JT Daniels' immediate eligibility gives Georgia something that it didn't have and desperately needed
On Monday, Georgia got news from the NCAA and it was … positive?
Yes, that was the surprising reality for Kirby Smart’s program, which received word that USC transfer JT Daniels will be eligible immediately in 2020. If there’s a season, the former 5-star quarterback won’t have to sit out per the NCAA’s undergraduate transfer rules.
Making sense of what constitutes “NCAA rules” or what exactly “NCAA protocol” is doesn’t seem to make sense given the fact that Daniels received word of his waiver before the likes of Georgia transfer Cade Mays (Tennessee), Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood (Kentucky) and Penn State transfer Justin Shorter (Florida), all of whom left their respective schools before the pandemic began.
But it probably isn’t worth trying to process that. Instead, let’s process the simple thing that it means for Georgia in 2020.
The Dawgs got something they desperately needed. No, that’s not just “a talented quarterback.” They already had that with Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, who Pro Football Focus ranked as the No. 3 returning quarterback in college football behind only Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence.
Nope. The Dawgs got something on Monday that they’ll desperately need in 2020 — security.
That’s something that they wouldn’t have had with Daniels sitting out the 2020 season. A lot of people might look at the Daniels news and think simply “well now there’s definitely a quarterback battle in Athens.” Sure. But because of how much more successful Newman was and his proven downfield ability, I don’t think Daniels’ eligibility impacts that. I’ll be surprised if Newman isn’t the starter, especially in the midst of this unprecedented offseason that seems to favor the veterans.
Let’s get back to that word. “Security.” It’s 2-fold for Georgia.
There’s the first scenario. That is, Newman is the starter. He’s a starter in an offense with 9 new starters operating a new Air Raid offense with a new offensive coordinator and 4 new offensive linemen. Have I said “new” enough yet?
It’s not crazy to think that in this offseason with such limited time, Georgia’s new offense will take a minute to get rolling. Protection could be an issue, too. Georgia won’t max-protect in an Air Raid offense, and it would ideally like to give Newman full running ability. Ask 2018 LSU how an offense can be limited when those 2 things can’t happen. That offense grew incredibly predictable, and part of it was because Joe Burrow’s backup, Myles Brennan, was banged up throughout the season and was essentially on the sidelines as an emergency quarterback.
Georgia now doesn’t have to worry about the depth behind its starter. And to be fair, it’s not that the talent is lacking. The Dawgs of course have redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis and true freshman Carson Beck, both of whom were 4-star recruits. It wasn’t that long ago that true freshman Jake Fromm entered for an injured Jacob Eason in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
Clearly, though, Smart didn’t want to rely on Beck or Mathis in the event that Newman went down (durability is a question for a new quarterback with a new offensive line playing in a new offense). Why wouldn’t Smart feel comfortable with his options? Well, this offseason. Due to COVID-19 practice restrictions, Beck didn’t get the offseason that Fromm did in 2017, and Mathis’ brain surgery prevented him from having a normal true freshman season.
It made sense why Smart went after Daniels, and why there’s a chance it didn’t have anything to do with how successful he thought Newman could be in this new offense. Again, let’s not forget that Newman was much more successful as a starter:
PFF grade rank in last full season:
Jamie Newman (2019) – 12th
JT Daniels (2018) – 108th pic.twitter.com/s3TkKJbGRo
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 28, 2020
Speaking of that, “security” also gives Smart multiple options in the event that 1 quarterback struggles too much in this new offense. There’s no guarantee that Newman looks worthy of keeping the starting job if he struggles in the first few games. His skeptics would tell you that had some uninspiring performances down the stretch to end 2019. And on the flip side, if Daniels were to win the job out of camp, there’s no guarantee that he looks worthy of keeping the starting role after a few games in his new surroundings.
I said this when Daniels transferred to Georgia and I’ll say it again. At the root of the relatively surprising decision to recruit Daniels to come to Athens was Smart trying to avoid a disastrous scenario. He has loads of talent returning from the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. This should be his best defense yet at Georgia. The last thing he wants is to be sitting there at 7-0, only to watch an injury to his starting quarterback ruin his team’s undefeated season.
Remember 2005 when Georgia started 7-0 and D.J. Shockley went down right before the Florida game? Mark Richt turned Georgia’s national championship hopes to … Joe Tereshinski. With all due respect to Tereshinski, who had one of the best touchdown catches you’ll ever see from a quarterback, Smart never wants to go into a monumental game knowing that his best option is a quarterback like that.
Daniels’ immediate eligibility should prevent that from happening in 2020. And look, maybe Smart wasn’t even sure that Daniels would be eligible this year. He still could have sold Daniels on being the favorite to win the starting job in 2021 and 2022 or however long he stayed in Athens.
What happened Monday with Daniels’ eligibility news will make Georgia better even if Newman wins the starting job and lives up to the hype. Well, as long as Todd Monken doesn’t have some wishy-washy approach with naming a starting quarterback or rotating them. That won’t make Georgia any better.
Adding Daniels was about Smart keeping control of a pivotal season for his program. Having the USC transfer receive immediate eligibility was certainly a positive, even if it makes that quarterback room a bit tougher to decipher.
The outlook for a 2020 college football season might not look so secure right now, but if there is one, nobody will accuse Smart of not adding enough security at the game’s most important position.
I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Tereshinskis left in Georgia’s quarterback room.