In most situations this summer, transfer quarterbacks at Power 5 schools have either been named the starter before preseason camp began or won the job during workouts. Maryland followed suit Monday, naming Virginia Tech graduate transfer Josh Jackson the starter for Saturday’s season opener against Howard.
Jackson beat out Tyrrell Pigrome, who had put up a stiff challenge this summer after struggling in the spring and sitting out the annual Red-White spring game with an undisclosed injury. In a statement released by the team, first-year coach Mike Locksley acknowledged “the extremely tight battle” between the two redshirt juniors.
“We felt that Josh earned the job,” Locksley said in the statement. "Josh and Piggy pushed each other throughout the summer and into camp. We are excited about the talent in the quarterback room and strongly feel that we can win with both guys. We’ll find ways to utilize each of their talents, but are confident with Josh leading the team.”
Jackson was a breakout star as a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech two years ago, leading the Hokies to a 9-4 season while setting several school records for a freshman, including touchdown passes (20), passing yards (2,991) and games with 200 passing yards or more (nine). He led Power 5 freshman quarterbacks in passing yards and completions (236) and was second to Georgia’s Jake Fromm in touchdown passes. Jackson broke his leg in Virginia Tech’s third game last season and transferred after graduating in May.
It appeared recently that Pigrome, who had started only four games over three seasons with the Terps, had put himself into serious consideration to be the starter, as he did two years ago. After beating out highly touted freshman Kasim Hill for the job in 2017, Pigrome led the heavy-underdog Terps to a 30-14 lead at then-No. 23 Texas before tearing his ACL in the second half of what became a 51-41 win.
In naming Jackson the starter, Maryland became the latest Power 5 school that will have a transfer taking snaps under center this season.
Among the big-name transfers who will start elsewhere this season are former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, now the No. 1 quarterback at Oklahoma; former Georgia backup Justin Fields, now the starter at Ohio State; and Kelly Bryant, who will take over at Missouri after losing his starting job to Trevor Lawrence at national champion Clemson last season.
Jacob Eason, who left Georgia after losing out to Fromm in 2017, won the starting job at Washington. That caused Jake Haener, who was hoping to succeed four-year starter Jake Browning after serving as his backup last season as a freshman, to immediately put his name into the NCAA transfer portal and announce he was leaving the Huskies. Matthew Baldwin went to TCU after Fields arrived at Ohio State.
Other transfers to win starting jobs include former Penn State backup Tommy Stevens, who reunited with former Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State; and former Oklahoma backup Austin Kendall, who played behind back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and is now the starter at West Virginia.
Brandon Peters, who played behind transfer Shea Patterson at Michigan last season, left for Illinois and beat out freshman Isaiah Williams and a pair of redshirt freshmen who had played sparingly. Shane Buechele, who started as a freshman at Texas before being replaced by Sam Ehlinger, will go into his senior year as both a starter and captain at Southern Methodist.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who started 15 games with the Fighting Irish, won the starting job at Central Florida, where star senior McKenzie Milton is still trying to make his way back after suffering a serious leg injury at the end of last season. Washington State coach Mike Leach named fifth-year senior Anthony Gordon the starter over Gage Gubrud, a former star at Eastern Washington who has been fighting a lower back injury.
But not all the transfers wound up as starters this summer.
Tate Martell, who served as Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s backup at Ohio State last season, left the Buckeyes shortly after Fields got to Columbus and ended up at Miami. But Martell was beaten out by true freshman Jarren Williams and switched to slot receiver. Utah transfer Jack Tuttle expected to be in the mix at Indiana with returning starter Peyton Ramsey, but both lost out to redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr.
Alex Hornibrook, a three-year starter who left Wisconsin in late February when highly touted freshman Graham Mertz arrived in Madison, lost the No. 1 job at Florida State to James Blackman, who started 12 games as a freshman when Deondre Francois was injured two years ago before backing up Francois last season. (Ironically, Mertz was beaten out by junior Jack Coan, who started four games last season.)
The one preseason camp competition that still appears to be coming down to the wire is at Northwestern, where Hunter Johnson, a former five-star prospect who served as a backup to both Bryant and Lawrence at Clemson, is competing with fifth-year senior TJ Green start for the Wildcats.
Former Division I coach and current Big Ten analyst Gerry DiNardo said last week that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the recent transfer trend dissipate in time.
“I think if we throw it wide open, it will settle down because young people and their parents are going to find that it’s not necessarily the right thing to do to leave,” DiNardo said. "It might work out, it might not. These parents and these kids have to realize that only about 30% of the kids you sign every year play a significant role in your program.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the same percentage of transfers make a significant contribution. Once everybody realizes that, I’m not saying it will stop people from transferring, but it will be in the conversation. Right now the conversation is, ‘Get in the portal, we need a starting quarterback.' Who’s talking to a transfer not promising a starting position or using language to lead a kid down that path?”
Jackson’s decision to leave Blacksburg was spurred by Hokies coach Justin Fuente saying that he would have to win his job back after Kansas transfer Ryan Willis put up comparable passing numbers as his replacement. Virginia Tech went 4-7 under Willis after going 11-5 with Jackson.
Meanwhile, Hokies offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler became head coach at Bowling Green. Loeffler had played and coached at Michigan, where Jackson’s father, Fred, was an assistant for 23 years and had recruited Jackson.
Locksley had stated repeatedly that what Jackson and Pigrome had done in the past wouldn’t count as much as what they did in preseason camp.
“The starter is the guy that moves the ball down the field and scores points,” Locksley said Wednesday. "We chart each guy’s drives whenever we do live situations or whenever we do two-minute [drills]. We chart their third-down efficiency as well individually. Cumulatively and just in the scrimmage on Saturday [Aug. 17], both Piggy and Josh did a good job of their drives ending in scores or ending in punts.
“What you don’t want to do is have your drives ending in turnovers. That’s part of taking care of the football. The guy that gives us the best chance to move the ball down and score points[ will start], so we look at that really closely. And then how they play on third down, which is really important. Great quarterbacks find the way to get the job done on third down. I was pleased with those things.”
Locksley said that both quarterbacks could be more decisive when it comes to throwing the ball in practice, when they are wearing yellow jerseys and are off-limits to being hit.
"These quarterbacks get this false sense of security that, ‘I have all this time,’ " Locksley said. “Our defense has done a good job of putting pressure and creating pressure on our quarterbacks. I’d like to see them get the ball out quicker, not take sacks. Anticipate some throws a little bit better. Piggy and Josh have picked up things really well. They’re taking care of the football.”