Graduate Transfer Quarterbacks: Saviors or Usurpers?

David Marsh Editorials 24 Comments

Oregon experimented with graduate transfer quarterbacks in both 2015 and 2016 and—needless to say—both years left a bit of a sour taste in Oregon fans’ mouths. Was Oregon truly unable to recruit and develop a quarterback and forced to dip into the graduate-transfer pool to find a signal-caller? Twice!

Now, in 2020, Oregon, with a completely different coaching staff, is continuing the experiment with incoming transfer Anthony Brown from Boston College. Are graduate transfer quarterbacks the one-year saviors of a desperate program or do they hurt the program by stealing the starting spot from a player recruited and developed by Oregon’s own coaches?

John Sperry

Vernon Adams was the savior of the 2015 season

The 2015 season was marked by an electric Vernon Adams who, when healthy, destroyed opposing defenses and put on a nail-biting show of deep throws while on the run. Oregon proved to be the best team in the conference when Adams was at 100%, defeating the eventual conference champ, Stanford, on the road. In doing so they kept Stanford out of the College Football Playoff, and probably robbed Christian McCaffrey of the Heisman Trophy at the same time. It was a gloriously fun moment for Oregon football, though one soured by a season with too many injuries and too many losses.

The following year Oregon brought in another transfer quarterback, Dakota Prukop, from Montana State. Prukop was in all honesty serviceable. He just wasn’t the smooth play-maker that Marcus Mariota was or the jaw-dropping magic act Vernon Adams was when not nagged by injury.

Prukop was good enough but a freshman Justin Herbert—brought in to face the Huskies after Prukop’s 2-3 start to the seasonwas better. Overall, the 2016 Oregon offense wasn’t as good as previous years, ranking at No. 27 nationally. For comparison, the 2014 Mariota-led offense was ranked No. 4 and the Adams-led 2015 offense was ranked No. 5.

While the 2016 offense wasn’t as good as its immediate predecessors, what killed Oregon’s 2016 season wasn’t the graduate transfer quarterback or even a merely ok offense but a defense that was the worst in Oregon history. The defense simply could not get off the field without giving up points in the process. The offense rarely got the ball in decent field position and was always playing scoreboard catch-up.

Gary Breedlove

Dakota Prukop looks to pass against Virginia

In 2020 we are seeing a scenario play out closer to what we saw with Prukop in 2016 than what we saw with Adams in 2015.

In 2016 Oregon brought in a graduate transfer quarterback as a safety net. Mark Helfrich burned Herbert’s redshirt on the last play of the first game with a healthy Prukop standing on the sideline. Herbert was going to play and his becoming the starting quarterback was inevitable. Justin Herbert was not the better quarterback at game one but he was by game six, getting his first start against Washington.

Prukop was a safety net. The Vernon Adams experiment had been a success, despite the injuries, and 2016 began with uncertainty in the quarterback room. So why wouldn’t Mark Helfrich dive into the graduate transfer pool for a second year?

In the end, Oregon did prove it could recruit and develop its own quarterbacks. Herbert would go on and be taken No. 6 in the 2020 NFL draft after starting for four years for Oregon.

In 2020, Oregon’s coaches are doing the same thing the coaches did in 2016. I would argue this is not only a prudent move but the smart move.

Oregon has a new offensive coordinator in Joe Moorhead and a new offense means there may not be a quarterback on the roster with the required skill set to run the new system. The quarterback room is also without a returning starter for the first time since 2016, the last time Oregon brought in a transfer quarterback to address a lack of returning experience.

Does the coaching staff really have so little faith in their recruits, especially projected starter Tyler Shough, that they need to bring in a one-year graduate transfer as a band-aid? No, more likely the coaching staff knows that they have a championship-level defense and they just hired a new offensive coordinator to bring their offense up to championship level, learning curve included.

Kevin Cline

Will Tyler Shough be Oregon’s next great quarterback?

There is the very real opportunity to make the College Football Playoff and bringing in a transfer ensures there will be someone to run the offense at the highest level possible.

