Since its inception in 2018, the transfer portal has revolutionized college football, and no position has been more affected than quarterback.
Backups no longer languish on the bench until they become a grad transfer. Even freshmen are hitting the portal if they think the road to becoming the starter is too clogged ahead of them. There are also quarterbacks transferring to follow old coaches, work with new ones or find a better team to help their draft stock.
What is the Transfer Portal Window?
It is a window of time when players can officially enter the transfer portal, and was established to assist both players and coaches in knowing who is eligible and looking to transfer. According to the NCAA, “College athletes in all sports will continue to be immediately eligible the first time they transfer, provided they notify their schools in writing during designated notification-of-transfer windows.”
How Long is the Window Open?
The transfer portal window is open for a total of 60 days. The most recent 45-day window opened on Dec. 5 and closed on Jan. 19. The portal will then reopen again on May 1 and close 15 days later at the conclusion of the spring workout calendar.
With the first 45-day transfer window now closed, let’s look at some of the most impactful quarterback transfers for the 2023 college football season.
Most Impactful QBs on the Move
Devin Leary (N.C. State to Kentucky)
Leary heads to Kentucky to replace Will Levis. Despite a down year with now-fired Rich Scangarello as his offensive coordinator/QB coach, Levis figures to be a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. But the offensive coordinator that kick-started Levis’ rise, Liam Coen, is returning to Lexington after a one-year NFL stint with the Los Angeles Rams.
Coen’s return is likely the primary reason Leary chose Kentucky as his final stop before heading off to the NFL. A Sean McVay disciple, Coen can craft an offense to take advantage of Leary’s skillset. Leary doesn’t have Levis’ physical gifts, but he’s a solid athlete with a decent arm and is accurate to most areas of the field. Proving himself against SEC defenses could do wonders for his draft stock in 2024.
Leary’s Remaining Eligibility: one year
>> READ: Why Levis Can Be QB1 in 2023 Draft
Brennan Armstrong (Virginia to N.C. State)
Armstrong heads south from Charlottesville to replace Leary in Raleigh (try to keep up). Armstrong had a tremendous year in 2021, leading a prolific passing offense behind a stout offensive line. But most of his line, his tight end (Jelani Woods), his running back (Wayne Taulapapa), his head coach (Bronco Mendenhall), and his offensive coordinator (Robert Anae) were no longer around.
He did, however, retain his primary receiving options, including WR Dontayvion Wicks, who figures to be drafted this year. But the Cavaliers struggled immensely before being struck with tragedy in November when three teammates were killed.
Armstrong can be forgiven for wanting a fresh start. Although not too fresh, as he’ll be staying in the ACC and reuniting with his offensive coordinator Robert Anae at N.C. State. This should be a great opportunity for Armstrong to rehabilitate his draft stock before the 2024 NFL Draft.
Armstrong’s Remaining Eligibility: one year
Drew Pyne (Notre Dame to Arizona St.)
Since Ian Book matriculated to the NFL after the 2020 season, Notre Dame has been churning through quarterbacks, trying to find its new guy. The Fighting Irish tried to get Kenny Pickett before the 2021 season but ended up with Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, who along with Tyler Buchner and Pyne, started all the games in 2021. With Coan gone, Buchner and Pyne battled throughout the 2022 season, with Pyne eventually emerging victorious (partially due to injuries for Buchner).
In a surprising move, Pyne entered the transfer portal before Notre Dame’s bowl game against South Carolina. His first season in South Bend wasn’t overly impressive, but he took meaningful strides throughout the year. Buchner was inconsistent in the bowl game, even though Notre Dame won, which led some to believe the Irish had a premier transfer QB waiting in the wings.
Pyne’s Remaining Eligibility: three years
Sam Hartman (Wake Forest to Notre Dame)
To put Sam Hartman’s career in perspective, he began playing college football before the transfer portal was invented. He earned the starting quarterback job for the Demon Deacons in 2018 as a true freshman. Since then, he lost and won the job back multiple times. Hartman wrapped up his career with Wake Forest as one of the most prolific passers in ACC history, surpassing greats like Philip Rivers and Tajh Boyd.
Once the offseason began, there was a lot of chatter surrounding Hartman. He still had one year of eligibility remaining, so he could come back to Wake Forest, hit the portal or declare for the NFL draft. Hartman elected to transfer to Notre Dame to prove himself in a more traditional offense and possibly make a run at the College Football Playoff.
