5 teams that would be national title contenders with Jalen Hurts as the starter in 2018
Yeah, I know.
Jalen Hurts is still at Alabama. He’s still the 26-2 quarterback who led his team to consecutive national title games to begin his career. Without Tua Tagovailoa’s second half, we’re spending the summer talking about Hurts’ Heisman Trophy chances instead of his possible transfer destinations.
But Tagovailoa did his thing, and now the latter is absolutely worth discussing. It’s even more interesting when you think about the possibility of the transfer rules changing this June. If the NCAA passes new legislation that allows for transfers without restrictions or redshirts to student-athletes with a 3.0 GPA or better, that’s a game-changer.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s say that goes through and suddenly, Hurts is allowed to play anywhere in 2018. We already went through his top potential landing spots. But why not go a step further for “the best free agent in college football history” and figure out where he’d thrive this year?
If Hurts does indeed leave Alabama for another school, one has to think he’ll go to a place where he can play and win immediately. Not every program in America can satisfy those two needs. Some have too drastic of schematic differences for Hurts (I wouldn’t bet on him going to Texas Tech to play in an Air-raid offense) while others have incumbent starters who would put him in his same predicament now (Penn State isn’t looking for QB options in 2018).
These are the 5 programs that would be national contenders with Hurts leading the way in 2018:
To me, this is the most obvious restriction-free landing spot for Hurts. Pairing him alongside Dan Mullen would be a match made in heaven. Mullen wouldn’t have to worry about fitting someone into his offense like Feleipe Franks, and he would get someone with far more experience and running ability than Kyle Trask.
On top of that, Hurts’ presence would take the pressure off true freshman Emory Jones to start at some point in 2018. Mullen could develop Jones on his schedule, and not worry about what happens if Trask or Franks struggles to start the season.
Hurts doesn’t have a Dak Prescott-like ability to throw, and he might not even be as skilled as a runner as Nick Fitzgerald. But mistake-free football combined with Florida’s ground game and Todd Grantham’s defense would suddenly make a 4-win team look a whole lot more dangerous in Year 1 of the Mullen era.
If Hurts was the athlete that Lamar Jackson was, he’d still be the undoubted starter in Tuscaloosa. He’s not, but with Jackson gone, it’s expected to be a work in progress at the quarterback position. The promising Jawon Pass is the favorite to replace him, as well as wind up on the list of “greatest names ever for a quarterback.” The Georgia native certainly is promising, and some might think that he could be a more natural fit in Bobby Petrino’s offense than Jackson (though not as skilled).
Still, you mean to tell me that if Hurts showed up on Petrino’s doorstep tomorrow he would get turned away in favor of a redshirt sophomore with 33 career pass attempts? No chance. Louisville is dead last among Power 5 teams in terms of returning production. Say what you want about Hurts as a passer, but the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year would instantly bring a much-needed veteran presence to that locker room.
And duh, that season opener vs. Alabama in Orlando would be all sorts of lit.
The Texas native returning home makes a lot of sense. Playing for a quarterback guru like Tom Herman speaks for itself. Hurts has a lot of similarities to former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was his best self with Herman as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator during the 2014 national title season. I have no doubt that Herman would be the best person to maximize Hurts’ skill set.
Many would be quick to point out that Texas obviously has not 1, but 2 returning starting quarterbacks with Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger. That’s true, but if Herman was so sold one either, they’d be the undisputed starter. And even if there was one that Herman favored, I think he’d favor the guy with a ring and 26 wins over two quarterbacks who led the No. 66 total offense in 2017.
Not only does Hurts start, but in the Big 12, he has the potential to be the fly in the ointment. His style would certainly be different from a game-planning standpoint.
True, Texas was a 7-win team and far from title contention, but 5 losses by 10 points or fewer suggests that Herman’s squad didn’t struggle as much as the record would suggest. Hurts would give the Longhorns that extra push.
I’d love to see the in-state bidding war for Hurts if he did become “the biggest free agent in college football history.” I think the Horned Frogs would be right in the mix, especially if Hurts could play in 2018. Without Kenny Hill, the quarterback position is a big question mark for Gary Patterson. Shawn Robinson is expected to be the starter, but with only 27 career passing attempts in relief, he wouldn’t stand in the way of Hurts.
The Horned Frogs have their quarterback of the future in Justin Rogers — the No. 3 dual-threat QB in the 2018 class — though he’s expected to redshirt after a knee injury last fall. Hurts could bridge the gap and make TCU immediately more competitive in the near future. That early-season matchup against Ohio State wouldn’t look nearly as daunting with Hurts on board.
TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie would give Hurts the freedom needed to be a true dual-threat in that offense. A team that lacks much returning offensive production would welcome Hurts back to his home state with open arms.
This is an interesting wild card option that I haven’t seen much talk about. The Irish’s never-ending struggle to find consistency at the quarterback position would end with Hurts showing up in South Bend. He’d be a better option to start than Brandon Wimbush, Ian Book or any other option that Brian Kelly has.
The Irish completed 51.7 percent of their passes last year. Hurts might not be Peyton Manning, but the guy is a 62 percent passer with an interception every 64 attempts in his career. He’d instantly stabilize that offense and give it an identity with the loss of tailback Josh Adams.
How dangerous could Notre Dame be with Hurts? This is a defense that, despite losing coordinator Mike Elko to Texas A&M, returns the most defensive production of any program in the country. That’s from a unit that ranked No. 31 in total scoring in 2018. The Irish defense would thrive would a veteran quarterback who could take care of the football and sustain long scoring drives.
We’ve all been waiting for Notre Dame to crash the Power 5 Playoff party. With Hurts on board, Kelly’s program could finally do just that.