Iowa football open to all possibilities in the transfer portal, including quarterback

IOWA CITY — Iowa football welcomed 17 new players during Wednesday's early signing period but its work still isn't done. Head coach Kirk Ferentz and recruiting director Tyler Barnes said during Signing Day pressers that the Hawkeyes will add more prospects by February's signing period.

Most of them will be high school recruits but neither ruled out the possibility of transfers. The introduction of the transfer portal and the one-time exemption to transfer schools without losing eligibility has added a new dynamic to college football. And the numbers are staggering: 764 FBS scholarship players have entered the portal since Aug. 1.

There are several positions of need that could be addressed: offensive and defensive line, secondary and wide receiver, depending on current players' decision to return for another season or enter the draft.

But what about quarterback? 

For the greater part of two years, Spencer Petras has led the Iowa offense. Backup Alex Padilla got valuable experience in the final five games but didn't do enough to distinguish himself as the starter going ahead. As Iowa approaches its Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl against Kentucky, there's not a clear answer on the starter.

"Personnel stuff, we'll just see who's healthy," Ferentz said. "Who practices well the next couple weeks, and we'll go with the best guys to give us a chance to win this game. It's going to be a tough game, but we look forward to that." 

MORE: Leistikow: The Xavier Nwankpa recruitment from Iowa coaches' perspective

Alex Padilla, Iowa's backup quarterback for most of the season, played heavily in Iowa's last five games. There's a possibility that he'll start in the January 1 Citrus Bowl against Kentucky.

In regards to quarterbacks in the transfer portal, prospects include former elite high school recruits Kedon Slovis (Southern California), Jack Miller (Ohio State) and Bo Nix (Auburn) and three opponents from Iowa's regular season, Colorado State's Todd Centeio, Penn State's Ta'Quan Roberson and Purdue's Jake Plummer.

Iowa's only had one transfer quarterback in the Kirk Ferentz era, 2002 Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks. By philosophy, the Hawkeyes tend to recruit a smaller-than-average amount of transfers. But in a year such as this, anything is possible. 

"You never say never," Ferentz said. "I was just telling somebody the story about Brad Banks over the weekend. When Brad came here, we were looking to get a high school quarterback and that was our goal — try to build with somebody who was going to be here for a longer period than a year or two years. 

"We'll continue to evaluate our roster. We'll continue to evaluate what is available. If there are players out there that we think can help our program either immediately or maybe long term, we'll consider that." 

MORE: 10 Signing Day thoughts on Iowa football's 2022 recruiting class

Within Iowa's quarterback room, Petras and Padilla are the clear top two with redshirt freshman Joey Labas (who's receiving positive buzz) a distant third. Then Iowa signed another quarterback on Wednesday in Oklahoma's Carson May, who is a four-star according to Rivals and a three-star by 247Sports. 

"Big kid, a little bit over 6-foot-4, 220 pounds," Barnes said of May. "Looks like a tight end right now. Athletic kid, can really throw, can really run, and had a huge senior season this year too.

"I think he's severely under-recruited, and I'm not the only one. I talked to a few recruiting guys around the country when he committed to us; they were all giving us kudos. This kid is flying under the radar. Excited about Carson. He's a stoic, kind of quiet kid, but he's definitely a gamer. Fun to watch his film." 

MORE: Inside Iowa football's late recruiting spree on Signing Day

Iowa football will have to make a decision at quarterback this off-season: stick with the options on the roster or pursue another player via the transfer portal.

May won't enroll until summer, virtually eliminating any chance to compete for playing time. Labas is a more interesting case. It's possible he could make an offseason leap and challenge Petras and Padilla, but bringing in a transfer would make that possibility far less likely. 

Barnes appeared on the Hawk Central radio show on KxNO on Wednesday night and responded with, "We'll see," when asked about potentially looking for a quarterback in the portal. He also noted that it's not as easy as plug-and-play. 

"We're not going to plug someone in who doesn't fit or that's going to blow up our room," Barnes said. "It's a little more complicated than people may realize but we'll sit down as a staff and discuss that. We're open to the portal. Positionally, we'll see how that shakes out." 

Here are some potential options for Iowa:

  • Name a permanent starter post-bowl and the backup either may transfer or try to re-gain positioning during spring practice. 
  • Keep the position open while not taking a transfer, meaning another Petras-Padilla (and possibly Labas) spring battle where the winner is the starter and other may transfer. 
  • Take a transfer from the portal (who presumably wins the job) and one or both current quarterbacks may transfer, leaving the new quarterback, Labas and May for the fall. 

Tough decisions loom but time is on Iowa's side. They'll have 15 practices plus the bowl game to determine which direction is best to move. This much is for sure: Iowa won't look to make a splash move by going after the highest-rated player. If they choose to utilize the portal, it'll be because they see a true fit. 

"As I think about the portal, I think about guys like Zach VanValkenburg," Ferentz said. "I think about guys like Jack Heflin. I don't know what the market was for either of those guys. I think about guys like Mekhi Sargent, and I can tell you what the market was for him a couple of Aprils ago, or May, whenever it was. All three of those guys ended up being great players in our program. Both Mekhi and Jack made NFL rosters. Mekhi was a captain for us. Both of them made NFL rosters this past year.

"So that's probably more the prospect we're looking at, but we'll entertain any possibilities. If we feel like they're going to help our roster, we'll consider anything." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at