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Don’t Freak Out, I’ve Seen This Before

Drew checks in with his take on portal attrition at quarterback.

Syndication: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s been a long two days for the ‘Cats in the transfer portal, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. Last season, the Wildcats’ quarterback room was packed tight with four scholarship quarterbacks and a de facto fifth “walk-on” quarterback waiting around for a scholarship to open up.

It reminded me of Clemson’s locker room when Trevor Lawrence hit town.

The Tigers’ quarterback room looked like this in 2017:

Kelly Bryant - 4* - Jr.

Zerrick Cooper - 4* - Rs. Fr.

Chase Brice - 4* - Fr.

Tucker Israel - 3* - Rs. So.

Hunter Johnson - 5* - Fr.

Kelly Bryant was the star of the show. He waited behind Deshaun Watson, took over the starting role in 2017, and did exactly what he was supposed to do as the starter.

He threw for 2800 yards, 13 TDs, 8 Ints, completed 65% of his passes, and rushed for an additional 665 yards and 11 touchdowns. He led Clemson to a one-loss regular season (he was knocked out early in the first quarter in the game Clemson lost), won the ACC Championship game (he was the MVP), and ended up playing and losing to Bama in the CFP semi-final.

In fact, some of those numbers are similar to Will Howard’s 2023 season. He completed 61% of his passes, threw for 2643 yards, threw 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (better than Kelly), but only ran for 351 yards and 9 touchdowns. Howard didn’t take the Wildcats to a Big 12 Championship in 2023, but he did in 2022. He’s been everything the Kansas State coaching staff could ask for in a quarterback.

I would tolerate no Kelly Bryant slander from Clemson fans, and I’ll tolerate no Will Howard slander from K-State fans.

Clemson added Trevor Lawrence, a 5* generational level quarterback in the 2018 class. He came in early, played in the spring.

After Spring Ball, the Clemson quarterback room looked like this:

Kelly Bryant - stayed

Zerrick Cooper - transferred to Jacksonville State

Tucker Israel - left the program (somewhat due to illness)

Hunter Johnson - transferred to Northwestern

Chase Brice - stayed

If you’re keeping track at home, the Tigers lost three quarterbacks after spring ball, mainly because they watched Trevor play and went “nope, not gonna beat that out.”

Keep in mind, this was before the portal (which is why Cooper opted for Jacksonville State). Lawrence came in, the other guys got a look at his skill set, and decided to go elsewhere.

Bryant and Lawrence shared time in the four games before Coach Swinney named Trevor the full-time starter, and Bryant left the team to preserve his red shirt. He transferred to Missouri the following season.

Lawrence went on to have one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history, including a beat down of Alabama for a National Championship, but that’s almost beside the point.

Lawrence came in, cleaned out the quarterback room at Clemson because everyone, including the guys he was competing against for playing time, saw the talent.

The same thing is happening to K-State. It took Avery Johnson a full season, but he cleared out the competition in the classes ahead of him. I’m not saying he cleared out Will Howard; it’s more complicated than that, but Avery Johnson is going to play a key role in the offense next season, regardless.

You don’t recruit a generational quarterback talent (granted, Avery isn’t on the same level as freshman Trevor Lawrence, even though his hair game is shockingly close) and then sit him on the bench for two seasons to develop. That may have worked in the last era of college football, but in this era, it’s use him or lose him when it comes to quarterbacks. If Kansas State didn’t name him the starter, another team would gladly give him an invitation to start for their team, and they would deliver that initiation in a suitcase filled with 100 dollar bills, placed in the trunk of a new Dodge Charger.

Now Kansas State has a three-man quarterback room. I didn’t understand why Jacob Knuth was willing to transfer from Minnesota to Kansas State without a scholarship, but it was truly 3D chess from the K-State staff.

Once they signed Johnson, they knew the quarterback room was going to empty out.

The thing is, Knuth can’t transfer out without sitting a season or graduating. He’s essentially tied to Kansas State for at least the next two seasons. Landing a young transfer like Knuth is ideal in the current college football landscape. In a world of uncertainty, barring a catastrophic injury, Jacob Knuth will be on this football team in 2025. That’s rare these days.

It’s hard to convince someone to come in and sit behind a sophomore quarterback for two, if not three years, in hopes of winning the job. College football doesn’t reward that sort of loyalty today. You can sit on the bench for two or three seasons, do everything you’re expected to do, and then never get a shot because the coaching staff wants “a more experienced quarterback” and plucks a grad transfer out of the portal. We need to reward Knuth for allowing himself to be locked in at K-State with no promise of a starting position. Minnesota’s starting quarterback entered the portal today. If Knuth were still in Minneapolis, he’d have a legit shot to win the starting job next season (although the Gophers probably bring in a transfer). The least K-State can do is give him a legit shot as the backup quarterback.

That’s why I don’t think the ‘Cats should try and bring in a veteran quarterback to play behind Johnson. If you’re not comfortable playing Knuth now because he doesn’t have experience, how will that change next season?

If you don’t play him, he’ll never get the experience people think he needs. Sure, you could pluck a quarterback out of the portal every season, but that’s not how you build a team like Kansas State. Eventually, you have to bite the bullet and play the guys you recruit (or in this case, bring in as a freshman transfer).

The transfer portal is great at filling holes, but if you rely on it year after year, those holes never go away. You saw that this season in the Kansas State secondary. I feel like the staff leaned a little too hard on transfers, and when you do that, your recruits leave.

If you bring in a transfer (or JuCo guy) and he doesn’t hit, suddenly you’ve got a hole in your secondary because everyone behind him is gone. You can no longer stick a guy on the bench for 3 or 4 seasons and expect him to stick around in hopes of maybe playing one season.

In the end, guys want to play football, not lift weights, practice, and hand out water during the games. That era of college football was good to the ‘Cats, but it’s dead and you must adapt or perish.

As of now, Avery Johnson will lead the charge next season. If he needs a break, Jacob Knuth will be the next guy up. If Knuth goes down, you bring Blake Barnett because, let’s be real, if you’re playing your 3rd quarterback, you’re kinda doomed anyway; may as well let the young guy get some reps.

I don’t see a reason to waste a scholarship on a fourth transfer quarterback because you’re not going to get an experienced option willing to gamble on sitting behind Johnson and barely seeing the field.

No one wants to be Spencer Sanders.

If you do manage to convince someone to come in and sit the bench, odds are he won’t be any better than the guys already on the roster. The only difference is another team already decided that the guy you brought in wasn’t good enough to be a starter (or they’re Spencer Sanders).

My preference is to keep three quarterbacks on scholarship, bring in the best walk-on you can find as the fourth quarterback option, and spend that valuable resource on defensive depth, either through recruiting or through the portal.

Don’t waste it on a guy you hope never has to play.

I’ll have more on the transfer portal in the coming days and am about to jump headfirst into the basketball season.

Hope to see y’all in the comments.

Remember, don’t freak out. This is the new normal of college football. I don’t like it much, but no one asked my opinion.