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Evaluating the most likely Northwestern transfer quarterback targets - Part One

From household names to four-star backups, we bring you Part One of a relatively comprehensive list of QBs that Pat Fitzgerald will look to add.

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Maryland v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

With bowl games, new signees, players entering the transfer portal and the holidays on the horizon, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

As Northwestern fans are all too aware, the Wildcats’ quarterbacks were among the worst in the country last season. The rotation of Hunter Johnson, Andrew Marty and Ryan Hilinski combined to complete only 57.1% of their passes for 2,109 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, earning a “D-” overall grade in our reviews.

Even after signing former Notre Dame commit Jack Lausch, it’s almost a guarantee that NU will acquire a quarterback to compete with Hilinski come spring.

Who are the gunslingers that could make Evanston their new homes in the coming weeks? Get to know each of the eight below as well as their likelihood of committing to Northwestern.

Bo Nix, Auburn

Years of Eligibility: Two

2021 Stats: 10 games, 61% completion rate, 2,294 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns, three interceptions, 58 rushing attempts, 158 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns.

Nix’s tenure at Auburn was memorable to say the least. As a freshman, Nix led the Tigers to a 9-4 record and an AP Poll rank as high as No. 7. However, Nix regressed in his second season, throwing just 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions. As a junior in 2021, Nix played under new head coach Bryan Harsin, but the Tigers went 6-4 under his watch before Nix broke his ankle against Mississippi State on Nov. 13. Nix was viewed as a perennial preseason Heisman candidate but never lived up to such a billing. His career has been inconsistent thus far, but the former five-star prospect has tremendous raw talent, especially via his running ability.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: <5%

Nix knows that Northwestern is a solid program, as he lost to the Wildcats in the 2021 Citrus Bowl. But coming from starting at a big-name SEC program to just competing for the job at a Big Ten school that finished 3-9 doesn’t sound too appealing. Considering that Nix received high school offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and more recurring powerhouses, he’s likely to pick a school known for its consistency. Alternatively, few would be surprised if Nix reunited with former coach Gus Malzahn at UCF. Regardless, the odds of Nix venturing to Evanston are slim to none.

Kedon Slovis, USC

Years of Eligibility: Two

2021 Stats: Nine games, 65% completion rate, 2,153 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns, eight interceptions, 25 rushing attempts, -40 rushing yards.

Slovis has a similar career arc to Nix — tremendous initial promise, followed by subsequently shaky play. In 2019, Slovis became the fifth USC quarterback to ever start a game as a true freshman once J.T. Daniels was injured. He went on to post a 167.6 passing efficiency, which ranked eighth in the country. During his shortened sophomore campaign, Slovis was solid, leading the Trojans to a 5-1 record. However, he struggled mightily against Oregon in the PAC-12 title game, throwing three interceptions in a 31-24 defeat. As a junior in 2021, expectations were lofty for Slovis, but he suffered a lower leg injury against Arizona State on Nov. 6 and didn’t start afterwards. With Lincoln Riley taking the helm at head coach and Jaxon Dart the frontrunner to start for the Trojans in 2022, Slovis decided to depart.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 15%

Slovis is originally from Arizona and was recruited by predominantly western schools out of high school, so picking a spot such as UCLA to vindicate his struggles at USC could be intriguing. It’s also worth noting that Slovis’ girlfriend, Kate McKay, plays soccer at Pitt, and the Panthers will need to replace future NFL first-rounder Kenny Pickett. At the same time, Slovis did list Vanderbilt as a school in which he had interest, and Northwestern is a much better program than its Nashville alternative. This feels unlikely – especially since Slovis has a very similar play style to Hilinski – but at least somewhat possible.

Adrian Martinez, Nebraska

Years of Eligibility: One

2021 Stats: 11 games, 61.8% completion, 2,867 passing yards, 14 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 131 rushing attempts, 512 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns.

Several Wildcats fans have gotten their degrees in time periods shorter than Martinez’s tenure in Lincoln. Alongside Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers went 14-25 in four years of Martinez starting, making the AP Top 25 just once. Martinez has faced challenges in terms of pass consistency, but is one of the most dynamic rushing quarterbacks in all of college football.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 15%

Martinez has seen his fair share of the Wildcats, going 2-2 against NU while rushing for 215 yards and three touchdowns in those four contests. The fit makes sense at Northwestern, but 247 Sports, among others, has elucidated that the QB is likely to decide between Kansas State — where he’s made two visits — and Cal. Additionally, NU will presumably target a guy that can push Hilinski rather than a solidified starter, and Martinez doesn’t really fit the former description.

