Once the regular season ended and the transfer window officially opened on Dec. 5, there was a whirlwind of player movement across college football.
More than 2,000 players put their names in the portal between then and when the first window closed on Jan. 18 with hundreds of players committing to new schools during that time span.
Players in the portal can still commit to schools in the months ahead, but the portal won’t open for new entries until May. That has led to a bit of a calmer time in the sport, especially once the late recruiting signing period wraps up.
Now that we’ve had some time to digest what happened in that first transfer window, here are some big picture takeaways as we turn the page to the 2023 season.
Who brought in the best transfer classes?
While most of the nation’s top teams lean on high school recruiting for the bulk of their depth charts, the transfer portal has quickly proven to be an integral part of the team-building process. That’s especially true for talented teams looking to fill a few holes on their roster.
In this cycle, there were a handful of programs in particular that loaded up on big-time pieces.
Florida State: Coach Mike Norvell has had an extremely impressive hit rate with transfers during his time at FSU. Last year, he struck gold with players like Jared Verse and Johnny Wilson. This year, FSU added players like cornerback Fentrell Cypress II (Virginia), defensive lineman Braden Fiske (Western Michigan), offensive lineman Jeremiah Byers (UTEP) and tight end Jaheim Bell (South Carolina).
After a series of down years, FSU won 10 games in 2022 and a significant chunk of the team’s top players decided to return for 2023, including quarterback Jordan Travis. Hopes have been high for a resurgence in Tallahassee, and now there’s going to be legitimate expectations for the Seminoles to compete at a high level in 2023. These transfer additions only bolster FSU’s status as an ascending program.
LSU: When Brian Kelly surprisingly left Notre Dame for LSU, he moved quickly to bolster the Tigers’ roster with transfers. With quarterback Jayden Daniels leading the way, those moves paid off as LSU was able to win the SEC West.
Entering Kelly’s second season in Baton Rouge, LSU again added to its roster with impact transfers. LSU particularly focused on defense, adding four cornerbacks and five defensive linemen. The headliners of the group include former Texas A&M corner Denver Harris, ex-Oregon State linebacker Omar Speights, ex-Arizona defensive lineman Paris Shand and cornerback Zy Alexander, another corner who was an FCS All-American at Southeastern Louisiana.
Another notable addition was receiver Aaron Anderson, a Louisiana native who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2022. Anderson spent his freshman season at Alabama.
Michigan: Michigan’s transfer class may not have as many members as some of these other schools, but the Wolverines were quick to add potential starters as they look to win the Big Ten for a third consecutive season.
This year’s haul includes three offensive linemen — guard LaDarius Henderson (Arizona State), tackle Myles Hinton (Stanford) and center Drake Nugent (Stanford). The Wolverines also added Coastal Carolina pass rusher Josaiah Stewart, ex-Nebraska linebacker Ernest Hausmann and ex-Indiana tight end AJ Barner.
Hausmann could be a key piece on defense in the years to come. He started as a freshman at Nebraska and could blossom into one of the best players in the Big Ten. Stewart could also be an impact performer for UM over multiple seasons after combining for 26 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks in two years for the Chanticleers.
Oklahoma: Year 1 of the Brent Venables era in Norman did not go well as the Sooners finished 6-7, their first losing season since 1998. It did not take long to see that Oklahoma had needs help on both sides of the ball, so the Sooners’ staff was aggressive and landed 12 commitments in the first transfer window.
Oklahoma made heavy investments into its defensive line, adding Dasan McCullough from Indiana, Trace Ford from Oklahoma State, Rondell Bothroyd from Wake Forest, Jacob Lacey from Notre Dame and Davon Sears from Texas State. McCullough had 49 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks as a true freshman.
The Sooners also added ex-Stanford tackle Walter Rouse, ex-Michigan receiver Andrel Anthony and brought back tight end Austin Stogner. Stogner began his career at OU, transferred to South Carolina and now is back with the Sooners.
UCLA: Many of UCLA’s top players in 2022 were transfers and Chip Kelly’s staff continues to add to the roster via the portal. And many of the players UCLA is adding are transferring up from lower-level conferences, including ex-Kent State QB Collin Schlee and ex-Ball State RB Carson Steele.
