College Football Transfer Players to Watch in Spring Practice 2014
Over the last few years, it appears college football is finally catching up to its basketball brethren. College football players understand and are taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule, and it has led to a dramatic increase in transfer players being eligible the next season.
However, that isn't always the case, and the old-fashioned transfer-and-sit-out-a-year plan still is prevalent. As we enter spring ball, there are a number of transfer players with a lot to prove.
The players in new homes have a good opportunity to show coaches and the public why they should be excited.
Let's take a look at the players with high hopes entering spring ball this season.
*All stats courtesy CFBStats.com.
Players to Watch This Fall
While there are a number of intriguing transfer players this spring, not all of the 25 players to watch are going to be available. Some must wait to graduate and a few haven't chosen their next school.
The list, though, includes pretty intriguing options. Here are those 11 players.
Kendal Thompson, Quarterback (Oklahoma to Utah) - Thompson will graduate this spring and then transfer for his final two seasons of eligibility to Utah. He won't step in and be given the starting role, as Travis Wilson was cleared to play football again after a scary pre-existing condition was found following a concussion test. This will be an interesting battle to watch, given the Utes finished ninth in the Pac-12 in passing last season.
Max Wittek, Quarterback (USC to ?) - Wittek has already visited Texas and reportedly visited Hawai'i as well, according to Stephen Tsai of the Star Advertiser. He will have two years of eligibility after graduating this spring in just two-and-a-half years, and that makes him a hot commodity for schools looking for a long-term answer at quarterback. Wittek threw for 600 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions in his two-year career at Southern Cal.
Jacob Coker, Quarterback (Florida State to Alabama) - The backup to Jameis Winston saw the writing on the wall about his future at FSU and decided to take his final two years of eligibility to the university he always loved. The Mobile, Ala., native will graduate from FSU and go to Alabama to compete for the starting job this fall in a crowded field. If he wins, he'll be the starting quarterback of the school he grew up rooting for.
Cody Riggs, Cornerback (Florida to Notre Dame) - Riggs' transfer from Florida was thought to be about the Gators' refusal to move him back to corner, but he insists it's about the educational opportunity that grad school at Notre Dame offers. Either way, ND will get a veteran SEC-level starter in its defensive backfield this fall.
DJ Pettway, Defensive Lineman (Alabama to Alabama) - In a rare situation, Pettway will be returning to the school that kicked him out. Pettway was party to a pair of assaults and robberies for which three other players were kicked out of school. After a season at Eastern Mississippi Community College, the university allowed him back. He'll be back this fall and head coach Nick Saban looks forward to having him making plays again.
Michael Brewer, Quarterback (Texas Tech to Virginia Tech) - Brewer will be graduating in the spring, and continuing a pattern we've seen already, will have two years left to play. When Brewer arrives on the Va. Tech campus he'll join a wide-open quarterback battle, as Logan Thomas completed his senior season last year.
Pete Thomas, Quarterback (NC State to ?) - With Jacoby Brissett waiting in the wings, Thomas knew he had to go. He started six games last fall for first-year head coach Dave Doeren, but his stats weren't enough to prove he would be able to keep Brissett off the field in 2014. Thomas' destination for a final season of eligibility is unknown at this point.
Houston Bates (Illinois to ?) - The Covington, La., native will graduate this May and head back home so his family can see him play. Whether that means a place such as Tulane, LSU or Louisiana is yet to be determined. However, whoever gets him is going to get a productive player. He finished 2013 with 40 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season.
Davonte' Neal (Notre Dame to Arizona)
Davonte' Neal, a former 4-star recruit according to 247Sports, will finally get his long-term shot at college football. He played his freshman season at Notre Dame and showed just how dangerous he could be in a role as a punt returner.
He was a rock-solid option, not fumbling and taking 21 total punt returns in the 2012 season. With a daughter in Arizona, Neal decided to transfer after his first season and was hoping to have been eligible for the 2013 season, but the NCAA denied his request for a waiver.
It means that Neal will finally be able to look at spring practice as something more than just a teaser. This spring means a lot to the now Wildcat, as he enters the first of three remaining years of eligibility. Given that Rich Rodriguez's offense uses a lot of wide receivers, Neal should have plenty of opportunity.
Neal might be as important to Arizona as Arizona is to Neal in 2014, since it will spend this spring looking for a replacement for starting quarterback B.J. Denker. Having a weapon like Neal helps make any quarterback look good.
Rushel Shell (Pittsburgh to West Virginia)
The Pittsburgh-area native was supposed to be "the guy" after Ray Graham left the Pitt program. In his 2012 freshman season, Shell finished with 141 carries for 641 yards and four touchdowns behind Graham. However, he also ran afoul of new head coach Paul Chryst and decided to transfer after the season.
He flirted with UCLA, but ultimately landed closer to home with the Mountaineers. Shell has the talent to be a major player for the Mountaineers in 2013, and given that 1,000-yard rusher Charles Sims is gone, he will have every opportunity to earn the starting position.
