We wish all the best to Clayton Thorson as he undergoes ACL surgery in mid-January and begins a grueling rehab process that could sideline him for significant time next season. Northwestern won’t rush back Thorson, who has legitimate NFL aspirations. And if Thorson isn’t back for the August 31st, 2018 season opener against Purdue, who will start the season under center for the Wildcats?
The likely answer is one of the current roster quarterbacks on the roster. Earlier this week, we broke down the four in-house options to win the job. But with none of those players having any collegiate experience, there’s also another option that Pat Fitzgerald and his staff could consider: going after a graduate transfer.
Northwestern has had a recent affinity for adding graduate transfers. Jalen Brown, Trey Klock, Luke Otto, Makay Redd, Moe Almasri and Trevor Stroebel were all grad transfers on the 2017 team. Given Thorson’s potential return, it would be a tough sell for a quarterback seeking a guaranteed starting position, but a Masters degree at Northwestern and joining a team coming off a 10-win season is a terrific place to start.
Big Ten West Champion Wisconsin has held a vise grip on its division since the introduction of Legends and Leaders. The Badgers have won five divisions in seven years. Their first, however, was led by an unlikely hero. In 2011, Wisconsin landed grad transfer quarterback Russell Wilson from NC State and won the Big Ten, eventually losing a thriller to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
It’s entirely possible this isn’t something Fitz and his staff are even considering; maybe NU will be content to throw TJ Green out there or give one of its young quarterbacks experience in the absence of Thorson. But you never know. The point of this article is not to debate whether or not Northwestern should go after a grad transfer QB, but rather a breakdown of the options that are out there if NU were to go that route.
QBs who have already announced their plans to transfer
K.J. Carta-Samuels, Washington
Carta-Samuels has backed up Jake Browning the last three seasons. With Browning likely returning for a fourth, Carta-Samuels has declared his intention to transfer. The former four-star recruit’s Washington career ends with a small sample size — 27-of-47 for 310 yards with three touchdowns and one interception — primarily in mop-up duty.
Jacob Park, Iowa State
Park started most of last season and the beginning of 2017 before taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with a personal health issue. The Cyclones have a lot of uncertainty at quarterback next year with Joel Lanning and maybe even Kyle Kempt gone, so there’s a good chance Park would have seen the field in Ames. It sounds like he wanted a change of scenery and the opportunity to play immediately. Northwestern can offer the first to the former Georgia commit. Maybe it can offer the second, too.
Darius Wade, Boston College
Wade announced he was transferring for his final year of eligibility following Boston College’s loss to Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl. He’s had an injury riddled career in Chestnut Hill but delivered after former Northwestern target Anthony Brown went down with an injury late this season. Wade led the Eagles to wins over Louisville, UConn and Syracuse before coming up just short against the Hawkeyes. The early belief is Wade might welcome a return to the University of Delaware, which is just 30 minutes from his hometown of Middletown. Maybe he’s friends with AJ Turner?
Drew Barker, Kentucky
Remember this name? Barker backed up Stephen Johnson this season, and Northwestern got a brief look at the former high-four star recruit at the Music City Bowl when Johnson down. Barker threw for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 2016 opener against Southern Miss but missed the vast majority of the year with a back injury.
Wilton Speight, Michigan
This definitely isn’t happening, but it would have been pretty cool. Michigan is restricting Speight from transferring to a Big Ten or non-conference opponent next season and Northwestern hosts Michigan Sept. 29.
Players who seem like logical candidates to be a grad transfer
Keller Chryst, Stanford
Born in Lake Forest, Ill., Chryst has ties to the Big Ten; his uncle Paul coaches Wisconsin. Chryst, a former four-star recruit, opened the season as Stanford’s starter. Now he has a decision to make. When Chryst got hurt in late September, sophomore KJ Costello took the job and effectively ran with it, leading the Cardinal to wins over Washington and Notre Dame. Costello figures to be the starter in 2018, too. Chryst throws a good ball and has valuable experience running David Shaw’s offense. He’s started big games at Oregon, at Cal, and at USC. He also has not indicated his preference to transfer, but Chryst watched fellow quarterback Ryan Burns return for his fifth season at Stanford and promptly get buried on the depth chart. Perhaps he would welcome a change.
Tommy Stevens, Penn State
Northwestern showed interest in Stevens back in 2015, and they should definitely show interest again. Stevens is set to graduate with a degree in telecommunications in the spring and has two years of remaining eligibility left. Penn State has primarily used Stevens as a “Wildcat” quarterback as well as a receiver, and if Trace McSorley returns for his senior season, Stevens might seek a starting job elsewhere. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead left to take the head coaching position at Mississippi State. If Stevens decides to leave, Northwestern should be quick to reach out. Of course, Stevens will need permission to transfer within the conference, which seems unlikely because we know James Franklin. But Northwestern doesn’t play the Nittany Lions until 2020, so who knows.
Joe Burrow, Ohio State
Burrow broke his hand in the preseason and watched from the sideline as Dwayne Haskins saw snaps behind J.T. Barrett, including a tremendous performance in relief against Michigan. He watched alongside five-star freshman Tate Martell. The three quarterbacks will compete for the starting job in the spring. Burrow, who is on track to graduate in May, could transfer after spring ball and be immediately eligible with two years remaining. Northwestern plays Ohio State in 2019 and Urban Meyer might not be so keen on a reunion with his former four-star quarterback at Ryan Field.
Lindsey Scott. Jr., East Mississippi C.C.
Scott. Jr. spent a season at LSU before transferring to East Mississippi, also know as “Last Chance U.” Scott led EMCC to a NJCAA National Championship victory, finishing the season with 3,481 yards (290.1 yards per game) and 29 touchdowns. That’s earned him offers from the likes of Kansas, Tulane, New Mexico, Western Michigan, and Georgia State. Missouri became the latest to offer the former SEC quarterback. In high school, Scott chose LSU over Air Force, Army, Navy, Harvard and Colgate, among others.
Brandon Dawkins, Arizona
Dawkins started nearly all of the 2016 season for Arizona and the first four games of 2017 before being replaced by sophomore Khalil Tate. Tate is back next season, and head coach Rich Rodriguez is not. That might be enough for Dawkins to consider a transfer, given that he is set to receive his degree in May.
Brady White, Arizona State
The last time White saw the field was his first career start, a 23-20 win over UCLA in 2016. The redshirt sophomore has since underwent two surgeries on his right foot and watched Manny Wilkins run away with the starting job. Wilkins is expected to return next season for his third as the Sun Devils starter, and Alabama transfer Blake Barnett will finally be eligible. White graduated from Arizona State in less than three years and has two years of immediate eligibility remaining. It doesn’t sound like White intends to transfer, but he definitely has the opportunity.