It’s time for the chicken and the egg to step aside. There is a new debate over which comes first — a veteran college quarterback or the transfer portal. Anymore, it seems almost impossible to have one without the other.

When BYU sophomore Ryder Burton put his name into the portal this week, the Cougars’ quarterback room was left without a home-grown product. Gerry Bohanon (South Florida), Jake Retzlaff (Riverside City College), Cade Fennegan (Boise State), Treyson Bourguet (Western Michigan) and McCae Hillstead (Utah State) all started somewhere else.

Whether Burton was going to be a star at BYU is anyone’s guess, but he’s not sticking around to find out and in today’s climate of easy access to the transfer portal and NIL money, it’s hard to blame him. Judging by the 3,500 players who went into the portal this year (according to 247Sports) it seems as though nobody sticks around.

Today’s conditions are a far cry from the BYU quarterbacks, including Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, John Beck, Taysom Hill and most recently Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall, competed and succeeded in.

Each one followed a simple formula. They arrived as freshmen. They waited their turn. They excelled when their time came — and all 10 made it to the NFL. Along the way (Marc) Wilson, McMahon and Young won Super Bowls; Young was a Super Bowl MVP; Detmer won the Heisman Trophy; and Hill became the first player in modern NFL history to have 10 or more career passing touchdowns, receiving touchdowns and rushing touchdowns.

None of them liked waiting and watching as a backup and no one knows if they would have stuck around had they enjoyed the same freedoms as today’s players. However, BYU’s impressive history leans on the side of patience — both for the player and the coach.

Worth the wait

Nielsen had to wait for Gary Sheide’s run to end. Wilson waited for Nielsen. McMahon waited, albeit impatiently, for Wilson. Young waited for McMahon. Bosco waited for Young. Detmer waited to replace Sean Covey. Beck waited behind Matt Berry. Max Hall, BYU’s all-time winningest quarterback, redshirted during Beck’s senior year. Zach Wilson waited behind Tanner Mangum. Jaren Hall waited behind Wilson.

BYU’s current quarterback conundrum surfaced when Hall left for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining. With no one waiting in the wings, Roderick turned to the transfer portal and landed fifth-year veteran Kedon Slovis. BYU also added Retzlaff, the nation’s No. 1-ranked junior college quarterback.

This Utah school just offered former BYU quarterback Jacob Conover
This BYU quarterback just entered the transfer portal

The one-year only with Slovis looked pretty good when BYU was 5-3; however, after a season-ending elbow injury at Texas, the Cougars had no choice but to play the inexperienced Retzlaff and lost four straight games to end the season.

As a result, Roderick went back to the portal and signed Bohanon, another veteran with the 2021 Big 12 championship under his belt. The downside to Bohanon is a labrum injury that sidelined him in 2023. The former South Florida/Baylor quarterback and Retzlaff will take their battle for the starting job into fall camp. Behind them are the other three transfers who are waiting in the wings.

The tomato theory

The best Utah tomatoes are homegrown. However, when those same tomatoes became available at the grocery store, the desire to plant, water and care for a garden of tomatoes was replaced by the ease of going to the store and buying them. This is what the transfer portal has done to quarterbacks. Why grow them yourself when someone else will?

Moving forward, BYU and every other program must ask itself if the staff and fanbase are willing to be patient enough to allow a young quarterback to grow and develop or do they just keep going to the portal to replace an experienced short-timer with another one?

What comes first, a veteran quarterback or the transfer portal? There is no clear-cut answer anymore. Just as the chicken and the egg debate, can you have one without the other?

Spring transfer portal a disappointing surprise for Utah State

The high stakes of playing as a Power Four program have limited the margin for error. Offensive coordinators like Roderick, already working on a short leash, are turning to the portal to find an affordable player who has surpassed the growing pains of a beginner.

Likewise, young quarterbacks don’t want to sit around and wait. With a few exceptions, they want everything right now, including playing time — whether they are ready or not. If they don’t get it or see it coming, including related NIL compensation, they simply leave and go somewhere else.

Burton was a prized signee out of Springville High as part of BYU’s 2023 recruiting class who didn’t play last season. Hillstead, a Skyridge High product, was a favored pickup by Utah State, where he played in eight games as a true freshman in 2023.

Following spring practice, Hillstead went into the portal and BYU signed him. Days later, Burton, after watching Roderick add another young quarterback, decided it was time for him to go. There are no guarantees for either player moving forward, but both had grown unhappy and impatient where they were.

Football needs patience

The transfer portal has taken on the personality of a video game. If things don’t work out immediately, anxious players just hit the reset button and start over. It doesn’t work that way when resetting an impatient football program. Typically, the coach is fired, the staff is gutted, the roster is overhauled and years are required to rebound.

The solution is a simple behavior change.

Patience is the way to getting college football back on its axis and it must involve everybody — players, coaches, parents, agents, media, boosters and fans. A coach needs the time to develop a quarterback and a player must allow the coach to take his time doing it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exist in today’s game because winning is everything and losing is even more.

The paradigm shift from player development to player satisfaction is real and it may never change back completely, but history has a way of repeating itself — for better or worse. BYU’s history of success includes a coach and a quarterback who were patient enough to develop into a winner. That doesn’t mean the player has to arrive as a freshman, but he does need to stick around.

There are tremendous upsides to the ability for movement for both players and programs, but when it comes to quarterbacks, it makes Roderick’s job all the tougher to decide which comes first, a veteran quarterback or the transfer portal and in today’s climate, can you really have one without the other?

Utah State quarterback McCae Hillstead (10) pitches the ball to Robert Briggs Jr. during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game against Georgia State, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Boise, Idaho. The former Aggie was picked up by BYU after entering the transfer portal.
Utah State quarterback McCae Hillstead (10) pitches the ball to Robert Briggs Jr. during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl game against Georgia State, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Boise, Idaho. The former Aggie was picked up by BYU after entering the transfer portal. | Steve Conner, Associated Press

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at