Last season was spent on the scout team, now it's time for Shell to show why he set the Pennsylvania state rushing record with 9,078 yards.
Connor Brewer (Texas to Arizona)
Once a blue-chip prospect from Chaparrall High School in Arizona, Brewer returned home following a freshman season at Texas. He is eligible this season, along with former high school teammate Davonte' Neal.
People in Arizona are likely to remember his name from a high school career that included three state titles and a state-record 100 career passing touchdowns.
Neal and Brewer could be a formidable duo, so long as both get on the field this fall. What will be interesting to see is if Brewer will be able to hold off another blue-chip prospect, as he will battle 2013 4-star recruit Brandon Dawkins.
Brewer has the pedigree as the better pocket passer, while Dawkins comes in as a dual-threat type quarterback. This spring will be the public's first chance to see these two in a collegiate uniform. Which version of quarterback that can best lead Rodriguez's offense will be the key question to answer in Tucson.
David Davis (Washington State to Cal)
In-conference transfers are a rarity in college football, but David Davis' case wasn't cut-and-dried. Between Washington State and Cal was a one-year stop at Long Beach Community College.
Davis, a defensive tackle, is going to be a welcome sight on the Cal defense, especially considering that this group finished second-to-last nationally in points and yards given up.
At 6'2" and 295 pounds, Davis comes in with some experience, which will be useful for a group in desperate need of help. Davis didn't see any action in his two years at Washington State, so his Pac-12 experience is minimal at best.
Given the horrible nature of what happened under Andy Buh's leadership in one year, Davis has every opportunity to earn playing time this spring.
Alex Welch (Notre Dame to Miami (OH))
Get used to seeing Notre Dame to Miami (OH) transfers over the next few years,since the Redhawks hired Chuck Martin away from the Fighting Irish. Upon Martin's hiring, Alex Welch was one of the first to transfer.
Welch transfered immediately upon graduating in December and could be a help to the Redhawks' new offense. However, in his two years on the field at Notre Dame, Welch managed all of one reception as a tight end.
He has been a valuable member of the special teams units at Notre Dame, but this spring will be his chance to show that he can be an effective tight end as well. Heading to a MAC school could be just the opportunity Welch needs.
Lo Wood (Notre Dame to Miami (OH))
Alex Welch was just the tip of the iceberg in the pipeline from Notre Dame to Miami (OH), as defensive back Lo Wood also joins the party from South Bend to Oxford, Ohio.
Wood comes with a decent pedigree—totaling 19 tackles, one interception and one tackle for loss over three years of play. However, Woods was buried on the depth chart in South Bend and since he was able to graduate in the fall, a transfer gives him an opportunity to work for a starting job.
Dayone Nunley graduates from the Redhawks secondary, and the rest of the depth chart from a season ago is very green. Woods should become a leader immediately given his three years of experience at a school like Notre Dame.
Langston Newton (Kentucky to Purdue)
Purdue fans, coaches and players are hoping that 2013 was rock bottom for the Boilermakers; Hopefully for them, that's the case as the team was second-to-last in nearly every category in the Big Ten.
To that end, second-year head coach Darrell Hazell is looking for immediate answers. One of them could be mid-year transfer Langston Newton. Purdue needs edge rushers, big men in the middle and anyone willing to show some spunk on the defensive line.
As a 6'4", 260-pound player, Newton has the body and the coaching to possibly become an immediate impact player. However, Newton also didn't see any action in his redshirt freshman year in 2013.
Newton is waiting on the NCAA waiver for him to be eligible during the season ahead, but he will at least be able to participate in spring. If he can flash some ability, Newton could be a player to remember come this fall.
Ian Silberman (Florida to Boston College)
Silberman is a nice find for the Eagles of Boston College, as they get an offensive lineman with starting experience. He wound up on Chestnut Hill thanks to a relationship with head coach Steve Adazzio, who was around when Silberman was being recruited by Florida.
At 6'5" and 303 pounds, Silberman brings size and seven games of starting experience. He will be immediately eligible after graduating in December.
While he's played guard during his career at Florida, Boston College could see some shuffling along its offensive line this spring. Both tackles were seniors last season and that could give Silberman an inside track to a starting job.
If he's anything like former Florida teammate turned BC player, Matt Patchan, he could be a season-long starter. Patchan went from the Gators to Eagles and started all 13 games for BC in 2013.
Look for Silberman to get an extensive look this spring.
Tyler Murphy (Florida to Boston College)
Silberman isn't the only Gator moving north, as quarterback Tyler Murphy is reuniting with the offensive coordinator who recruited him to Florida, Steve Addazio, who is now the head coach at Boston College.
For Murphy it's also a return to the Northeast, as he is a native of Wethersfield, Conn. Like Silberman, Murphy already graduated and will available to the Eagles this spring. He will compete for the starting job at BC this spring, given that starter Chase Rettig used up his eligibility this past season.
