The 5 Power 5 teams that would make sense for former LSU quarterback TJ Finley
I think TJ Finley will have a Power 5 market for his services.
That might not be too bold of a prediction considering that Finley, by virtue of the free year of eligibility in 2020, is essentially like a college freshman. The difference? He got half a season’s worth of snaps in the toughest division in college football. There’s value in that.
The 6-6, 250 pound signal-caller saw the writing on the wall at LSU, where he was going to be QB3 at best behind Myles Brennan and 2020 classmate Max Johnson.
He’ll find a new home, and it sounds like that’ll happen sooner rather than later:
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) May 6, 2021
Am I the only one who noticed he didn’t have a Pac-12 team in there? As a result, let’s scrap the Pac-12 from the potential Power 5 destinations.
No matter where he ends up, Finley’s ability to handle pressure must improve.
This throw led to quite the earful from Ed Orgeron when Finley got to the sideline, which was a key reason he lost the starting job to Johnson:
Buddy Johnson picks off TJ Finley and takes it back 15 yards for the score as Texas A&M (-15.5) extends their lead to 20-0
— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) November 29, 2020
At the same time, those weaknesses are fairly common for someone playing as a true freshman SEC quarterback. And here’s the other interesting note about Finley — the guy played against some elite defensive minds in his 5 starts:
- Game 1 — Will Muschamp, South Carolina
- Game 2 — Kevin Steele, Auburn
- Game 3 — Barry Odom, Arkansas
- Game 4 — Mike Elko, Texas A&M
- Game 5 — Nick Saban, Alabama
With how porous the LSU defense was and how inconsistent the running game was, Finley was put in some tough spots. After his debut against South Carolina, wherein the Dan Orlovskys of the world said that he needed to be the starter over Brennan because of 1 game, defenses adjusted. Finley’s numbers in Games 2-5 were, um, not great. He completed 53% of his passes for 5.7 yards per attempt with a 3-4 TD-INT ratio and a total of 10 rushing yards.
But does that mean Finley will never find success as a Power 5 quarterback? Absolutely not.
These 5 teams at the Power 5 level would make a lot of sense for Finley:
Why it would make sense — Let’s start with the team that Finley dominated. It’s an entirely different coaching staff, but that’s actually a positive for Finley’s case. Luke Doty has been given QB1 status by Shane Beamer in Columbia. That was under the premise that nothing drastic changes with the mobile signal-caller (injury, off-field incident, massive regression, etc.). Would bringing in Finley be more competition for Doty than St. Francis transfer Jason Brown? Absolutely.
Finley can stretch the field in a way that Doty, at least so far, cannot. If the goal is to find someone who can prevent defenses from loading the box against South Carolina’s dangerous backfield, South Carolina would be wise to consider making a play for Finley.
For Finley, yes, there’s risk in using that 1-time transfer to go to a school with an incumbent starting quarterback in the same class. But that’s one of those scenarios where if he does his homework and he feels like he can beat Doty for the starting job in camp, and/or the South Carolina staff sells him on his fit in the offense, then it would make sense for Finley to stay in the SEC.
Why it would make sense — Speaking of SEC teams with new coaching staffs who might not be totally sold on the incumbent starting quarterback they inherited, would Auburn be a potential fit? It’s certainly possible.
Yes, I realize that Bo Nix looked like he was on a completely different level than Finley when they faced off last year. There would be plenty of reminders of that if Finley were to announce he was taking his talents to The Plains. But this feels like Nix’s last stand at Auburn. One would think Bryan Harsin would like to have a short leash with Nix, who is entering Year 3 as a starter. With how brutal the front half of Auburn’s schedule is — the Tigers have games at Penn State, at LSU and vs. Georgia — there will be immense pressure on Nix to succeed with his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons.
If Nix were to struggle, would Harsin really turn to Grant Loy? My guess is no, and not just because he didn’t have the best spring game performance. There’s already legitimate buzz that true freshman Dematrius Davis could be Nix’s backup. That’s certainly possible, though turning to a true freshman on the wrong side of 200 pounds might not be the move. Davis was also recruited by the former staff, though his ability to be a true dual-threat could be the future in Bobo’s offense.
That’s the other thing. Those are the 3 scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, and none was recruited by Harsin’s staff. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise when Auburn was reportedly in the market for Oregon transfer Tyler Shough (he ended up at Texas Tech).
