Here's the formula:
1 + 1 = transfer
Translation: When you sign a quarterback, then add another one in the same class, one of them is going to leave in short order. Check it out:
1994: Tennessee signed two top-five quarterbacks – Peyton Manning of New Orleans and Branndon Stewart of Fort Worth. Manning won the first-team job as a freshman, and Stewart transferred to Texas A&M at season's end. Manning went on to have a great career. Stewart struggled at A&M.
2000: Tennessee signed two top-10 quarterbacks – Casey Clausen of Northridge, Calif., and John Rattay of Phoenix. Clausen won the first-team job as a freshman. Rattay was so far down the depth chart following spring practice that he transferred during the summer to Pasadena City College before landing at the University of Arizona. Clausen went on to have a great career. Rattay struggled at Arizona.
2004: Tennessee signed two top-20 quarterbacks – Erik Ainge of Hillsboro, Ore., and Brent Schaeffer of Deerfield Beach, Fla. Ainge won the first-team job as a freshman, and Schaeffer transferred to College of the Sequoias before settling in at Ole Miss. Ainge went on to have a great career. Schaeffer struggled at Ole Miss.
When National Signing Day of 2013 saw Tennessee add Elite Eleven QBs Joshua Dobbs of Alpharetta, Ga., and Riley Ferguson of Matthews, N.C., the parts were in place for another 1 + 1 = transfer equation.
Still, this situation appeared to be different in several key areas.
Whereas Manning, Clausen and Ainge won starting jobs by outperforming their fellow freshman QBs in Year 1, Dobbs appeared ticketed for a redshirt year until injuries sidelined junior starter Justin Worley (thumb) and Ferguson (stress fracture).
Whereas Manning, Clausen and Ainge were clearly the superior passers, Dobbs has neither the velocity nor the accuracy of Ferguson. Dobbs' advantages are that he runs better and makes fewer mistakes.
Whereas Manning, Clausen and Ainge were established starters heading into their sophomore seasons, Dobbs was battling with Ferguson and redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman to try and unseat Worley. So, despite a disappointing performance in the Orange & White Game (7 of 12 passing, 83 yards, interception, 3 sacks), Ferguson appeared to be in the running for the first-team job.
Whereas Stewart and Schaeffer played as first-year Vols and Rattay transferred in time to play as a freshman at the junior college level, Ferguson already has missed a full season of college football due to injury. Should he transfer to another Football Bowl Subdivision school he'll have to sit out 2014 and sacrifice one season of eligibility.
Like Rattay, Ferguson never played a down for Tennessee. As a result, he has four years of eligibility remaining. Should he follow the Rattay route and spend his first college season at the junior-college level, he then will be free to transfer to a major college with three years of eligibility remaining.
One option might be Louisburg (N.C.) College. Located 190 miles from the Ferguson family home in Matthews, the school fielded a top-20 NJCAA squad in 2012. Should he choose to play one year at Louisburg, Ferguson's family would be a mere three-hour drive from watching his home games. Young Ferguson then could transfer to the FBS program of his choice for 2015 and compete immediately.
An even closer-to-home option would be UNC Charlotte, which began fielding a football program in 2013. The campus is just 12 miles from the Ferguson home in Matthews.
Wherever Riley Ferguson winds up, his departure is disappointing to the Big Orange Nation. Fans were excited when he picked Tennessee and thrilled when he made the finals of the prestigious Elite Eleven quarterback camp. They were encouraged that Alabama and Louisville launched last-ditch efforts to sway him prior to Signing Day of 2013. He pleased them by electing to stick with the Vols.
Riley Ferguson is an exceptionally gifted young man, and his departure is not a pleasant development. Still, it is not a particularly surprising development.
In the mathematics of quarterbacking 1 + 1 = transfer just about every time.