One of the top college football quarterbacks of the 2021 season, Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams, has entered the transfer portal.
Williams on Monday announced his decision to enter the portal, a move that doesn’t come as too big a shock considering Williams’ coach, Lincoln Riley, left the Sooners for USC. Indeed, Williams — who becomes the second Sooners quarterback to enter the transfer portal this offseason, following Spencer Rattler — mentioned that reasoning in his announcement:
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Williams’ father, Carl, told Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports that developing into an NFL quarterback was a key contributing factor to his son playing at Oklahoma. So, too, will it factor into where he chooses to transfer. That said, the rising sophomore could ultimately stay at Oklahoma, a possibility he mentioned in his announcement. That could be the first big recruiting battle of new coach Brent Venables’ tenure in Norman, though his recent hiring of Ole Miss offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby will certainly be a persuasive argument for Williams to remain a Sooner.
But Williams will have no shortage of other schools knocking at his door now that he’s in the portal. He completed 137 of 212 passes (64.6 percent) for 1,916 yards and 21 touchdowns to four interceptions as a freshman in 2021. He also added 79 rushes for 442 yards and six scores. In short, he is one of the most talented signal-callers in college football and would represent a massive upgrade at quarterback for nearly every school in the country.
With that, Sporting News breaks down five potential transfer destinations for Williams:
The Trojans on paper appear to be one of the top suitors for Williams, who initially chose Oklahoma because of Riley’s track record of developing NFL quarterbacks (two overall No. 1 picks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, plus second-round pick Jalen Hurts. Mayfield and Murray also won the Heisman Trophy, while Hurts finished second in the voting).
The simplest move that aligns with Williams’ goal of playing in the NFL would be to follow his coach from Norman to Los Angeles. It’s an even more viable option considering Kedon Slovis has transferred to Pitt, leaving only Jaxson Dart to battle for the job. Malachi Nelson, the No. 2 overall quarterback in the 2023 class, won’t attend USC until 2023. There won’t be a bigger brand in pursuit of Williams’ services (at least, one that actually has a need at the position).
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Would Dabo Swinney welcome another quarterback with D.J. Uiagalelei still in tow as the starter? The top pro-style quarterback from the 2020 signing class struggled for the Tigers in 2021, completing 208 of 374 passes (55.6 percent) with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He added 103 rushes for 316 yards and four scores.
That was good enough to get the Tigers to a 10-3 record, but Clemson has bigger aspirations than double-digit wins. And Swinney has shown a willingness to substitute his starter if a better option is available: Just look at Kelly Bryant in 2018. Swinney benched the senior — who had led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff only a season before — in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence, who led Clemson to an undefeated season.
Lawrence ultimately went No. 1 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, following Deshaun Watson (No. 12 in the 2017 NFL Draft) as first-round selections out of Clemson. The pipeline is in place, and Williams will have no shortage of opportunities to prove himself at a program with more realistic championship aspirations than Oklahoma.
Matt Corral has likely played his last for the Rebels, which leaves a gaping hole at the most important position. Williams might not be a one-to-one comparison to Corral, who is considered a first-round draft pick, but Williams’ ability to run as well as pass should garner plenty of attention from Lane Kiffin.
Ole Miss would be an enticing option for several reasons, not least Kiffin’s history of working with future NFL quarterbacks: Corral at Ole Miss; Tua Tagovailoa and Hurts at Alabama; and Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer at USC. Kiffin not only has a history of producing next-level talent, he also has an aggressive offense that features quarterback runs. Corral threw for 3,343 yards and 20 touchdowns to five interceptions in 2021, and added 614 yards and 11 scores on the ground.
Transferring to Ole Miss would also present Williams the opportunity to play in the SEC, which consistently produces the most NFL talent of any major conference in college football. If Williams could succeed in the SEC, it would go a long way to proving his ability to NFL scouts who frequent Rebels games.
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Texas A&M has already landed former LSU quarterback Max Johnson, but coach Jimbo Fisher would certainly welcome a player of Williams’ caliber to the mix. Fisher also has a history of working with top NFL quarterback talent: JaMarcus Russell at LSU and Jameis Winston at Florida State. Both players went No. 1 overall in the 2007 and 2015 NFL drafts, respectively. Kellen Mond was a third-round selection out of A&M in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Aggies, like Ole Miss, compete out of the SEC West, where teams such as Alabama, LSU and Auburn regularly send players to the NFL. But Fisher has also secured the top class in modern recruiting history, one that would certainly help make the most of Williams’ talents. That 2022 signing class, coupled with Fisher’s history of producing NFL quarterbacks, could make College Station a tempting destination.
Maryland could garner attention from Williams considering the Washington, D.C., product had the Terrapins among his finalists before committing to Riley at Oklahoma. Should Williams transfer to Maryland, he would continue his football career just a half-hour away from where he played at Gonzaga College High School.
The Terrapins also have head coach Mike Locksley and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Enos, both of whom were on Alabama’s coaching staff in 2018. That Tide team produced 16 future NFL Draft picks on offense, including quarterbacks Tagovailoa (No. 5 overall in 2020) and Mac Jones (No. 15 in 2021).
It’s uncertain whether junior Taulia Tagovailoa will declare for the 2022 NFL Draft; if he does, Maryland could be a prime destination for Williams. That might be the case even if Taulia Tagovailoa returns for his senior season, though it remains to be seen whether Williams is interested in a significant quarterback battle.