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History shows Justin Fields is just the latest 5-star transfer QB who could amount to very little

I know what it’s like to be a geek on a certain subject. Weather is my particular weakness.

I have befriended meteorologists at one of the preeminent such schools in the nation, Penn State. I force my family to watch the university’s 15-minute weekday television show, Weather World, even though they cannot fathom my fascination.

“Look at that. Every reporting station in Pennsylvania is above average for snowfall so far,” I said in even tone recently. My wife either didn’t process the comment or pretended not to hear. She’s aware by now that merely responding might involve her in a 5-minute unwanted conversation about how November weather tendencies, on average, perpetuate into mid-winter. Riveting stuff for her.

I think people gravitate toward subjects toward which their minds are genetically attuned for whatever reason. And the more they know, the geekier they become. The internet has allowed them to know they are not alone, further emboldening those who might previously have been sheepish about their odd obsessions.

So, it has become with college football recruiting. I don’t understand it any more than my wife understands my fascination with weather. But there is a large and growing community of football fans who stand apart from the others.

They could exist without watching the actual games at all. They just love college football recruiting. They especially love yammering on about the destinations of “elite-level” recruits. Entire banks of reporting are now based around this information they demand. We have one of the most extensive such networks at PennLive.

Signing Day, once the first Wednesday in February, now doubled with the big one moved ahead to mid-December, is their early Christmas. Hell, it is their Christmas. I’ve never seen a group of people get so excited over a part of a sport that has nothing to do with the actual playing of the sport. No pro draft, no trade deadline, nothing else in the realm can compare to it.

It’s basically true that any geek pursuit must include numbers and records and rankings. And college recruiting has all of these. It doesn’t matter that they are totally subjective and based on a handful of guys’ opinions about players who generally don’t play against one another. It only matters that the numbers exist. Because then they can be studied and parsed and cross-referenced and quoted and discussed. At length.

I am as guilty as anyone in quoting one of the lists – the 247 Sports composite that annually ranks the schools’ recruiting classes. It’s easy, it’s relevant in that talent generally drives success. And the rankings are more accurate than they used to be now that the top national players do occasionally meet and compete during off-season camps.

That doesn’t mean I can get as excited as the geeks over something like a highly rated quarterback deciding to transfer. Then, you’re referencing an individual ranking that may or may not be legitimate. History shows they aren’t all that often.

For instance, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the explosion of excitement that I did this week when Georgia QB Justin Fields made it known he was looking for a new school. It was as if Patrick Mahomes just became available.

Fields has proven nothing at the college level. He was beaten out for the Georgia QB job in his freshman season by sophomore incumbent Jake Fromm, even though Kirby Smart gave him every opportunity to take it.

Yet, it’s as if the geeks are certain he will singlehandedly turn around any program at which he lands. Y’know, he was the #1-ranked overall recruit in last year’s class!

But transferring is becoming an epidemic these days. It’s not that I blame kids who do it. In order to have a chance at a multimillion-dollar NFL career, you have to get playing time in college. And if you can’t get it one place, you try another.

I’m just mystified that so many people seem so convinced that rankings equal success. They just don’t necessarily at all. Especially highly-ranked quarterbacks who transfer. History proves it.

I recently saw tweeted a graphic of such QBs who’ve switched schools in the past eight years. Including Fields, there are now 10 quarterbacks ranked either #1 or #2 nationally at their position coming out of high school by the 247 Sports composite who have transferred colleges. Their results have been spotty at best. The more you sift through this list, the more you realize how flimsy is the ranking:

• Phillip Sims (#1 in 2010), of the Tidewater region of Virginia, got beat out by A.J. McCarron at Alabama, played a season at Virginia, flunked out and ended up at Winston-Salem State. He went undrafted and was cut from two NFL teams without playing a down.

• Jeff Driskell (#1 in 2011) had a decent season as the starter at Florida in 2012, lost his job in 2013, split time in 2014 and threw for 9 TDs and 10 interceptions and fled for Louisiana Tech where he had a big year in 2015. He is the star of this entire group, having been claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals as a back-up. He has been starting for injured Andy Dalton as the Bengals play out the string of 2018.

• Gunner Kiel (#2 in 2012), Indiana’s Mr. Football, is perhaps the most notorious of this list. He verbally committed to Indiana, then reneged and committed to Louisiana State, then reneged and signed with Notre Dame. After being beaten out by both Everett Golson and Tommy Rees, he transferred to Cincinnati where he started in 2014 and 2015, throwing for 50 TDs but also 24 picks, then was busted down to third string in 2016 before getting some late-season run. He is now out of football.

• Max Browne (#1 in 2013) of Seattle you may remember as the Pittsburgh quarterback who ejected from Southern California after being beaten out there three straight years, then got hurt at Pitt after a decent start to 2017. He was not drafted and is out of football.

• Kyle Allen (#1 in 2014) of Phoenix started parts of 2014 and 2015 at Texas A&M before throwing three pick-6s against Alabama and eventually being benched with a shoulder sprain. He transferred to Houston and started there in 2017 before being benched. He was signed as a free agent by the Carolina Panthers and activated Thursday when Cam Newton was shut down for the season.

• Blake Barnett (#2 in 2015) of suburban Los Angeles was briefly Alabama’s starter in 2016 but quickly lost the job to Jalen Hurts. He eventually transferred to Arizona State where he was beaten out by incumbent Manny Wilkins. Barnett then transferred again to South Florida as a grad and started for the Bulls who went 7-0 before finishing 0-6 with an ugly home-field loss to Marshall on Thursday in the Bad Boy Mowers Bowl.

• Jacob Eason (#2 in 2016), another Seattle-area kid, was the first primo recruit beat out by relative ham-n-egger Fromm at Georgia. He actually had the starting job as a freshman before losing it early in 2017 when he was injured. So, he transferred back home to Washington where he sat out this season behind outgoing senior Jake Browning.

• Shea Patterson (#1 in 2016) of Toledo, you know all about. Played at Mississippi for two seasons and did OK, though he only totaled just 8 TDs and 7 picks against Power Five opponents. He was better at Michigan, gaining third-team all-Big Ten honors in 2018, but struggled in losses at Notre Dame and Ohio State.

• Hunter Johnson (#2 in 2017) saw back-up duty as a freshman at Clemson and decided to transfer to Northwestern where he sat out this season. He’s projected as the starter next year.

• And now, Justin Fields (#1 in 2018) who’ll have to sit out after having his redshirt burned in garbage time at Georgia. It’s assumed, though not positive, he’ll have to wait until 2020 to play wherever he lands. But to hear and read the reaction of the recruiting geeks – writers and fans alike – you’d think he was a guaranteed savior to whatever that school turns out to be.

It’s just not true. It’s not even close to true. Lofty player rankings – especially at quarterback, doubly when they transfer – just can’t be trusted. The evidence indicates a 5-star label might even act as an albatross.

Meanwhile, you have Trace McSorley finishing up a 3-year Penn State tenure as a starter, leading the Nittany Lions through a transformational era of the most exciting offensive football in the program’s history.

Of course, he was only a 3-star recruit, the #40-ranked quarterback in the 2014 class, 10 notches down from another 3-star kid from east Texas, a #30-ranked QB. That would be Patrick Mahomes. Neither of an elite level, by any means.

EMAIL/TWITTER
DAVID JONES:
djones@pennlive.com



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