If all went according to plan, the graduate transfer quarterback would be pretty good living if one could get it. He swoops into a new place in a time of need, fills that need heroically and rides into the sunset, needing just a few fall months to be remembered in a place forever. Everyone has ups and downs in life, but this quarterback wasn’t around long enough to let his new fans see them; the only thing they saw is success, thus he’ll only be remembered for success.
Turns out that narrative is rare at a Power 5 school.
Tommy Stevens would love nothing more than to fit that storyline at Mississippi State, after the former Penn State quarterback announced on Saturday his decision to play his final season of college football in Starkville. A study of Power 5 graduate transfer quarterbacks shows the track record isn’t great.
Starting with the 2012 season — the NCAA bylaw that gave graduates more freedom to transfer was put in place in 2011 — there have been 25 quarterbacks that fit the mold of Stevens: quarterbacks showing up on a Power 5 campus with one season left to play.
Of that group of 25, 14 of them failed to attempt 200 passes at their final school; six of them didn’t get as many as 50 pass attempts. That list includes swings and misses including Brandon Mitchell losing the starting job to Ryan Finley at N.C. State and three similar cautionary tales within the Southeastern Conference: Keller Chryst to Jarrett Guarantano at Tennessee, Steven Rivers to a committee of Commodores and Malik Zaire to Feleipe Franks at Florida.
Even in those seasons that saw 200+ attempts, not all of them were a storybook ending. A.J. Bush Jr., admittedly injured at times, still shared the duties a little with freshman M.J. Rivers II. Everett Golson split the duties with Sean Maguire in his lone season as a Seminole.
In fairness, Stevens has a familiarity working for him that many on this list did not, having been a Moorhead quarterback for both of the coach’s years at Penn State. There is even a certain level of correlation between prior familiarity and the top of this list.
We’ve all heard the story of Gardner Minshew familiarizing himself with the Air Raid over the summer before heading up to run Mike Leach’s version of it in Pullman.
Davis Webb went from one Air Raid offense (Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury) to another (Cal under Sonny Dykes) and it went smoothly.
Moorhead has said this offseason if you were to condense the contents of his offense to the 26 letters of the alphabet, MSU got A through M last season; when no longer supported by the best defense in the nation (albeit what should still be a very good one in 2019), the ability to execute N through Z will be crucial. Stevens has more time in the Moorhead offense than anyone on campus, and that familiarity could be a headstart for him to win the job and perform well in it.
None of this is a commentary on Stevens. Frankly, the general public doesn’t have enough of a sample on him to know what he can bring, with just 76 pass attempts in his Nittany Lion career.
What we do know is the last seven seasons of college football suggest the goal he has set for himself isn’t an easy one.