Griffith's Got Stats: What would you do in this situation?
You’re a highly-recruited high school quarterback who enrolls in a southern university with a top-tier football program. You spend the first two years of your college career backing up another quarterback who leads the team to two national championship games against the same team, losing the first and winning the second. The starting quarterback declares for the NFL draft and has a very productive rookie season until he is sidelined by an ACL tear. You take over the starting job and fare well, going 12-2 as a starter and leading your team to the semifinals of the College Football Playoff, again losing to the same team from before for the third time. Before the new season starts, the undisputed best high school quarterback signs with your school, but you remain the starter. The team goes undefeated through four games, and your coach gives both quarterbacks some playing time, with both playing well. Before the fifth game of the season, your coach names the freshman the starting quarterback. Would you accept the backup role? Or would you transfer out to another school where you could potentially finish your college career as a starter and improve your draft stock?
Let’s say you decide to transfer. You feel like you have a future in the NFL and want to raise your draft stock after one more season of playing. The freshman quarterback gets his first career start at home against a fellow conference member which is also (somewhat surprisingly) undefeated and is more known for its basketball program. The quarterback makes a few miscues before leaving the game with a head injury. The team ends up winning the game by four points but is now on its third-string quarterback. Would you reverse your decision to transfer and stay with the program?
This situation is playing out right now in the college football world at Clemson University with senior quarterback Kelly Bryant, who announced his decision to transfer after freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was announced as the starter for the upcoming game against Syracuse University. Bryant’s main gripe with the decision was that he didn’t feel like he did anything to lose the starting job to Lawrence. When asked about his play in an interview with The Greenville News, Bryant said, “I’m not discrediting Trevor. He’s doing everything asked of him, but on my side of it, I feel like I haven’t done anything to not be the starter. I’ve been here. I’ve waited my turn. I’ve done everything y’all have asked me to do, plus more. I’ve never been a distraction. I’ve never been in trouble with anything. To me, it was kind of a slap in the face.”
While Bryant didn’t play poorly by any means and the Tigers went undefeated, Lawrence simply played better through the first four games of the season. During those games, Bryant had two touchdowns and one interception in 53 pass attempts, while Lawrence had nine touchdowns and two interceptions on 60 attempts. Lawrence played better while the position was in a timeshare, but he fared differently as a starter. Against Syracuse, Lawrence went 10 for 15 for 93 yards and a fumble before he left the game with the injury. The third-string quarterback didn’t fare much better, going 7 for 13 for 83 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. Clemson relied on their running game to beat the Orange, but the Tigers will need better quarterback play to beat other good teams on their schedule, such as an Oct. 20th matchup with undefeated North Carolina State University.
If you look around the country, a similar quarterback controversy is happening with another top team, the same team that beat Clemson twice in the past three years, the University of Alabama. I’ll propose another hypothetical. You are a freshman quarterback who takes over the starting role at your school after the second game, becoming the first true freshman to start for your school in 32 years. You lead your team to an undefeated season where you would lose the College Football Championship to Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers. In your sophomore season, you lead your team to a 13-1 record and beat the same team you lost to in the championship last year in the semifinals, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player in that game. In the College Football National Championship against the University of Georgia, the Bulldogs jump out to an early lead, holding you and your team scoreless in the first half. Hoping for a spark, your coach benches you for the team’s backup quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. The backup plays exceptionally well, throwing for 166 yards and three touchdowns to win the game against the Bulldogs 26-23. Tagovailoa is then named the starting quarterback for the upcoming season. Would you stay at school, or try to transfer to a school where you can start?
This is where the stories differ, as the former starting quarterback at Alabama, Jalen Hurts, elected to stay at Alabama for the upcoming season as the backup to Tagovailoa. It’s interesting to compare the two situations, especially after Hurts’s father said to Bleacher Report at the start of the season that if his son didn’t get the starting job at Alabama, he would be “the biggest free agent in college football history.” Now Hurts is staying, though he will be able to finish his degree at the end of this year and still be eligible to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer. So what would you do in this situation? Wait out the season as a backup? Or take advantage of your talent and try to secure a possible future as a professional?