Russell Wilson set the standard for graduate transfer quarterbacks in 2011, helping Wisconsin to a Big Ten championship and performing at an individual level worthy of Heisman consideration.
Whenever a graduate transfer from a Power Five program, like current “free agent” Everett Golson, popular opinion seems to dictate he can step into a new lineup and make an immediate impact, with Russell Wilson cited as the example.
But Wilson is more exception than rule
A column on The Big Lead last week went so far to compare Golson’s performance at Notre Dame to that of Russell Wilson at NC State. The comparison is patently absurd, despite statistical parallels. Statistics only tell a part of the story without context.
Russell Wilson’s exit from NC State was nothing like Golson’s departure from Notre Dame: Wilson was a rising senior who had improved in each season with the Wolfpack. Wilson wasn’t benched in favor of Mike Glennon due to performace; Wilson defied his coach’s wish for the quarterback to skip playing Minor League Baseball in order to participate in offseason football workouts.
Former Wolfpack head coach Tom O’Brien received considerable criticism for the ultimatum he gave Russell Wilson, and the quarterback’s success at Wisconsin helped seal O’Brien’s fate.
No one is lamenting Brian Kelly’s decision to go with Malik Zaire, the quarterback who replaced Golson midway through the regular-season finale and led the Fighting Irish to a Music City Bowl win over LSU.
Russell Wilson went to Wisconsin already on his way to collegiate stardom; Everett Golson leaves Notre Dame trying to reinvent his career.
Most graduate transfers going to Power Five programs do so amid circumstances more akin to Golson’s than Wilson’s. Even one exception of a grad transfer moving after a strong season — former Pac-10-winning quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from Oregon — struggled in his new destination, Ole Miss.
And, despite its successes with Russell Wilson, Wisconsin discovered just how special he was. The Badgers took on another graduate transfer in the season following Wilson’s departure, Danny O’Brien.
A Freshman All-American in 2010 at Maryland, O’Brien struggled to fit in new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s system in 2011.
O’Brien seemed like a seamless transition from Wilson at Wisconsin, but the only real memorable part of his transfer was that he indirectly served as a precursor to the developing Randy Edsall-James Franklin rivalry. Edsall blocked O’Brien from rejoining Franklin at Vanderbilt.
Otherwise, O’Brien’s career post-Maryland was forgettable. He was benched midway through the 2012 campaign and left Wisconsin in the summer of 2013 amid a multiple-quarterback competition.
O’Brien’s situation shares some similarities to that of Jacob Coker at Alabama: arrive as a graduate transfer with plenty of fanfare, lose out on the starting job and fail to stand out in the subsequent offseason competition.
The key different between the O’Brien situation and that of Jacob Coker is O’Brien had one impressive season to his credit at Maryland. Expectations set for Coker from the moment he announced his transfer to Alabama last spring all have been based on speculation.
Coker has done so little to define himself as the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 that Golson was actually rumored as a possible contender at Alabama. It’s unlikely Golson will be competing with Jacob Coker in Tuscaloosa come preseason camp — all reports have the Notre Dame transfer favoring Florida State, the school Coker left.
There’s also no guarantee Golson would receive a waiver for the SEC’s rule that blocks a transfer in from a player who had disciplinary issues elsewhere, a rule that was established in response to Masoli’s Ole Miss transfer, bringing things full circle.
Golson could have a championship-caliber impact on his new program akin to that of Russell Wilson with Wisconsin, but precedent says to temper your expectations.