5 Most Successful Transfers in College Football History

Joe Burrow went from being a backup at Ohio State to a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at LSU

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow ended the 2019 college football season with many honors: Heisman Trophy winner, national champion, LSU all-time leader in career touchdowns. He also holds another unique distinction, the most successful transfer in college football history. Given the other players on this list, that’s pretty high praise.

 

NOTE: I did not include junior college transfers or players that were kicked off their teams. That's why someone like Cam Newton, who started at Florida but played a season at Blinn (Texas) College before winning the Heisman in his one season at Auburn, didn't make the cut.

 

5. Kyler Murray (Texas A&M to Oklahoma)

Murray started three games as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2015 but left for a more stable environment at Oklahoma. After Baker Mayfield left for the NFL in 2018, Murray won the starting job and went on the win the Heisman Trophy later that year. A standout outfielder who was drafted by the Oakland A's in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Murray will likely be a first-round NFL pick if he chooses to go with pro football instead. 

 

4. Russell Wilson (NC State to Wisconsin)

Wilson led the Wolfpack to two bowl games in three seasons but opted to report to spring training with the Colorado Rockies in 2011. NC State head coach Tom O’Brien released him from his scholarship with one year of eligibility left and Wilson played 61 games with the Rockies’ Class A affiliate Asheville Tourists. Then he decided to give football another go and signed with Wisconsin. There, Wilson took the Badgers to the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl, earning All-Big Ten honors. He then decided to go with football in 2012 and was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round.

 

3. Troy Aikman (Oklahoma to UCLA)

Aikman signed with Oklahoma when it was running the I-formation, but became the starter after the team was leaning toward switching back to the wishbone. He broke his leg against Miami in 1985 and Jamelle Holieway — a perfect fit for OU’s option attack — came off the bench and led the Sooners to the national title. After the season, head coach Barry Switzer helped arrange for Aikman to transfer to UCLA, where his skills were better suited. The move paid off, as Aikman became a consensus All-American, won the 1988 Davey O’Brien Award, and became the first overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft.

 

2. Baker Mayfield (Texas Tech to Oklahoma)

Mayfield became the first walk-on true freshman to start a season opener for a BCS program and was named Big 12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year in 2013. However, a dispute with head coach Kliff Kingsbury over whether he had earned the starting job and a scholarship culminated in him leaving Lubbock and transferring to Norman, where he had to sit out a year. Mayfield quickly won the starting job in 2015 and led the Sooners to two College Football Playoff appearances in his three years at Oklahoma. He also won the 2017 Heisman Trophy and was the first pick in the NFL Draft last year.

 

1. Joe Burrow (Ohio State to LSU)

Burrow spent two years at Ohio State on the bench behind J.T. Barrett, but was passed over for the starting job for Dwayne Haskins when Barrett left. Since he had graduated in three years and was immediately eligible to play upon transferring, he opted for LSU. In two seasons, he went 25-3 as the Tigers' starter and threw 76 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. 

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

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