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Why is Vanderbilt pursuing a graduate transfer QB?

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Ball State’s Riley Neal was on campus yesterday. Let’s talk about this.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt has had a very capable passing attack for the past couple of years behind QB Kyle Shurmur. But Shurmur, you might have heard, is graduating after this season.

That leaves a lot of questions for the 2019 season. The quarterbacks currently projected to be on the 2019 roster have combined to attempt 28 passes at the college level, and 22 of those were by Deuce Wallace, who is not currently on the team. (We’ll get to that.) The other six attempts came from Mo Hasan, a walk-on who’s occasionally been used as a situational quarterback for his running ability — which isn’t great, but it’s better than Shurmur’s.

So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Vanderbilt might pursue a graduate transfer who’s immediately eligible.

Riley Neal, listed at 6’6” and 225 pounds, at the very least solves the “experience” problem. In four years at Ball State (he got a medical redshirt after playing three games in 2017 before getting hurt), Neal completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 7393 yards, with 46 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also ran 325 times for 1363 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career at Ball State. In 2018, he completed 194 of 335 passes for 1917 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

With that said, he also missed the last three games of Ball State’s season with an injury, and his two worst performances of the season came against Notre Dame and Indiana — you know, the kind of teams he’d be facing at Vanderbilt.

Still, there are a lot of question marks at quarterback.

For one thing, going into a season with two or three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster is dangerous. Vanderbilt got away with having only two scholarship quarterbacks in 2018 simply because one of those was Kyle Shurmur, an established SEC quarterback, and Shurmur managed to get through the season without getting injured. That meant that Vanderbilt never even had to consider going to Mo Hasan for an extended period of time, or pulling the redshirt off talented freshman Allan Walters.

Next season, Vanderbilt does not have that luxury. Deuce Wallace, who’s currently suspended from the university but is expected back in 2019, should enter spring practice neck and neck with Walters for the starting job, with incoming freshman Jamil Muhammad a likely redshirt. What happens, though, if Wallace is ineffective? What happens if Walters isn’t ready for the starting job? Vanderbilt might be headed for a long season in 2019 either way, but poor quarterback play would pretty much guarantee it.

Bringing in a graduate transfer, whether Riley Neal or someone else, would at least give Vanderbilt an insurance policy. Neal might not beat out either Wallace or Walters for the starting job, should he come to Vanderbilt, but having a quarterback on the roster with Division I starting experience is not a bad idea in this situation. If Wallace beats him out for the starting job, that’s good on him; and if Vanderbilt views Walters or Muhammad as the future at the position, Neal might be able to provide a one-year bridge between Shurmur and the future.