Schlee could be in line to start if five-star freshman Dante Moore is not ready while Steele is in line for a big work-load in Kelly’s offense after rushing for 1,556 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2022. Jordan Anderson, a safety from Bowling Green, is also headed to UCLA from the MAC.
The Bruins also added two receivers from Pac-12 programs, J. Michael Sturdivant (Cal) and Kyle Ford (USC). Both could be plug-and-play starters from the time they get to campus.
USC: USC completely transformed its team last offseason following the hire of Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. Riley’s ability to bring Caleb Williams — the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner — with him from Norman played a huge role in USC’s quick turnaround, but transfer additions like Travis Dye, Jordan Addison, Mario Williams and Eric Gentry were also key to the team’s success.
As he continues to add high school talent, Riley is also heavily investing in transfer portal talent. Among the Trojans’ 2023 haul is receiver Dorian Singer (Arizona), running back MarShawn Lloyd (South Carolina) and offensive linemen Ethan White (Florida) and Jarrett Kingston (Washington State).
But it’s no secret that USC needs way more help on defense than it does on offense. The Trojans added defensive players at all three levels with defensive linemen Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M), Jack Sullivan (Purdue) and Kyon Barrs (Arizona), linebackers Mason Cobb (Oklahoma State) and Jamil Muhammad (Georgia State) and cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace (Arizona) all joining the roster.
New coaches loading up in transfer portal
Riley at USC, Kelly at LSU and even Sonny Dykes at TCU showed how useful the transfer portal can be for a first-year coach. The freedom of movement provided by the portal and the one-time transfer exception has made the days of the years-long roster rebuild for new coaches a thing of the past, especially for Power Five programs.
In this cycle, there were a few first-year coaches who were particularly aggressive in the transfer portal. Here are four worthy of highlighting.
Arizona State: Kenny Dillingham inherited the mess left behind by Herm Edwards but has hit the ground running, bringing in a whopping 25 transfer commitments, as well as a 2023 recruiting class that has 20 members as of this writing. That’s 45 new players added to an 85-man roster in one offseason.
Let’s be honest. There aren’t many big names in the bunch. Former Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne is probably the most recognizable. Many of these guys are Arizona natives returning to their home state, but there are also quite a few offensive linemen with starting experience and a few high-upside players transferring up from the FCS level who could make an impact. Running back Cameron Skattebo (Sacramento State) and receiver Xavier Guillory (Idaho State) both put up huge numbers.
Auburn: Welcome back to the SEC, Hugh Freeze.
Freeze’s first order of business at Auburn was to add to his offensive line and the three players he added — East Carolina’s Avery Jones, Western Kentucky’s Gunner Britton and Tulsa’s Dillon Wade — all could end up as starters for the Tigers next fall.
Auburn also added four defensive linemen, headlined by Justin Rogers from Kentucky and Mosiah Nasili-Kite from Maryland. Other portal adds by Auburn include former USF running back Brian Battie and ex-FIU tight end Rivaldo Fairweather. Battie rushed for 1,186 yards in 2022 while Fairweather has 54 career receptions.
Colorado: Deion Sanders wasted no time replenishing the roster at Colorado. The Buffs won just one game in 2022, so Coach Prime had some work to do. So far, he has added 25 transfers and 19 high school commitments.
A significant bunch of those transfers followed Sanders to Boulder from Jackson State, including quarterback Shedeur Sanders and cornerback Travis Hunter. Sanders, Deion’s son, is expected to start for the Buffs next fall while Hunter was arguably the most-talented player in the portal. The No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class shocked the world by signing with Sanders at Jackson State, and now he is set to make an instant impact in the Pac-12 — potentially on both sides of the ball.
Other names to know in Colorado’s portal haul include ex-Kentucky RB Kavosiey Smoke, ex-USF receiver Jimmy Horn Jr., ex-Arkansas State TE Seydou Traore, ex-Arkansas safety Myles Slusher, ex-Michigan defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw and ex-Arkansas defensive lineman Jordan Domineck.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s offensive transformation is one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason. With Luke Fickell now in place as head coach, he hired Phil Longo as offensive coordinator. Wisconsin has long employed a run-heavy approach on offense, and Longo comes from an Air Raid background. In the time since the coaching switch, Wisconsin has added nine new players to its offense — three quarterbacks, four receivers and two linemen.
