Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy have faced each other before, and it was epic

Each week, RJ Young passes along a handful of nuggets, anecdotes and stats from around college football. Let’s go deep.

When the San Francisco 49ers challenge the Philadelphia Eagles for NFC supremacy on Sunday, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Big 12 fans can confidently say they’ve seen this movie before. Or, at least they can say they’ve seen the two leads — quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy.

For Hurts, playing in the NFC title game in what has been an MVP-caliber season doesn’t feel so removed from the kind of career he enjoyed in college, first at Alabama and then as a grad transfer at OU.

When he arrived at OU in January 2019, the task before him was to continue a run of Big 12 dominance and lead the program to what would be its third trip to the College Football Playoff.


Nine games into the 2019 season, the Sooners were precariously close to missing out on both of those goals, though. Coming off a 48-41 loss to Kansas State in Manhattan, the Sooners hosted a Cyclones program that was talented enough to beat any team in the league, yet young enough to find finishing games difficult.

On Nov. 9, 2019, the Sooners, the standard-bearer for the league for nearly a quarter-century, encountered a Cyclones team led by a quarterback who didn’t care about that legacy nor buy the narrative that his team was meant to lose.

Purdy, like Hurts, came to play. 

Their stat lines reflected their play on the field in a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair that personified the Big 12’s identity in the 2010s. Every play was schemed to go for six. Every pass play was meant to become an explosive one, and every defender knew he faced a team that was going to feature true 11-on-11 football. 

The quarterbacks weren’t just threats to run but could be the best runner on the field on any down. And just when the defenses moved to commit an eighth man to the box, the quarterbacks went over the top.

The starting quarterbacks for Philly and San Fran, who will combine to be the youngest-ever pair to start an NFC title game (Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), went at it in 2019 like they knew they’d be right where they are in 2023.

Purdy tossed the rock for 282 yards and five TDs while rushing for 55 yards and a score on the ground. Hurts countered with 273 passing yards for three TDs, plus another 68 yards and two TDs with his legs.

With the game in the balance, down seven and just 2:30 remaining in regulation, Purdy spun up the Cyclones and tore down Memorial Stadium. He hit tight end — and Norman, Oklahoma native — Charlie Kolar for six from 13 yards out with 35 seconds left to play to put the Sooners up 42-41.

And then ISU’s Matt Campbell put the game in his QB’s hands when he elected to go for two. With two receivers out in routes and rolling to his left, Purdy tried to fit the football into a window that was just too tight — while he had Kolar running wide open across the goal line.

Oklahoma dodged a bullet at a time when a second loss would’ve ended any chance of making the CFP. Following the 2019 season, Hurts was drafted in the second round by the Eagles after a historic college football career that ended with his finishing as runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. 

Purdy, with unanimous All-American running back Breece Hall, led the Cyclones to their first major bowl victory — against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl in 2020. Still, he was drafted dead last in the 2022 NFL Draft — Mr. Irrelevant.

Three years later, Purdy — a rookie — is undefeated in eight starts, enjoys another All-World tailback in Christian McCaffrey, and is the personification of what this game means to so many: He was the right player, at the right time, on the right team — because he didn’t quit.

2. 42 projected starters in the Power 5 are transfers

Purdy and Hurts also represent two different trends in the sport. Purdy, who started nearly 50 games in college, is the kind of player we’re unlikely to see in the future with the transfer portal and immediate eligibility in the sport becoming common.

In an analysis for “The Number One College Football Show,” I found 42 out of the 68 Power 5 programs — plus Notre Dame — are projected to start a transfer at quarterback in 2023. Five years ago, that number would’ve been laughable. Now, I expect it to just continue to grow.

In the Big 12 alone, nine of the 14 members are expected to kick off 2023 with a transfer at quarterback, and three are projected to start a quarterback who is playing football at his third program — BYU’s Kedon Slovis (USC, Pitt), Oklahoma State’s Alan Bowman (Texas Tech, Michigan) and Cincinnati’s Emory Jones (Florida, Arizona State).

