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Miami’s Cristobal in ‘wild, wild West’ for veteran QB. Might Taulia Tagovailoa be long shot? | Opinion

Miami Herald - 11/29/2023

College football has gone crazy. The era of the transfer portal has rosters spinning like turnstiles at a New York subway station. And bowl season finds the spinning at full speed as the 30-day transfer window bangs open this coming Monday.

“The wild, wild West,” Miami Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal calls it. “It’s completely out of control.”

Name, Image and Likeness rules have turned the amateur game professional. Quality quarterbacks in the portal are up for bid, entertaining offers. The idea of recruiting used to involve just the high school kids. No more.

The pressure major college head coaches is greater than ever.

Especially those coaches who came back to their alma mater on a white steed, fizzled to 5-7 in the first year, then went 7-5 in a second-season improvement deemed too modest by many fans and media.

Now Cristobal is busier than a one-armed paper hanger (as my father used to say) trying to manager his evolving roster, including not just players but his own coaching staff.

There was a relief Wednesday when sophomore QB Jacurri Brown, who might yet transfer, announced he would play for Miami in its upcoming bowl game. (UM will learn its destination and opponent this Sunday. ESPN projects the Canes will be invited to the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland, and face either Memphis or SMU.)

The starter most of the season, Tyler Van Dyke, already has dived into the portal and is outta here — a given the moment he was benched late in the season for true freshman Emory Williams. With Williams breaking his left arm in the Florida State game, that left Brown as the lone scholarship QB left.

Had he said no to the bowl, UM’s choices would have been to start one of four walks-on passers on the roster, used a Wildcat-type offense with a running back such as Mark Fletcher Jr. or a receiver taking snaps (likelier), or looked into the whether Vinny Testaverde had any eligibility left.

As for UM’s starting quarterback next season, could be Brown (if he stays), might be Williams, or could be an incoming freshman recruit such as Judd Anderson. Most likely, I would say it will be a veteran one-season answer purloined from the bounty expected in the transfer portal.

The best bet might be Will Rogers, not the famed Vaudevillian humorist who died in 1935, but the Mississippi State QB.

Others mentioned include Texas A&M’s Max Johnson, Kansas State’s Will Howard and Utah’s Nate Johnson.

Just for fun — I’m dreaming here — let’s add Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa. Yes, the kid brother of Dolphins star Tua.

He set Big Ten passing records this season as a fifth-year senior, so has no eligibility left ... as of now. But, with no first-round expectations for him in a QB-rich 2024 NFL Draft, there is talk he could petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility. It’s a possibility. His case: Played in only four and five games his first two seasons, both just missing redshirt qualifications.

(The Canes roster this season included an eighth-year tight end. With the NCAA, anything is possible.)

The idea of Taulia, 23, joining his brother in Miami for a season would be enticing for the Tagovailoa family — and should be for UM, too.

Amid all the tumult nationwide in the sport and at UM, the roster Cristobal was looking at Wednesday might be different in an hour.

“Changes every second of every day,” an insider in the UM football program told me, maybe exaggerating just a tad.

Winning its bowl game is vitally important to Miami.

UM is 1-10 in its last 11 bowls, so winning one would be another signpost of progress. And finishing 8-5 is a lot easier on the eye than ending 7-6 in judging where the season lands on the success scale.

“Everything is moving in a positive direction with a lot of progress,” Cristobal said on the Joe Rose Show this week. “From a personnel standpoint, it’s night-and-day as opposed to what we walked into.”

But that personnel standpoint is ever fluid.

“Trying to figure out who to keep, who’s staying, who’s going, just be professional as possible and do what’s absolutely best for the program,” Cristobal said. “Any defection that you create or happens to catch you by surprise is an opportunity to upgrade. You have an opportunity to get better everywhere. We are working our way to becoming a really good team. It’s a young team with a lot of juice, improvement across the board. It’s going to attract some really good players and coaches.”

I align with Cristobal’s optimism. But quarterback has not stopped being the most important position, and the Canes need to hit big there.

Might be with a homegrown recruit like Brown or Williams, but while the young guys learn and earn trust, the bridge-answer is more likely to come ready-to-go from the transfer portal.

That could somebody like the improbably named Will Rogers, and, dreaming big, that could even be Taulia Tagovailoa.

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