With spring football upon us, CFB’s version of free agency is in full swing.
While all of the pieces haven’t finished falling into place, here’s my annual look at five newcomers who’ve made their way to group of five programs and how they’ll factor in their team’s success.
1. Brandon Wimbush-UCF
The Knights have hit the jackpot via transfer the past two seasons.
First, with Mike Hughes in 2017, followed by the dynamic Tre Nixon last season.
College football’s G5 darling (or annoyance depending on your point of view) will look to make their third straight New Year Six bowl game and Wimbush may play an gargantuan factor in those efforts.
With McKenzie Milton out for the foreseeable future, Wimbush and Darriel Mack Jr. will compete for the starting quarterback spot.
The 6-2, 225-pound Notre Dame transfer brings a mountain of talent and athleticism to Josh Heupel’s spread attack.
The key will be consistency.
While Wimbush had 20 touchdown passes for the Fighting Irish, he only completed 52.2 percent of his passes. Those numbers aren’t necessarily a reflection on Wimbush, as only two signal-callers under Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly have completed above 62 percent of their passes.
If Wimbush wins the job and Heupel can get the most out of him, it’s likely, you’ll be seeing the Knights on New Year’s Day for the third straight year.
2. Shane Buechele-SMU
Three years ago, it looked like Shane Buechele might be the next great quarterback at the University of Texas.
However, Charlie Strong was fired, Sam Ehlinger burst onto the scene, and Buechele now makes his way 200 miles north to Dallas and SMU.
Yes, William Brown did supplant Ben Hicks as the starter. Decisively enough to send Hicks to Arkansas.
However, there’s no denying that if Buechele can pick up the offense, he’s the more capable signal-caller at this point in both players’ careers.
Sonny Dykes’ squad finished one game shy of a bowl berth in ‘18 and returns one of the American’s most dynamic pass-catchers in James Proche. Buechele may be the difference for the Mustangs hopes in the AAC.
3. Jalen McCleskey-Tulane
It’s not often that a top-10 performer in any category for a program ends up finishing his career elsewhere.
But that’s the case with the 5-10, 175-pound McCleskey.
He leaves Oklahoma State, sixth all-time in catches (167) and ninth in receiving touchdowns (17). The former three-star prospect will join an already dangerous receiving corps, with Darnell Mooney.
If Tulane can get a full season of consistent QB play from Southern Miss transfer Keon Howard, or incumbent starter Justin McMillan, the Green Wave will be a great position to challenge in the American.
Adding an accomplished target like McCleskey will only help Willie Fritz in challenging UCF for the AAC crown.
4. Brett Kean-Charlotte
I’m all-in on the Charlotte 49er (don’t call them UNCC, UNC-Charlotte or any other variation) program.
After seeing the campus and Jerry Richardson Stadium first-hand last season, I believe that first-year head coach Will Healy is sitting on a proverbial goldmine (pun intended).
The addition of Kean creates a quarterback competition, but more importantly, assures that Charlotte will have a capable signal caller in 2019.
One could argue, had Charlotte had consistent QB play last season, the 49ers would have made a bowl game last season.
Kean spent three seasons in Tampa behind Quinton Flowers and Blake Barnett at South Florida.
Now, he’s looking to take advantage of his final season in Charlotte.
Should he win the job, he’ll have arguably C-USA’s top running back in Ben Lemay, plus a pair of talented wideouts in Victor Tucker and Rico Arnold.
The former three-star recruit will have to compete with Chris Reynolds, who, looked good when healthy last season and what he lacks in size, he makes up for in sheer will.
5. Jordan Hayes-UCF
If you were sick of UCF after last season, I apologize in advance for you having to see the Knights again on this list.
I was torn between Hayes and Art Thompkins of UConn.
However, to be honest, one running back isn’t going to change how abysmal the Huskies were. But for UCF, this is a case of the rich getting richer.
Their secondary very well may be the strongest unit on the team.
While they lost star safety Kyle Gibson, they return three starters in the defensive backfield and the addition of Hayes only gives them more depth.
The former Duke Blue Devil recorded 97 tackles during his 23 games in Durham.
He’ll have to compete with Aaron Robinson and Antwan Collier for playing time, but neither player has the starting experience that Hayes brings.
If he is able to win the other safety spot, he has the potential to be playmaker amongst a defense that has its share of those already.