When Kliff Kingsbury started at quarterback for Texas Tech for three seasons in the early 2000s, three of his backups, B.J. Symons, Sonny Cumbie and Cody Hodges, all waited their turns before finally starting one season as seniors.
Klingsbury knows that would likely never happen today. Now the Red Raiders' head coach, he's had three quarterbacks transfer since the end of the regular season, all of them freshmen or sophomores who grew tired of fighting for a starting job that now belongs to Holiday Bowl MVP Davis Webb.
"Only one quarterback can be on the field at one time, and they all want to play. I understand," said Kingsbury. "More and more they want to play earlier. I can empathize with that a bit, but you wish it was different."
That prevailing impatience among young quarterbacks coupled with more upperclassmen taking advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer waiver (for example, former Wisconsin one-year wonder Russell Wilson) has turned college football's quarterback carousel into a virtual waiver wire. More than 20 quarterbacks have already transferred out of or into a BCS-conference program since the end of the season, and there will presumably be another round after depth charts come into focus in upcoming spring practices.
At quarterback, those depth charts increasingly consist of one veteran followed by a true or redshirt freshman.
"They're more spaced out," said Kingsbury. "If you look around the country there's not a lot of rosters that have a senior, junior, and sophomore [quarterback] on the roster. If a guy is one year behind another and the other guy's starting, he's not going to stick around."
All of which made it borderline startling when Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops announced earlier this month that rising senior Blake Bell -- who started eight games last season but was unlikely to beat breakout Sugar Bowl star Trevor Knight for the job -- would not transfer elsewhere for his final season. Instead, the 6-foot-6, 252-pound "Belldozer" has volunteered to move to tight end.
Bell is on track to graduate in May, which means he could have transferred without having to sit out a season. Some team replacing its starting quarterback would have snapped up Bell, who won games at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State last season. But according to the Oklahoman, Bell told his parents during a visit home after the bowl game, "I want to stay at Oklahoma" but "I don't want to be a backup." Upon returning to campus he met with offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and discussed the position change.
"It was [Bell's] idea," said coach Bob Stoops. "All guys are different. There are no guarantees if you go somewhere else it will be better. If you watched Blake on this team the last several years, he's a great teammate. He knows [Knight] is the right direction for the whole team and that it's the right way to go. He wants to be part of it."
Stoops' program has also been part of this offseason's quarterback hot stove league, losing one and gaining another. Last month third-year sophomore Kendal Thompson, son of famed Sooners quarterback Charles Thompson, announced he'll graduate in May and play elsewhere, presumably because of Knight's ascension. However, a quarterback with Big 12 starting experience also landed in OU's lap.
In December, Baker Mayfield, the true freshman walk-on who started seven games for Texas Tech last season, became the first of Kingsbury's trio to bolt. Citing a "lack of communication" from Kingsbury during his season-long derby with Webb and Michael Brewer (who also transferred), Mayfield, a self-proclaimed Sooners fan from Austin, Texas, opted to walk on at Oklahoma. He made his decision without contacting Stoops' staff and despite the fact he'll lose a year of eligibility by transferring to another Big 12 school.
"I thought I needed more of a chance, and I wasn't getting it," Mayfield told ESPN.com. "And they were splitting the reps equally [in bowl practices] so that was the last straw."
Sore feelings are a common thread when it comes to quarterbacks and playing time. After Texas Tech rejected his appeal to transfer to in-state Big 12 schools Texas and TCU without restrictions, Brewer accused the Tech medical staff of misdiagnosing a back injury that sidelined him for the first part of last season. In December, Florida's Tyler Murphy, who took over for injured starter Jeff Driskel in the third game last season and made six starts before suffering his own season-ending injury, stunned Gators coach Will Muschamp with his decision to bolt. In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Murphy's father, Peter, said he didn't believe Tyler would get a fair shot at the starting job next season when Driskel returned and accused the program of mishandling Murphy's shoulder injury. Murphy, entering his last year of eligibility, graduated in December and transferred to Boston College.
Elsewhere, another graduate transfer, Jacob Coker, left Florida State could become departed star AJ McCarron's successor this fall. The Alabama native, who has two years of eligibility remaining, competed for the Seminoles' starting job last summer with soon-to-be Heisman winner Jameis Winston. USC's Max Wittek, who last started in the 2012 Sun Bowl, will also be eligible to play this fall and visited Texas last weekend.
Because of NCAA rules regarding tampering, transferring players often initiate contact with potential new schools, and in doing so, regularly reach out to coaches they already know. That's how Oregon State's Mike Riley wound up with two unanticipated quarterback additions. Luke Del Rio, who redshirted as a freshman walk-on last season at Alabama, has already joined the Beavers; and Zach Kline, who spent the past two seasons at Cal, will reportedly do the same. Riley's program offered scholarships to both as high school recruits.
When Del Rio (son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio) informed Riley last winter of his Alabama plan, the Oregon State coach told him: "If anything changes, give me a call. I thought maybe I'd get a call a week later, not a year later."
The call came at an ideal time. Last season Riley enjoyed the unusual luxury of carrying both a standout starter, Sean Mannion, and a backup with starting experience, fifth-year senior Cody Vaz, on his roster. With Vaz gone, the Beavers will likely enter this season with a trio of freshmen (Kyle Kempt, who redshirted last season, and incoming signees Marcus McMaryion and Nick Mitchell) backing up Mannion, who is in his final season of eligibility. Del Rio and Kline must sit out this season but could compete for the starting job in 2015.
"We had no idea going into January that it would look like this," Riley said of his fluctuating depth chart.
"... The one thing that we have always tried to recruit is one [quarterback] a year. I'm breaking my own rule right now," said Riley. "If you get too many quarterbacks you inhibit their development because they don't get many turns [in practice]. They get frustrated. It's hard. So I try to keep that [position] room small, but you also have to be ready for a season and cover your bases."
At Texas Tech, Kingsbury is preparing for a season with his own overhauled quarterback depth chart. Earlier this month the program signed three-star prospect Patrick Mahomes "for a grand total of two" scholarship QBs, said the coach. For a second straight year he'll count on developing one or more walk-ons like he did Webb and Mayfield. He prefers that route to combing the QB free agent market.
"I haven't looked at the waiver wire," he said. "But there's a bunch of guys out there looking for a place to play."