- From deposed starting quarterbacks to graduates preparing for one last campaign in a new key role, these transfers will have important parts to play in the 2017 season.
It’s often difficult to predict which freshmen will become difference-makers in their first year as college players. There’s redshirting to consider, and roster depth, and the question of how well a player’s talent will translate from the high school game. As far as college football newcomers go, transfers are much easier to analyze, and it’s not nearly as hard to extrapolate what their numbers might look like on new teams.
These newcomers have played before at high levels, and for some reason or another, they’ve decided they need a fresh start. Usually, they fit an immediate need, and sometimes they’ve even been afforded a year of practice before appearing in a game for their new team. Keeping all that in mind, this week we’re looking at the 10 non-Juco transfers who will make the most noise in 2017.
Allen showed flashes of greatness in two seasons at Texas A&M, where as a freshman in 2014 he first lost a quarterback competition to Kenny Hill before winning the spot midseason. In ’15, Allen started 5–0 before effectively losing his job after a three-interception performance against Alabama in October. The Aggies turned to Allen again in November, but after the season he announced his intention to transfer.
At Texas A&M, Allen completed 58.5% of his passes for 3,532 yards and a 33:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He spent last season waiting in the wings at Houston as Greg Ward finished his collegiate career, and now the job is his under new coach Major Applewhite. Even without new Texas coach Tom Herman—and after a somewhat disappointing end to 2016—Houston should compete to win the American Athletic Conference, and having a player with Allen’s upside along with a strong running back and receiving corps makes the Cougars’ offense look like a definite threat.
Think all the way back to early in 2016, when USC started 1–2 and there were questions as to whether Clay Helton might be fired. Max Browne was the Trojans’ starting quarterback, and though he lost the job, it was to Sam Darnold, who’s now considered one of the best in the game at the position. Browne had waited his entire career to start at USC, and his two losses came to Stanford and Alabama—hardly upsets for a team that’s seen about as much instability as any in the past few seasons. Browne graduated from USC last spring, and with a year of eligibility remaining he jumped to Pitt, which has been a popular landing spot for graduate transfer quarterbacks, including Tom Savage and Nathan Peterman.
In just 14 games over three years in Los Angeles, Browne completed 61.6% of his passes for 650 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. A year ago, Pitt had a solid offensive attack thanks to running back James Conner’s resurgent season, but Conner is gone to the NFL along with Peterman, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada took the LSU job this off-season. That leaves the Panthers with several question marks, and the veteran quarterback will have plenty of expectations going into September.
Delaney, a graduate transfer from The Citadel, has the most interesting upside of any player on this list. A 6' 1", 195-pound cornerback, he has the size and speed to play at the highest level of the college game, and last season he led the Southern Conference in interceptions with six. But after a career in FCS ball, he'll have much to prove in Miami.
Delaney will vie for a starting spot in Manny Diaz’s defense, which lost two senior cornerbacks this year. Its most experienced returning player at the position is Malek Young, who started just four games a year ago, so Delaney should have a manageable path to a starting spot. He's already considered an NFL prospect in 2018, and with a great year in the ACC, his stock could soar.
Grier was 6–0 at Florida in 2015 before being suspended a full season for testing positive for a banned substance. With the suspension looming, he elected to transfer, and West Virginia reached an agreement with the NCAA whereby (because Grier sat out a full season) he'd be eligible in Week 1 of 2017 rather than Week 7. With that, the Mountaineers’ job is now his.
At Florida as a freshman, Grier completed 65.6% of his passes for 1,202 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. In West Virginia’s spring game, he went 12 of 18 for 202 yards. In an offense that was plenty good at racking up points without Grier, the dual-threat quarterback should shine, and West Virginia has a chance to contend in the Big 12—should the defense be able to hold up its end of the bargain.
Harris, a former top recruit, had a middling career in three seasons at LSU. As a starter in 2015, he completed 53.8% of his passes for 2,165 yards and 13 touchdowns, but in ’16, he lost his job, playing in two games and completing 52% of his passes. That said, it's hard to pin the Tigers' offensive struggles on the quarterback; their offense was often stagnant even with a running game anchored by Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.
At North Carolina, Harris will succeed Mitchell Trubisky, who started for just one season before going No. 2 in April’s NFL draft. A graduate transfer, Harris is immediately eligible, and he should fit in better in the Tar Heels’ up-tempo offense than he did at LSU. Harris has always had a bit of an accuracy problem, though, throwing six interceptions in 2015 and two in two games a year ago, and he’ll have to work on limiting turnovers if he hopes to turn his career around in Chapel Hill.
Wisconsin needs to replace running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, who last year combined for 1,881 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. James, who sat out last season in Madison after the transfer, should fit well into a new two-man rushing attack with Bradrick Shaw, who had 457 yards in 2016.
In 2014 and ’15 at Pitt, James averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and in his sophomore season he developed into more of a receiving threat, with seven catches for 48 yards. That’ll come in handy for the Badgers, who expected Clement and Ogunbowale to occasionally get involved with the passing game.
Nelson, who sat last season after transferring from Hawai’i, already faces high expectations heading into his first season with the Badgers. He’s set to replace Sojourn Shelton, who started four years for Wisconsin, as the No. 1 cornerback in a secondary that lost two of its key veteran players in Shelton and safety Leo Musso. Former No. 3 cornerback Natrell Jameson has moved to safety to replace Musso, and under new coordinator Jim Leonhard, the Badgers’ defense isn’t expected to miss much of a beat despite the personnel changes.
In two seasons at Hawai’i, Nelson started 21 games, with 67 total tackles, a sack and 20 passes defensed. Fifteen of those passes defensed came in his sophomore season, when he started 13 games.
Badet is a graduate transfer from Kentucky whose presence should go a long way in alleviating the pain the Sooners could feel from their high-profile offensive departures, most notably Dede Westbrook. Badet had 31 catches for a team-high 670 yards last year. His 21.6 yards per reception were highest of any receiver in the SEC, and he scored four touchdowns.
In an offense that relies even more on the passing game, it's easy to imagine Badet will improve upon those numbers with the Sooners. Last season, Westbrook had 1,524 yards on 80 receptions, and the Sooners attempted 383 passes, averaging more than five more passing attempts per game than Kentucky did.
Stidham is almost certainly the most intriguing transfer player in college football in 2017, and his upside is the highest of the bunch. As a freshman at Baylor in ’15, he stepped in for an injured Seth Russell and threw for 934 yards and six touchdowns in three starts before injuring his ankle. He missed the rest of the year, and when the Baylor football program imploded in the spring of 2016, culminating in Art Briles being fired, Stidham announced his intention to transfer. He's been at Auburn since December.
In the Tigers’ spring game, he completed 80% of his passes for 267 yards, and even with the abundance of quarterbacks on Auburn’s depth chart, the job should be his. Stidham has an impressive arm even if he isn’t exceedingly mobile, and his presence has the potential to push Auburn to the top of the SEC this fall.
Zaire, the former Notre Dame quarterback, hasn’t played since September 2015, and it took until June for him to solidify Gainesville as his official 2017 landing spot. The SEC had to amend a rule about graduate transfers to get him to Florida, but now that he's there, the former Irish standout may be what Jim McElwain needs to get his team over the hump in the SEC.
Zaire's playing time has been limited thus far, though every time he's gotten a chance in the spotlight, he's played well. He made just three starts for Notre Dame, in the Music City Bowl after the 2014 season and early in ’15 before he broke his leg. From there, DeShone Kizer won the job and kept it through ’16. Overall, Zaire has completed 58.2% of his passes for 816 yards and six touchdowns and has never thrown an interception in his college career.