In a year rife with controversy and chaos for Sun Devil football, this seems like a fitting way to kick off the offseason.
In a surprising and somewhat strange turn of events, Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback and former 5-star recruit Blake Barnett announced he has decided to transfer to the Arizona State Sun Devils by giving head coach Todd Graham a birthday cake.
This could mean a lot of things for the program; Some see Barnett as the white knight dramatically storming in at the eleventh hour to save Arizona State football, some will see it as a disastrous addition to an already crowded depth chart at quarterback, and others will remain confused and wonder how the Sun Devils will deal with him.
The latter mindset is the way to approach this situation.
Barnett, a former five-star recruit and the No. 2-overall quarterback in his 2014 class, was not recruited by Arizona State directly out of high school, but it seems obvious the Sun Devils made a push for him after he lost his starting job at Alabama to true freshman Jalen Hurts.
While Graham’s hand was forced to play four different quarterbacks in the 2016 season, no player emerged as the clear-cut option under center for the Maroon and Gold heading into next year. Four-star quarterback and Chandler, Ariz. native Ryan Kelley’s recent commitment to ASU makes this situation comically more complicated.
This means, unfortunately for one of the quarterbacks that committed to Arizona State in the last few years, that a transfer (or two) is likely imminent.
As it stands today, the team will have Manny Wilkins, Brady White, Dillon Sterling-Cole, Bryce Perkins, Ryan Kelley, and Blake Barnett on its roster. The Sun Devils previously had five quarterbacks on their roster coming into the 2016 season, with four startable options, but it is unlikely they all remain in Tempe come next year.
While it’s certainly too early to know anything for certain, it appears Bryce Perkins and Dillon Sterling-Cole would be the most likely candidates for transfers. Burning DSC’s redshirt was a huge disappointment for ASU in 2016, forcing him into 2017 as a sophomore having to compete with the newly-recruited freshman in Kelley for a third spot on the depth chart.
This also spells trouble for Perkins, who was emerging as the favorite for the starting position back in August but was sidelined all season by a neck injury. His father, Bruce Perkins, stated last summer stated that “Bryce is staying at ASU”, yet Barnett’s arrival surely makes this a different situation.
The arrival of two pro-style quarterbacks in Kelley and Barnett will also challenge Chip Lindsey’s offensive scheme in 2017. With Wilkins under center, the Devils ran a run-pass option heavy offense that relied heavily on trick plays and screens while putting a lot of emphasis on skill players to make big plays.
Kelley ran a decently simple pro-style offense at Basha High School, and Barnett operated (for a few quarters) did so for possibly the most talented offense in the country (a pro-style), in Tuscaloosa. While the offense was at some times explosive, it stumbled countless times throughout the year, especially when defenses picked up on what weapons Arizona State consistently relied on.
We should expect Lindsey to make some drastic changes in how the Sun Devils’ attack defenses next season, as it is unlikely they force two elite pocket passers to run or throw the ball to receiver N’Keal Harry in the flats, that is, if Kelley is being seriously considered for the starting job.
This brings us to make some way-too-early projections for who will be under center for the majority of the season in 2017. While Barnett will be forced to sit out the first four games due to NCAA transfer rules, we should expect him to earn the starting job.
A recruit of his caliber with his skillset and the likely effort that went into his recruiting process should not remain on the bench for long. With conference play starting Week 5 in 2017, I would be surprised if we didn’t see the former (if only for a moment) leader of the Crimson Tide offense taking the snaps under center for what should be an interesting sixth year of Todd Graham’s tenure.