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Getting Loud: Career Records with Covid and Transfers

Who gets to claim the career records for players who transfer?

Oregon State v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Bo Nix is the greatest QB in the history of both Oregon and Auburn. No disrespect to Justin Herbert, Marcus Mariota or Stan White (Auburn’s record holder, don’t worry, I had to look him up too), but his numbers are statistically the best ever seen at either school. I’m not talking about completion percentage or passer rating either. Though he blows away the competition in both categories there as well. I am talking about yards and touchdowns.

With 7,499 yards right now, Nix will make #3 on the Oregon career passing yards board with 230 yards to pass Bill Musgrave, probably by the time they play “Shout” in Vegas this Friday. I don’t think he will make up the 3,000 yards he is behind Marcus Mariota and Justin Herber for the top 2 spots. But his career 14,750 yards and 105 TDs total makes him the best QB in the history of both Auburn and Oregon. So which school gets to claim him?

It’s a silly thought, but I am about to get loud about it.

The Times, They Are A-Changin…

In the ever-evolving landscape of college football, recent changes have introduced new variables that are reshaping the way we perceive career records. The infusion of an extra COVID year of eligibility and the growing influence of the transfer portal have added complexity to the statistical narratives of players’ college football careers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cases of several 5th and 6th year players. But how did this happen?

How Old is That Guy?

While red-shirts, medical redshirts, and NCAA waivers have created 5th, 6th and even 7th year players in the past, those were situations where a player’s season got cut short due to injury or other circumstance, or they simply weren’t playing. These were guys who fought to get back on the field when other factors were trying to keep them off it. Then we had 2020.

Notre Dame v Stanford
Sam Hartman #10 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is playing his 6th year of college football
Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 led to unprecedented disruptions in collegiate sports. In response, the NCAA granted athletes an extra year of eligibility, providing them with the option to extend their college careers beyond the typical four-year span. While this decision aimed to mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic, it inadvertently skewed career records.

Players who may have initially planned to conclude their college careers in four years suddenly had the opportunity to extend their time on the gridiron. This extension not only affected individual statistics but also altered the landscape of team dynamics. Seniors, who would have otherwise graduated, chose to return, impacting roster compositions and playing time distributions. Some of these players got an extra year to put up decent numbers.

Holton Ahlers was a five-year starter for East Carolina and worked his way to 14th all time in career passing yards. He tops the Pirates record book in just about every passing category. But Shane Carden, sitting second on those boards, only played 3 seasons.

DeAngelo Malone’s extra year at Western Kentucky allowed him 8 sacks to top the school leaderboard in that category and climb to 13th all time. Take away that extra year and he falls to 97th in career sacks. Maybe put an asterisk by all those records.

These players put up extra numbers by having extra years in the same school. Its easy to know what record books to put their names in. But many players who had waited their turn, were not content to wait around another year. Into the portal they went.

Where’d You Play Your College Ball?

The transfer portal has become a game-changer in college football. Players can now enter the portal, indicating their intention to transfer, and coaches can actively recruit them to join their teams. This process has created a more fluid player market, leading to increased player mobility. Or as multiple coaches have put it: “Its free agency at the college level.”

The transfer portal has profound implications for career records. Players who transfer may have contributed significantly to one program but may find themselves starting anew at another school. This shift not only disrupts the continuity of career statistics but also introduces challenges in comparing players who have spent their entire careers with a single program to those who have taken advantage of the transfer portal.

While most players who transfer have been looking for the chance to get on the field, rather than wait behind other players, (Or get passed over for the new recruit) we are seeing an increasing number of productive players leaving schools in search of better scheme fits, following coaches, *cough* getting paid through NIL deals *cough*, or just wanting to a change of scenery.

Bo Nix isn’t the only 5th year senior who enjoyed a bonus year, and he isn’t the only one who transferred in the process. Sam Hartman at Notre Dame had four years at Wake Forrest before this season. He sits 5th all time in career passing yards with a bowl game left to play. Dillion Gabriel did three years at UCF before his two at Oklahoma, he sits 7th with Nix right on his tail. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr had four years at Indiana before his two in Seattle. Though he had more yards in either year in the Pac-12 than the four previous combined.

Quarterbacks are the easiest examples to find, but there are other positions where I find similar stories.

People forget that Joe Burrow was at Ohio State for 3 years before heading to LSU and having some magical success. Largely because his greatest accomplishment at OSU was making sure the Gatorade was full when they doused the coach.

Compare that to Jordan Addison who won the Biletnikoff award his second year at Pitt before heading to USC. While he didn’t even break 900 yards receiving in his year in LA, his 3,134 career yards would put him just shy of 2nd place on USCs career receiving board.

Oregon State v Oregon
Bucky Irving #0 of the Oregon Ducks runs with the ball in the second half during a game against the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium on November 24, 2023
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

Oregon’s own Bucky Irving had 700 yards for Minnesota before becoming a Duck. With a pair of 1,000 yard seasons (and a least 2 more games) he’s been a very productive running back at a school with a long history of them. But if you count those Minnesota yards, he will sit 7th on Oregon’s career rushing board.

What Does it Mean?

For the stat nerds out there, a lot of arguments about who was the best at a particular school, or even in general, just got much more complicated. Marcus Mariota had over 10,000 passing yards, 105 TDs and a Heisman trophy at Oregon. If Bo Nix had played all his college ball as a Duck he would have more yards, the same number of TDs (until Friday), and hopefully the same piece of hardware in December. But Marcus did it in three years. Nix got five.

University of Southern California vs University of Oregon
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota (8) in action vs USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Los Angeles, CA 11/3/2012
Set Number: X155713 TK1 R2 F252

But if you want to drill into it. Averaging Mariota’s production over three years in Green and Gold against Nix’s numbers in two: Mariota averaged 3,599 yards and 36 TDs a season. Nix is putting up 3,750 yards and 33 TDs a year. With at least 2 more games to play to bump that up.

Parting Thoughts

As the landscape of college football evolves, the old way of looking at raw numbers to compare players across teams, conferences, and eras simply wont work anymore. Heck, even the advent of the playoff gave some teams an extra game to tack on stats. The extra COVID year and the influence of the transfer portal have undeniably altered the traditional narrative of college football careers. As fans, analysts, and enthusiasts, it gives us one more thing to get loud about.