It’s A New Era For The College Football Quarterback

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Today’s college quarterbacks don’t put down roots like they used to. The minute they feel like they are not going to be the starter, they hit the transfer portal and the NCAA hardship waiver application in order to better their chances to advance their playing careers.

And can you blame them?

If your goal is to one day play in the NFL, you need to prove to owners and coaches at that level that you have what it takes to make a roster. And you can’t exactly do that if you’re riding the bench in college, no matter the amenities they may have.

There are too many transfer quarterbacks in the NCAA to mention them all.

Let’s look at one situation in our own backyard.  Just prior to the start of the season, Washington named Jacob Eason the starting quarterback. Jake Haener was his main competitor for those services.  The same day that head coach Chris Petersen announced that Eason was the starter, he also clarified that he would play both Eason and Haener in the first game, presumably to try and prevent Haener from transferring.  Almost immediately after Petersen’s announcement, Haener announced that he was going to transfer. 

Apparently the head coach announcing publicly that the backup quarterback would definitely play in the first game is not good enough.

Let’s not jump on Haener, as if he’s not doing what quarterbacks all over the country are doing.  Making their own choices to try and get the most out of their football careers. 

Why are coaches going out of their way to let everyone know that they are open to multiple quarterbacks playing in the same game?

It’s because they know how easy it is for them to lose a quarterback to transfer at the drop of a hat.  Used to be that a coach could cultivate a room of quarterbacks, each taking the field at the right maturity, like so many bottles of fine wine.  The problem is, those backup bottles of wine have grown legs, and I’m not talking about what streaks down the sides of your wine glass (I’ll show myself out now).

The point is, coaches are adapting to this new reality.  What more could Peterson have done in that situation? He already said he was playing the top two quarterbacks.  Apparently Haener saw the writing on the wall and decided it was not worth his time to exhaust a year of eligibility to do a token series here and there in garbage time.  He will likely wind up at another college, though probably not of Washington’s stature, where he will play every offensive down. He’ll have ample opportunity to rack up statistics and film footage for NFL scouts and coaches to pore over.  One destination being talked about is Fresno State.

Another approach is that taken by Jim Harbaugh at Michigan this year.  Of course he has said all year that there was a “quarterback battle” between presumed starter, Shea Patterson, and presumed backup, Dylan McCaffrey.  He upped the ante this summer by telling the media—hint, hint, players hear this, too—that he planned to play two quarterbacks in every single game this season!  Leave it to Harbaugh, never one for subtlety.

And sure enough, what did Michigan do last weekend?  They rolled out a whole package of cringe-worthy plays in which McCaffrey was lined up as a wide-out, catching passes.  It’s not exactly a tradeoff between 1 and 1A, now is it?

Of course, there are other schools with zero quarterback drama.  Like Oregon. It’s Justin Herbert and everyone else. No offense to his backups, but they are young, inexperienced, not true quarterbacks, or all of the above.  None of them are in a position to challenge Herbert or to transfer since it’s unclear which other schools might have them. But the situation at Oregon can feel more like the exception than the norm these days.

What are coaches to do? Be creative! Adapt! Figure out ways to get all of your talent onto the field as much as possible and try to do everything you can to make sure your backup talent doesn’t grow bored or start looking around at other potential vacancies.

What are players do to?  Make the decisions that make the most sense for them personally.  Enjoy their lovely playing careers and ride them for as long as they can.  Most will end earlier than they should.

What are fans to do? Enjoy watching the sport you love!  Don’t worry when your favorite quarterback transfers out.  Believe it or not, they don’t exist solely for our entertainment value. 

That’s what chicken wings and hops exist to do.  Don’t get it twisted.  

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About Author

Paul Redman

Paul Redman is a writer and chef in Seattle who grew up in the Midwest. His work has appeared in print and online, including San Francisco magazine, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Contrary. He eats too many chicken wings and cracks way too many dad jokes and food puns. Follow him on Twitter @predman.

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