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What people may not realize about the NCAA Transfer Portal, aka the NCAA Quitter Portal, is that it can amount to the NCAA Transfer of Backups Portal.
For example, LSU sophomore starting quarterback Max Johnson, perhaps fearing he may be a backup in the 2022 season, transferred to Texas A&M after the 2021 season. But it is very likely that he will be a backup there with Haynes King returning as a possible starter for 2022. As a redshirt freshman last season, King beat out sophomore Zach Calzada for the starting job, but was lost for the season after breaking his leg in the second game of the season at Colorado.
Calzada became the starter and played well in spots, particularly in the Aggies’ upset of No. 1 Alabama as he heroically shook off an injury. Perhaps, though, he feared that he would not be the starter in 2022 with King coming back and with Texas A&M signing one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, No. 1 dual threat quarterback Conner Weigman (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) of Bridgeland High in Cypress, Texas.
So, Calzada entered the transfer portal after the 2021 season, even though he would have had a very good chance of retaining the starting job. Then Johnson jumped to A&M, but his numbers should not not exactly make A&M coach Jimbo Fisher jump up and down on his horse at his ranch.
Johnson finished eighth in the SEC and No. 54 nationally in efficiency in 2021 with a 144 rating on 227-of-359 passing for 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns. He played behind an average-to-bad offensive line and for the most part played well and tough, but he may not have the talent of King and Weigman.
Calzada landed at Auburn as of Thursday. New Auburn offensive coordinator Austin Davis, a former NFL quarterback, is very excited about this addition.
“QBU,” Davis said Thursday in an Instagram post. He should have posted, “Backup QBU.”
But Davis, 32, is young and inexperienced as a coach, as he was just in his third season as the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach. He’s probably just overly enthusiastic about his new job or may just not know any better.
Calzada finished No. 12 in the SEC and No. 91 nationally in efficiency in 2021 at 123.7 on 184-of-328 passing for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns around nine interceptions.
Calzada will battle backup quarterback TJ Finley for the starting job. Finley backed up Auburn starter Bo Nix last season after Finley transferred from LSU, where he ended the 2020 season and spring drills as a backup. Nix played most of his career at Auburn, though many Auburn fans probably would have preferred him being a backup at Backup QBU.
Nix finished No. 86 in the nation and No. 11 in the SEC in quarterback efficiency in 2021 at 130.0 on 197-of-323 passing for 2,293 yards and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions. In 2020 as a sophomore, Nix was No. 82 in the nation and No. 13 in the SEC with a 123.9 efficiency rating. So, neither Calzada nor Finley has much to live up to.
And that’s a good thing, because Finley has also not put up great numbers. His 122.8 efficiency rating in 2021 would have had him at No. 93 in the nation and No. 13 in the SEC, had he had enough playing time to qualify for those statistical rankings. In 2020 at LSU, he had a 118.2 rating, which would have had him at No. 90 in the nation and No. 14 in the SEC.
QBU, Austin? Really?
Nix at least was a dangerous runner, far better at that than either Calzada or Finley, and Auburn fans and Davis will miss that. Regardless of which quarterback wins the battle, look for Calzada and Finley to have their moments, but in the end, they may each play like a backup again.
Nix did the right thing and took advantage of the original spirit of the original NCAA transfer rule, which was reserved for graduates so as to give them another chance. Nix did his time at Auburn, played through a coaching change, thought about it for more than two seconds and decided to take a look at another program. He transferred to Oregon as a graduate to end his career at the end of his career, which is a key point.
This also worked for Joe Burrow, who did his time at Ohio State and never could become the starter because of the talent ahead of him and injuries. But after thinking about it for more than two seconds and considering his options, he transferred to LSU as a graduate to finish his career. And the rest is history. He started in 2018 for the Tigers and led them to the national championship in the 2019 season and won the Heisman.
Finley also took his time. He at least went through spring practice in 2021 after starting five games in 2020 at LSU before deciding to book. That was smarter than Johnson and Calzada, who were on the way out before they turned in their equipment.
Johnson and Calzada will likely realize sooner or later — as many others will in this instant transfer college football world — that they did not take enough time to think about what they were doing. Part of parenting is saving young kids like Johnson and Calzada from themselves.
The NCAA needs to parent better and merge the current wild west transfer rule with the graduate transfer rule and not allow players to transfer until players have completed two full years at their original school. There should also be a transfer portal window, as in NFL free agency, instead of any old time.
The college transfer portal period should be after the previous spring drills until a week before the end of fall practice.