Does bringing in Brown mean that Shough will have to ride the bench as a backup for another year? Absolutely not, and I expect Shough to beat out Brown at some point in the season. If he doesn’t and chooses to transfer that is the way it is and another quarterback will get more snaps and move into position to become the starter.

If Brown loses, Brown becomes the backup, and the backup quarterback is the most important player on the sideline. So many Oregon seasons have either fallen short of their potential or outright ruined by an injury to the starting quarterback. Here are just a few:

2007Dennis Dixon goes down with a torn ACL against Arizona. Oregon loses a shot at the National Championship and Dixon loses his chance at the Heisman.


What would have happened if Dennis Dixon was not injured in 2007?

2013 – Marcus Mariota partially tears his MCL. Oregon loses to Stanford and Arizona, eliminating the Ducks from the Pac-12 Championship and a potential National Championship appearance.

2015 -  Vernon Adams breaks his finger on a late hit by his former team in the first game of 2015. Oregon loses games to Michigan State, Utah, and Washington State as Adams heals. Then in the Alamo Bowl, Adams suffers a concussion at the end of the first half leading to a record-setting collapse and loss to TCU.

(This is a game as fans we have wiped from our collective memory. So sorry for mentioning it.)

2017 – Justin Herbert breaks his collarbone against Cal. Oregon loses games to Washington, Washington State, and UCLA while true freshman Braxton Burmeister, who should have red-shirted, tries to run an offense that is completely over his head.

It is unlikely the 2017 Ducks would have beaten Washington or made it to the Pac-12 Championship Game with a healthy Herbert. However, wins over Washington State and UCLA were completely possible. Having a capable backup ensures a more positive end of season outcome.

Anthony Brown coming to Oregon should not cause Duck fans great concern. Brown was not guaranteed the starting spot but instead offered a spot on Oregon’s roster to compete. If we know anything about Mario Cristobal, we know he values competition at every position.

College football coaches have more pressure to win than ever and Cristobal is doing whatever he can to ensure the Ducks are in position to win, with the end goal being a National Championship.

David Marsh
Portland, OR
Top Photo by: David Pyles

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Mike West

On Fire!!!!!

Keanu Williams commits to Oregon!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Yep. He is the 12th player to verbal who is a four or five-star player, and thus on only July 11th….Cristobal matches the number of 4/5-Star players recruited last year. The record is two years ago at 14, and I think Oregon is going to have the highest quality recruiting class ever in 2021!

Jon Sousa

Here goes my two cents: The only reason we could use a transfer QB this year is because we have one good QB and a whole lot of potentially good QBs. With Brown we have two “for sure” good QBs. That means we have a good starter and a good back up. I expect Shough to win the job and for Brown to be back up… but to play a lot of snaps.

Vernon Adams was great, but his two injuries were mostly caused by him being him. Being the competitor that he is, he wanted to get every inch every time he could. His first injury was late in a blowout game. VA didn´t need to get two more yards… or any for that matter. Why was he running up the middle into traffic on a busted pass play??????????? His second injury was just barely before the half when Oregon was winning 31-0. Same thing. Another bad decision by an over ambitious QB??????????????? Take away the bad decisions and????

On Prukop… Surfer Dude, the QB coach, wanted to start JH from the first game (someone confided later), but MH vetoed the idea. If JH would have started from the first game we would have done better than 2-3 after five games and JH would have been ready by game 6 to face the Huskies. MH should have listened to Surfer Dude.

Jon Joseph

Same question I ask when on an airplane: Is there any such thing as too many pilots? Obviously, I jest.

As you so well note David, no one knows if Shough or any other undergrad on the roster, has the bona fides to be a P5 starting QB. Thus, I think having AB on board at QB makes a whole lot of sense. And, I doubt that AB’s transfer happened without serving notice on the QB room?

Even with AB gone in 2021, the Ducks has a full house in the QB room. I expect we will see one or more QBs transferring out at some point in time?

Kind of OT. No Ohio State for the Ducks in 2020. If the 2020 season is pushed back to 2021, the Ducks could be playing tOSU twice in a period of 6 to 8 months? Regardless, the Ducks are almost certain not to face a Buckeyes O led by QB transfer Fields.

