So, both Theo Lawson at The Spokeman-Review and Braulio Perez at Cougfan.com are reporting that Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud has chosen to join the Washington State Cougars as his graduate transfer destination.
For what it’s worth, there’s been no official confirmation from either Gubrud or the school, which likely is because of one potentially large (and at this point well-known) hangup: Gubrud, who was a redshirt senior this past season, has actually exhausted his eligibility unless the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver.
At issue is whether the NCAA will apply its “one-third of games played” rule to Gubrud’s case after his five games played only became one-third when EWU advanced to the FCS championship game. I have no idea if there is any kind of precedent for this, but I’d be surprised if there was, given the strange math involved that would only be possible for four teams each year — the teams that reach their respective championship games at each of the Division I levels, FBS and FCS.
Now that we’ve gotten the facts out of the way, let’s embrace some pure speculation.
One weird thing about Gubrud’s recruitment is that he was reportedly down to just WSU and the Utah Utes for his final destination. While WSU seemed to be a solid option for a grad transfer, given all the obvious things we all know, Utah was a little odd, given that the Utes return their erstwhile starter whose season was cut short by injury and the underclassman who filled in. So, there are a few different ways you can interpret his recruitment.
Option 1: Gubrud limited the schools he was willing to consider by geography. He didn’t want to leave the west and he wanted to move up to a Power 5, and WSU and Utah were interested, and he’s confident in his ability to win a job, so he stayed near home. Simple enough.
Option 2: Gubrud wasn’t actually seen as that attractive of an option for schools potentially in need of a QB. There’s a reason he’s transferring, and ostensibly it’s because he faced long odds to simply win back his job from a guy who took EWU to the championship game. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence. Additionally, while we all remember the way the Eagles shredded us with him at the helm back when he was a redshirt sophomore — and getting that guy would be exciting! — his play dropped off a lot as a junior when Cooper Kupp and a host of other very good receivers were gone:
Option 3: Uncertainty over his medical hardship waiver scared teams off. Maybe most teams just didn’t want to dork around with a guy who might not ever get cleared by the NCAA. But WSU faces big questions at QB, so Mike Leach was willing to add another guy to the pile for competition’s sake. Utah, meanwhile, has watched incumbent Tyler Huntley miss multiple games each of the past two seasons with injuries and Gubrud would make a solid insurance policy. The Utes also only have 13 commitments for 2019, meaning they’ve got space for a guy like this. In both cases, if he never makes it to campus, it’s no harm, no foul. Other schools maybe didn’t want to hold back a scholarship to put their eggs in this basket.
So now, back to stuff we actually know. The strangest part about this for me is just the sheer number of scholarships WSU will have tied up in its quarterback room next season if Gubrud enrolls. By class:
- Seniors: Trey Tinsley, Anthony Gordon, Gage Gubrud
- Juniors: (none)
- Sophomores: Connor Neville
- Freshmen: Cammon Cooper, Gunner Cruz
There are some schools that only rarely have more than three, given that only one guy can play at a time. Having six quarterbacks on scholarship — three of whom serve no purpose beyond 2019 — represents an opportunity cost of for sure one player in this class who could be brought in to help the team in other ways, and you could make a case that having five the last couple of years cost them more than that. That’s a little frustrating and seems like a questionable strategy, to say nothing of the irritation at the fact that confidence appears low that either Neville or Cooper can win the job.
That said, Leach and his number crunchers and his talent evaluators are obviously savvy people, and whatever calculus they did determined this was a good use of a scarce resource. Perhaps they just looked at the guys they could still realistically recruit for 2019 and thought, “nah, they’re not worth a scholarship, so let’s give this one out to a one-year dude for competition’s sake.” Perhaps they looked at the existing QB room and thought, “hooooooly crap we do not have a QB on our roster ready to win.” Perhaps Leach — who twice got a very, very good look at Gubrud — likes his current guys, but loves Gubrud’s tools and thinks he can do more with him next year than he could with the guys already on the roster at their various stages of development.
In the end, you’d have to be creative to see this as a bad thing. The loss of a scholarship probably isn’t that big of a deal (although the nature of opportunity cost means we’ll actually never know), and given how Leach seems to be making all the right moves with this program, I trust him that this also is a good one.