Tommy Stevens is a goner.
We found out on Wednesday that he entered the transfer portal, and then we found out on Thursday that he wasn’t coming back to Penn State.
That beckons the question — where to next?
There are a few things to keep in mind with Stevens. One is that he has one year of eligibility left, which he has to use this year. That means whatever situation he walks into has an immediate need for a starter, and while he could decide to go the Group of 5 route, I have to think there will be a Power 5 market for Stevens.
Another thing keep in mind is that he was entering his fourth year in a true dual-threat system (Christian Hackenberg didn’t operate a dual-threat system in 2015).
And it’s probably also worth noting that while Stevens is an Indiana native, the idea of playing every game close to home doesn’t seem to be part of the conversation. In other words, geography probably won’t make or break his decision. A chance to start and make his case for the NFL is.
So with that in mind, here are 5 Power 5 schools who could land Stevens:
Let’s start in the B1G at a place that hasn’t had quality quarterback play — or anything close to it — in the last 2 years. Now, Illinois once again has a quarterback battle on its hands.
Redshirt freshman Matt Robinson got the first snaps in the spring game, but he’s by no means locked in as the starter. Incoming freshman Isaiah Williams is the guy Illinois fans are excited about, but he won’t arrive on campus until the summer, which makes it seem unlikely that he’d be the opening day starter. There’s also M.J. Rivers, Coran Taylor and Cam Miller.
Here’s the thing. Illinois has a lot of quarterbacks, but it’s extremely young at the position. Bringing in Stevens for a year might scare off 1 or 2, but Smith could afford that in what could be a make-or-break year to get to a bowl game. Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith — who Stevens just starting following on Twitter — wouldn’t mind adding in an experienced dual-threat guy like Stevens, much like last year when the team signed grad transfer A.J. Bush.
As for Stevens, he could stay in the conference he’s had to game plan for the last 4 years. Plus as an added bonus, he’d be an easy drive from home back to Indianapolis. It would make a lot of sense to see him end up in Champaign.
This was the first destination that came to mind when I saw the news about Stevens “definitely” leaving Penn State. Like at Illinois, Ole Miss has a lot of quarterbacks, but all of them are extremely young. Matt Corral is expected to take over for Jordan Ta’amu, but Corral has 4 years of eligibility left, and he’d be the expected starter in 2020 if he stayed.
Plus, RichRod. As we know, Rich Rodriguez is very particular about his quarterbacks, nearly all of whom are dual-threat guys. Stevens might be a more natural, developed system fit than Corral.
Tommy Stevens adds another touchdown. 65-3 Penn State. pic.twitter.com/eAOekLEYmp
— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) November 25, 2017
Besides the benefit of getting to play against quality competition in the SEC, Stevens would also be surrounded by a new group of talented, young receivers. The Rebels have an established tailback in Scottie Phillips, who is probably one of the more underrated players at his position in the country.
There’s a lot to like for Stevens in Oxford (besides the fact that Oxford itself is just awesome). He’d get to work with some great offensive minds in RichRod and Matt Luke, who are in desperate need of some veterans for a group that ranks dead last in FBS in returning offensive production.
By the way, that’s why this could make sense for Ole Miss. Some are viewing this as a potential bowl-or-bust year for Luke with Ole Miss without a postseason restriction. It could follow the LSU plan like Ed Orgeron did with Joe Burrow last year and decide that Stevens would be more ready to win games than Corral in 2019.
Louisville didn’t get Jeff Brohm, but it could definitely get Stevens.
There’s a wide-open quarterback battle brewing with an offensive-minded first-year coach in Scott Satterfield. As we know from his history at Appalachian State, Satterfield loves loading up on quarterbacks. Right now, he only has 3 on scholarship. That was after lightly-recruited Evan Conley flipped from Satterfield’s old school to his new school.
Last year, the Cardinals ranked 88th in passing with — ironically enough — Jawon Pass. Even worse, they averaged just 0.8 passing scores per game.
So yeah, I’d fully expect Louisville to enter the Stevens sweepstakes.
And on the flip side, it would make sense for Stevens to consider Louisville a legitimate landing spot. He’d play in a Power 5 conference, but one that many expect to be in a down year. He’d get to play for a quarterback-focused head coach in Satterfield, who doesn’t have any allegiance to any of Louisville’s returning quarterbacks. Like Illinois, there’s also the added bonus of being a quick drive from Indianapolis.
Plus, opening the season with a Monday night home game against Notre Dame would be a major showcase for Stevens to get some NFL buzz going.
You’ll notice there’s a bit of an ACC theme with this list. This would be about opportunity as much as anything. The opportunity to replace Ryan Finley is there, and with NC State ranked No. 129 of 130 FBS teams in percentage of returning offensive production, adding a veteran like Stevens would make a lot of sense.
Matt McKay would be the Sean Clifford in this situation for Stevens. That is, the sophomore who got some meaningful reps as a backup during his redshirt freshman season. Stevens would also have to compete with former Florida State quarterback Bailey Hockman, redshirt freshman Devin Leary and true freshman Ty Evans.
It’s possible that NC State already believes it has a loaded quarterback room and that one of its starters is among those 4 scholarship guys. It’s also possible that Dave Doeren would rather have a veteran in the year after Finley’s departure to let his young quarterbacks develop.
But again, teams who have to replace a prolific starter often find themselves in the grad transfer market to avoid the daunting reality of dealing with an unproven underclassman. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Wolfpack make a play for Stevens, who would get to replace an NFL prospect at the position.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this would be the least favorite option for Penn State fans. Without restrictions of where Stevens can go, this would be a fascinating landing spot for a variety of reasons.
Besides the obvious one — the intra-state rivals face off in Happy Valley this year — Stevens would have a favorable path to the starting job. Kenny Pickett is the returning starter, but he led a passing game that ranked No. 121 in FBS last year. It didn’t help his case that Pitt ended the season on a 3-game losing streak in which it averaged roughly 9 points per game while he completed 43% of his passes for 91 yards per game and was sacked 11 times.
While Pickett looked solid in the spring, there’s no guarantee that the job is all his with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple running the show. Whipple, and especially the vengeful Pat Narduzzi, could love the idea of handpicking the former Penn State quarterback to lead the Panthers in 2019.
That’s an important word — “vengeful.” The quote from Stevens’ dad was that while he loves Penn State, he was “torn up” about this whole situation. Maybe the idea of throwing on that rival jersey and getting to show James Franklin what he missed out on would be appealing to him. Or maybe the idea of playing against the school he spent 4 years at would cross Pitt off the list immediately.
I don’t know, but something tells me we won’t have to wait long to see where Stevens winds up.