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Post Fromm moves on – Georgia must also

Thursday January 9, 2020

Jake Fromm has decided to turn pro – the first Georgia quarterback to forego his senior season since Matthew Stafford in 2009. Fromm’s accomplishments at Georgia began in his very first game when he led Georgia to its first win by more than 14 points in almost two years. His freshman season was out of a storybook: he stepped in for an injured Jacob Eason, led a dramatic comeback win at Notre Dame, held on to the starting job, won the SEC championship and Rose Bowl, and played for the national title. He leaves with three SEC East titles and a near-spotless record against Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, and Georgia Tech. He was a winner, a leader, and will be extremely difficult to replace.

After dealing with the initial shock though, Georgia only finds itself in the same position as LSU and Alabama: having to replace a special multi-year starting quarterback. As Jeff Schultz concludes, if those programs are better positioned to survive the transition and Georgia takes a big step back as a result of losing Fromm then “(Kirby) Smart hasn’t built nearly the program many thought he had.” Life, and Georgia football, moves on.

I don’t think things are that dire even if Georgia’s total losses on offense might be more comprehensive than at other top programs. Georgia has recruited at an elite level going on three or four seasons, and there are plausible, if not proven, answers at most every position. Lack of experience is a concern, but these days all teams are young teams. Smart gets to do now what he’s done several times in his four seasons as head coach: find creative and effective solutions to fill out his roster.

You’ll see dozens of pieces this week about the names Georgia might consider now at quarterback. The names will generally reduce down to one of these three groups:

The current roster: The guys already in the program will get the first look, and there’s talent there that was wanted by Ohio State, Alabama, and Florida. Stetson Bennett has been biding his time as Fromm’s backup. D’Wan Mathis hasn’t been fully cleared after brain surgery last summer, but he was able to do some scout team work towards the end of the season and continues to progress. Carson Beck has joined the program as a true freshman and early enrollee and will go through spring practice. Beck is kind of a forgotten man in the current signing class since he committed in early 2019, but he was a former Alabama commitment whom Florida hoped to land. It’s tough and rare for a true freshman to have Fromm’s level of success, but Beck is cut from similar cloth and might be the favorite to win the job from among those on the roster.

A graduate transfer: Several P5 quarterbacks have entered the transfer portal as graduates, and the Dawgs have had an impact graduate transfer at varying positions in just about every season since 2015 – yes, even Grayson Lambert counts. Georgia lacks a returning starting quarterback, and the top competition is arguably an incoming freshman. Georgia will be replacing many of its offensive skill players, but the Dawgs have top prospects in place or incoming at TE, WR, and RB. Georgia would seem like a good landing spot for a talented and experienced quarterback looking to go out with some hardware. Finding the right match will depend on the direction in which Kirby Smart wants to take the offense.

An underclassman transfer: Really any college quarterback short of Trevor Lawrence falls into this category. Justin Fields wasn’t on the Ohio State roster after the 2018 season, he certainly wasn’t a grad transfer, but he was able to find an opportunity that fit him and transfer in immediately. Georgia has been on the departure end of some high-profile quarterback transfers recently, and it could just as easily be a destination. The NCAA is unpredictable with its transfer waiver criteria and adjusted its waiver criteria last summer after the transfer frenzy in early 2019 that included Fields. Still, Smart never stops looking for ways to improve the roster, and he wouldn’t hesitate to bring in a transfer that could help right away. Though this is the least likely scenario we’d be wrong to completely dismiss it given the modern college football landscape and Smart’s track record of surprising us with some of his roster moves.

One other thing: The aftermath of Fromm’s decision could cast a longer shadow. Georgia is currently after some of the top QB prospects in the 2021 class. What will the depth chart look like entering that season? If Georgia does go the graduate transfer route in 2020, there would be an open competition in 2021 just as there would be had Fromm stayed. But if Beck, Mathis, or Bennett earn the job in 2020, there will be a returning starter in place heading into 2021. It’s the same story if Georgia is able to find an underclassman transfer to play in 2020. While it’s possible for a successful starter to give way (see Clemson and even Alabama), a smoother transition from a one-year starter would seem more attractive to a prospective QB than the challenge of having to unseat an established starter. That’s a situation that Kirby Smart can’t afford to consider right now; he has to find the best starter for 2020. It will be interesting to watch the recruitment of Brock Vandagriff and Caleb Williams over the next few months to see how they respond to Georgia’s evolving quarterback situation.