The West Virginia Mountaineers and Marshall Thundering Herd football teams will both have new starting quarterbacks next season, owing to a trend that is ever more common in college football.
Doege’s decision makes more sense, on its face. Over the course of the past season, he split time with backup Garrett Greene and, although Doege had some of the best passing statistics in the Big 12 Conference, WVU had a ho-hum season, a sometimes lethargic offense and plenty of turnovers. With WVU leading rusher Leddie Brown sitting out to avoid injury, Doege couldn’t get the WVU offense going in an uninspiring bowl loss to the University of Minnesota. Doege was never the solidified, No. 1 guy, so stepping into the transfer portal isn’t surprising.
Wells, on the other hand, grew up in Charleston, just 45 miles down Interstate 64 from Marshall University in Huntington. The COVID-shortened 2020-21 season was his first as a starter, as he led the Herd to a 7-0 start and a No. 15 national ranking in the polls. Marshall lost its final three games of the season, and the Herd struggled to find success this year. Wells threw a lot of interceptions, but he also was named Conference USA freshman of the year and was named to the All C-USA first team in 2020.
The departure of an in-state player who has accomplished so much is harder to puzzle out. Maybe it’s because he was recruited by former head coach Doc Holliday, who got the ax after last season. Maybe he doesn’t see himself fitting in with what new head man Charlie Huff is trying to do. Maybe he simply thinks he can do better somewhere else.
Whatever the motivation, Doege and Wells are just two of the host of players announcing they’ll enter the transfer portal this offseason, and they’re hardly the biggest names on that list. Transferring used to be a lot more difficult, but it is routine these days, as college players now have the same freedom over their fate that coaches have enjoyed for decades. And just as colleges stand to lose potentially great players, they’ll undoubtedly also benefit from players coming in from other schools.
Although fans of both programs don’t seem too torn up about Doege and Wells departing, it’s understandable to dislike the transfer portal. If a highly touted recruit isn’t successful right away or has to wait for playing time, they’re likely to transfer, disappointing fans and coaches alike. It gives the collegiate game a bit of a mercenary feel. The most elite athletes in college football are wearing a particular school’s colors because it’s what is best for them in whatever it is they want to accomplish. Nearly gone are the days you’d watch a group of players define an era for a university football team over the course of three or four seasons.
But college football has always been a cutthroat and sometimes dirty business, whether it’s on the field, in negotiations for a coach or on the recruiting trail. It’s simply a lot more obvious, now that players are flexing some of their muscle after spending decades as free labor for a billion-dollar industry.
It started with NFL prospects sitting out bowl games so an injury wouldn’t hurt their draft stock, something that initially drew gasps of befuddlement from fans but is growing more normalized by the year. Now, players can make money off their name and image, and pretty much transfer wherever they want, whenever, without having to sit out an entire season before seeing the field again.
Most fans are grudgingly adapting. It might not be the game that many enthusiasts grew up with, but, as one of the most popular sports in the United States, college football isn’t going away.