Jalen Hurts is now officially in the transfer portal, which means the fun can really begin.
We know that a bunch of schools are going to want to contact the Alabama quarterback. There’s reportedly interest from schools like Florida State already.
But instead of just breaking down the 5 schools that Hurts could end up at, I decided to tweak the criteria a little bit. I tried — tried being the key word — to put myself in his shoes. That is, where would I want to play football?
Keep in mind that Hurts didn’t change positions because he wanted an opportunity to throw the ball, and more important, start. He wants to develop as a passer surrounded by players and coaches who will help him do that, and he wants to have a chance to play in the NFL. That means there are a lot of boxes to check here. And knowing how accomplished and high-profile of a player Hurts is, he’s going to have his pick of the litter.
That’s why Auburn and Florida State won’t make this list.
Without trying to assume how Hurts feels about playing for a rival like Auburn, just consider this. He doesn’t want to be the next Nick Marshall, who had an extremely prolific college career playing in Malzahn’s unorthodox system, but ultimately wasn’t developed as an NFL quarterback. Malzahn’s job is on the line. He’s more focused on scoring points in 2019, not doing what he can to make sure Hurts gets NFL reps.
And as for Florida State, would you want to play behind that offensive line? I sure as heck wouldn’t. And even if Hurts does, Deondre Francois apparently is sticking in Tallahassee. Even if Hurts feels he’s the better quarterback, why would he want to go to a place with an established starter when there will be so many other options?
That’s why those teams didn’t make my list. Here’s where I would want to go if I were Hurts.
Two Heisman Trophy winners in 2 years as a head coach should make anyone want to go play for Lincoln Riley. Both were transfers, by the way. Hurts would get one of the top offensive minds in the country to work with and he’d put up big numbers against Big 12 defenses. As a nice little bonus, he’d get to play within driving distance of home (it’s about 7 hours from Channelview, Texas).
The wild card is obviously we don’t know the future of Kyler Murray. After it seemed obvious that he was going to go join the Oakland Athletics farm system as their first-round pick, now there are reports that there’s a legitimate chance that he picks football and enters the 2019 NFL Draft. Murray has 1 more year of eligibility, so what he decides would ultimately dictate if Hurts even considers Oklahoma.
But yeah, if available, sign me up for the opportunity to play with Riley for a year. It worked out for the other 2 guys.
2. Mississippi State
Again, this is a combination of things. For the people saying “why would Hurts want to go live in Starkville?” remember that this is just a 1-year deal. And how dare you, hypothetical internet commenter, hate on #StarkVegas.
But with Nick Fitzgerald on the way out, the idea of starting under Joe Moorhead could be super attractive to Hurts. Keep in mind that while MSU was a much better running team than a passing team, Moorhead’s system is predicated on stretching the field vertically as well as incorporating the quarterback run game. That’s what helped take Trace McSorley and Penn State to new heights in 2016-17.
It’s sort of the perfect way for Hurts to transition from this run-heavy quarterback to someone who can show off his arm and connect on some next-level downfield throws. There’s more of a tolerance than ever for an RPO system like Moorhead’s in the NFL.
With all due respect to the promising Keytaon Thompson, Hurts would have a clear path to the starting gig. And just in case that all wasn’t enough, he’d get to face Alabama.
There are few reasons the Gators would almost make too much sense for Hurts. Getting to play for Dan Mullen with a loaded group of skill players in the SEC would be appealing. Mullen’s ability to scheme guys open gives quarterbacks wide-open windows to throw into. Who wouldn’t want that?
And there’s also the Dak Prescott card. Prescott was someone else who wasn’t seen as much of a passer until he really took off later in his career at Mississippi State. Considering what Prescott is doing at the NFL now, that’s an ace in the hole for Mullen to play if he pursues Hurts.
Of course, much of that depends on how Mullen feels about Feleipe Franks’ future. Franks is coming off arguably his best game in Mullen’s system, which helped Florida get double-digit wins and a New Year’s 6 Bowl victory in Year 1. If Mullen is all in on Franks, Hurts won’t even give Gainesville a look. What Mullen says publicly — all good things about Franks as the guy and Emory Jones as the future guy — can differ from how he handles this situation privately.
But if Mullen is even interested in the idea of bringing Hurts on board, one would have to think he’d listen.
Yes, I realize that Kliff Kingsbury left USC for the Arizona Cardinals and we don’t know who’s going to take over that offense. We do know that Clay Helton is still around for 2019, and it wasn’t very long ago that he helped Sam Darnold become one of the top picks in the draft.
People might forget that Darnold was actually a dual-threat guy coming out of high school. And while he wasn’t necessarily a prolific runner in college, Helton still ran an offense that catered to his mobility. He could definitely do the same for Hurts.
This could be a match made in heaven. Helton is essentially in Malzahn territory heading into 2019. That means he’s not worried about hurting feelings and not starting either J.T. Daniels or Jack Sears, both of whom still have 3 years of eligibility left. It’s actually looking like the perfect situation for a grad transfer like Hurts.
Would Hurts be interested in going to a 5-win team in a region of the country that he doesn’t have any background in? Who knows. That might be the ultimate question.
Either way, I’d expect Helton to make a major push to find out.
5. Texas Tech
I always like to throw in a wild card at the end. I had to have at least 1 school from Hurts’ home state, and with Sam Ehlinger emerging for Texas, I didn’t see that as an ideal fit.
And again, I know Kingsbury isn’t in Lubbock anymore. Matt Wells is. To my knowledge, there’s no established relationship between he and Hurts considering Wells spent the last 8 seasons at Utah State. But I imagine Wells will want to become friendly with Hurts in a hurry.
The plan is actually not to run the Air Raid offense, so no, I don’t think Hurts would go to Texas Tech with the intent of passing 50 times per game. Wells’ system is predicated on balance, and it’s extremely prolific. Utah State had the No. 2 scoring offense in America in 2018. They ranked No. 17 in passing and No. 31 in rushing with sophomore quarterback Jordan Love, who developed immensely in his second season with Wells.
There’s also the aforementioned appeal of playing against Big 12 defenses. Hurts can inflate those passing numbers, and because of Pat Mahomes, the stigma surrounding Texas Tech quarterbacks is gone (I understand it’ll be a different coach and a different system). You would still see the comments of “wow, Hurts is really trying to develop as a passer if he’s going to Texas Tech.” Not to go all Darren Rovell here, but there’s a rebranding benefit to it.
Those are a lot of benefits for Hurts, who would get to play in the state he grew up in, albeit 8 hours from home. If Hurts is thinking critically about this and willing to look past the program’s mediocrity for what it can do for his future, the Red Raiders will be an intriguing team to watch.