Anyone who expected redshirt freshman quarterback Travis Jonsen to beat out senior transfer Dakota Prukop for the Oregon Ducks' starting job was fooling themselves.
Anyone who expected Jonsen to fall to No. 4 has Jedi-like future reading skills.
“As we sit here today, he’s our fourth best quarterback, and that’s where it is,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of Jonsen, rated by Rivals.com in 2014 as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he signed with the Ducks.
To put it simply, Jonsen was beaten out by three-star recruits, freshman Justin Herbert and Terry Wilson Jr., the No. 3 quarterback.
“He was second best,” Helfrich said of Herbert's performance.
Herbert, according to sources, has an "it" factor that makes him the front-runner to be the starter the next three seasons after Prukop moves on. Herbert essentially walked in and not only took the No. 2 job away from Jonsen and Wilson but also managed to push Prukop at least a little bit.
So what does all of this mean for Jonsen? Of course, the quick answer would be that he transfers.
“We have a plan, he has a plan," Helfrich said of Jonsen's development. "I know the natural thing with everybody now is, that guy leaves and transfers, which is unfortunate, but we still think a lot of him and Terry.”
Maybe so, but no quarterback in the country seeks to settle in to being a career backup as a freshman. Especially one as talented and highly touted as Jonsen.
According to sources, Jonsen severely regressed during fall camp and didn't play nearly as well as he had during spring. Meanwhile, Herbert took a week to become acclimated then shifted into another gear that put him into contention for No. 2.
To be honest, it makes zero sense for Jonsen to remain at Oregon. He is No. 4 behind two quarterbacks who are a year younger than he is. Could Jonsen still beat them out in the future? Maybe. But he must beat out two guys instead of one over the next 12 months to become the starter in 2017. And Jonsen, who arrived at Oregon in time for 2015 spring drills, has already been with the Ducks for 18 months longer than Herbert and a year longer than Wilson, who arrived last spring.
Helfrich said Jonsen is still developing and is very much still a freshman in many ways given that he missed most of last season with a toe injury that prevented him from practicing.
True, but while Helfrich can talk all he would like about outside pressures on quarterbacks to transfer, etc., the reality remains that they often do transfer and for good reason.
They want to play.
At every other position on offense and defense the second best player plays. At quarterback, you stand around with a clipboard and a pen charting plays while wearing a cap and a headset.
Jonsen could leave now for an FBS program, as did wide receiver Kirk Merritt over the summer, sit out this fall then compete for the starting job next season as a redshirt sophomore with three years of eligibility to work with. If Jonsen stays and remains a backup heading into next season, he could leave then for an FBS program, sit out a year and would have just two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2018. Jonsen could at any time transfer down a level and not lose eligibility.
If Oregon history is any indication, Jonsen is already looking for an exit strategy.
2004: Freshman Dennis Dixon beat out redshirt freshman Johnny DuRocher for the backup job behind Kellen Clemens. DuRocher bounced before the first game.
2007: Nate Costa, Justin Roper and Cody Kempt all signed with Oregon in the 2007 recruiting class. By 2009 Roper had moved on to Montana even after having guided the Ducks to the 2007 Sun Bowl championship. Kempt moved on following his freshman season. Costa stayed all five years but injuries prevented him from meeting his vast potential.
2012: Redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett, a four-star recruit, lost his job to redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. UO coach Chip Kelly talked Bennett into staying as a backup for one season. At its conclusion, Bennett moved on to Southeastern Louisiana where he played well enough to earn a camp invite with the Indianapolis Colts.
2014: Jake Rodrigues, a four-star recruit in 2012, transferred to San Diego State after failing to beat out Jeff Lockie for the backup job behind Mariota. Both were redshirt sophomores. Damion Hobbs, a three-star recruit in 2013, left for Utah State after it became clear he wouldn't beat out Lockie or Rodrigues.
2016: Former four-star recruit Morgan Mahalak, signed in 2014, transferred to Towson after it becomes apparent he isn't in Oregon's future plans.
Of course, backups have stuck around. A.J. Feeley played behind Joey Harrington after losing his starting job in 2000, but Feeley was a senior. Brady Leaf backed up Dixon, although both were competing to replace Clemens up until Dixon blossomed in 2007 when both were seniors. Lockie, of course, didn't leave after losing the starting job last fall to Vernon Adams Jr. He is back this season as a redshirt senior and is attending graduate school.
Should Jonsen transfer he would be Oregon's fourth four-star rated quarterback recruit to do so since 2012 (Bennett, Rodrigues, Mahalak).
As for Prukop, he simply proved to be better than all the rest in terms of productivity, taking care of the ball and efficiently running the offense.
“We obviously thought highly of him coming in," Helfrich said. "The last week or so he settled down and instead of trying to win the job he just concentrated on that individual play and all of those singular plays add up to a body of work.”
Jonsen failed to put together such a body of work. He certainly has the ability to do so, and maybe by this time next year he will be the man. But at this point, nobody could blame him if he sought to play elsewhere.