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Transfer Portal Nightmare Potential Scenarios: Jalon Daniels to USC

NCAA Football: Illinois at Kansas

The post-spring transfer portal window is coming, and many voices around college football are warning folks that a storm is coming.

Being of Midwestern descent, I know that anytime the storm sirens come on, it’s time to get to the cellar or take cover in a small room in the innermost section of my home. Well, it’s time to start doing the same thing in preparation for the upcoming portal window, as there’s a good chance some of your most beloved players could be on their way out the door, window, or whatever opening they can find.

Josh Pate has warned us on multiple occasions that something big is coming to college football, and it could be what finally sparks change in the sport. So, what kind of things would we have to see to make the Kadyn Proctor Saga forgettable? We’re talking about the stuff of nightmares for some fanbases.

 

So, in the spirit of the season, I decided to paint some hypothetical nightmare scenarios out of jest with Big 12 superstars at the center. Today’s scenario?

Jalon Daniels Transfers to USC

Coming out of Lawndale High School (Calif.), there weren’t a ton of options for Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels. In fact, his offer from the Kansas Jayhawks was the only Power Five scholarship offer that he received as a member of the Class of 2020.

As one of the pivotal pieces on the Jayhawks’ roster over the last several years, Daniels has become something of a superstar. The 2023 Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year wasn’t able to stay on the field due to injury, and he hopes to ensure that’s not the case again in 2024.

At the beginning of the month, there were rumors that Daniels wasn’t at spring practice, and despite several refuted reports, it turns out that there were some instances when he wasn’t with the rest of the team. Then, on Monday, April 15, it happened.

After giving new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes a real shot through the spring, Daniels decides that a run-first, hard-nosed offensive attack isn’t in his best interest (health-wise) and decides to enter the transfer portal.

 

“I want to pursue my dreams of playing in the NFL, and with only one year of eligibility remaining, it’s in my best interest to enter the portal,” part of his message to Rock Chalk Nation reads.

It doesn’t take long for Daniels’ phone to start ringing off the hook as QB-needy programs from all over the country call to gauge his interest. Then, a call from a 213 area code comes over the wire. It’s Lincoln Riley.

The former Oklahoma head coach and current head coach of the USC Trojans has produced two No. 1 overall picks and will make that three No. 1 picks in a matter of days with Caleb Williams headed to Chicago.

After an hour or so, the decision to take a visit back home to California is made. A few days later, Daniels tweets his commitment photo, complete with the “#FightOn” hashtag. After landing so many big-time transfer quarterbacks over the year, Riley has his next prodigy. As for Kansas, the answer at quarterback is likely in the transfer portal. So, what now?

KU Bets on Sims, But it Doesn’t Pay Off

With a run-first offense under Grimes, it proves hard to lure an elite transfer quarterback to Lawrence, but former Georgia Tech and Nebraska quarterback Jeff Sims does have enough left in the tank to provide an answer after Daniels’ exit.

His prowess as a runner makes the boot-action and rollout designs that Grimes likes to mesh with outside zone a seamless transition, or at least that’s the hope.

 

Things actually look pretty good going into fall camp, and Sims appears to be picking up the playbook well. Unfortunately, when KU starts to go live, the turnover issues start to show up.

Between Sims and fellow Nebraska transfer Mikey Pauley, the Jayhawks feel like they’ve got a decent answer at quarterback, but neither ends up solidifying their grasp on the spot, and KU enters the 2024 season with a controversy on its hands.

Sims gets the start against Lindenwood in Week 1, and despite one interception, he has a good game, leading KU to a 63-6 rout. The competition takes a step up in Week 2, though, as KU heads to Illinois. There, the Jayhawks run into trouble. Sims turns the ball over twice and keeps the Fighting Illini in the game way longer than they have any business doing on their own. Kansas escapes with a 27-24 victory, but the concerns are there.

In Week 3, Pauley draws the start against UNLV, the same team KU faced in a high-scoring bowl last season. He takes care of the football and does a good job extending plays against the Rebels… for the first half. In the second frame, UNLV finds their offense and takes the lead after back-to-back scores and a stop. Late in the fourth, Pauley tries to get Kansas back in the game with a risky throw on third and long, but it gets picked. KU loses, 38-33.

A trip to West Virginia the following week doesn’t go well either, as the Mountaineers’ defense gives both Pauley and Sims issues. As they did to many teams in ’23, WVU plays keep away and slowly chews the clock away until it’s all zeroes. WVU 23, Kansas 14.

At 2-2, Kansas head coach Lance Leipold rallies the troops and decides the best thing to do is name Sims the starter and rides with him through the next two weeks. The KU offense actually finds some rhythm with Devin Neal as the centerpiece, and the Jayhawks are able to get to 4-2 (2-1) before their bye week.

A win over Houston gets them to 5-2 (3-1), but a tough stretch of games awaits at Kansas State and against Iowa State. After a monster performance of Avery Johnson, K-State makes it 16 straight over the Jayhawks, and Iowa State’s defense makes matters worse by forcing four turnovers in a road upset the following week, dropping KU to 5-4 (3-3).

A trip to Provo gets scary the following week, but the Jayhawks pull out a victory and finish off their season with three straight wins to improve to 8-4 (6-3). With one of the most manageable schedules in the country, KU ends the year shy of a 10-win season, which felt easily attainable before Daniels left.

Meanwhile…

 

A Healthy Daniels Prospers Under Riley

From the moment Daniels arrives in Los Angeles, his stardom skyrockets. The Apple Watch chain not only makes an appearance at Big Ten Media Days, but it’s on during games. The facilities and training facilities at USC help Daniels get as close to 100% as he’s felt since his freshman year, and when the 2024 season begins, he’s ready to roll. And boy, does he ever.

Daniels puts on a masterclass in a season-opening upset over LSU in Vegas, tossing for four TDs and running for another in a 45-38 win.

Daniels and the Trojans trip up in Ann Arbor two weeks later, but JD6 still manages to heads with a four-TD performance against a stifling defense in a 31-34 loss.

From there, the hype around Riley and his new protege hits its stride as Daniels carves up defense after defense for eye-popping numbers, all the while staying healthy with a much less demanding running attack. Plus, the rest of the Trojans’ schedule is incredibly manageable outside of matchups with Penn State and Washington, but they still manage to beat the Nittany Lions in The Coliseum and a depleted Huskies team on the road.

USC (10-1) carries an eight-game winning streak into a matchup with No. 5 Notre Dame (10-1) on the last week of the year, and Daniels saves his best game of the year for a Saturday night showdown against the Irish. With Riley calling the shots, Daniels extends play after play and ends up torching ND for six touchdowns in a 51-45 barnburner.

At 11-1 (8-1), the third-ranked Trojans land in the Big Ten Championship against No. 1 Ohio State (12-0). That’s where the nine-game winning streak comes to an end for Daniels, as Will Howard and the Buckeyes prevail, 31-20.

Luckily, in the era of a 12-team playoff, Daniels and the Trojans end up with the No. 7 seed in the Playoff and get to host the Big 12 runner-up, Ollie Gordon, and No. 11 seed Oklahoma State in a Playoff Game.

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