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UGA’s addition of JT Daniels signals a total management shift

No program in today’s transfer-heavy quarterback era has taken more body blows than Georgia. Five-star Jacob Eason? Gone. Five-star Justin Fields. Gone. The future of the quarterback room following Jake Fromm’s NFL departure? In question. 

Thursday afternoon the Bulldogs struck back.

USC transfer JT Daniels made the somewhat surprising announcement that he’d continue his career in Athens. For those who might not remember why this is a big deal: Daniels was the other five-star in the class of 2018 with Trevor Lawrence and Fields. A 17-year-old should-be junior, Daniels reclassified to enroll early. He would have had an argument to be the No. 1 QB nearly any other year. Daniels started in Los Angeles as a true freshman. The only reason he lost his job is an injury he suffered in Week 1 of last season; think of this as Eason in reverse for the Bulldogs. 

Daniels’ eligibility status is unclear – he’s expected to apply for a waiver – yet that is far from the point of this move. Even if Daniels can’t compete in 2020, Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman is positioned to ably guide the Bulldogs for a year, and he’s gotten plenty of buzz as a player who can drag Georgia’s offense into the 21st century. Daniels is a future assurance, a rare win-now piece played one year in advance. 

This aggressive addition by Georgia head coach Kirby Smart also signals a shift in college football.

Ohio State needed QB help following a massive 2018 departure – three four-star quarterbacks transferred in a single offseason – so it added Fields. The Buckeyes were in the playoffs 12 months later and Fields earned a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. 

Three straight Oklahoma quarterbacks were Heisman finalists. Three straight Oklahoma quarterbacks led the Sooners to the playoff. Three straight Oklahoma starters came into the program as a transfer. 

And of course, Joe Burrow was a transfer. 

We tend to look at these moves from a player’s perspective. Too many talented cooks in the kitchen and all that. But it’s important to consider the roster-building mechanism behind the movement. Ohio State, Oklahoma and LSU all had playoff-worthy rosters when they dipped into the transfer market. What they needed was a game-changing quarterback.

The interesting thing we’ve seen recently is programs are more willing than ever to move off their potential quarterbacks of the future for sure things in the portal. The Buckeyes could’ve gone with Tate Martell last season. Instead, Ryan Day upgraded to a player who altered the offense’s ceiling and fit his system better. Lincoln Riley could’ve stuck with Austin Kendall – a legit Power Five starter – last offseason but instead nabbed Jalen Hurts. Ed Orgeron added Burrow at a time that intersected with the assumed ascension of former 4-star QB recruit Myles Brennan

Those schools could have waited and hoped they had an answer for the following season or perhaps two years down the line. But why risk it? 

What we’ve seen is programs recruit (via traditional means or the portal) the best QB they can. You know quickly if that player will work out or not. Oklahoma didn’t need to go to the transfer portal this offseason because former five-star Spencer Rattler proved to those within the program that he’s the future during his redshirt season. LSU didn’t do so this offseason because Orgeron believes in Brennan as a redshirt junior.

Smart could’ve held pat and had Carson Beck and incoming 2021 five-star Brock Vandagriff compete for the job following Newman’s graduation. But why deal in uncertainties? Georgia will likely have a potential All-American redshirt junior under center leading a roster with more than enough talent to win a national title.

This is not to say this aggressive strategy lacks risk. Back-to-back transfer QBs will result in some sort of attrition. Smart knows that better better than anyone. At the same time, look at how quickly Smart turned around his QB room following Fields’ departure. He’s proven he can reel in an elite signal-caller, many of them. His critics say he hasn’t chosen wisely between them. There isn’t much choosing involved now: Newman and Daniels offer equally high floors and rather high ceilings. Then perhaps the job is Vandagriff’s as a second-year player in 2022. It’s an OU-esque three starters in three seasons, and if the results are even close to the standard the Sooners have set, then perhaps Smart can finally put the stain of Fromm-over-Fields behind him. Onwards. 

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