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Why grad transfer success stories no longer apply to just college football elite

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So maybe K.J. Costello won’t play the part of Joe Burrow this season after all.

The Mississippi State (nee Stanford) quarterback gave a Burrow-like recital at Tiger Stadium in the Bulldogs’ season-opening 44-34 upset of defending national champion LSU on Sept. 26. Costello threw for an SEC-record 623 yards and matched his personal high of five touchdown passes. In the two games since, Costello has thrown one touchdown and seven interceptions, including a personal high of four picks in the 24-2 loss at Kentucky on Saturday night.

So maybe there is only one Burrow (nee Ohio State), but there are plenty of Costellos. His performances straddling the mediocrity line underscored a new reality for college football: The graduate transfer is not for just the elite anymore. Grad transfers have gone mainstream.

Yes, Burrow and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (nee Alabama) finished 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy race last season. Yes, Jake Coker (nee Florida State) took the Crimson Tide to the national championship five years ago, and Russell Wilson (nee NC State) led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl nine years ago. I can go back further than that, to the OG — Original Grad — cornerback Ryan Smith. Soon after the NCAA passed the grad transfer rule in April 2006, Smith moved from Utah to Florida and started on the Gators’ 2006 national championship team. Not just started. “We wouldn’t have won the national championship without him,” Colorado State defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, Smith’s secondary coach at Florida, told me a few years ago.

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They are the grad transfer success stories, and perhaps their high profiles opened wide the gates of the transfer portal. In 2014, Division I programs (FBS and FCS) enrolled 67 grad transfers. Five years later, that number more than tripled, to 225. This year,