Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens, now in the NCAA’s transfer portal, is looking for an opportunity. Where might he find one? ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO
Tommy Stevens’ name is in the transfer portal. Surely, you’ve heard by now. It’s kind of a big deal, and not just in Happy Valley.
A starting-caliber quarterback for a major-college football program has hit the open market, after all.
Reading between the lines on Twitter, teammates are concerned this might actually be it for Stevens in a Penn State uniform, too. Mostly because it has been part of the conversation around him for a few years now.
Heartbroken at the thought #2 ?
— Shaka Toney (@SackA_Toney) April 17, 2019
Don’t make comments on 2. You’re not in our locker room, please be respectful.
— Antonio Shelton (@_groovy55) April 17, 2019
But now that he’s in the portal, there are some things to consider here: Including the possibility that Tommy Stevens will be Penn State’s starting quarterback this fall after all this shakes out anyway.
1.) The transfer portal does not necessarily mean you have to leave.
Sure, there’s a rule in place, just to add some risk for the players and protect the programs a little big: If you enter the portal, your scholarship can be pulled by the program.
It seems unlikely Penn State would do that to Stevens, however. For starters, they don’t need the scholarship open right now. For the 2019 season, it would go to a walk-on anyway. Secondly, the Nittany Lions owe Stevens some patience here, because he played the good soldier for a while, and because there’s no reason not to.
If you’re looking for a guarantee of playing time, it makes sense to throw your name in the portal. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave for the same or lesser guarantee of playing time, especially when you’re the more experienced player. Lamont Wade, for one, entered the portal in January and stayed at Penn State. Stevens can do the same. It might make sense for him to do so, if the opportunity is right. Which brings us to the second point…
2.) Listen to Stevens’ stance.
John McGonigal of the Centre Daily Times wrote a fascinating story on Stevens last week, before the Blue-White Game. You should read it, and can do so by clicking here.
In short, Stevens is an intense guy, one who believes in his abilities beyond anybody’s grasp. He doesn’t care that he has been Trace McSorley’s backup for so long. He doesn’t care that he’s coming off a foot injury. He doesn’t understand why nobody lists him among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. He has three goals: Win the Heisman, win the national championship and go to the NFL. He doesn’t see them as remotely unattainable.
The whole article provides great insight from those who know him best. But let’s focus on his goal right now. Heisman. Natty. NFL.
Can he do that just anywhere?
I ask that for this reason: It would seem Stevens could have his choice of Football Championship Subdivision jobs. But, that probably takes two of those goals away. So the big question is, would Stevens take any guaranteed opportunity? Or just one that could help him drive toward those goals? Which brings us to the third point…
3.) Is there a “guaranteed” starting spot available for Stevens at a major, FBS program?
Look, Auburn needs a quarterback. The Tigers might be a quarterback away from a shot at the SEC title, in reality. But they went into spring camp with four players competing for time, and redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood looked good. But is he going to take you over the top if you’re Auburn?
That’s a question coach Gus Malzahn has to answer. He also would have to — if he’s interested in going for broke — determine if Stevens is a guy who can get you over the top.
Every coach looking for a quarterback after spring ball probably has that same balance to strike.
Tate Martell didn’t look great at Miami, and Justin Fields struggled for Ohio State in their spring games. Washington State won the Pac-12 last year, and it needs to replace its quarterback. Stevens would surely be an upgrade over Jack Coan at Wisconsin, as well.
Are those guarantees? Are they close enough to one that these become better opportunities to play than what he’d have competing with Sean Clifford at Penn State. Which brings us to the fourth point…
4.) Penn State’s starting quarterback position is still open.
We know Penn State’s coaching staff is in the process of conducting meetings with every player on the roster, honest evaluations of on-field performance and classroom performance that head coach James Franklin kind of hinted can become arduous over time.
Unless he did a complete about face from what he said after the Blue-White Game last Saturday, it doesn’t seem as if Franklin would have told Stevens — if he indeed as met with him at all yet — that Clifford has the starting spot wrapped up.
“I’m a big believer in competition at every single position,” Franklin said. “We haven’t named a starter at any position. His situation is somewhat similar to (safety) Garrett Taylor. GT’s (waited) for his time and he (had) to go take it. Tommy’s situation, we were put in a tough spot because he had an injury that made it difficult. We want to be able to name the starter as soon as we possibly can, but we are not ready to do that right now and it’s going to need to be more of a true competition.”
It wasn’t going to be a true competition until the summer, when Stevens was able to play 100 percent and take a similar number of first-team snaps against Clifford. Which brings us to the fifth point…
5.) Is this a power play from Stevens?
It’s difficult even to suggest that. This is Stevens’ career. It’s his last chance to be a starting quarterback in major college football. It would make zero sense for him to go into the season competing for a job at Penn State, if he had a guaranteed starting spot somewhere else. It all makes sense.
But with Stevens, you’re buying totally into his potential. Franklin said after the game that there is a “huge body of work” to judge him off, but that’s debatable if you’re just looking at him as a quarterback. In his career, he has thrown just 41 passes, completing 24 for 304 yards, four touchdowns and a pick.
It’s all in the eye of the beholder, and certainly, Penn State has statistics on Stevens compiled in practices that we aren’t privy to. But those game stats…That’s not a lot to go on, if you’re just thinking of Stevens the passer.
Stevens is a physical force, an absolute prototype. He has always been able to do things physically that no other quarterback on Penn State’s roster can do, McSorley included. Clifford included. But it’s difficult to see Penn State handing the starting job to a guy who largely missed spring practices, who has a kid behind him with plenty of talent and who frankly threw just a few less passes than he did last season and saw the bulk of the action this spring.
Stevens has always been a realistic person, so maybe he knew his best chance at the guarantee with Penn State this fall was to try to force it now. Maybe, he’s just exploring his options. Maybe he leaves for a better opportunity. Maybe the one he has now is the best he’ll get.
There are a lot of maybes with Tommy Stevens. Fair or not, there always have been.