Since the arrival of the transfer portal, mobility among college football players has forever changed. Couple in the COVID-19 pandemic and the NCAA's new one-time transfer legislation, players are now on the move in a more high-profile way than ever before. At no position is this more notable than quarterback. Landing a transfer quarterback, especially one with experience, can be an instant upgrade to a team that may desperately need one or is looking to elevate its ceiling.
There are plenty of names to go around as the 2021 season approaches, and all of them will at least have the opportunity to make an impact. But not every situation is the same, which is why we've broken down the following players into tiers -- from landing on teams with either conference title or playoff aspirations to those simply looking for a second chance to be the starter.
Tier 1: Playoff hopefuls, league title contenders
Jack Coan, Notre Dame. With Notre Dame's spring drills winding down, it appears as though the quarterback battle between Coan and sophomore Drew Pyne will continue into the preseason. Still, the Wisconsin transfer has a lot to offer a program that's replacing three-year starter Ian Book. Coan missed last season due to a right foot injury, but he has 18 starts under his belt between 2018-19. He was effective in those games, too, with 3,242 yards passing and 23 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He completed nearly 70% of his passes in 2019 and helped the Badgers make the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Irish have some questions to answer for the 2021 season, particularly at offensive line and wide receiver. The schedule doesn't feature many gimmes, either. Coan's experience as a solid pocket passer could come into play as the quarterback competition rolls on.
Charlie Brewer, Utah. I don't know how many friends I have on this island, but Brewer felt a little undervalued during his time at Baylor. He was solid as a freshman on a cruddy team and then posted back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons with 40 touchdowns as a sophomore and junior, leading the Bears to a Big 12 title game appearance in the latter. And while he wasn't bad in 2020, Baylor was hit as hard as any program by COVID-19. Throw that out.
Brewer will face competition from Cam Rising in the preseason, but for whatever it's worth, he was literally perfect in the Utes' spring game (15 of 15 for 151 yards and two touchdowns). He's not the most physically gifted player at the position, but he can win games. With a good defense, which Utah should once again have, Brewer can be the type of quarterback to get Utah back to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Tier 2: Bringing stability to the position
Tyler Shough, Texas Tech. The Oregon transfer comes to Texas Tech at a perfect time. With the Red Raiders posting their worst passing totals in what seems like forever. Shough was the starter for the Ducks but began splitting time with Anthony Brown, a transfer from Boston College, late in the year. By then, the writing was on the walls and Shough entered the portal. He gives the Red Raiders a nice upgrade. In his first year as a starter -- succeeding Justin Herbert, no less -- Shough compiled 1,559 yards passing and 13 touchdowns with another two on the ground. Not bad for seven games on a team hurt by opt-outs.
McKenzie Milton, Florida State. There are some intriguing options for second-year Noles coach Mike Norvell at a position that could use an upgrade, Milton included. He's rehabbed a devastating knee injury for the past two years but was one of college football's most electrifying quarterbacks at UCF between 2017-18 with more than 7,600 yards of total offense and 79 touchdowns. Jordan Travis is probably the starter if the season began today, but Milton is valuable. At worst, he brings much-needed depth and leadership as the Seminoles continue their rebuild under Norvell. At best, he wins the job and looks something similar to his old form. And I can't think of a single person who wouldn't love to see that.
Anthony Russo, Michigan State. Few quarterback transfers surprise me anymore now that the portal is commonplace, but Russo leaving Temple for Michigan State was an eyebrow raiser. The grad transfer had 26 starts with the Owls and was one of the program's most accomplished passers all-time with 6,292 yards and 44 touchdowns. Russo has been going head to head with Payton Thorne for the QB1 job, and it's a battle that should extend to the end of spring, if not beyond. But if Russo wins the job, he brings a lot of experience to a program that's trying to rebuild under second-year coach Mel Tucker.
Jack Abraham, Mississippi State. I low-key love this addition. Bulldogs coach Mike Leach thought he had an instant plug-and-play guy with K.J. Costello last year, but after a record-setting debut, Costello was benched halfway through the year. Abraham also joins Mississippi State as a grad transfer from Southern Miss, where he was a three-year starter. Abraham isn't the biggest guy, but he's proven to be a reliable, accurate passer over the years who should flourish in Leach's pass-happy offense. In the Bulldogs' spring game, Abraham shined with 162 yards and two touchdowns. He might finally be the player Leach needs to move Mississippi State's offense in the right direction.
Tier 3: Heavy competition
Hendon Hooker/Joe Milton, Tennessee. The Vols aren't the only program to bring in two transfer quarterbacks into an offseason competition, but they may be the most notable. Hooker was a 15-game starter for the Hokies over the past two seasons and gives Tennessee a legit dual-threat option, something that hasn't been the case under center lately. Milton, who got off to a great start in the Week 1 game against Minnesota before regressing, will reportedly join the team after he graduates from Michigan in May. That might delay his real impact on the quarterback race until 2022.
Hooker is up against incumbent part-time starters Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey, but with a new coaching staff in place, he has just as good a shot to learn the new offense as anyone. Hooker has the physical tools to give first-year coach Josh Heupel the kind of playmaker he enjoyed at UCF with Dillon Gabriel, though Hooker is a more notable threat with his legs. The Vols might not be all that good in 2021, but Hooker gives them a chance to be a lot of fun.
Alan Bowman, Michigan. Despite being a three-year starter at Texas Tech when healthy, Bowman isn't seen as the public favorite to be QB1 for the Wolverines. That's Cade McNamara, though five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy arrives with a lot of fanfare and could get the call as well. Still, Bowman gives Michigan a steady arm at the position. In 19 career games for the Red Raiders, Bowman threw for 5,260 yards, 33 touchdowns and 17 picks. Since McNamara only has one start, Bowman is the veteran and theoretically has as good a chance as anyone to win the starting job. He's a bit limited and oft-injured, but at the very least, he is part of what will be a hard-fought offseason competition.
Tier 4: Looking to finally break out
D'Wan Mathis, Temple. Mathis started the first game of the season for Georgia in 2020 against Arkansas. By the end of that game, he was on the bench in favor of Stetson Bennett. Mathis now has a new home at Temple, which is looking to replace Anthony Russo. Mathis has a blue-chip pedigree and all the physical traits the Owls would want out of a quarterback. The question is whether he can put a disappointing 2020 season behind him and make a move to be the team's starting quarterback in 2021.
Chase Brice, Appalachian State. This is Brice's second transfer since leaving Clemson following the 2019 season. In his one season at Duke, Brice started all 11 games but had a FBS worst 22 turnovers. But with Zac Thomas gone, the Mountaineers are looking for a successor, and there's no experience elsewhere on the roster.
Tanner Mordecai, SMU. Coach Sonny Dykes is likely to choose between Mordecai, a grad transfer from Oklahoma, and four-star freshman Preston Stone. Mordecai has been a career backup but has at least some game experience, which gives him a leg up over Stone. However, Stone enrolled early, allowing the quarterback battle to begin immediately with the start of spring practice. Stone is also considered to be the quarterback of the future, so it'll be interesting to see if Mordecai can fend him off -- and if so, for how long.