February National Signing Day has lost some luster since the introduction of the early signing period in December. By the end of early signing day, the proverbial ink on the fax machine has dried (is that still a thing?), and schools typically have their recruitment wrapped up. Most commitments are known, and work can begin on the following football season.
Across the nation, however, the NCAA transfer portal has added some intrigue, and a free agency period of sorts, back into the weeks leading up to the first Wednesday in February. There is a growing fear that schools could lose talent due to the apparent ease of transferring. North Texas was not spared as it saw a flurry of talent enter the portal to start 2021, including the loss of quarterback Jason Bean.
It is up to North Texas and its coaching staff to not just retain athletes, but to come up with the necessary recruits to replace any lost talent – and that includes using the transfer portal to plug holes in a roster.
Over the last few days, North Texas staff has been vague-tweeting about incoming recruits. With the majority of its recruitment done, one could easily overlook North Texas’ fanfare without much thought as it presumably hypes the upcoming NSD. What was in store, however, was certainly not expected.
The big surprise was the announcement of an incoming graduate transfer. A BIG graduate transfer.
Former 4-star, dual threat quarterback Jace Ruder announced Tuesday he was transferring to North Texas. Ruder – the top high school recruit out of Kansas in 2018 – announced in December his intent to enter the NCAA transfer portal after graduating from the University of North Carolina. What is even more interesting is that this four star, 2018 recruit has four years of eligibility remaining.
The eligibility calculation may sound less legit than my golf scorecard, but his math actually checks out. After a redshirt, medical redshirt, and the 2020 “COVID year”, Ruder still has a full four years left. As if returning from the Snappening, North Texas will be able to take advantage of full eligibility left on Ruder’s clock.
It’s certainly a big deal for North Texas as it looks to stabilize a crowded QB room in one of the most potent offenses in the country. The 2020 season saw Jason Bean and Austin Aune lead Conference USA in passer rating and yards per pass. The shaky combination would lead the league in several team passing categories – a notable exception is completion percentage – by aggressively pushing the ball downfield.
Additionally, North Texas quarterbacks bring in an added rushing element. Bean and Aune quietly accounted for 7 out of 18 rushing touchdowns in 2020. It is evident that this staff has a type. In the last few years, North Texas has brought in Jason Bean, Austin Aune, transfer Amani Gilmore, Will Kuehne, and most recently, Bryce Drummond. All are quarterbacks that bring the added element of being dangerous on the ground. Jace Ruder is no exception with impressive speed on his big frame.
Ruder comes in at 6’3” 225lbs. That makes him the biggest quarterback in that QB room. He has prototypical size with good speed and a big arm, and comes from a P5 school with a good pedigree 1. Working only from his high school film, Ruder comfortably stands tall in the pocket and delivers passes fairly well. He uses his legs deceptively to extend plays or create long gains on designated runs. He reminds me a bit of Aaron Rodgers or even Carson Wentz when he runs and maybe a little Matt Stafford in the pocket (play style, not talent, don’t @ me).
Historically, these elements would vault Ruder as a presumed starter at North Texas. There have not been many quarterbacks in recent decades that have been able to take advantage of the lack of talent brought into the QB room. Littrell and staff, however, have found a way to not only bring talent, but make personnel decisions and fan discussions difficult. Additionally, Austin Aune has experience not just in the offense, but on the field.
Those that remember Alec Morris at the beginning of Littrell’s tenure would find many parallels from the former Alabama quarterback with the incoming Ruder. One wonders if transfers would risk a short leash under this staff. Morris was benched quickly in favor of Mason Fine, even as Fine struggled through his exciting first season. Littrell benched Bean in favor of Aune after his own struggles, and vice versa.
It’s risky to come to a team with little room for error having many options to turn to at quarterback, but it is apparent the potential volume as the starter is too good of an opportunity to pass up. Being a top passing offense in the nation is a convincing tool for this staff.
The newly crowded QB room brings some concern and maybe some over-thinking. Is the staff not comfortable with who is currently on the roster? Are they concerned with retention? Do they really like QB competition and like not knowing who to start from week to week?
You do not pass up on a 4-star transfer. Competition is good. Ask Nick Saban. Going for more talent is a no-brainer in one of the most important positions in football. You are comfortable with your QB room, you know what you have, so take a roll of the dice on a guy with high upside.
It’s no coincidence that North Texas has had some of its best offensive years during a run with a good quarterback. Losing some guys to the transfer portal is part of the game (that is how Ruder arrived here, after all). It is most important to continue to find guys that get here and contribute.
depending on your opinion of the Chicago Bears’ current QB, I suppose ↩