Game Changers: Five Transfer QBs Poised to Dominate the 2023 Season
In 2022, 58 of the 131 starting quarterbacks at the FBS level—or 44.3%—were transfers, up 6.7% from 2021, according to On3. In their first year at a new program, transfers Caleb Williams (USC), Bo Nix (Oregon), Quinn Ewers (Texas), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington), and others had major contributions to make.
The FBS-level college football landscape is once more littered with high-profile QB transfers. Here are five individuals that might make an impact in 2023:
Devin Leary, from Kentucky; North Carolina State as a previous institution
Leary joins Kentucky as a bridge quarterback from Will Levis to former four-star quarterback Destin Wade, who redshirted in 2022, with one year of eligibility left. Under head coach Mark Stoops, Kentucky won 10 games for the second time in 2021, Levis’ first season. The Wildcats declined to 7-6 in 2022.
After Wade faltered in his start in the Belk Bowl matchup against Iowa, Stoops snatched Leary out of the gate at a turning point in his career. Leary guided the Wolkpack to a 9-3 record in 2021, his lone full season at North Carolina State, with 3,433 passing yards and 35 touchdown passes. He played in only six games in 2022 due to an injury. Leary might assist Kentucky in regaining its 2021 trajectory if he can return to his 2021 form before turning the team over to Wade, who is more qualified.
Jeff Sims, Nebraska – Former School: Georgia Tech
Sims might not have been included on this list a month ago. In his time at Georgia Tech, he finished with 4464 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, 1161 running yards, and 11 rushing touchdowns. Sims was a three-year starter for Georgia Tech but had trouble maintaining consistency. He had a mediocre efficiency rating of 113.9 in seven games in 2022, throwing for just 1,115 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions. Had Smith complied with the minimal criteria, that number would have come in at 99th in the nation. However, Casey Thompson, the starting quarterback for Nebraska, left the Big Red for Florida Atlantic in late April 2022.
Sims is the only conceivable Lincoln candidate for Matt Rhule’s first season as the Huskers’ head coach following Thompson’s departure.
Sam Hartman attended Wake Forest before enrolling at Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish, who began the season rated sixth, struggled mightily with quarterback instability in 2022, the first year of head coach Marcus Freeman’s tenure in South Bend. Notre Dame started 0-2 with Tyler Buchner at quarterback, including a defeat against Marshall. In the defeats, Buchner, a transfer to Alabama, completed just 56% of quarterback passes for 378 yards and no touchdowns while throwing two interceptions.
In five seasons at Wake Forest, Hartman completed 59.1% of his throws for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns. The graduate transfer may completely alter Freeman’s situation.
Iowan Cade McNamara | Michigan as his previous institution
Perhaps no quarterback faces more obstacles as 2023 begins than McNamara. Iowa must score 25 points per game on average, according to the terms of the new contract offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, signed. The offense was among the worst in NCAA football last season under Brian Ferentz, averaging 17.7 points.
In 2021, McNamara completed 64.2% of his throws for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns while starting for Michigan. Under McNamara’s leadership, the Wolverines averaged 35.8 points per game, 31.9 points per game in 10 Big Ten games, and went 12-2.
The Hawkeyes need similar output and accomplishments from McNamara to avoid a seismic upheaval for a team with the longest-tenured head coach in FBS.
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado – Previous School Jackson State
Sanders, the son of the new Colorado head coach Deion Sanders, aids with transitioning a new coaching staff, much like Sims did at Nebraska. Shedeur Sanders, however, performs this in a program that, under Coach Prime, has developed into a spectacle that attracted an average of 551,000 viewers on ESPN for the Buffs spring game.
Sanders completed 68% of his throws for 6,983 yards and 70 touchdowns while throwing just 14 interceptions in two seasons at FCS Jackson State. He also gained 157 yards and nine scores on the ground.
The transition from FCS to FBS Power 5 is significant, but Sanders has to go quickly. A playoff team in 2022, TCU, along with long-time rivals Nebraska and Colorado State, will be Colorado’s first opponents. Shadeur and his father would benefit much from a strong start.
Honorable mentions include Tyler Buchner (Alabama from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish), Tanner Mordecai (Wisconsin Badgers from the SMU Mustangs), DJ Uiagalelei (Oregon State Beavers from the Clemson Tigers), and Payton Thorne (Auburn Tigers from the Michigan State Spartans).