Are transfer QBs the new normal?

RJ Young shares his thoughts on the shifting QB strategy across college football.

3. Jaden Rashada and Cahl-a-rah-da?

With Rashada still considering his college options for 2023, I wrote about the draw of Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders and his Colorado Buffaloes.

“With his ubiquity on social media — 3.1 million followers on Instagram, 1.5 million followers on Twitter — a docu-series called “Coach Prime” on Prime Video and gracing the cover of GQ Magazine, Sanders has already turned Colorado, a program suffering an identity crisis for the better part of 15 years, into the biggest story in the sport in just six weeks.

“Prime also helped secure his son, Shedeur, a historic NIL sponsorship deal with Gatorade while at JSU. It was the first of its kind for an HBCU athlete and put his name next to other Gatorade athletes including Serena Williams, J.J. Watt, Zion Williamson and DK Metcalf.”

[Deion Sanders’ impact at Colorado is only beginning]

I’m still waiting to see who can make a better pitch than that for the best available quarterback in the 2023 recruiting class. As my colleague Bryan Fischer wrote about the Pac-12, the quarterback play in that conference might be the best in the country, and Prime could vault to the front of it.

“Heck, at this point it’s rare to meet somebody connected to college football who isn’t a little bit curious to see how Coach Prime himself, Deion Sanders, is going to attempt to transform the Buffs from woeful into winners. Things may change considerably as the calendar turns from September fully into fall and the losses start to mount, but the story in college football up until the first few kickoffs will not be about Georgia aiming for a three-peat, seeing if Texas is back or whether Michigan can reign supreme in the Big Ten again — but rather the latest on a Prime experiment in Boulder.”

[Loaded with top QBs and big-name coaches, is Pac-12 on the rise?]

Is Jaden Rashada Colorado-bound?

RJ Young discusses Deion Sanders’ success on the recruiting trail.

4. Michigan fans, calm down

In the span of three weeks, Michigan …

  • Publicly played out its now annual soap opera with Jim Harbaugh, who looked as likely to return to the NFL this January as he did last January. Only after the president of the university himself claimed to have persuaded Harbaugh to stay on did Harbaugh acquiesce to coaching the twice-defending Big Ten champs. When you realize there will be nine coaches in the sport who will make $9 million or more, you might see why he might feel taken for granted. At this juncture, there’s little reason for Harbaugh to make less money than Jimbo Fisher, and, at present, he does.
  • Unexpectedly fired former U-M assistant Matt Weiss after a criminal investigation dating back to December was made public.
  • Committed to expanding its tunnel at Michigan Stadium — removing 45 seats from the stadium to make room for such — after yet another altercation between Wolverines and visiting players — notably the Michigan State Spartans — resulted in a physical confrontation.
  • Saw Blake Corum’s 2017 camouflage, BC2-wrapped Chevy Camaro get stolen earlier this week. What does this mean for Wolverine fans, though? Nothing. As you were. Carry on.

Like the roster, I wouldn’t check in on the daily goings-on at your favorite program until August. Why? It didn’t matter last season. Despite turning over both coordinators and a quarterback derby that went into the third game of the regular season, Michigan showed itself to be the best football team above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Michigan’s turbulent offseason

RJ Young shares his thoughts on the latest Michigan news, including Matt Weiss’ dismissal and Jim Harbaugh facing potential NCAA Violations.

Bonus: Back to school with Gus

It’s fitting that in February, Black History Month, FOX Sports will celebrate Gus Johnson, who spent 2022 attending Harvard to complete the Ivy’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. The hour-long documentary, “Back to School with Gus Johnson,” airs Feb. 18 on FOX.

As a lifelong fan of Gus, I’m looking forward to it as much as I look forward to hearing him call games on “Big Noon Kickoff” on fall Saturdays. For many of us, his enthusiasm and passion for football and college basketball is the soundtrack to our most memorable moments as fans.

Learning how he’s become the man he is and why he chose to pursue this opportunity at Harvard will no doubt be gratifying.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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