Aside from winning a big game, there are few things that make a college football fan happier than when the old alma mater signs a blue-chip quarterback. Whether it’s the hot-shot, four-star national recruit or the hometown hero who led Sweetberry High to three state championships and dated the head cheerleader, there’s a mystique to quarterbacks.
That’s understandable. If you happen to hit on the right one, even if the odds are longer than a lottery ticket, a great quarterback can elevate your entire program. He might even win “The Bachelorette.”
So you’ve signed a great quarterback. Now what are your chances of keeping him?
Not very good, actually.
For this project, The Tuscaloosa News tracked every quarterback signed by current SEC member schools beginning in February 2007. Missouri and Texas A&M did not officially join the league until 2012 but all their classes since 2007 are included for the sake of consistency.
In that stretch of 10 recruiting classes, the 14 SEC teams signed a total of 176 quarterbacks from high school, junior college or as transfers placed on scholarship. Players who signed as “athletes” but went on to play significant time at quarterback, like Alabama’s Blake Sims, were counted in the total number. Players who signed as quarterbacks but were immediately moved to another position were not.
Of those 176 quarterbacks, 55 still have eligibility remaining, the expected average of approximately four per team. That leaves 121 quarterbacks who have signed with SEC schools and finished their careers since 2007, all with expectations (or at least hope) of becoming future pros and the face of their program.
So how are you going to keep them all happy? You’re not.
Of those 121 quarterbacks, a total of 45 — just 37.2 percent — closed their career at the school where they originally signed. Some were Heisman Trophy winners or are currently on NFL rosters. (Early-exit players who were drafted were counted as finishers.) Others finished their football careers and, usually, earned a degree. Vanderbilt and Auburn each had 20 percent transfer rates, tying for the lowest in the league, while Florida had 9 of 10 quarterbacks signed between 2007 and 2014 leave either by transfer or dismissal with eligibility remaining. John Brantley was the sole exception.
In all, 76 of the 121 signees not currently on SEC rosters transferred out of their original school. In a couple of instances, notably Cam Newton and Zach Mettenberger, players left one SEC school and eventually signed with another where they finished and went to the NFL.
That’s a total of 62.8 percent of quarterbacks signed by SEC schools who didn’t finish where they started, with most of those transferring away. Of the 55 who remain in school, the transfer rate will likely prove to be ultimately similar.
So, using the roundest of round figures: of every five quarterbacks signed by SEC schools, two had the classic career path of an AJ McCarron, a Bo Wallace or even a Johnny Manziel. Meanwhile, three out of every five went in search of greener pastures, whether at Columbia or Arizona or Central Arkansas.
The explanation seems simple enough. All players want playing time, and sometimes there isn’t enough to go around. This is particularly true with quarterbacks, as college coaches tend to settle on a starter and backups often have to wait until the starter graduates, performs poorly or is injured before they see the field.
“What I try to emphasize with our players is, there’s so much emphasis now on outcomes (and) immediate self-gratification,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said earlier this week. “Football is a developmental game. What I always try to sell our players on, some of them play when they’re freshmen, some of them play really well, some of them aren’t ready to play, some of them play a role.
“We had four guys that were starters in some role last year and probably 10 or 11 guys that lettered last year playing on special teams – which is about half the guys that we recruited. And some guys need the time to develop and learn and grow, whether it’s physically, emotionally, mentally, learning the system.
“I think sometimes there’s unrealistic expectations placed on guys based on the reputation they create in high school. Sometimes people around them want that same immediate self-gratification, which puts a lot of pressure on guys,” Saban said. ” But what we try to emphasize with our players here is, ‘Focus on development. Trust and believe in doing the things that we’re going to try to do to help you be the best player you can be,’ and that’s all anybody can expect from anybody.”
A quick rundown of all 13 quarterbacks that Alabama signed since Saban was hired shows three who remained with the team and finished their eligibility: AJ McCarron and Blake Sims, who were signed out of high school, and Jacob Coker, who was a graduate transfer from Florida State.
Twice that number — six quarterbacks — have transferred: Nick Fanuzzi (Rice), Star Jackson (Georgia State), Phillip Sims (Virginia), Phillip Ely (Toledo), Alec Morris (North Texas as a graduate transfer) and Parker McLeod (Western Kentucky). Of those transfers, Fanuzzi and Ely went on to become starters at their new schools, while Morris is a strong contender to start this fall at North Texas.
The remaining four quarterbacks — one each from the 2013 (Cooper Bateman), 2014 (David Cornwell), 2015 (Blake Barnett) and 2016 (Jalen Hurts) signing classes — are currently competing for the Crimson Tide starting job.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.