There’s no more perilous job in college football than juggling the talent and ego of highly recruited quarterbacks when there’s more than one on your roster.
While some might consider the bounty a wealth of riches, and it certainly is, the only issue that really matters is how the kid sitting second on the depth chart handles the situation.
We were reminded of this once again on Monday when USA Today reported Georgia freshman Justin Fields, ranked by some the top high school QB in 2017, notified the Bulldogs of his intention to leave the program.
Of course, this comes during Georgia’s preparation for the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, the culmination of another stellar season for last year’s national semifinalist. The Bulldogs lost only to LSU and Alabama (in the SEC Championship).
Fields dropped the bomb on head coach Kirby Smart on Friday. And if he follows through, all he’ll need to do is place his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal by the end of Tuesday and off he’ll go.
Even if that happens – and Georgia hopes it will not – the Bulldogs have the option of letting Fields stay with the team through the bowl game. That might give him enough time to reconsider his position, a worthy risk for Smart to take.
You might remember departures like this were once handled quite differently. Back in the day, a guy like Smart had the power to block a transfer by refusing to grant a kid like Fields permission to contact other schools. The NCAA finally figured out some of these coaches were just being dopes and changed the rules.
Fields and Trevor Lawrence, who chose Clemson, were the top two QBs in the Class of 2017. Fields originally committed to Penn State in 2017, but four months later chose to move to Georgia, reportedly over Oklahoma and Ohio State.
Had he chosen the Buckeyes, who knows, he might have started for rookie coach Ryan Day in 2019 if Dwayne Haskins decides to declare for the NFL Draft. And you know what, he might still.
Had he chosen Oklahoma, who knows, he might have been in line to succeed Heisman winner Kyler Murray, who succeed Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. And who know what, Fields might still do that, too.
What Fields encountered at Georgia was an unexpected road block in sophomore Jake Fromm. Fromm has had a great start – he’s 23-4 as a starter – and there was no reason to think Smart would demote him just to accommodate Fields in 2019.
Fromm took the same risk Fields did the year before. He came to Georgia even though Jacob Eason, a former five-star recruit, ended the 2016 season as the Bulldogs starter. Of course, Eason didn’t make it past the 2017 opener before getting hurt. Fromm took over and Eason transferred to Washington.
While Smart stuck with Fromm, other coaches did the opposite, decisions resulting in very mixed results.
Dabo Sweeney benched incumbent Kelly Bryant in September to play Lawrence. It turned out to be a great move as Lawrence led the Tigers to the second seed in the College Football Playoff.
Bryant didn’t agree. He immediately left the program and transferred to Missouri.
Nick Saban chose Tua Tagovailoa over incumbent Jalen Hurts, the SEC’s offensive player of the year as a freshman, after Hurts had led Alabama to last year’s title game. After a poor first half, he gave way to Tagovailoa, who authored the storied comeback that gave the Tide the national title.
That worked well, too. The Tide went undefeated and is the No. 1 seed in the CFP. But Hurts stayed and ultimately led Alabama to the victory in the SEC championship earlier this month after Tagovailoa was injured.
Fields decided to be proactive, not bide his time waiting for Fromm to get hurt or leave for the NFL after the 2019 season. And the thing is, wherever Fields goes next, you can bet it will to be to play right away. And he likely will, as opposed to being required to sit out a year, because there is also another new rule which might just allow him to escape limbo.
The NCAA now grants waivers to athletes who claim their departure was caused “due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athletes control and directly impact their health, safety and well-being.”
Well, during Georgia’s game against Tennessee on Sept. 29, several people in the crowd said they overheard Bulldogs baseball player Adam Sasser directing a racial slur at Fields. Sasser was kicked off the team.
One might easily see how Fields could apply this incident to the new clause and avoid sitting in 2019.
“I knew it would be hard to overtake (Fromm),” said Fields earlier this season. “But being a competitor, I felt like I had the chance,” Fields told me. “I wanted to play here. I love the school.”
Let’s consider what Fields might face if he did stay. The Bulldogs have a commitment, which is not nailed down yet, from John Rhys Plumlee of Mississippi, ESPN’s No. 148 prospect. The program is also scouting another QB, Dillion Gabriel from Hawaii. If they sign both players, the competition for the job would only intensify.
Look, the history of college football is filled with success stories dealing with QBs transferring into better situations. To name a few: Mayfield, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, Vince Ferragamo, Jeff George, Scott Frost and, of course, Troy Aikman who moved from Oklahoma to UCLA.
Sometimes having too many talented QBs on your team is an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes it just leads to embarrassment when one them bolts in disgust. Fields will be fine wherever he lands. And so will Georgia.