Bobo saw up close what Finley was capable of. And while all the talk is about Bobo with mobile quarterbacks, we mustn’t forget that the statue-esque Collin Hill was Bobo’s guy at Colorado State and South Carolina. For all we know, Bobo could see Finley as a more natural fit in his offense than Nix.
Why it would make sense — Well, because Finley’s recent Twitter follows say there’s a chance.
The “who has he followed lately” pattern suggests that TJ Finley will wind up with Steve Sarkisian at Texas. pic.twitter.com/YB0tCeBsih
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) May 6, 2021
Besides a social media pattern, let’s think about why this would make sense. For starters, one would assume there’s some pretty significant demand to play in Steve Sarkisian’s offense after both of his signal-callers at Alabama came off the board in the top 15 in consecutive drafts. That’s not quite Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, but considering the fact that Sarkisian’s offense yielded the most prolific offense in Alabama history with Mac Jones at the controls, the new Texas coach walked into his new gig with quite the national reputation.
The Broyles Award winner may likely settle on Casey Thompson as his starter. But for Finley’s sake, even if that is the case, Thompson is entering Year 4 at Texas, so he’s draft-eligible. Finley could sit a year and then have 3 years of eligibility to work with Sarkisian. Or he could step in if Thompson, who is about 12 pounds lighter than Kyler Murray, were to get hurt or falter.
What could prevent this from happening? If Sarkisian believes the talented local favorite Hudson Card can be more consistent stretching the field, that might prevent the Longhorns from pursuing Finley. Like Finley, Card is also a class of 2020 quarterback with 4 years of eligibility left, so if that’s the vibe Finley got from Texas, that’s not really much different than his situation at LSU.
But if Finley were to follow the Twitter pattern and sign with Texas, that would probably tell us a lot about how Sarkisian feels about Card.
Why it would make sense — Besides the fact that 2020 starter Chase Brice transferred to Appalachian State after a rough season in which he led FBS with 22 turnovers, Finley could work with David Cutcliffe. The Duke coach is relinquishing play-calling duties, but he’s still taking an active approach to building up his quarterbacks. Heading into fall camp, it doesn’t appear there’s an obvious starter. No quarterback on Duke’s roster has a career start or an FBS touchdown pass.
Gunnar Holmberg struggled in limited reps in 2020, and even though Cutcliffe is high on the redshirt junior, that by no means makes him a lock to hold on to QB1 status. It’s Holmberg, redshirt freshman Luca Diamont (the brother of former Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont) and true freshman Jordan Moore. All of those guys are mobile, which would certainly make Finley the outlier of that group.
But if Finley is looking for a Power 5 battle that he’d have a favorable chance to win, Duke would be about as favorable as it gets. Getting to work with Cutcliffe would be a significant bonus compared to some of the other bottom-tier Power 5 programs with potential openings.
Why it would make sense — This would be a particularly intriguing option given what we (think) we know about the Penn State quarterback situation. Sean Clifford is the favorite to win the job, though he regressed in Year 2 as a starter in 2020, and at one point, he lost his job to Will Levis. But now, Levis is at Kentucky. Clifford is entering Year 5 in Happy Valley, so even if he does return to form with new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, Finley could potentially have 3 years of eligibility left after 2021.
Penn State has been linked to a variety of quarterbacks in the transfer portal in part because of the aforementioned uncertainty and limited eligibility with Clifford, but also because his backup situation is anyone’s guess with Levis and 2020 signee Micah Bowens both transferring out of Penn State.
Former 4-star recruit Ta’Quan Roberson didn’t show he was on Clifford’s level in the spring, and he has yet to complete a pass at the FBS level in his first 2 seasons. Early enrollee Christian Veilleux is the other option, and he came in as a slender 3-star recruit. Finley would instantly put pressure on Clifford, and he would add a different element to the quarterback room than the more mobile Roberson.
Penn State would check a lot of boxes for Finley. He could have a favorable path to starting this year or next, he could work with a respected quarterback developer in Yurcich and he could continue his career at a yearly New Year’s 6 contender. James Franklin said before spring camp started that he’d be open to adding a quarterback from the transfer portal. So far, the right one hasn’t lined up.
Finley might be exactly what Franklin has been waiting for.