When Clemson left Notre Dame Stadium in the early hours of Nov. 8, 2020, there was little doubt the team had found its next great quarterback.
That night, DJ Uiagalelei made his first career start in place of Trevor Lawrence, sidelined with COVID-19. Uiagalelei passed for 439 yards, the most ever by a visiting player against Notre Dame. The 235-pound Californian dissected a defense featuring safety Kyle Hamilton and other future NFL players, completing 29 of 44 passes with two touchdowns. Clemson lost the game 47-40 in two overtimes, but found the next star in a line of quarterbacks that included Deshaun Watson and Lawrence.
Back then, the idea that Uiagalelei would leave Clemson after the 2022 season seemed highly likely. But rather than exiting to the NFL draft, Uiagalelei entered the transfer portal on Monday, two days after being benched early in the ACC championship game. After two tumultuous seasons as Clemson's starting quarterback, Uiagalelei is moving on, as is Clemson, which hopes for better results with its next talented young signal-caller, Cade Klubnik.
DJU's detour will go down as one of the bigger mysteries in Clemson's run of excellence under coach Dabo Swinney, who continued to back Uiagalelei as the starter, even maybe longer than he should. Uiagalelei had more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) during the 2021 season. His numbers improved this season but never resembled what Clemson expected following that night at Notre Dame in 2020.
There should still be plenty of interest in Uiagalelei, ESPN's No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback and No. 43 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class. A return to the West Coast certainly seems possible, but other programs without entrenched starters also could provide the right platform for a fresh start.
Here are seven programs that could make sense as DJU's transfer destination.
Uiagalelei grew up east of Los Angeles and could look to transfer closer to home. UCLA will lose record-setting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who improved throughout his career under coach Chip Kelly. A scheme change and working under Kelly could be exactly what the strong-armed Uiagalelei needs to recapture the promise from early in his career.
The Bruins were active in the portal last year and landed a commitment from Dillon Gabriel before he diverted to Oklahoma. Ethan Garbers, a transfer from Washington, returns along with several other options, including freshman Justyn Martin, an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2022 class. Click here for UCLA's 2023 recruiting class.