In 2013, Murphy completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns to five interceptions. He saw time in nine games, starting six games after Jeff Driskell went down with an injury.
Andrew Hendrix (Notre Dame to Miami (OH)
We've come to the final of three Notre Dame players to follow an offensive coordinator to his new head coaching gig at Miami (OH). Martin will look to kick-start this offense with a familiar face, as quarterback Andrew Hendrix joins him in Oxford.
Hendrix is also a December graduate of Notre Dame, and will be immediately eligible for the Redhawks.
In three years as a backup to Tommy Reese and Everett Golson, Hendrix saw time in 16 games. He completed 25-of-58 passes for 360 yards and had one touchdown and two interceptions in his Irish career.
What will be interesting to see is how Martin uses Hendrix, as he is a good dual-threat option. Hendrix added 229 yards and two touchdowns in South Bend.
Austin Gearing, a redshirt freshman was the final starter for a team that went 0-12 last season, so Hendrix comes in with a significant chance of winning the starting job. Unless Gearing blows the doors off everyone this spring, expect to see Hendrix behind center this fall.
Gunner Kiel (Notre Dame to Cincinnati)
It appears that the merry-go-round that has been Gunner Kiel's collegiate career is finally coming to a stop. After commitments to Indiana, LSU and Notre Dame, then a year in the Irish uniform, Kiel will stay one place for more than a year.
After his one year in South Bend, Kiel transferred following the 2012 season and sat out last year in Cincinnati, per NCAA transfer rules.
Kiel wasn't just the normal recruit out of high school; he was the No. 1-ranked pro-style passer out of high school, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Considering the hype, Kiel's time is now. He enters this spring with three years of eligibility and will have to battle JUCO transfer Jarred Evans. Kiel's opportunity to take the job is there.
Wes Lunt (Oklahoma State to Illinois)
Illinois will be without Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback for the first time since 2010. However, head coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit have an ace up their sleeve.
That comes in the form of Wes Lunt, who got time in six games as a freshman at Oklahoma State. He finished the season by completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
After sitting out last season, learning the Illini offense and running the scout team, Lunt gets his chance to earn the starting job this spring. He'll compete with sophomore Aaron Bailey, who possesses a bit more in the run game than Lunt does.
The Illinois native could be the perfect fit for an Illini offense that led the Big Ten in passing yards and attempts, along with a second-place finish in passing touchdowns. That sounds like an offense that fits a gunslinger such as Lunt.
Nick Harwell (Miami (OH) to Kansas)
Rarely does getting kicked out of a MAC school give you an upgrade to a Big 12 school, but not many people produce the way Nick Harwell does. Harwell was dismissed from the Miami (OH) team following the 2012 season, but the drama didn't end there.
After expecting to complete his degree in the summer and be eligible to transfer as a graduate student in 2013, Harwell had to redshirt last year and finish his career in 2014. He was not only kicked off the team, he was kicked out of school.
One thing is for sure; Kansas could use Harwell. In three years on the field for the Redhawks, Harwell amassed 229 receptions for 3,166 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Kansas' leading receiver last year, Christian Matthews, caught all of 11 passes last year, while three running backs caught more than 20 passes each. Harwell is sorely needed and this spring will be his first action with the team that the public can see.
Look for him to be one of the biggest breakout players in the Big 12 this spring.
Jacoby Brissett (Florida to NC State)
The love affair with Jeff Driskell led to Jacoby Brissett's transfer to NC State, and head coach Dave Doeren knew what he had last year. So much so that Brissett was named the starter in 2014 before ever playing on anything other than the scout team.
Just how much did Doeren fall in love with Brissett? Well, according to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler - a lot.
“He's really good,” Doeren said. “Not just talented. He's a great leader. That's the thing. Our quarterback has to be the CEO of our program. He will be that way. He will relish that. We look forward to that.”
It led to Pete Thomas transferringthis offseason. That means a clear path for Brissett to make his own mark on a program. He completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 249 yards and one touchdown in six games of action in 2012.
Spring ball will be the first public sighting of Brissett playing quarterback and Doeren's confidence in Brissett needs to be proven quickly.
Braylon Heard (Nebraska to Kentucky)
If there is one running back who college football fans have forgotten about but shouldn't, it's Heard. After spending the first two years of his career as the third back behind Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah, Heard decided to transfer.
He did it, despite clearly showing he could be a major option in the Huskers backfield once Burkhead graduated. In two seasons at Nebraska, Heard had 462 yards, a 5.7 yard-per-carry average and four touchdowns.
At Kentucky, Heard will enter the spring with a great chance of being the starting back. Sure, there's sophomore Jojo Kemp, who amassed 482 yards on 100 carries last season, but Heard is more of the featured-back type to Kemp's change of pace.
Look for Heard to become a name to watch coming out of the spring.
*Andy Coppens is a Bleacher Report National College Football Featured Columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.