Perfect fits

Joey Kaufman
Joe Burrow left Ohio State before the 2018 season after failing to win the starting job and transferred to LSU. This season, he has thrown for 1,864 yards with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions for the undefeated Tigers. [Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press]

By the time Ohio State had defeated Cincinnati last month and the series of postgame obligations had been fulfilled, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day had the chance to watch football on the Saturday night like everyone else.

One prime-time matchup had his attention: LSU was at Texas.

The game featured Joe Burrow, the former Buckeyes quarterback who had transferred to the Tigers before the previous season.

He was a former pupil of Day, previously the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before he was promoted to lead the Ohio State program. They worked together throughout 2017.

Day marveled at Burrow's performance in front of a hostile crowd, remarking that he looked like an NFL passer. Burrow threw for four touchdowns as he led LSU to a signature victory.

“I couldn't be any prouder of a guy than Joe,” Day said the following week. “The way he competed, the way he threw.”

Burrow is among several quarterbacks who have switched teams in recent seasons.

Seven teams in the latest Associated Press top-25 poll have a starting quarterback who transferred in from another school.

The trend is most pronounced atop the rankings, where the movement of quarterbacks has shaped the College Football Playoff race for this fall.

Three of the top six teams are led by transfer quarterbacks, including Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who arrived from Georgia; Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, who left Alabama; and Burrow.

For most of the preseason, Alabama and Clemson were considered the heavy favorites to play for the national title, led by their returning quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence.

But the quick acclimation of the transfers has deepened the pool of contenders.

Over his first five starts for the Sooners, Hurts has thrown for 1,523 yards and 14 touchdowns with two interceptions, and has the highest passer rating in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Burrow and Fields rank third and sixth in pass efficiency, respectively, and have compiled similarly impressive statistics. Burrow has thrown for 1,864 yards with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions, completing 78 percent of his passes. Fields has 1,298 passing yards with an 18:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Hurts and Fields are running threats too.

Coaches attributed their immediate success to talent.

“When you’re a good player and you get into a good system, a good scheme, with other good players, you like your chances,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said.

All three quarterbacks were former blue-chip recruits in high school, courted by powerhouse programs. But because those same teams featured other top prospects on the depth chart, they never took hold of the starting job.

Burrow couldn’t beat out Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State in spring practice in 2018, and Hurts lost his starting job when he was replaced by Tagovailoa at halftime of the College Football Playoff championship game months earlier.

Fields rotated into games for certain situations, but never overtook Jake Fromm as the starter at Georgia when the former five-star recruit arrived as a freshman last fall.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron cited another reason for their impact at new schools.

Unlike high school quarterbacks, who are recruited as teenagers and are at earlier stages in their development, transfer quarterbacks are more known quantities. And the schools that pursue them usually have an immediate need.

“When you have a transfer, it’s sort of like free agency,” Orgeron said. “I think guys are going to take the team that gives them the best shot to play right away, the best shot to play in a system where they can perform in. You narrow down the ‘what ifs,’ as far as trying to figure out a player.

“It’s sort of like getting a mature player to come into your football team; he knows what you need, we know what he needs. It was a perfect match with Joe Burrow, I promise you that.”

Burrow is in his second season as Tigers starting quarterback, whereas Fields and Hurts are in their first season with their current schools.

But Burrow’s fast start has come after learning a new offense for this season.

LSU brought in Joe Brady as its passing game coordinator. A former assistant in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, Brady helped install a spread offense.

Orgeron believes Burrow’s successful adjustment was owed to his knowledge of football. His father, Jim, was a veteran coach who retired last year as Ohio University's defensive coordinator after more than a decade at the school.

“He’s very intelligent,” Orgeron said of Joe Burrow. “We knew that when we recruited him. He could handle most things that you can give him. He won’t complain about anything. He’s very smart with the ball.”

The other transfer quarterbacks leading ranked teams include Shea Patterson at No. 16 Michigan, Bryce Perkins at No. 20 Virginia, Shane Buechele at No. 21 Southern Methodist and Brady White at No. 23 Memphis.

White, as with the talented trio of Hurts, Burrow and Fields, ranks in the top-10 nationally in pass efficiency.

A former Arizona State quarterback, White is paired with Mike Norvell, who previously was the offensive coordinator for the Sun Devils for his freshman season in 2015 before he took the helm for the Tigers.

It's another instance where the right pairing was found.


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: