Tua Tagovailoa's game-winning touchdown pass in the 2017 national title game might be the biggest play in college football history. But in Atlanta and elsewhere that night, something else was happening: The wheels of the quarterback transfer market started spinning.
Tagovailoa's emergence started the clock on Jalen Hurts' transfer, while also serving notice to Clemson's Dabo Swinney that he needed a higher-ceiling QB to compete with the Tide. On the other side, Jake Fromm solidified his spot as Georgia's signal-caller of the future, opening the door for Jacob Eason and Justin Fields to move on. Here's where each player was and how that one performance, culminating with that one touchdown pass, set off a chain reaction still unfolding to this day.
Jan. 8, 2018: With Alabama trailing 13-0 at halftime against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship, Hurts is benched in favor of Tagovailoa. Hurts then watches from the sideline as Tagovailoa leads the comeback, ending in overtime with the winning touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith.
Later that night: Rather than sulking over his benching, Hurts is all smiles as reporters crowd around his locker after the game. He praises Tagovailoa's ability to lead the come-from-behind victory. "He was built for this," Hurts says.
Aug. 4, 2018: After an offseason of rampant speculation over who will start at quarterback and whether the loser will transfer, Alabama finally opens preseason camp. Inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, Hurts speaks with reporters for the first time since the title game and immediately sets the tone, expressing frustration with the media as well as the coaching staff's handling of the situation.
Sept. 1, 2018: Tagovailoa gets the starting nod in the season opener against Louisville, in which he accounts for three touchdowns in the 51-14 victory. Hurts plays sparingly. Less than 48 hours later, Saban names Tagovailoa the starter for the season.
Sept. 29, 2018: After much speculation about whether he would play only four games and take a redshirt season in order to preserve an extra year of eligibility, Hurts chooses to remain the backup and plays against Louisiana.
Dec. 1, 2018: Tagovailoa rolls his ankle and struggles against Georgia in the SEC title game. Hurts, who hasn't played much meaningful football all season, enters with roughly 11 minutes remaining and orchestrates a come-from-behind win, clinching a spot in the playoff. "It kind of feels like I'm breaking my silence," Hurts says afterward.
Jan. 9, 2019: Two days after Alabama's loss against Clemson in the national title game, Hurts officially enters his name into the transfer portal. Dozens of FBS programs reach out within hours, hoping to lure the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year away from the Crimson Tide.
Jan. 11, 2019: Hurts visits Maryland and is spotted at the basketball game against Indiana alongside new Maryland coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. The student section chants, "We want Jalen!"
Jan. 12-13, 2019: Hurts' final two visits are to Oklahoma and Miami, where his former QB coach Dan Enos recently took the job as the Hurricanes' offensive coordinator.
Jan. 16, 2019: In a first-person essay on The Players' Tribune -- titled "To My Alabama Family" -- Hurts announces his next destination. "I've decided to take my talents to the University of Oklahoma," he writes, "where I will continue my development as both a quarterback and as a student."
March 28, 2019: Players rarely deliver opening statements during media availability. But in his first address to local reporters, Hurts does, saying how he's "built for these types of situations." He hasn't been on campus long, but OU coach Lincoln Riley is impressed. "Hell, I feel like he's older than me," Riley will later say.
Aug. 19, 2019: What was expected comes to pass as Riley announces Hurts will start the season opener against Houston. Riley lauds Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai, "but Jalen was just a little bit better. Just a little bit more in control."
Jan. 8, 2018: A former five-star recruit who started double-digit games as a freshman doesn't typically become an afterthought, but Eason is exactly that against Alabama, relegated to the sideline. Earlier that season, he'd been the starter. But after he was injured during the opener, Fromm took over and never gave the job back. Eason doesn't take a snap in Atlanta and winds up recording stats in just three games all season.
Jan. 12, 2018: Eason takes to Twitter to announce his decision to transfer.
Feb. 6, 2018: Via Twitter, Eason announces it's "Good to be home!" again at Washington. The native of Lake Stevens, Washington, will have to sit out the 2018 season, per NCAA rules. With Jake Browning firmly entrenched as the Huskies' starter and a year away from graduation, it's the perfect setup.
April 16, 2018: Speaking with Seattle media during spring practice, Eason says it was an "easy" decision to go to Washington, where the former starter will spend the season as the Huskies' scout-team quarterback. "I looked other places, but I didn't seriously consider them," he says. "This was the only place I was looking at coming to."
April 3, 2019: Eason enters spring practice in a QB battle with redshirt sophomore Jake Haener -- not that anyone is buying the idea of an actual competition. Coach Chris Petersen warns against sky-high expectations, pointing out how Eason "hasn't really played real football in a long, long time. ... I think it's a disservice for you guys to put all this pressure on him."
