national ranking of the game-day atmosphere in Madison, because there’s nowhere to rise from No. 1.
Kedon Slovis, who seems to have transferred more than twice, has done so only twice: from Southern California to Pittsburgh for last season and to BYU for this season. Jack Plummer went from Purdue to California for last season and to Louisville for this, and reunites with new Cardinals coach Jeff Brohm, who coached him at Purdue, then helped him transfer to California when somebody else at Purdue became QB1. Alan Bowman went from Texas Tech (three number-rich seasons) to Michigan (two lean-number seasons) to Oklahoma State. Phil Jurkovec went from Notre Dame (two lean-number seasons) to Boston College (three number-rich seasons) to Pitt, which Slovis just departed. It’s worth a mention of Casey Thompson, who played for Tom Herman at Texas, then went to Nebraska for a season before landing at Florida Atlantic where Herman, ousted so rudely from Texas after four seasons, turned up.
JT Daniels has outdone them all, transferring three times since starting his career at Southern California in 2018 as the nation’s top-ranked recruit. He spent two seasons with the Trojans, then two more with Georgia and one with West Virginia before arriving this year at Rice, which will have to be his final stop.
With each new season anymore, the mainstays the casual fan might have pinpointed at certain places turn up at other places. They’re the gone mainstays.
DJ Uiagalelei, a former No. 1 recruit, became a presence at Clemson right from the moment he excelled one night in 2020 up at Notre Dame, but it didn’t go as if it seemed it would go, so he is at Oregon State with its wondrous coach and former Oregon State quarterback, Jonathan Smith. Devin Leary had four seasons at North Carolina State and became part of the Raleigh topography (6,807 passing yards), but now he’s at Kentucky. Into that spot in Raleigh goes Brennan Armstrong after five seasons at Virginia, and after 4,449 passing yards in 2021 led to 2,210 with a new coaching staff in 2022, making relocation rather a screaming necessity.
When Michigan State nudged Wisconsin, 34-28, in two overtimes in October in East Lansing, two-season Spartans starter Payton Thorne threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, while three-season Badgers starter Graham Mertz threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
If only Auburn and Florida were scheduled to play in 2023, Thorne (Auburn) and Mertz (Florida) might have held a postgame conversation in stuffier humidity.
College football best bets: LSU-Florida State could be a shootout
And one Shedeur Sanders rang up sparkling numbers in two seasons steering Jackson State (6,963 passing yards, 70 touchdowns to 14 interceptions), but now he’s at Colorado.
His father, a head coach, made the same move.
Some transfers bring along either light or not-bad numbers from the previous place, where somebody else usually played ahead of them, and they’re the slighted, with their all-time bright light perhaps Joe Burrow (Ohio State to LSU in 2018). Hudson Card just headed from Texas to Purdue, Tayven Jackson from Tennessee to Indiana, Donovan Smith from Texas Tech to Houston, Haynes King from Texas A&M to Georgia Tech, Luke Altmyer from Mississippi to Illinois and Sam Jackson V from TCU to California (to try to take Plummer’s spot).
That’s not to mention the quarterback-rich schools that have stayed vague about their 2023 starter, such as Mississippi choosing between a transfer from late 2021 (Jaxson Dart, from Southern California) and a transfer from early 2023 (Spencer Sanders, from 9,553 passing yards in four seasons at Oklahoma State). Or Alabama, which has gone secretive about its depth charts, with maybe a non-transfer (Jalen Milroe), a transfer (Tyler Buchner, from Notre Dame), a non-transfer (Ty Simpson) or a true freshman (Dylan Lonergan).
And that’s not to mention the bushel of quarterbacks who already transferred in previous offseasons and have dug in already for more than one season at second places, such as Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams (Oklahoma to Southern California), Bo Nix (Auburn to Oregon), Jayden Daniels (Arizona State to LSU), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma to South Carolina), Joe Milton III (Michigan to Tennessee), Quinn Ewers (Ohio State to Texas) and Taulia Tagovailoa (Alabama to Maryland).
Other positions factor into this latest episode of ‘So Where the Hell Is Everybody Now,’ but they can be harder to gauge for potential. Linebacker Dasan McCullough went from Indiana to Oklahoma and has drawn some raves. Defensive end Jordan Burch went from South Carolina to Oregon, which seems good for Oregon. Wideouts ran patterns across the map: Adonai Mitchell from Georgia to Texas after catching a touchdown in the national title game (but then, most everybody did); Dont’e Thornton from Oregon (17 catches) to Tennessee after the great Jalin Hyatt headed for the New York Giants; Dorian Singer from Arizona (where he led the Pac-12 with 1,105 receiving yards) to Southern California. Two-time defending national champion Georgia lost people, and it gained people, such as receiver Dominic Lovett from Missouri (56 catches for 846 yards last year).
Travis Hunter, the most coveted recruit from the winter of 2021-22, the cornerback and wide receiver who made a landmark by choosing Jackson State, left Jackson State for Colorado, following Deion Sanders, who pretty much oversees his own transfer portal.
It’s all a part of how America’s weirdest sport taxes the brain more than it ever has, especially those minds seasoned enough to have spent years perceiving things in four-year increments. It’s an exercise even without considering that the Big 12 will spend 2022 through 2024 going from 10 teams to 14 (this year) to 12 (briefly) to 16 (eventually), or the Pac-12 will go from 12 to probably kaput. It’s where-the-hell, in a race with what-the-hell.