With the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs preparing to face the No. 15 Texas Longhorns in New Orleans at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 1, some unanticipated noise erupted from head coach Kirby Smart's program.
Highly-touted Georgia quarterback Justin Fields reportedly is considering a transfer out of Athens for another college football program, according to USA Today Sports' Dan Wolken. While it seems like a decision based on having to watch quarterback Jake Fromm hold onto the starting job, there is a lot more factoring into this choice as tension built throughout season. Finally, it appears that the dam has broke nearing the end of Fields' freshman season, and he's going to look for greener pastures.
In the 12 games he's appeared this season, the true freshman quarterback completed 27-of-39 passes for 328 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's also rushed 42 times for 296 yards and four more touchdowns.
The five-star recruit from Kennesaw (GA) totaled 4,187 passing yards, 2,096 rushing yards and 69 total touchdowns while leading the Harrison Hoyas to a 16-4 record as a two-year starter. Fields earned multiple state and national honors during his high school football career, including two-straight All-State selections and being named Mr. Georgia Football by the Touchdown Club of Atlanta. He also drew interest from MLB scouts as a standout baseball player.
Heading into the 2018 football season, coach Kirby Smart named sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm as Georgia's starter, and for good reason. Fromm was coming off a Freshman All-American season where he replaced an injured Jacob Eason in Georgia's first game and never let go of the starting quarterback job. His Bulldogs marched to an appearance in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
As all elite players do, Fields wanted to compete immediately, and his frustrations watching from the sidelines began to grow quickly in his first season.
Early this season, following Georgia's second game on their schedule, which was a dominating 41-17 road win over the South Carolina Gamecocks in their SEC opener, Fields was overheard voicing his displeasure in his role with the Bulldogs.
Fields said to redshirt freshman defensive back Eric Stokes as they left the field, "I handed the ball off good as f***. I didn't do s*** bro."
Just a few weeks later, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound freshman recorded five carries for 45 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Tennessee Volunteers. During the game, Adam Sasser, a University of Georgia baseball player, was overheard using racial slurs directed toward Fields and the Georgia coaching staff.
Sasser was dismissed from the UGA baseball team and later apologized, but what makes this situation so important is that should Fields transfer, he may be able to evoke one of the NCAA's transfer rules that makes him eligible immediately, which states:
"The transfer is 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." -- NCAA Division I Council
It's not a stretch at all for Fields to feel threatened by some people in the University of Georgia student body, whether that's because he's not living up to the hype or that college football stars are held to a higher standard, but he certainly can make the case he needs a start fresh at a different school.
After Georgia's 36-16 upset loss on the road against the LSU Tigers, a game where Jake Fromm struggled mightily -- he finished 16-of-34 for 209 yards, one touchdown and two INTs -- Fields again found himself in a limited role leading up to the Dawgs home game against the Florida Gators.
He took to Twitter with a cryptic, yet curious, comment on the eve of that Florida game.
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Fields didn't record a meaningful stat in Georgia's 36-17 win over Florida.
In the SEC Championship game, Fields only logged three carries for six yards, his only pass fell incomplete, and he was the subject of a ridiculous fake punt call that had absolutely no chance of success.
When you're recruited as the top-rated dual threat quarterback in the country, second only to Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, there's bound to be tension when forced to sit on the bench.
Fields was given a 247Sports Composite score, which quantifies the overall quality of a player, of 0.9998 -- That ranks Fields as the eighth-best overall recruit in the history of that system. Only NFL-caliber players like Jadeveon Clowney, Vince Young and Michigan's Rashan Gary earned a higher score than Fields.
Justin Fields certainly isn't the only five-star quarterback to leave the first program he first chose either. As 247Sports' college football writer Chris Hummer pointed out, Fields would join blue-chip quarterbacks like Jeff Driskel, Kyler Murray, Blake Barnett, Jacob Eason and Shea Patterson, all of whom transferred from their original school.
So, where could Fields ultimately land should he decide to leave the Georgia football program? With destinations like Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Penn State on the table, one team is reportedly emerging as the front-runner to land Fields.
The Ohio State Buckeyes and their next head coach Ryan Day could bring the five-star prospect to their program at a time of transition for the school, and the idea of Fields' limitless potential in the Big Ten is a scary thought should he head North.
It's not out of the realm of impossible that Fields decides to stay at Georgia in the end, but with the mounting pressure, and the immense talent that he brings to the field, it doesn't seem likely the star quarterback would remain with the Bulldogs next season. He'd have to battle with incumbent starter Jake Fromm again, as well as fellow freshman Mason Wood, Matthew Downing, John Seter, and incoming four-star quarterback John Rhys Plumlee in 2019.
The Bulldogs gave Fields an opportunity to grow within their program, but this kid is too good not to be playing right now. Thanks in part to the success of Jake Fromm and Georgia's crowded QB room, Justin Fields' time in Athens was doomed from the start.
Fields' recruitment could be the biggest move of the offseason, and even if the NCAA rules that he must sit for one season before being eligible to play college football in 2020, one program is going to get a kid with a chip on his shoulder, something to prove, and infinite NFL potential at the quarterback position.
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