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With Georgia's highly touted freshman quarterback Justin Fields exploring a transfer after a season in which he was used strictly as a backup, here are four questions and answers about the situation.
Q: Where do things stand?
A: As USA TODAY reported Monday night, Fields has notified Georgia he intends to transfer at the end of the season. That notification is significant in the new NCAA transfer process. Whereas athletes used to need to get a "permission to contact" release from schools when they wanted to transfer, which led to some questionable behavior by coaches blocking certain destinations, an athlete now only needs to notify the school, which then must place the name in an NCAA portal within two business days.
Fields made that request Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement is not official. That means, unless he decides to pull his request, he will be in the NCAA transfer database by the end of Tuesday and officially become a free agent. At that point, any school will be able to see his name in the database and be allowed to recruit him.
That does not mean Fields will definitely transfer. People have changed their minds before. Some athletes have left and come back. And certainly Georgia coach Kirby Smart does not want to lose Fields and will continue trying to lure him back, especially if he stays with the team through the Sugar Bowl.
However, going so far as to request your name be put into the transfer portal is a pretty good indication of where this is heading.
Q: Where will Fields go?
A: As a former No. 2 overall recruit just a year ago, there's certainly going to be a ton of interest in Fields from across college football. Early speculation has linked him to Ohio State and Oklahoma, both of which make a ton of sense. With Dwayne Haskins likely leaving for the NFL, the Buckeyes would potentially have a competition in Ryan Day's first season between Fields and Tate Martell, who got snaps as the backup this year. And what quarterback these days wouldn't be interested in Oklahoma given the back-to-back Heisman Trophies won by Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray in Lincoln Riley's first two seasons as head coach. On the other hand, Oklahoma has a commitment from Spencer Rattler, a five-star quarterback who is expected to enroll this summer. That could be a delicate situation for Riley.
Other elite schools such as Florida State and Auburn will have a need for someone like Fields, who should be ready to go as a starter. Fields was once committed to Penn State and through that commitment has a relationship with Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead.
In other words, it's pretty early. And once the recruiting process gets going, it will give an opportunity for other schools you might not expect to get involved. When Kelly Bryant left Clemson, for instance, few pegged Missouri right away as his next destination. But that's where he ended up because of how Barry Odom and Derek Dooley sold him on the offense and his role.
Q: Could Fields play next season?
A: Though NCAA transfer rules require athletes to sit out a year, there's a waiver process to play immediately that has gotten pretty lenient in recent years. And Fields could have a very strong case to get that waiver.
During the Sept. 29 game against Tennessee, Georgia baseball player Adam Sasser was heard by multiple people in the stands referring to Fields with a racial slur. The incident blew up publicly, and Georgia dismissed Sasser from the baseball team after an investigation. It's certainly plausible that Fields could include that in his request under a new NCAA rule that allows for waivers "due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete's control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete."
That vague wording has led to a number of players becoming eligible immediately, including Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson after transferring from Mississippi. Georgia recently benefited from this rule when receiver Demetris Robinson was ruled eligible this season after transferring from California.
Though some Georgia fans will argue it's a stretch to connect the racially charged incident to Fields' transfer, that probably isn't an area Georgia or the NCAA would want to contest, given the sensitivity of the topic. After all, who is anyone to say that an African-American teenager who became part of a national story because a fellow Georgia athlete called him the N-word wasn't impacted negatively by that situation?
Fields, it seems, would have a pretty good case to play in 2019.
Q: Is Georgia at fault here?
A: Maybe a little bit, but managing quarterbacks is perhaps the most difficult aspect of running an elite program these days.
When Georgia decided to cast its lot with Jake Fromm -- which was the right decision, by the way -- it created a difficult path for Fields to get meaningful playing time.
Bottom line, Fromm is an elite college quarterback. He led Georgia to within a couple of plays of winning the national championship as a true freshman; he was terrific again as a sophomore and almost certainly will start as a junior. It's unclear what kind of prospect the NFL thinks Fromm will be, which means there's a good likelihood he'll play as a senior, too. For now and the foreseeable future, this is Fromm's team.
Fields went to Georgia with the intention of competing for and ultimately winning the job. It didn't happen. Is that because he didn't grasp the playbook quickly enough to contribute in a meaningful way, or is it because he didn't get an opportunity to show what he can do?
There's probably a little bit of both in there. When Fields did play, he didn't look quite ready. On the other hand, Georgia did not put him in situations where he was going to necessarily look good.
Though Fields is a dual-threat quarterback, some scouts called him one of the best high school prospects ever out of Georgia because of his ability to throw the ball. Georgia essentially used him as a situational zone-read guy, allowing him to throw just 39 passes over the 12 games he appeared. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney didn't have a great plan for how to use Fields, and when he did, it felt forced.
It will be interesting to see how Fields fares in a different environment.
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