Yes, he’s getting a lot of attention as most quarterback transfers do. And yes, you should be fully aware of Hunter Johnson.
In case you missed it, the former 5-star quarterback and No. 1 overall quarterback in the 2017 class announced that he’s taking his talents from Clemson to Northwestern on Monday.
Yeah, you read that correctly. He’s the highest-rated Wildcat recruit ever, though technically he won’t count as that because he was a transfer. Still, there’s plenty of excitement for the former Clemson quarterback.
But instead of just talking how Northwestern is “ecstatic to add a player of Hunter’s caliber and character to our program” as Pat Fitzgerald said in the release, let’s talk about the bigger picture impact he could have on the Cats and the B1G West.
1. The post-Clayton Thorson era isn’t so scary after all
Let’s be honest. Northwestern hasn’t exactly been a quarterback powerhouse. Yes, I know that Trevor Siemian is doing things in the NFL (better things that he did at Northwestern) and I remember the Kain Colter era. But Thorson was the rare 4-star quarterback who went to Northwestern and became a 4-year starter.
Thorson is in position to finish his career as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. In other words, there’s a definite hole to fill. It looks like Johnson will be the guy to fill it once he’s eligible in 2019.
It’s always nice to go from possibly the program’s most-prolific passer ever to the program’s most-hyped transfer ever. Fortunately, Johnson will have a year to learn under Thorson before presumably taking over. That’s not a bad person to wait behind. Five-star quarterback or not, Johnson still has plenty of developing to do at the college level.
And hey, who knows? Maybe three years from now we’re talking about Northwestern quarterbacks like we used to talk about Purdue quarterbacks in the early 2000s.
2. Those new facilities might be paying off already
I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d bet a lot of money that a big part of Northwestern’s pitch to Johnson involved those incredible new lake-front facilities. If that in any way impacted his decision to get back to his Midwest roots, that’s some nice early mojo for those upgrades.
After all, that was the hope when Northwestern began its $260 MILLION project. The athletic department wants/needs those facilities to bring in a different type of talent. That’s what Johnson is.
If Northwestern had those facilities up during Johnson’s recruitment, who knows if that would’ve made a difference in him turning down a big-time program like Clemson. Johnson did already have the family connection because his brother, Cole, was a walk-on receiver from 2013-16.
Still, though. Adding a player that highly-touted this early into the introduction of the new facilities is a nice proof of concept boost for Northwestern.
With all due respect to the rest of the B1G, nobody will have the practice and training facilities that are in Evanston. At least not anytime soon. If that starts yielding more and more talents like Johnson, look out.
3. Hype aside, nothing is guaranteed
While the assumption is that Johnson is every bit of that 5-star talent he was dubbed by recruiting services, it’s not like we’ve had a ton of evidence to prove he’s not. Dabo Swinney elevated him to the backup role at the end of the regular season, and Johnson completed 7 of 8 passes for 144 yards…against The Citadel. This is still a guy with 13 career passing attempts against Power 5 competition.
Plenty of 5-star quarterbacks flamed out in college. Plenty of transfer quarterbacks never settled into their new homes. Does that mean Johnson will fall into both of those categories? Of course not.
Northwestern fans probably like the fact that Johnson battled to earn snaps as a true freshman, which prompted Swinney to say that he made “a lot of progress.” That’s as good a sign of any that Johnson isn’t expecting anything to be handed to him in Evanston.
4. If Johnson is the real deal, Northwestern is going to be a yearly B1G West contender
That’s a huuuuuuuuge “if.” I know. And I’m not saying that’ll happen. We don’t know how Johnson will read coverages, or even if the Cats will have the skill around Johnson to take that next step.
But, think about this scenario. Given Fitzgerald’s ability to maximize defensive potential, pairing that with a game-changer quarterback would make the Cats a force in the West. I’m not talking about a team that wins 7-8 games and ends the season with a bowl win. I’m talking about a group that can consistently win 7 games in the B1G (like they did last year) and maybe even steal a division title from Wisconsin.
Is that so crazy? Perhaps. But once upon a time, the idea of a 5-star quarterback enrolling at Northwestern was crazy.
Now, it’s reality.