Hartman’s Remaining Eligibility: one year
Phil Jurkovec (Boston College to Pitt)
Jurkovec, who grew up just north of Pittsburgh, had NFL hopes prior to the 2022 season, but after a disappointing year, he decided to return home.
Coach Pat Narduzzi attempted to replace Kenny Pickett with Kedon Slovis, and that didn’t work out the way he had imagined. Now with Jurkovec, Pitt gets a quarterback who isn’t afraid to push the ball downfield and can help get the ball into his playmakers’ hands. With a frame and play style similar to Ben Roethlisberger’s, he possesses the traits of an NFL quarterback.
Jurkovic’s Remaining Eligibility: one year
Jeff Sims (Georgia Tech to Nebraska)
Sims has received some draft speculation for the past couple of seasons despite Georgia Tech’s woes. The Yellow Jackets had fully transitioned into a traditional passing team under Geoff Collins, but Sims and the team could never string together enough wins, leading to Collins’ firing in September.
Sims decided to transfer after the coaching change, and he found himself with a new coach who has been a proven architect of college programs in Matt Rhule. The new Nebraska coach couldn’t find a quarterback to help him succeed with the Panthers in Carolina, but it seems he isn’t leaving much to chance this go-around at Nebraska.
Sims’ Remaining Eligibility: two years
D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson to Oregon St.)
Uiagalelei, who has ridden one of the most volatile roller coasters of a career the last three seasons, left Clemson after losing his job to highly touted true freshman Cade Klubnik. He struggled the previous two seasons, but his weapons paled in comparison to those of his predecessors. Furthermore, many have decried the lack of creativity and subsequent lack of success of the Tigers’ offensive design and play-calling.
Nevertheless, Uiagalelei has a good chance to revitalize his career in Corvallis. The Beavers have been resurgent the previous few seasons behind a dynamic, run-heavy offense. By taking some of the burden off Uiagalelei’s plate, perhaps he could resurrect some of the draft buzz he had when he relieved Trevor Lawrence in 2020.
Uiagalelei’s Remaining Eligibility: two years
Tanner Mordecai (SMU to Wisconsin)
The Badgers are going through one of the biggest off-season overhauls of any college football team. They hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to replace Paul Chryst and interim coach Jim Leonhard. But the biggest surprise was when they hired offensive coordinator Phil Longo away from North Carolina. Longo is known for his wide-open, Air Raid-style offense, and there was speculation that ACC Rookie and Offensive Player of the Year Drake Maye would follow Longo to Madison.
But Maye elected to remain in Chapel Hill, leading Longo and Fickell to search the portal for their next quarterback. They found several exciting options. Tanner Mordecai, formerly of Oklahoma, lit up the AAC with Southern Methodist in a similar style of offense. Fickell and Longo dipped into the Oklahoma pool more directly again, snagging former four-star recruit Nick Evers from the Sooners.
Finally, they went to the hub of the Air Raid school, acquiring backup Braedyn Lock from Mississippi State. Interestingly, Lock is one of three quarterbacks that left Mississippi State this offseason. Will Rogers remains entrenched as the starter there, with multiple seasons of eligibility left. Additionally, the one-time anointed savior of Wisconsin football, Graham Mertz, entered the portal early in the offseason and ended up at Florida.
Given his experience and success in a similar system, Mordecai should be the presumed starter. But Fickell and Longo set themselves up for long-term success as well by shoring up the depth of their quarterback room with plenty of arms that fit the style of their new offense in Madison.
Mordecai’s Remaining Eligibility: one year
Shedeur Sanders (Jackson St. to Colorado)
As soon as the announcement became official Deion Sanders was making the leap to Colorado, the clock started on when his son — Deion’s starting quarterback at Jackson State — would follow him to Boulder. About two weeks after Deion announced his move, Shedeur entered the transfer portal and committed to Colorado a few days later.
Shedeur is coming off a season where he was first-team All-SWAC, earned SWAC Offensive Player of the Year honors, and led the Tigers to an undefeated regular season.
It is fair to wonder how Shedeur will acclimate to FBS football. Colorado was one of the worst teams in the Power Five last season and only has one winning season in the last 15 years. But even if Shedeur has some growing pains, given what he showed at Jackson State, there’s a good chance the former five-star recruit will develop into one of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football.