The former Santa Ana Mater Dei High quarterback, who skipped his final high school season to start for USC as a freshman in 2018, will enter the NCAA transfer portal, the school announced Thursday.
The decision, according to a person close to the situation, was made in anticipation of a potential NCAA ruling on a one-time transfer exception, which could offer Daniels and others in the portal immediate eligibility for the 2020 season.
A vote on the transfer exception is expected next month. Even if the measure passes as expected, it’s unclear when the exception would be implemented.
Any delay could alter Daniels’ plans. If he were still required to sit out upon transferring, USC is optimistic that he could return for at least one more season.
In a statement, Daniels left that possibility on the table.
“I love this university, coaching staff, and team,” he said. “To me it is in my best interest to explore all my options going into the 2020 season. I will remain in contact with the coaching staff through the process. USC remains one of my options, and that door has remained open for me.”
Before the NCAA began exploring changes to its transfer rules in February, USC had little reason to expect Daniels to immediately consider options outside of the team he’d commemorated with a large tattoo on his right calf. In December, a person close to the situation reiterated that Daniels planned to return and compete for the quarterback job he’d twice won before.
But for the first time since his arrival in 2018, Daniels entered spring as neither the incumbent at the position, nor the presumptive favorite to win the job.
Two years earlier, he arrived at USC as the program’s presumed replacement for Sam Darnold. After shattering passing records at Mater Dei, where so many other past Trojans quarterbacks once starred, Daniels reclassified following his junior season and enrolled at USC a season early.
Daniels ran away with the job, becoming the second true freshman to start the season opener at USC. In 11 games, he completed 216 of 363 passes for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns (with 10 passes intercepted).
USC transitioned to a pass-heavy, Air Raid offense last season and in the opener against Fresno State, Daniels threw for 215 yards, completing 25 of 34 passes. But late in the first half, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, ending his season and paving the way for Kedon Slovis, whose play earned him Pac-12 offensive freshman-of-the-year honors.
Slovis completed 282 of 392 passes for 3,502 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine passes intercepted in 12 games. His completion percentage (71.9%) was a Pac-12 and NCAA freshman season record. Daniels’ choice to enter the transfer portal is as clear an indication yet that Slovis will remain the Trojans’ top quarterback moving forward, regardless of whether Daniels returns.
All signs initially pointed toward Daniels spending this season as Slovis’ backup, in order to graduate from USC and enroll elsewhere as a graduate transfer. But with the future of the season in doubt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the NCAA strongly considering allowing one-time transfers, Daniels will be the third USC quarterback within the last year to enter the portal.
Considering Daniels’ resume, he’s sure to solicit plenty of interest from quarterback-needy programs. Whether he’ll actually leave USC likely depends on what the NCAA decides.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a USC quarterback entered the portal, only to return. Last summer, Matt Fink nearly transferred to Illinois, before opting to come back and playing a crucial role in three games. Now, after Slovis, he’s the only remaining scholarship quarterback on USC’s roster.
USC coach Clay Helton left open the door to a similar return for Daniels.
“We have been working with JT and his family, as well as our compliance office, to help him navigate the process of entering his name in the transfer portal,” Helton said in a statement. “It is his desire to explore all of his options going into the 2020 season. We will continue to support JT in every way possible and help him through his decision, including the option of staying on with our football team. JT is a terrific person, student, player, and valued member of our football family.”