The era of college football "free agency" continues to take over the sport as more than 150 quarterbacks entered the transfer portal upon the conclusion of the 2022 season. Ultimately, nearly two dozen Power Five programs could be adding a new starting signal-caller from the transfer portal, and a few of those additions may end up altering the landscape this college football season.
High-profile transfer quarterbacks can dramatically change fortunes, such as Caleb Williams heading to USC last year where he led the Trojans to the Pac-12 title game while claiming the Heisman Trophy in the process. It can also prove to be fool's gold, like previous Tier 1 transfer Max Johnson ultimately only starting for part of the season at Texas A&M. Sometimes, a diamond is found in the rough, like Michael Penix Jr. going on to lead the nation in passing yards at Washington.
Below is a look at how the transfer quarterback class grades out heading into the 2023 season as we break them down into tiers.
Tier 1: Playoff hopefuls, league title contenders
Sam Hartman, Notre Dame: Without question, Hartman is the biggest QB transfer of the offseason. The senior ranks as the ACC's all-time leader in passing touchdowns after throwing 110 scores at Wake Forest, including 77 in the past two seasons. Now, he has the potential to completely revitalize Notre Dame's inconsistent offense.
The Fighting Irish won nine games in 2022 despite dealing with quarterback injuries. Notre Dame did not produce a 300-yard passing performance until the final game of the regular season en route to finishing No. 98 in passing offense. Hartman immediately transforms Notre Dame into one of the top units in the country. If the Fighting Irish can find some dynamic wide receivers, Hartman could swing the College Football Playoff race.
Brennan Armstrong, NC State: Armstrong led the nation with 4,449 passing yards in 2021 after a breakout season under offensive coordinator Robert Anae at Virginia. Now, Armstrong reunites with Anae at NC State with a chance to revitalize the Wolfpack offense after the unit finished No. 105 in total yardage.
After showing versatility as a passer and runner, Virginia tried to keep Armstrong in the pocket. Under Anae, and with a talented line group at NC State, Armstrong should once again be able to get back to his game and push the Wolfpack into the ACC title race.
DJ Uiagalelei, Oregon State: Contrary to Armstrong, Uiagalelei was rated the worst quarterback in the ACC by passer rating in 2021. He showed improvement in his second season, but the former five-star ultimately lost the starting job to freshman Cade Klubnik as the season ended. In Oregon State, Uiagalelei has found a perfect place to reinvigorate his career.
The Beavers put together one of the quietest 10-win campaigns in recent memory despite injuries and inconsistency at the quarterback position. However, coach Jonathan Smith is an offensive guru who knows how to perfectly deploy talent and motion to cause mismatches. Uiagalelei is one of the greatest talent mismatches Oregon State has had since Jacquizz Rodgers was on campus.
Hudson Card, Purdue: The Boilermakers enter a new era under Ryan Walters, and Purdue is leaning on Graham Harrell to direct a new Air Raid offensive scheme. To keep the train on the tracks, Harrell reeled in Card, one of the top quarterbacks in the transfer portal, to replace the departed Aidan O'Connell.
Card played in a dynamic Air Raid-style offense at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, and fashioned himself into a top quarterback recruit. He flashed major improvements in three starts for the Longhorns last season, completing 70% of his passes for 741 yards, six touchdowns and 9.3 yards per pass attempt. The talent is there for Card to pop.
Tier 2: National breakout candidates
Devin Leary, Kentucky: Leary makes a strong case for Tier 1 but settles just below since the Wildcats are a long shot to compete with Georgia for the SEC West. Before an injury-plagued 2022, Leary presented as one of the most underrated passers in college football. He completed 66% of passes for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 2021.
Undoubtedly, Leary looked at Will Levis' rise to top NFL Draft prospect and -- correctly -- thought he could do even better under similar circumstances. Making matters better, the Wildcats brought back offensive coordinator Liam Coen, the architect behind Kentucky's 10-win offense in 2021. The combination could get Kentucky back in the national conversation.
Phil Jurkovec, Pittsburgh: A former Notre Dame transfer, Jurkovec helped bring life to the first year of the Jeff Hafley era at Boston College with an impressive first season, but injuries have forced Jurkovec into fighting to regain that stature since.
Pitt has found a new gear over the past two seasons, posting back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in more than a decade. The 2021 campaign featured the program's first ACC title since joining the league. Jurkovec, a Pittsburgh native, is the perfect passer to try and rediscover the passing game magic that took the Panthers to the top.
Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin: The Badgers are undergoing one of the most drastic schematic transformations in recent college football memory after coach Luke Fickell hired the versatile Phil Longo as offensive coordinator. Wisconsin looked to the transfer portal and pulled out Mordecai, who was expected to enter the NFL Draft after a lengthy career at SMU and Oklahoma.
Mordecai threw for more than 7,000 yards and 72 touchdowns over the past two years under Sonny Dykes and Rhett Lashlee. He is a veteran decision-maker that should immediately compete to be one of the most productive passers in the Big Ten. If Fickell is able to land the plane, Mordecai could swing the Big Ten West race.
