With Tua Tagovailoa back in Tuscaloosa for at least one more season, Jalen Hurts could be on the move.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts has a 26–2 record as a starter, but after being benched in last year's national championship game, he spent this year relegated to a backup role behind eventual Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa. The Crimson Tide’s resulting run of dominant play suggests—but does not guarantee—that Hurts will be the latest high-profile quarterback to look for a new school this offseason.
The junior signal caller from Houston, Texas, remained at Alabama this season instead of transferring mid-year, but with his talent—he led the Tide to two consecutive national championship game appearances in 2016 and 2017—and the needs of several perennial powers, it’s hard to envision him staying with the program and spending his final year of eligibility handling mop-up duty for Tagovailoa. There is a good chance he will hit the player movement market a graduate transfer after this year's national title game.
Here is everything you need to know about Hurts’s situation if that does happen:
Why he stayed this year
After starting out the 2016 season opener as the backup, Hurts quickly separated himself as the Crimson Tide's best option at quarterback during his impressive freshman campaign, then started all 14 games as a sophomore before five-star freshman Tagovailoa took over at halftime of the 2017 national championship game to lead Alabama to a comeback win over Georgia.
Saban let speculation swirl all off season as to which player would start for the Tide this season. That question was finally answered with Tagovailoa's impressive performance in Alabama's season-opener against Louisville. Hurts came in for situational work and led the offense once a lead was secured.
After losing his job to Tagovailoa—who went on to finish second in the Heisman voting as a sophomore—Hurts chose to stay in Tuscaloosa rather than transfer during the season. The NCAA’s new redshirt rules would have permitted him to retain this year of eligibility if he had played four games or fewer, but the junior chose to stay with his team and support Tagovailoa.
How it's gone
Having Hurts on the sideline was key for Alabama in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, when Tagovailoa left with an ankle injury after an ineffective start. In a reversal of last year's national championship game, Hurts came in and led the Tide back to a win that got them into the College Football Playoff.
Hurts returned to his backup duties in the semifinal game against Oklahoma. Playing in 12 games this season going into the College Football Playoff national championship game, Hurts has completed 51-of-68 passing attempts this season for 765 yards and eight touchdowns to two interceptions, but his limited role has led to rumors of a possible transfer for his senior season. At the national championship game media day in San Jose, Hurts kept quiet on his next move: “That doesn’t have anything to do with Clemson so I don’t know what to say.”
Potential landing spots
Hurts's father, Averion, told Bleacher Report last spring that if his son didn't win back the starting job, he could become "the biggest free agent in college football history." If Hurts were to turn that statement into a reality at the end of this season as a graduate transfer, here are a few potential landing spots.
Hurts has a relationship with new Terps head coach Mike Locksley, who served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator this year.
The Vols are led by another face familiar to Hurts–former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, now Tennessee's head coach. Offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy also made the move from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville earlier this year. Pruitt’s lack of an offensive coordinator as the offseason begins is an unsettling development, to say the least.
The Sooners have had a string of success with transfer quarterbacks, with 2017 Heisman winner and current Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and 2018 Heisman winner Kyler Murray. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley found a way to fit both into his program after both started somewhere else–Mayfield at Texas Tech and Murray at Texas A&M. If Murray decides to forgo his senior season for the MLB or NFL, Hurts could be the next great Oklahoma transfer.
With quarterback Jarrett Stidham's decision to forgo his senior season and enter the draft, there's an immediate opening in the Tigers program. Hurts could be a good fit for Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced, run-first system, but he would have to beat out the incumbents, junior Malik Willis and sophomore Joey Gatewood, as well as five-star incoming freshman Bo Nix.
Former Canes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz takes over after Mark Richt’s surprise retirement, and one of his first tasks will be figuring out the way forward at quarterback after N'Kosi Perry failed to wrest the job away from aggressively mediocre senior Malik Rosier.
How transferring works
Hurts graduated in December and has already announced that he has applied to graduate school in Tuscaloosa. Given that Hurts will be a graduate transfer, he can be immediately eligible to play should he decide to transfer. Per NCAA Bylaw 14.6.1, student-athletes who have earned their bachelor’s degree can participate in athletics as a graduate student at another Division I college provided they meet the criteria set forth in the bylaws or obtain an NCAA waiver.
Starting in October 2018, the permission-to-contact process was eliminated by the NCAA. Division I student-athletes like Hurts now have the ability to transfer to a different school and receive a scholarship without asking their current school for permission. The new “notification-of-transfer” system allows students to inform their current school of their desire to transfer, then requires that school to enter the student’s name into a national transfer database within two business days. Once the student-athlete’s name is in the database, other coaches are free to contact that individual.
As soon as Hurts were to notify Alabama of his decision, and the school was to process his request, other coaches could begin contacting the quarterback.
The rumor mill will surely start churning after Monday night's national championship game.