Tanner Mordecai, who began his career at Oklahoma before starting at SMU the past two seasons, is in line to run Longo’s offense. Nick Evers (Oklahoma) and Braedyn Locke (Mississippi State) were both four-star recruits in 2022 and will compete to be the Badgers’ quarterback of the future.
The names to know at receiver are C.J. Williams (USC) and Bryson Green (Oklahoma State) and the two linemen, Jake Renfro and Joe Huber, both followed Fickell from Cincinnati to Wisconsin.
Which quarterbacks transferred?
No position impacts winning and losing more than quarterback, but this year didn’t have as many top-tier players at the position as last year. In 2022, we saw guys like Caleb Williams, Quinn Ewers, Spencer Rattler and Dillon Gabriel move to new schools.
There were a few stars rumored to be potential transfers, but those moves never came to fruition. That left quarterbacks like Sam Hartman and Devin Leary as the best of the bunch.
Hartman is headed to Notre Dame after throwing for nearly 13,000 yards at Wake Forest while Leary, a multi-year starter at NC State, is set to replace Will Levis at Kentucky.
To replace Leary, NC State added longtime Virginia starter Brennan Armstrong. Elsewhere in the ACC, multi-year Boston College starter Phil Jurkovec transferred to Pitt. Kedon Slovis was the starter at Pitt last year but he left for BYU, which is entering its first season in the Big 12.
In the Big Ten, notable additions included Hudson Card (Texas to Purdue), Cade McNamara (Michigan to Iowa), Jeff Sims (Georgia Tech to Nebraska) Luke Altmyer (Ole Miss to Illinois) and the aforementioned Tanner Mordecai at Wisconsin via SMU.
DJ Uiagalelei, a former five-star recruit, left Clemson after two up-and-down seasons as the starter and landed at Oregon State.
In the SEC, Ole Miss added two quarterbacks, Spencer Sanders and Walker Howard. Sanders was a four-year starter at Oklahoma State while Howard is a former five-star recruit who began his career at LSU. Additionally, Florida added Graham Mertz from Wisconsin and Missouri got a commitment from Jake Garcia (Miami).
Who were the biggest losers in the portal?
Arkansas: Arkansas added quite a few solid players in the portal, but it also lost a slew of starting-caliber players. On defense, Jordan Domineck, Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher were among the departures. On offense, tight end Trey Knox and receiver Ketron Jackson were the biggest losses.
Florida: Florida has had a pretty significant exodus of players. Depth was an issue for the Gators in Year 1 under Billy Napier, and seeing more than 20 players transfer may prove costly for Florida in 2023. Roster turnover is a natural part of a coaching transition, but this many guys leaving seems like somewhat of an outlier. Bringing in a top 15 recruiting class will help, but having to rely on so many young players could make it tough to compete in the SEC East in 2023.
Kent State: It’s very common for the top players from Group of Five programs to try to move up to Power Five programs. Kent State saw seven players do so, many of which happened after head coach Sean Lewis left the program to become the offensive coordinator at Colorado. Of the seven P5 departures, six came from Lewis’ offense. Names to know from that group include QB Collin Schlee (UCLA), WR Dante Cephas (Penn State) and WR Devontez Walker (North Carolina).
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have been hit hard by transfers as players like QB Spencer Sanders, RB Dominic Richardson, WRs Brennan Presley, Bryson Green and John Paul Richardson have all left the program. There was attrition on defense, too. Among the defensive departures are Trace Ford, Mason Cobb, Jabbar Muhammad and Thomas Harper. OSU had landed a few solid transfers of its own, but it’s hard to envision the Cowboys competing for a Big 12 title in 2023.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks saw some of their best players leave the program as DE Jordan Burch (Oregon), DE Gilber Edmond (Florida State), TE Jaheim Bell (Florida State) and RB MarShawn Lloyd (USC) all transferred. The program is still trending in a positive direction under Shane Beamer, but it’s never good to lose four starters who were all coveted in the portal by Power Five programs.
Texas A&M: The Aggies were a mess last fall, finishing 5-7. And a big chunk of the program’s historic 2022 recruiting haul has already left College Station. Nearly 30 players in all entered the portal since late November, many of whom were four-and-five-star recruits. Losing so many young players may not make a huge impact in the short term, but it’ll be important for the 2023 class to be more reliable for the program.