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado: Anyone who says they know how Deion Sanders' first season will go at Colorado is lying, but Shedeur Sanders gives the program an advantageous starting position. In two years at Jackson State, Sanders completed 68% of his passes for nearly 7,000 yards, 70 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions.
The jump in competition to Colorado will be significant, but offensive coordinator Sean Lewis gives the Buffaloes a clear offensive identity. The Buffs were also active in the transfer portal, giving Sanders a few big-time weapons. The down-to-down consistency might not be there in Year 1, but the excitement will be.
Collin Schlee, UCLA: Schlee is still in an open quarterback competition after transferring from Kent State; he could still lose the job to either returner Chase Garbers or superstar freshman Dante Moore. Ultimately, though, Schlee's experience playing for the aforementioned Lewis at Kent State gives the Bruins a fascinating option.
Schlee completed just under 60% of his passes for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns, and added 492 yards rushing on 5 yards per carry. He has some similarities, profile-wise, to Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who led the Bruins to a strong season in 2022. If he can improve his accuracy, Schlee can keep UCLA in Pac-12 contention.
Tier 3: Bringing stability to the position
Spencer Sanders, Ole Miss: Sanders limitations are known after four years starting at Oklahoma State. He struggled with turnovers through his career, especially in big games. He also dealt with injuries throughout his career, which affected his consistency by the end of his career.
At the same time, Sanders carried Oklahoma State's offense over the past two seasons, including a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game and Fiesta Bowl. In the five games without Sanders starting, the Cowboys averaged a pathetic 14.4 points per game and went 1-4. Sanders should combine with running back Quinshon Judkins to provide new stability in the Ole Miss backfield. He will compete with fellow transfer Walker Howard and incumbent Jaxson Dart for the starting role, but Sanders' experience should give him a leg up in the competition with only one year of eligibility remaining.
Cade McNamara, Iowa: McNamara led Michigan to a Big Ten title in 2021, but ultimately lost the starting job to former five-star recruit J.J. McCarthy last season. Now he gets a fresh start to try and lead Iowa's offense towards the .
McNamara emerged as a strong game manager for the Wolverines, completing 64% of his passes for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tight ends Luke Lachey and Erick All give McNamara a handful of targets. McNamara has work to do in the spring but should settle the position.
Alan Bowman, Oklahoma State: Bowman disappeared on Michigan's depth chart, but the passer who set the Big 12 record for single-game passing yards by a freshman is still within him. Bowman threw for 5,260 yards and 33 touchdowns during three injury-plagued seasons at Texas Tech before transferring.
Notably, Bowman threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns in his final matchup against Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State team in 2020. Gundy has studied Bowman and knows his upside as a passer. He will settle down a quarterback room that showed major cracks when Sanders suffered an injury.
Tier 4: Looking to take the next step
Drew Pyne, Arizona State: Pyne stepped in for starter Tyler Buchner in relief and showed flashes as a passer, completing 65% of his passes for more than 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. However, he felt it best to find a new start, especially after Hartman joined the program as a transfer.
Pyne is linking up with an Arizona State staff that has proven its way with quarterbacks. Coach Kenny Dillingham developed Bo Nix at Auburn and Oregon, and also did a strong job with Jordan Travis at Florida State. The battle with Jaden Rashada and Trenton Bourget will be competitive, but Pyne has a great shot to make his mark.
Donovan Smith, Houston: The skills are off the charts for Smith, who provided an air of chaos while playing two seasons as a key reserve. He threw for just under 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns in the past two seasons, but traded it off with a number of interceptions and fumbles in key spots.
Now, Smith is joining quarterback guru Dana Holgorsen to help usher Houston into the Big 12. Holgorsen has done great work with quarterbacks, and recently helped Clayton Tune develop into one of the nation's top passers. With any luck, Smith can be his next great protege.
Graham Mertz, Florida: Mertz was touted as the most exciting quarterback recruit in Wisconsin history but was never able to put things together in four years with the Badgers. Now, he gets a fresh start under Billy Napier at Florida.
The Gators are looking for answers at quarterback after Anthony Richardson opted to leave for the draft after just one season as a starter. Mertz will have to win the starting job over former transfer Jack Miller, but two of the top three receivers and top tight end are both back to ease the transition.
Luke Altmyer, Illinois: Altmyer competed with Dart for the starting job at Ole Miss last season but ultimately lost and was limited to 17 total pass attempts, 13 of which came against Central Arkansas. In his lone major appearance against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, Altmyer threw a pair of interceptions in relief of Matt Corral.
However, Altmyer now has new life at Illinois. He joins offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr., who helped coach Tommy DeVito and Frank Harris to some of the best seasons of their respective careers at Illinois and UTSA, respectively. From a recruiting perspective, Altmyer rates as arguably the top passer to play in Champaign since Juice Williams. The upside is through the roof.