Joe, Jalen, and Justin: From Transfer QB’s To Heisman Finalists

By: Tony Thomas  December 13, 2019

On Saturday night, the 2019 Heisman Memorial Trophy will be awarded to one of four finalists. Three of those finalists are transfer quarterbacks playing in the College Football Playoff (CFP): LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Joe, Jalen, and Justin: from transfer QB’s to Heisman finalists. All three have taken different paths to get to this moment.

Welcome To Bayou Country

Joe Burrow came to LSU from Ohio State in 2018 as a graduate transfer. As Mr. Ohio Football in 2014, Joe was part of a crowded Buckeye quarterback unit. This unit at one point consisted of Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller, and J.T. Barrett. Jones had taken over the starting quarterback duties and led Ohio State to the national title in 2014.

Joe could not crack the lineup ahead of Miller and Barrett, nor could he beat out Dwayne Haskins for the starting job. So Joe transferred to LSU, knowing full well the history of LSU as a run-first team.

Burrow beat out Myles Brennan for the starting job in 2018. As the starter, his numbers last year were solid, but not spectacular: 2894 yards, 16 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and a 57.8% completion percentage. He led the Tigers to a 10-3 record, including wins over #7 Georgia in Death Valley and over #11 UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.

What A Difference A Year Makes

Before spring practice of this year, head coach Ed Orgeron delivered on a promise he made two years ago: installing a more modern spread offense. Orgeron found the right man for the job in Joe Brady. Brady was hired as Passing Game Coordinator, the same position he held with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.

With Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints are consistently one of the highest-ranked offenses in the league.

Not Your Average Joe

Brady, along with Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger, installed a run-pass option spread offense. It just so happened that Joe had been learning and running that style of offense since he was in middle school.

This offense is made for him. His 2019 numbers speak for themselves: 4715 yards, 48 touchdowns, only 6 interceptions, and a 77.9% completion rate. Heisman-worthy numbers indeed.

Burrow and the Tigers came out of the tunnel in week 1 in Tiger Stadium ready to fire on all cylinders. They hung 55 points on an outmatched Georgia Southern team and never looked back, reeling off 13 straight victories.

Burrow has had his “Heisman” moments this season. The 3rd and 17 pass completion, under a heavy pass rush, to WR Justin Jefferson that went 61 yards for a touchdown against Texas. Or, the quarterback run late in the 4th quarter at Alabama that set up a touchdown by RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, securing the Tigers first win over the Crimson Tide since 2011. And, in the SEC Championship Game, Joe was scrambling around, running through, and picking apart the vaunted Georgia defense for a 37-10 LSU win and a conference title.

Joe will need a very large trophy case, as he has already won the Maxwell Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback of the Year Award, named the Walter Camp and the AP Player of the Year, as well as the SEC Player of the Year.

He is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy Saturday night. If he does, he will be only the second LSU player to win the Heisman in the last 60 years (Billy Cannon won it in 1959).

LSU will play Oklahoma in the national semifinal game at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on December 28th.

The First Freshman QB To Start for Alabama Under Saban

In 2016, as a freshman starter for Alabama, Jalen Hurts led the Crimson Tide to 14-straight wins en route to the National Championship Game. The Tide fell short of their goal of winning the title, losing to Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers 35-31.

The next year, Hurts would throw 2 touchdown passes in a 24-6 win over Clemson in the CFP semifinal game. But in the national title game versus Georgia, Hurts struggled in the first half. He completed just 3 of 8 passes for 21 yards and no touchdowns, prompting head coach Nick Saban to sit him in the second half while freshman QB Tua Tagolaivoa entered the game.

Tua led Alabama on two scoring drives to tie the game at 20-20 and force overtime. After a Bulldog field goal to take the lead 23-20, Tua threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Devonta Smith, securing a 26-23 victory and his hold on the quarterback job.

Tua was the starter in 2018, with Hurts as his backup. Hurts stayed the course and finished his degree. Alabama would stampede through their schedule on their way to another conference championship game appearance against the Georgia Bulldogs.

Down by 7 in the 4th quarter, Hurts entered the game to take over for Tua, who was injured. Hurts led the Crimson Tide on two scoring drives, one on a pass to Jerry Jeudy, and the other on a 15-yard quarterback run to win the game and a CFP birth.

But Hurts saw little to no action against Oklahoma and Clemson. After the loss to Clemson in the title game, Hurts decided to transfer to Oklahoma.

Sooners Third consecutive Heisman Finalist

Hurts is the third consecutive transfer quarterback to lead the Sooners’ Air Raid offense. He brought national championship game experience, leadership, and impressive career numbers to Norman, Oklahoma. While at Alabama, Hurts passed for 5626 yards, rushed for 1971 yards and accounted for 71 touchdowns.

This season, Hurts has led the Sooners to a 12-1 record and another Big 12 title. Their only blemish was a 48-41 loss at Kansas State. His season numbers are 3634 yards passing, 7 interceptions, 1255 yards rushing, and accounted for 50 touchdowns. He ranks third in the country in total offense at 376 yards per game.

Hurts is the Sooners’ third consecutive Heisman finalist.

Oklahoma will play LSU in a national semifinal game at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on December 28th.

Georgia Not On Fields’ Mind

As the #1 quarterback prospect in the 2018 class, Justin Fields, from Kennesaw, Georgia, signed with his home state Georgia Bulldogs. The incumbent starter at quarterback was Jake Fromm. Justin was used sparingly in his freshman year, mostly in down and distance situations.

His 2018 numbers were modest: 328 yards passing, 4 touchdowns, zero interceptions. At the end of the 2018 season, Fields entered the transfer portal and took his underutilized talents to Columbus, Ohio and enrolled at Ohio State.

Fields has flourished in Ryan Day’s offense. He has led the Buckeyes to a 13-0 record and five wins versus Top 25 opponents. Fileds has led an offensive unit that leads the nation in scoring at 48 yards per game. They also rank in the top five in total offense and rushing offense.

This season, Justin has passed for 2953 yards, rushed for 471 yards, thrown only 1 interception, and responsible for 50 touchdowns.

Ohio State will play Clemson in the national semifinal in Arizona at the Fiesta Bowl on December 28th.

Joe, Jalen, and Justin. From transfer QB’s to Heisman finalists. Three quarterbacks who took different paths to reach the pinnacle of college football. Only one will etch his name in the history of college football. And only one will hoist the stiff-armed trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.

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