By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — For years, one of the biggest complaints that Football Championship Subdivision fans have made is how often television commentators covering FCS games make a big deal of players who transfer from the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks to FCS.
On Saturday, in one of the more intriguing season-opening games, that conversation will be turned upside down as Vernon Adams makes his debut as the starting quarterback for Oregon against his former team, Eastern Washington.
As a two-time Walter Payton Award runner-up, Adams is arguably the most high profile player to transfer from an FCS school to a FBS institution. And not only that, he is taking over behind center for last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota on a team that made it to the College Football Playoff semifinals just last season.
The diverging opinion on Adams — who threw for 3,483 yards, with 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions and rushed for 285 yards and six more scores in an injury-shortened junior season — among FCS fans is about as wide as the Grand Canyon, For his career, Adams pierced defenses for 10,438 yards passing and 110 TDs.
Adams was near the top of his game in a 49-46 EWU victory over Oregon State in 2013, passing for 411 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 107 more yards and a 59-52 loss to Washington in 2014, piling up 475 passing yards with seven TDs.
But instead of directing Eastern Washington’s fortunes against another Pacific-12 team this Saturday, Adams defected to the enemy. It will be the Eagles’ defense that will try to slow down their former teammate when the season opens in Eugene, Oregon.
While most NCAA players have to sit out a year when they transfer up a division, or make a parallel move within a division, or subdivision, Adams took advantage of what many FCS fans have grown to call the Dustin Long rule to move from EWU to Oregon after graduating from the Cheney, Washington campus.
Dustin Long was the senior quarterback who transferred from Texas A&M to Sam Houston State in 2004 and proceeded to lead the Bearkats to the FCS semifinals, while finishing second in the Payton Award balloting to William & Mary quarterback Lang Campbell.
Not so impressive was the fact that Long barely attended classes at SHSU before dropping out and transferred back to Texas A&M in time to graduate from the College Station, Texas-school that spring.
The NCAA membership wasted little time in closing off that loophole in 2006, with a rule that prevented players with one year of eligibility from playing at another school unless they had graduated.
All a player has to do is make sure he is studying in a program that his previous school doesn’t offer.
Russell Wilson, now a star quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks, took advantage of that rule to move from North Carolina State to Wisconsin a few years back, while Everett Golson is changing his Notre Dame Fighting Irish jersey for Florida State attire — replacing NFL No. 1 draft choice and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston — and Greyson Lambert is moving from Virginia to Georgia this season.
As much attention as those changes may have received and regardless of how talented that those performers were, the dialog about them has paled to the interest in Adams changing his address to Eugene.
Many EWU and FCS fans view Adams as something akin to a traitor because he jumped off the Eagles’ ship and Eastern Washington’s coaching staff went as far as to forbid their one-time star from even using campus facilities last spring as he worked towards completing his degree.
But in one sense, FCS fans should be rooting for Adams to succeed in his new high-rent district — maybe outside of Saturday’s game against Eastern Washington.
If Adams displays the type of talent that led Oregon to anoint him as Mariota’s successor, it actually becomes a high-profile positive for all of FCS.
Those of us who follow the subdivision religiously know that there are many quality performers who play every week at this level.
Just look at some of those All-Pro teams, Pro Bowl and Super Games in the past couple of decades.
And games like last Saturday’s Montana-North Dakota State barnburner and last winter’s national championship contest between NDSU and Illinois State illustrate that point even further.
Adams, who at 5-foot-11 and 201 pounds has faced plenty of obstacles to get noticed, made the move primarily to enhance his chances of an NFL career (though this observer is one of plenty who thinks his skills might be better suited for the Canadian Football League).
The product of a fine Bishop Alemany prep program in Southern California received zero interest from FBS schools as a high school senior and was only offered two FCS scholarships, from Eastern Washington and Portland State.
Like many snubbed FCS stars, Adams still has a chip on his shoulder from those days and wants to prove something yet again to those who doubt his ability.
This writer had a chance to see the dynamic Adams in person during the 2013 FCS semifinals when Eastern Washington played eventual national runner-up Towson in a thrilling 35-31 loss to the Tigers.
On the plane flight back to Baltimore following the game, several Towson players said that Adams was the best quarterback they had faced all season — high praise considering they had just dueled with 2013 Payton Award winner and soon-to-be New England Patriots second-round-draft-choice Jimmy Garoppolo the week before.
In the post-game press conference, Adams displayed poise and humility at the same time, taking responsibility for his team’s loss, despite the fact he had been brilliant in completing 28-of-42 passes for 394 yards and two TDs.
A week, earlier, Garoppolo had ducked the Eastern Illinois post-game press conference after a 49-39 loss to Towson.
Anyone familiar with Adams will speak volumes of his character and competitiveness.
And while many of us may be disappointed with this quarterback’s decision to leave Eastern Washington and its Tabasco Turf for the greener pastures — make that field-turf — and the greener uniforms of Oregon, here is one admirer who hopes Adams has a great year in his new locale.