Transfer quarterbacks have taken over college football.
Two, Michael Penix Jr. and Quinn Ewers, will face off when No. 2 Washington and No. 3 Texas clash in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Along with Penix, formerly with Indiana, the other two quarterbacks who were finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Oregon’s Bo Nix and LSU’s Jayden Daniels, previously transferred schools.
Maryland knows the value of getting a quarterback from the portal: After leaving Alabama, Taulia Tagovailoa took over as the Terps’ starter in 2020 and is now the program leader in every meaningful passing statistic and the Big Ten’s all-time passing yards leader.
He’s also out of eligibility. The Terps have a pair of potential in-house replacements — soon-to-be redshirt junior Billy Edwards Jr. and redshirt sophomore Cameron Edge — but should be and are looking for additional players to take over or create competition at the game’s most important position. Former NC State quarterback MJ Morris met with Maryland last week, he told On3Sports.
Nobody in Maryland’s locker room has shown enough at the college level to lock in the starting spot next season.
Of course, the supply of quarterbacks in the transfer portal does not ensure Maryland will get a quality one — look at the struggles of Graham Mertz at Florida or his replacement at Wisconsin, Tanner Mordecai, as cautionary tales.
Programs like Maryland, who aren’t among the nation’s elite, will have to make compelling pitches to get impact players.
Maryland’s scheme gives quarterbacks ample opportunity to throw the ball. Tagovailoa led the Big Ten and ranked sixth among Power Five players in drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He [Taulia] has shown that if you’re a quarterback in the country and you want to have an opportunity to do some really special things, you can come here and this system is a quarterback-driven system. ... We always have really good skills. I think Lia has become a poster child for what we want to try to recruit,” Maryland coach Michael Locksley said.
Over 20% of those came on screens, easier plays that rely more on the abilities of playmakers on the outside. That’s a strength for Maryland, which led the Big Ten in yards after catch per route run and missed tackles forced, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Much of the offense is returning. The Terps are likely losing tight end Corey Dyches, who entered the transfer portal, and receiving yards leader Jeshaun Jones, who has exhausted his eligibility.
But lots of talent is returning. Tai Felton closed the regular season with 140 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers and ranked fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards.
Kaden Prather, in his first season with the Terps, made multiple acrobatic catches and is one of multiple former four-star recruits in Maryland’s receiver corps, as are Octavian Smith Jr. and Shaleak Knotts.
Tight end Preston Howard, in just his second year at the position, showed his athletic tools in limited time as Dyches’ backup. Howard was targeted just 16 times but ranked third among Power Five tight ends in yards after catch per reception, according to Pro Football Focus (minimum of 15 targets).
Despite its pass-heavy approach, Maryland was effective running the ball. The Terps ranked third in the Big Ten and 40th in the nation in expected points added per rush, per CFBGraphs, a balance that can slow down opposing pass rushes and keep defenses guessing. Expected points added models how many points an offense gained or lost based on score, down, distance and other factors.
The biggest concern for potential transfers is Maryland’s offensive line. The unit could have up to five new starters next season and will either need an infusion of transfer talent or strong development from in-house options to field a strong unit.
The good news is that the Terps had similar concerns entering this season with the departures of starters Jaelyn Duncan, Spencer Anderson, Johari Branch, Coltin Deery and Mason Lunsford.
Offensive line coach Brian Braswell molded the makeshift group into a solid one. The unit had occasional struggles, especially against elite competition, but coalesced to close the year strong. Tagovailoa ended the year pressured on just 25.9% of his drop-backs, the fourth-lowest mark in the Big Ten, according to CFBGraphs.
Maryland won’t be one of the most sought-after landing spots for quarterbacks, but the Terps have enough offensive infrastructure to offer a good opportunity for a player in the portal. They may even land the successor to Tagovailoa.