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What’s next for Khalil Tate?

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khalil-tate-arizona-wildcats-heisman-quarterback-senior-2019-training-camp-preseason-healthy-ankle Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Khalil Tate we saw this season with the Arizona Wildcats wasn’t the one we expected, far from it. But despite the abrupt change from a dual-threat quarterback to a pocket passer, Tate still ended up having a pretty good year in 2018.

Could it be his last with Arizona? And would that be because he’s headed for the pros or another school?

Those are questions worth pondering, though Tate wasn’t particularly interested in discussing those topics immediately after the Wildcats’ Territorial Cup collapse against Arizona State on Saturday:

Kevin Sumlin had this to say: “Those are conversations I have with the players after the season. That’s the way we’ve done it all the time. We’ll get all the information that he wants from the NFL, from evaluators and stuff like that, and sit down and talk to him about what his plans are, and what those evaluations look like now that the season’s over.”

Tate, a junior, just completed his third year in college, which makes him eligible to enter the NFL Draft. Prior to the season he was ranked by NFL.com as having the 11th-best pro potential of college quarterbacks.

But that analysis was based on the expectation Tate would continue in the form that got him onto the national radar in 2017 when he ran for more than 1,400 yards including an FBS quarterback-record 327 against Colorado.

Tate only ran for 224 yards in 2018, those numbers partly impacted by a left ankle injury suffered in the second game of the season but mostly a product of Arizona’s offensive system under new coordinator Noel Mazzone. A greater emphasis on passing resulted in Tate throwing for 2,530 yards and 26 touchdowns, fifth-most in school history.

Where does Tate sit on 2019 draft big boards now? Short answer: he doesn’t.

Bleacher Report NFL Draft expert Matt Miller doesn’t have him among his top 10 QBs, nor do any other top draft analysts.

The more likely scenario, if Tate doesn’t remain at Arizona for his senior year, is a transfer to another school.

Under normal circumstances that would require him to sit out a year, per NCAA transfer rules, but if Tate is able to graduate this spring or summer he’d be able to play immediately at a new school as a grad transfer. All indications are that Tate is an excellent student, making this route very doable for him.

A possible destination: Illinois, where former Arizona co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith is calling plays. The Fighting Illini were 4-8 this season but were much improved on offense from the previous year, particularly when it came to rushing yards by their QB, who is a senior.

Tate’s decision to stay or go could be impacted by whether coach Kevin Sumlin makes a coordinator change. Mazzone has been his play-caller for the past three seasons, including his final two at Texas A&M, and their relationship goes back to when each were assistants at Minnesota in the early 1990s, but this season Arizona’s offense took a notable step back from the Rich Rodriguez era.

Also factoring into the situation: the impending arrival of Grant Gunnell, a 3-star QB who is the prized prospect of Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class. Mazzone has been Gunnell’s primary recruiter and that duo may be a package deal.

While Arizona’s 2018 season may have ended a lot sooner than expected, the groundwork for putting together the 2019 team has been underway for a while. Whether Tate is a part of that plan will be one of the biggest storylines of the offseason.