Dillon Gabriel, UCF

Years of Eligibility: Three

2021 Stats: Three games, 68.6% completion, 818 passing yards, nine passing touchdowns, three interceptions, 24 rushing attempts, 125 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown

In his first two years in Orlando, Gabriel was nearly unstoppable, combining for 61 passing touchdowns to just 11 interceptions and posting passing efficiencies above 156 in both campaigns. Gabriel was off to yet another hot start in 2021 but broke his clavicle against Louisville on Sept. 17. The Hawaii native wasn’t known to be the most electric runner, but enjoyed success on the ground in his three games under Malzahn and alongside former Wildcat Isaiah Bowser.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 20%

Gabriel visited Ole Miss, which would figure to be his top option in the hopes of replacing Matt Corral and working with Lane Kiffin. However, the Rebels recently fired Gabriel’s former offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby. Moreover, Gabriel was reportedly spotted at UCLA practice, so the Bruins figure to be high on his list. I wouldn’t rule NU out entirely, but the odds seem bleak.

Max Johnson, LSU

Years of Eligibility: Three

2021 Stats: 12 games, 60.3 completion %, 27 passing touchdowns, six interceptions, 78 rushing attempts, -41 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown.

After Myles Brennan (more on him in a bit) suffered a season-ending injury against Mizzou on Oct. 10, 2020, Johnson split time in quarterback duties before being named the outright starter vs. Florida on Dec. 12. In two starts, Johnson threw for 674 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. Entering this year, a QB battle appeared to be shaping up once again before Brennan suffered yet another long-term ailment — an arm fracture while fishing. Although the Tigers struggled this year, the lefty Johnson put up impressive numbers, yet plans to leave Baton Rouge all the same.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 15%

According to a recent article from The Athletic, Johnson is being heavily recruited by Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher has groomed several impressive quarterbacks, including Jameis Winston and Kellen Mond. Johnson has no apparent ties to NU, and inviting him to play in Ryan Field after suiting up in Death Valley seems quixotic at best.

Jack Miller III, Ohio State

Years of Eligibility: Three

2021 Stats: Four games, 50% completion rate, (7-for-14), 101 passing yards, 0 passing touchdowns, 0 interceptions, five rushing attempts, -1 rushing yards.

Miller played in just five games in Columbus, none of which were starts. As the third-string quarterback behind Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud and Kyle McCord, Miller was relegated to mop-up duty. The most passes he’s thrown in a game is eight, which came against Akron on Sept. 25, when Stroud was out with a shoulder injury. Miller was arrested on Nov. 5 for operating a vehicle while impaired and was initially suspended before being reinstated once the charge became a misdemeanor.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 40%

Miller is an Arizona native and was given offers by both Arizona and Arizona State out of high school. The Sun Devils’ job appears to be under the returning Jayden Daniels’ control, while the 1-11 Arizona Wildcats posted an even worse mark than the Northwestern ‘Cats. Maybe it’s just me manifesting this, but I would expect there to be legitimate interest from both sides, as Miller could compete in the Big Ten and start in 2023 if he isn’t able to beat out Hilinski in the upcoming camp.

Cameron Ward, Incarnate Word

Years of Eligibility: Three

2021 Stats: 13 games, 65.1% completion rate, 47 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 77 rushing attempts, 61 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown.

In the spring of 2021, Ward was named to the Southland All-Conference First Team and won the Jerry Rice Award, given to the best freshman in FCS. Several months later, Ward put on an encore, leading Incarnate Word to the second round of the FCS playoffs en route to winning Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 10%

Ward has attained offers from Ole Miss, Houston, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky, North Texas and Indiana, the latter of which was his first ever FBS offer. Believe it or not, Ward’s only two high school scholarship offers were Incarnate Word and Texas Southern. At this juncture, I’d expect Ward to decide between the Rebels and the Hoosiers.

Myles Brennan, LSU

Years of Eligibility: One

2021 Stats: N/A

As mentioned earlier, Brennan did not take the field this season and hasn’t thrown a pass since October 2020. In the three games that he started two seasons ago, Brennan did a quality job attempting to replace Joe Burrow, throwing for over 1,100 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Brennan has veteran experience but has played in only 18 contests.

Likelihood of Coming to NU: 35%

Brennan’s story feels quite similar to Hilinski’s — SEC experience, injuries, quarterback competitions and few total starts. There appear to be minimal rumblings about Brennan’s landing spot, but he was offered scholarships by Indiana and Wisconsin out of high school, and both teams play NU this upcoming season. Considering he’d have a legitimate opportunity to prove his skill, Northwestern seems like a fair destination for Brennan.