Nick Schuessler made a pit stop at Mississippi State before coming to Clemson. Imagine the predicament Clemson in which would find itself if, instead of transferring two years ago, Schuessler had chosen to continue his dream of playing in the SEC.
Many asked after the offensive meltdown at Georgia Tech, how a program that recruits as well as any in college football finds itself with two healthy scholarship quarterbacks, neither of whom were high profile recruits.
Going back eight years, ill timing and bad luck are as culpable as anything.
Ideally, a roster would include five scholarship quarterbacks. Before the Internet and the maniacal pursuit of celebrity, coaches could stockpile quarterbacks and, eventually, convert them to defensive backs, outside linebackers, tight ends and running backs. Now, record numbers of players are transferring because they decide they don’t fit or they leave in a snit over playing time.
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Quarterbacks are, perhaps, the most impatient. The most high-profile transfer in recent years saw Russell Wilson leave N.C. State for Wisconsin. There have been others that worked out well – Ryan Mallett from Michigan to Arkansas – and some not so well or under the radar. Schuessler’s transfer barely created a ripple outside Starkville, Miss., and Grayson, Ga.
Quarterback of a Georgia state championship team at Grayson High, he chose Mississippi State in 2012 over Colorado State, but shortly after summer classes began he decided it was a mistake. Numbers were already thin at Clemson, and the coaches had seen him enough. Former high school teammates Wayne Gallman and Ryan Carter were on the roster and consensus five-star defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, a prized target that slipped though Clemson’s grip to Ole Miss, was a longtime guest in Schuessler’s home.
Schuessler and senior Cole Stoudt have been the only options for all but a quarter at Georgia Tech since Watson injured a hand in the Louisville game. Other than a short year with three former high school All-Americans on the roster, it has been this way for a while at Clemson.
Willy Korn, a fan favorite from nearby Byrnes, enrolled early in 2007, joining Cullen Harper and Tribble Reese. Much like Watson, he was groomed to play quickly, but Clemson coaches hadn’t counted on Harper having a career season. When Korn was injured early in the season, there wasn’t any urgency to make a change.
Kyle Parker and Jon Richt were signed in 2008. Parker enrolled early to play baseball. When Harper struggled the next fall, Korn was named the starter for the Georgia Tech game. Three days later, Tommy Bowden resigned. Dabo Swinney honored the decision, but Korn was injured early in the game. Harper returned to finish the season with Michael Wade, a career special teams ace, as the backup. Richt transferred to Mars Hill.
When Swinney was named head coach, he brought in Tajh Boyd with his first recruiting class. Boyd had torn an ACL the previous fall, so he, too, was a redshirt and shadowed the team. Parker managed both sports during spring and won the starting job as Korn continued to struggle with his throwing motion. It was an incredible wealth of talent that was not going to survive.
When Parker decided to return after being drafted in the first round by baseball’s Colorado Rockies, Boyd bumped Korn for the backup job in 2010. Struggling to find his arm slot and rhythm, Korn announced before the season ended he would transfer after graduation the following May.
When fall practice began in 2011, Parker was gone to baseball and Korn to Marshall then North Greenville. Boyd was the starter. The other two scholarship quarterbacks were freshmen Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal. The more highly regarded, McNeal arrived with knee and ankle issues. Injuries forced him out of football two years later. Stoudt was installed as the backup.
Stoudt was beginning his second year when Chad Kelly and Morgan Roberts joined the team in 2012. Boyd’s durability allowed Clemson to redshirt Kelly and Roberts. After Clemson beat LSU in Atlanta, Roberts told Swinney he was transferring to Yale.
Clemson coaches scrambled to fill one of the spots for 2013. An offer to Joshua Dobbs., who had withdrawn a commitment to Arizona State, was late. Dobbs picked Tennessee, where he started four games as a freshman. Another Elite Eleven dual-threat prospect, Asiantii Woulard of Winter Park, Fla., pulled off South Florida but turned down Clemson for UCLA, where he sits on the bench.
Kelly seemed poised to take Stoudt’s job during the spring of 2013 until he sustained a torn ACL. He returned in five months, but Stoudt’s job was secure, setting up a bigger battle the next spring.
Watson, the most prolific quarterback in Georgia high school history, enrolled last January with the promise he could compete for playing time as a freshman, but Swinney and Morris framed it as a battle between Stoudt and Kelly.
Depth didn’t seem to be a great issue. Schuessler, now with a scholarship, would give them four. Plus they picked up David Olson of Irmo, who spent four seasons at Stanford.
Kelly’s well-chronicled implosion finished him at Clemson. Kelly transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he produced big numbers in leading the team to the national junior college championship game.
Roberts, a quarterback and receiver his first season at Yale, completed 68 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Yale (8-1) finishes its season Saturday at Harvard.
After three seasons as the backup, Stoudt opened 2014 as the starter and held off Watson until the Florida State game. When Watson was injured against Louisville, Stoudt returned to help extend Clemson’s win streak to six games before Watson returned for a quarter at Georgia Tech.
After six interceptions in three games, Georgia State would be Stoudt’s seventh start.
Schuessler, on the other hand, has played the equivalent of a half in two seasons and could provide a window on his potential should he be needed next week against South Carolina.
Perhaps next season will be different with local wunderkind Kelly Bryant and Florida record-setter Tucker Israel, a pair of prolific passers with gaudy numbers and big pedigrees, joining Watson and Schuessler in January.