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Kentucky football banks on a transfer portal quarterback again. With good reason.

News that Kentucky football has taken a transfer portal quarterback for the third time in four years, prompted a legitimate question: Why can’t Mark Stoops and staff develop a homegrown quarterback on its roster?

Here’s the thing: You can ask that same question of numerous college programs these days.

After all, two of the four spots in the College Football Playoff went to teams led by transfer quarterbacks. Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. led Washington to an undefeated season and the Pac-12 title. Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers led Texas to the Big 12 title. Louisville transfer Jordan Travis was on his way to leading Florida State to a CFP spot before breaking his leg.

Moreover, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, a transfer from Arizona State, is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy when results of the voting are announced Saturday. Former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix is a finalist after shining at Oregon. Penix is also a finalist.

Besides Daniels, among starting SEC quarterbacks this season were USC transfer Jaxson Dart at Ole Miss, Michigan transfer Joe Milton at Tennessee, LSU transfer Max Johnson at Texas A&M, Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne at Auburn, Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz at Florida, Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler at South Carolina, Vanderbilt’s Mike Wright at Mississippi State and North Carolina State’s Devin Leary at Kentucky.

Little wonder that after welcoming Will Levis from Penn State in 2021 and Leary from N.C. State in 2023, the Cats have reached into the current crop of portal passers.

It’s a growing crop. Among the ones we know about are Ohio State’s Kyle McCord, Washington State’s Cam Ward, UCLA’s Dante Moore, Kansas State’s Will Howard, Duke’s Riley Leonard, Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei, Mississippi State’s Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke and Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall, to name a few.

Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough has already committed to Louisville, which reached the ACC title game this season with ex-California quarterback Jack Plummer. And there are reports that U of L is talking to Uiagalelei, who transferred from Clemson to Oregon State before last season.

NIL money is undoubtedly one motivator. Nebraska coach Matt Rhule drew headlines recently for saying a good quarterback in the portal was likely to draw “between $1 million and $2 million” in promised NIL money. Some portal entrants are testing that market.

Others are looking to move up a level. Some are merely seeking a different experience. An overlooked factor in portal madness is that these are young adults who are often looking to see what else is out there as far as college life is concerned.

Brock Vandagriff, who committed to Kentucky out of the transfer portal on Wednesday, threw 21 passes in three seasons at Georgia after being rated one of the nation’s top quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2021.
Brock Vandagriff, who committed to Kentucky out of the transfer portal on Wednesday, threw 21 passes in three seasons at Georgia after being rated one of the nation’s top quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2021.

Then there’s Brock Vandagriff, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound backup quarterback at Georgia who entered the transfer portal Monday and committed to UK on Wednesday. His motivation for moving is probably more old-fashioned.

It is true that Vandagriff failed to beat out Carson Beck for the starting job at Georgia. It is also true that Levis failed to beat out Sean Clifford for the starting job at Penn State before joining offensive coordinator Liam Coen at Kentucky. The Levis move turned out well for both parties.

Just as Levis was in 2021, Vandagriff no doubt is looking for an opportunity to play. He was a four-star prospect coming out of Prince Avenue Christian School in Bogart, Georgia. As a recruit, 247 Sports ranked Vandagriff as the fifth-best quarterback prospect and 34th best prospect overall. At Georgia, he has thrown 21 passes in three seasons, backing up first Stetson Bennett and then Beck.

No quarterback is a sure thing, of course. The great Bill Walsh once said, “The hardest thing to do in football is to find coaches that can coach the quarterback, and it’s even harder to find ones that can evaluate them.”

That’s why proven quarterbacks are in such demand. In this quick-fix world, in which coaches are given shorter and shorter time periods to turn around programs, teams are happy to put the quarterback prospects on their own roster on hold in hopes of finding a better, more experienced quarterback in the portal. Kentucky is no different.

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