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,


Miami QB D’Eriq King has taken full advantage of transfer rules

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He committed to one school (TCU) way back in 2015, then fashionably de-committed.

He committed to another school (Houston) as it fashionably touted its 2016 recruiting class.

He saw the head coach (Tom Herman) leave after one season, which was pretty fashionable.

He (King) proved fashionably versatile in a sport (among other sports) becoming more position-less.

He played two years for another coach (Major Applewhite), who got fired with fashionable haste.

Come late September 2019, he (King) ventured to the fashion vanguard, accepting his third coach’s advice to follow a new redshirt rule.

Come January 2020, he entered the fashionable transfer portal, announcing it fashionably by tweet during the national championship game.

In winter 2020, he transferred, the foremost fashion.

“Just playing with these guys for the first few weeks and getting a bye week, I think I have a better feel for what guys are good at,” he said this week in Miami’s media sessions. The quotation told of a quick-study necessity that, too, is fashionable.

So start with the transfer and work back.

Transfers grip the game as never before, their stigmas deceased and their pathways ever less cluttered. In the 2019-20 College Football Playoff, three of the four starting quarterbacks had transferred from other major programs, leaving 2021 NFL No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence as the only one of the four as a one-school throwback.

When LSU quarterback Joe Burrow stood in New York in December 2019 to accept the Heisman Trophy, that made it three straight Heisman winners who had transferred from one FBS program to another. Among the 82 Heisman winners before that, only two had transferred from another major school, Cam Newton (2010) and Felix “Doc” Blanchard (1945), the latter switching from North Carolina to Army after he signed up for the Army during