What if I told you there was a place where Georgia Southern could win recruits over Georgia? What if UAB could consistently win recruits over Alabama in this society?
This lede isn't the start of a new ESPN 30 for 30. Though, when a Group of Five team wins the National Championship, it could be. For now, it's still a real tangible thing that needs some discussing.
FCS Transfers at a Glance
Recently, FCS QB Dakota Prukop decided to transfer to Oregon over Alabama. Another talented player taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule that gives players the chance to play right away.
For the second straight season, the Ducks will get an FCS quarterback because I guess they've decided to stop recruiting high school quarterbacks. (This could be a better route to go, but that's another story for another day.) The Ducks are hopeful that Prukop can mimic the success of Vernon Adams, who was mostly outstanding when healthy. The important thing to note from this? No Group of Five teams offered the kid nor did he visit any of these schools.
Prukop attended Montana State, which is bordered by Group of Five schools like Boise State, Idaho and Wyoming. Now, clearly, it would have been difficult for a G5 school to hold off an Oregon or Alabama. But they do have an advantage.
They could have laid recruiting groundwork much earlier than Oregon or Alabama, who came at him late, and they could have guaranteed immediate and significant playing time. At Alabama or Oregon, the player is told that he'll have the chance to "come in and compete."
It would be difficult, but it would be impossible if these schools never truly make an effort to do it.
It could be argued that a quarterback at Memphis would be granted loyalty or more rope to make mistakes than one at Alabama. That could be based on the talent behind them on the depth chart, the talent they are facing, or pressure to win immediately.
Oregon's Vernon Adams Jr ended up finishing a stellar season but had his troubles early on. After a 2-7 passing start against Utah, Adams was pulled for Jeff Lockie and didn't return for two weeks. After returning, he won the rest of the games left on the Ducks' schedule.
It worked out for him, but for others, it may not. What happens if the player never sees the field again? You know what happens.
Obviously, they are gone, forgotten and any chance at them playing in the pros is a dream that has died. That's sad and doesn't always have to be the case. If you're telling me a Group of Five coach couldn't look at that experiment, make that pitch, then win a potential transfer over, I'm going to tell you they aren't a great recruiter. The argument for Group of Five schools is made much easier because these players have one season to show their skill-set to pro scouts.
This theory is both the least auspicious and just the start of the argument for Group of Five schools abusing the graduate transfer rule as much as possible. The other view of this case goes beyond looking at FCS transfers and looking at the graduate transfer system as a whole.
The "Forgotten Ones"
In 2014, Athlon Sports listed several players as the most important college football transfers. Let's take a look at a random few: QB Conner Brewer, who went from Texas to Arizona, QB Jake Heaps who went from Kansas to Miami, QB Matt Joeckel to TCU from Texas A&M, and RB Rushel Shell from Pittsburgh to West Virginia,
A simple search through recruiting services reveals that Group of Five schools didn't attempt to contact even one of these players. Or at least, they never got to offering them a scholarship. Why? Did they shy off when the bare mention of big time programs came about? Did they not remember my pitch about playing time, about having success? That becomes even more apparent when you take a look at what these players did once they transferred to their new Universities.
QB Conner Brewer: Failed to win quarterback competition, never played a snap at Arizona, and transferred to Virginia. Played in one game during career at Virginia and completed 4 of 8 passes for 32 yards. He was a former four-star prospect.
QB Jake Heaps: Also never won the quarterback competition. Threw 12 total passes during his career at Miami and is now on an NFL roster (!!!) for the New York Jets. He was a former four-star prospect and the #1 rated player in the state of Washington. Could he have improved his draft position with more snaps?
QB Matt Joeckel: Played in four total games during his career at TCU, was pretty decent. He threw 21 total passes for 469 yards and one touchdown. The problem? He wasn't Trevone Boykin, but he was a former three-star prospect.
RB Rushel Shell: The most successful of this group. He was a cog in a crowded backfield who ran for 677 yards on 152 carries and eight touchdowns, which would easily make him a 1,000-yard runner if he got the carries he deserved. He has another year remaining where he could climb draft boards, or he could leave early. What if he goes to a school where he's the feature back, leaves one year early, and doesn't have to endure another season of physical harm? That could have been the best scenario for Shell. We are, after all, supposed to be looking out for the best interest of the players, right?
In some instances, highly touted guys just don't work out. Sometimes, the players just can't adjust to the ranks of college football. It happens, but it's rare. The four above are just a few examples of highly touted guys who for no reason at all simply fell shy of their potential. When you see this happen again and again, it becomes less about the talent of the player and more about the system.
Let me explain something to you:
When highly touted players come into a program as high school recruits, they are given every chance to understand a system. Sometimes that happens through playing time and making mistakes. These chances weren't given to these players. If Matt Joeckel, who is from Arlington, Texas, transferred to North Texas instead, who knows what happens? Maybe he blows up and at least gets a look from NFL scouts instead of being forgotten. The talent was obviously there, it didn't just disappear; maybe his confidence did when he was pulled just for missing a route across the middle?
If you're good enough, the NFL will find you. If you're playing against FCS talent, the NFL will find you, and you'll get that chance to play at the highest level.
That's the pitch these coaches have to make when they go after these players. Of course, these coaches must go after these players. That would certainly be an important aspect in all of this.
So Why Aren't Group of Five Coaches Abusing This Rule and Chasing Every Transfer Possible?
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In short, I have no freaking clue. Even if they miss out on 75% of these guys, they are getting 25%. This is coming from of a more talented pool then they'll usually compete in. When recruiting high school athletes, the talent pool is so small for many of these programs.
North Texas is not getting a four-star player to come play for them, Houston isn't (yet?) getting a five-star player to play for them. Of course, you'll get the extreme exceptions, but this is pretty much par for this course.
Playing this card simply gives schools access to a talent field they never had access to before.
Of course, some guys transfer to Group of Five schools and no surprise, they reap the benefits. Just look at Phillip Ely at Toledo, who moved from Alabama. He threw for 2,680 yards and 21 touchdowns during his senior season for the Rockets.
How about Andrew Hendrix, who transferred from Notre Dame to Miami (OH) and then threw for 3,640 yards and 24 touchdowns? Sometimes things don't exactly translate to playing in the pros, but guys still have strong career finishes; see Jeff Driskel at Louisiana Tech.
Do these seasons ever happen if these quarterbacks transfer to some big time program? Who knows, they may never get that chance. Players can sometimes maximize snaps and maximize pro potential when they go to places where they actually will start from day one.
It was Wayne Gretzky who said you miss 100% of shots you don't take. It was probably also Wayne Gretzky who placed that quote in like, every grade school classroom in the world.
Coaches of Group of Five programs should follow that advice with this recruiting scheme. The numbers favor them, the situation favors them and sometimes things just make too much sense. Listen to logic, Group of Five coaches, It'll serve you well.