Aug. 23, 2019: Petersen calls it a "gut feeling," going with Eason as the Week 1 starter, but Petersen adds Haener will also play against Eastern Washington. "You have a plan and you adapt and adjust as the season goes," he says. "That's just how it is."
Aug. 24, 2019: Washington announces in a statement: "Sophomore quarterback Jake Haener has elected to leave the Washington football program, effective immediately."
Now: Ohio State
Jan. 8, 2018: Fields, the No. 1-ranked player in his class, has been enrolled at Georgia for roughly three weeks despite the emergence of freshman Fromm and some last-minute sales pitches from Texas A&M, Florida and Florida State. As an early enrollee, he can't dress for the national title game, where Fromm nearly leads the Bulldogs to a victory over Alabama.
Sept. 29, 2018: During a home game against Tennessee, Georgia baseball player Adam Sasser allegedly shouts racist remarks at Fields. Sasser is dismissed from the team. While it's unclear how the incident will later be presented to the NCAA, it does appear to fall under a new rule which allows for the immediate eligibility of a transfer student if it can be proved that a change of schools will affect his or her "health, safety and well-being" for the better.
Dec. 18, 2018: Fields, who was relegated to mop-up duty behind Fromm all season, enters his name into the NCAA transfer portal. ESPN reports his interest in Ohio State, while Florida State and Oklahoma are two other destinations he's considering.
Dec. 21, 2018: Buckeyes backup QB Tate Martell tweets what can be seen only as a warning shot to Fields: "word of advice: -- don't swing and miss ... especially not your second time."
Jan. 4, 2019: Fields posts a note on social media, announcing his decision to transfer from Georgia to Ohio State. In the note, he says, "I appreciate what Coach [Kirby] Smart and the UGA football coaching staff have done to help me progress as a quarterback and for their patience and understanding while I thoughtfully consider my future as a student-athlete."
Feb. 6, 2019: Fields addresses the media for the first time as a Buckeye. He declines to go into the specific reasons for leaving Georgia and instead focuses on why he chose to come to Columbus: to get to the NFL. "I was just worried about the best place to develop me for the next level," Fields says. "That's the main thing I was looking for."
Feb. 8, 2019: OSU athletic director Gene Smith tweets the news that the NCAA has approved Fields' application for a waiver to have immediate eligibility.
Aug. 19, 2019: Fields is named the starter, but coach Ryan Day makes it clear the selection really pertains only to who takes the first snap in the season opener against Florida Atlantic. "Where it moves from there who knows," Day says.
Then: Ohio State
Jan. 8, 2018: The Buckeyes are home after falling short of making the playoff. But Martell has a reason to look forward to the following season. With three-year starter JT Barrett finally off to the NFL, it's the former high school phenom's chance to compete with Dwayne Haskins for playing time.
Dec. 21, 2018: Martell sends his eyes-emoji-inducing subtweet toward Fields.
Jan. 4, 2019: Fields announces he will transfer to Ohio State. The move doesn't bode well for Martell, who as a redshirt freshman attempted just 28 passes in six appearances as Haskins' backup. Martell will later tell ESPN that OSU made it known to him toward the end of the season that he would be better off finding another school.
Jan. 10, 2019: Martell enters the NCAA transfer portal. He will end up visiting West Virginia on a Monday. That Tuesday, he'll visit Miami, which will have hosted Hurts just two days earlier.
Jan. 16, 2019: Shortly after midnight -- and right on the heels of his visit to Miami -- Martell announces he's transferring to the Hurricanes. A graphic he posts on Twitter features Martell alongside his former Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas) teammates Brevin Jordan, a tight end at Miami, and Bubba Bolden, a safety who is also transferring to Miami from USC.
April 20, 2019: Martell ends spring practice in a quarterback battle with N'Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams. During Miami's spring game, Martell is the third QB to take the field, but he looks sharp, completing 6 of 10 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He feels a sense of urgency, he tells ESPN during the spring. "This is my move," he says, "so I've got to make it work however it goes."
Aug. 12, 2019: Williams, a redshirt freshman, beats out Martell for the starting job. It's unclear whether Martell or Perry will be the No. 2 QB.
Aug. 24, 2019: Martell lines up on several plays at wide receiver and situationally at quarterback in Miami's 24-20 loss to Florida. He finishes the game with one carry for -1 yards on a QB run.
Jan. 8, 2018: The No. 1 Tigers and their starting QB, Bryant, are home after being bounced out of the playoff semifinals by Alabama. Bryant, in particular, is coming off perhaps the worst game of his career, having thrown for 124 yards, no touchdowns and two picks in the 24-6 loss against the Tide.