Looks like the best hope for a 2020 season of some sort is conference only games beginning perhaps, in October. Post the B1G going conference games only, Bill Hancock noted that there will still be a playoff with the ‘Committee experts’ doing their job. Among the ‘experts,’ the prez of Robert Morris U. No one knows ball like the prez of RMU, no one.

One guy I think is reasonably happy with transfer QBs including grad transfer QBs, Lincoln Riley.

Thanks David, good stuff,

Jon Joseph

Interesting that 3 of the QBs who started in the playoff last season were transfers.

Great article David and I agree with your conclusion, however Brown can really run and Moorhead’s offense has the QB running more than I am comfortable with, so perhaps this QB cushion we need for a year. Thanks.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I would make that 2011, when Bennett came into the Arizona State game for an injured Darron Thomas and had a supreme game as a Zone-Reading quarterback. I know it well because I made a video that had tons of clips from that game…


I would say this season is much more like 2008 when Masoli came in as the back-up to the back-up. He is an insurance policy, not the answer to a problem at qb. The question will be does Brown get the job after injuries, like Masoli did? I also think Masoli was a much more talented qb than Brown, but time will tell.

In that season Shough would be Nate Costa, the presumed starter. Costa never saw the field and Masoli ran up the depth chart.

Also on the roster that year was freshman Darrron Thomas. He had one decent game and didn’t redshirt. Who is going to play Darron’s role this year? Maybe the Darron Thomas role will become a 4 year starter?

Great stuff to ponder during this crazy preseason, or presomething!


Masoli has had a decent CFL career, so who knows. Prukop plays DB for the Argos, so he isn’t even taking snaps up here.

Jon Sousa

Scott Frost was drafted as a QB in the NFL but ended up as a defensive back.


Masoli was a very good qb. If Brown is even close to his talent level we will be very lucky. Masoli also knew how to lead a team and win games. Off the field is where he failed.

I’m just wondering which freshman qb is going to be the Darren Thomas type kid who comes in this year, and gives us a glimmer of hope for the future. In the end the transfer qb route isn’t preferred, when Oregon has such a storied history with its qb development. I have a feeling one of these young guys is going to be our next great qb!


Great article, David. I go with BDF in this just a move to build depth. With no returning starter, a new OC, and OL, the battle for starting QB is on. On the prospects of having a season at all, I grow less optimistic every day. SRD wrote earlier what California is looking like, and conference games only doesn’t work without all the schools ; spring football seems to be a move borne of desperation over rationality.


I feel like if teams are allowed to assemble in the spring that the best course of action would be to scrap the notion of a “season” and proceed with normal spring practices hopefully culminating in the most heralded “Spring Game” ever. This would allow the NFL Draft to proceed ,and HOPEFULLY, a 2021 season could happen on schedule.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I second this sentiment; forget having two seasons in an eight month period. Spring football practice and game would be epic for a year!


PAC could opt for a Division schedule of 5 games with a championship game between division winners.

Santa Rosa Duck

Thanks David. There were times in the past when we needed to go into the graduate transfer market but I do not think we need to do it now. We are recruiting the QB room at a high level and I think this creates the potential for our recruits to move on as well.

My cup is half empty regarding the season. Today, July 16 if we were starting up, there would be prep time for NDSU. Now with the non conference games gone, that only buys us another 3-4 weeks depending on schedules. Here in California, the CV 19 is starting to ramp up seriously. 6% up yesterday in my community of Sonoma County for example. I cannot see California being ready for football in October. JMHO.


David, you are so right, Brown is just a safety net if needed. Few suspect he will will out over Tyler Shough. The Ducks are just filling up the QB stable, like you say one never knows what might happen. Also it was shown with Justin that the QB coaching staff is not up to par. Hopefully that will change but we haven’t seen much on grass yet.

Off subject: we all know by now that the Pac-12 is going with the conference only games (and of course that could change to no games-maybe) and the virus has hit Larry Scott, maybe big changes are ahead for the Pac-12 leadership. Lots still up in the air right now.

Jon Sousa

Moorhead is the new QB coach. I think that is an improvement.