Cal Football: Ranking the Best Graduate Transfers in the Pac-12

Washington State's Garnder Minshew II (16) has had the most impact of any graduate transfer in the country.Photo by Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Jake Curtis

No Pac-12 team has benefited more from the addition of graduate transfers this season than the Cal Bears and Washington State Cougars, who meet tonight in Pullman, Wash.

Tight end Ian Bunting and wide receiver Moe Ways will both be starters for Cal tonight, and Steven Coutts will do the punting. All three graduated elsewhere.

Washington State? Well, the Cougars simply have the most valuable graduate transfer since Russell Wilson made the grad transfer a thing seven years ago. Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew II has gone from sharing the quarterback role for a lousy East Carolina team last year to being a Heisman Trophy candidate for the nation’s eighth-ranked school this season.

The grad transfer is little more than a one-year rental, or in a few cases, like Coutts, a two-year rental.

It’s simple really. A player who graduates at one college can spend his remaining eligibility at another, without having to sit out a year.

Quarterbacks are the most common practitioners of this policy, but others use it as well. And the number is increasing. This season, 175 players across the country are playing as graduate transfers.

In fact, two players named Tre Watson are among this season’s grad transfers. The running back Tre Watson went from Cal to Texas, where he has gained 355 yards this season for the No. 17 team in the CFP rankings. The linebacker Tre Watson left Illinois to play for Maryland, where he is the team leader in tackles (78) and interceptions (four) during the Terps’ turbulent season.

Three of the top 25 teams in this week’s CFP rankings have graduate transfers as their quarterback – Minshew, Joe Burrow of No. 3 LSU (previously at Ohio State) and Marcus McMaryion at No. 23 Fresno State (previously at Oregon State).

Minshew has made the biggest impact, and his decision to de-commit from Alabama, where he would have been the No. 3 quarterback, and sign with Washington State, where he leads the nation’s most surprising success story, has changed the look of the Pac-12.

There are 15 graduate transfers in the Pac-12 this season, and we offer and our ranking of those graduate transfers in terms of their impact this season. (Grading offensive linemen is virtually impossible, but we tried.)

---1. Quarterback Gardner Minshew II, Washington State (from East Carolina) – He leads the nation in passing yardage for the eighth-ranked Cougars. In 2017 Minshew shared quarterback duties at East Carolina with Thomas Sirk (himself a graduate transfer). Minshew started five games last season for the Pirates, who finished 3-9.

---2. Colorado running back Travon McMillian (from Virginia Tech) – He is fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 97.3 yards per game, and has rushed for more than 100 yards five times this season. McMillian rushed for 1,043 yards as a freshman at Virginia Tech, but just 439 last year as a junior with the Hokies.

---3. Oregon offensive lineman Dallas Warmack (from Alabama, eligible to play next season as well) – Started all eight games.

---4. Arizona State offensive lineman Casey Tucker (from Stanford) – Started all six games in which he played.

---5. Cal tight end Ian Bunting (from Michigan) – 14 receptions, 165 yards. Bunting had one reception for six yards for the Wolverines last season.

---6. Cal punter Steven Coutts (from Louisiana, second year with Cal) – 41.6 yards per punt, 22 inside the 20-yard line.

---7. Cal wide receiver Moe Ways (from Michigan) – 19 receptions, 211 yards. He had just three catches for seven yards last season for Michigan.

---8. Oregon tight end Kano Dillon (from South Florida) – He has eight receptions, 110 yards, two TDs this season. Started three games for South Florida last year and had 11 catches for 119 yards.

---9. Arizona punter Dylan Klumph (from Cal ) – Averaging 45.1 yards per punt, 13 inside the 20-yard line.

---10. Quarterback Wilton Speights, UCLA (from Michigan) – He started the Bruins’ season opener, got hurt, lost the starting job to Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and now it’s unclear who will start against Oregon in Chip Kelly’s return to Eugene. Speights was Michigan’s starting quarterback in 2016, and started the first four games last year before injury ended his season.

---11. Arizona cornerback Tim Hough (from UNLV) – He played in seven games, including six starts, this season, but he was no longer on the team after the Oct. 12 game against Utah. He had 22 tackles, three passes broken up this year.

---12. UCLA offensive lineman Justin Murphy (from Texas Tech) – Started the first four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

---13. Oregon wide receiver Tabari Hines (from Wake Forest) – Slowed by an offseason knee injury, Hines has played in just four games, and all three of his receptions this season (32 yards, one TD) came against Portland State. He hasn’t played since the Sept. 29 game against Cal. He had 53 catches for 683 yards and seven touchdowns at Wake Forest last year.

---14. Arizona State offensive lineman Roy Hemsley (from USC) – He has played in six games, including two starts, this season.

---15. Utah defensive back Anthony Armstrong (from BYU) – He is walk-on who has not seen action this season. But he has a college degree.

Read how Cal developed into a strong defensive team after years of letting opponents score at will