Jan. 10, 2018: Clemson's early enrollees arrive. Among the nine eager freshmen is top-ranked quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whom many have already pegged to give Bryant a run for his money. Nine days later, backup QB Zerrick Cooper will opt to transfer, and fellow backup Hunter Johnson will also choose to leave in the spring.
Aug. 27, 2018: Ahead of its Week 1 game against Furman, Clemson releases its depth chart, on which Bryant is listed as the starting quarterback. But Swinney's words from earlier in camp are still ringing in everyone's ears: "The one thing I can probably definitely say is regardless of how it plays out, I don't see a situation early where we just play one guy."
Sept. 1, 2018: Right away, it's obvious Bryant is in a position battle. Against Furman, Lawrence comes off the bench and throws three touchdowns and no interceptions. The following week, on the road in a big-time game against Texas A&M, Swinney will call on Lawrence again, and he will complete 5 of 9 passes for 93 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Sept. 24, 2018: Swinney makes the move everyone has been waiting for. Less than 48 hours after Lawrence tosses a career-high four touchdowns against Georgia Tech, he is officially named the starter. While Tagovailoa powers a historically explosive Tide offense, the memory of Bryant's last performance against Alabama looms large. With the teams on a collision course, Swinney commits to the high-ceiling Lawrence. Bryant, who started and won all of Clemson's first four games, has a decision to make: keep playing and lose his final season of eligibility, or sit and take a redshirt.
Sept. 26, 2018: On the heels of missing two consecutive practices, Bryant tells The Greenville News he will sit out the rest of the season and transfer. He tells the South Carolina newspaper that being benched was a "slap in the face." During an interview with ESPN weeks later, Bryant will say he still bleeds orange and purple, but leaving was "a decision I had to make for myself."
Dec. 4, 2018: Bryant, who took visits to the likes of Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State and North Carolina, ultimately chooses to transfer to Missouri. The Tigers of the SEC East, who just lost a multiyear starter in Drew Lock, pick up a quarterback in Bryant who has started 18 games and accounted for a combined 31 touchdowns.
April 13, 2019: Bryant, the presumptive starter, shines during Missouri's spring game, completing 11 of 17 passes for 150 yards. He calls the experience "surreal." He tells reporters he's not going to get caught looking ahead to the season, but he acknowledges, "The ceiling is high for this group."
Now: West Virginia
Jan. 8, 2018: The former four-star recruit has just finished watching one of the most special seasons in Oklahoma history as quarterback Baker Mayfield wins the Heisman Trophy and leads the Sooners to the playoff. Coming off a redshirt season, Kendall is among the contenders to take over for Mayfield the following season. But he has competition in the form of transfer quarterback Kyler Murray.
Aug. 22, 2018: Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tabs Murray as the starter. Riley compliments Kendall and says it was a close battle, "but just felt like from an overall perspective that Kyler was just a little bit ahead."
Jan. 11, 2019: Kendall, who has now backed up back-to-back Heisman winners and has just learned that Oklahoma will host Hurts on an official visit, enters the NCAA transfer portal. Having graduated in three years, he will be immediately eligible to play wherever he goes as long as Oklahoma doesn't choose to block his destination.
Jan. 14, 2019: Kendall visits Auburn, which has just lost two-year starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham to the NFL draft. He is also considering Kentucky and West Virginia.
Jan. 16, 2019: The same day Hurts commits to Oklahoma, ESPN reports that the school would block Kendall's transfer to West Virginia under a rule which allows schools to hamper intraconference transfers. But the Sooners ultimately relent and clear the way for Kendall, who is scheduled to visit Morgantown the following day.
Jan. 18, 2019: Kendall announces on Twitter that he's transferring to West Virginia, where he'll reunite with coach Neal Brown, who recruited him back when Brown was an assistant at Kentucky.
April 15, 2019: Brown says he doesn't know who the starting quarterback will be, but based on the Mountaineers' spring game, Kendall is in good shape as he completes 7 of 12 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. Speaking to the media the following day, Kendall cites backing up Mayfield and Murray at Oklahoma and says, "I don't have a lot of playing time, but I'm here to prove people wrong. I'm excited to get my chance and I'm ready to go."
Aug. 20, 2019: Brown tabs Kendall as the Week 1 starter against James Madison. "We tracked everything from spring practice through fall camp -- decision-making, completion percentage, number of turnovers, scoring drives, and it was clear after Friday night's scrimmage in the stadium that he earned it," Brown says.
Illustrations by Timba Smits