Looking at 10 essential facts every fan should know associated with college football’s transfer portal, quarterbacks drive most narratives. In recent years, we’ve seen many of the nation’s best players at the position emerge after transferring and turn their respective teams into instant Playoff contenders, some winning the Heisman and even national championships.
While college football’s new recruiting realities surrounding the transfer portal create opportunity for many looking to fill talent voids every offseason, it’s disheartening for some who don’t have the resources for roster retention. Most coaches are split down the middle on the growing free agent market and many have had to shift traditional mindsets with regards to roster building in favor of signing experienced players over prep talent.
For coaches of the first-year variety, the portal shortens the time needed to overhaul a roster. Immediate success no longer takes solving a multi-year formula. Instead, the two-deep can look entirely different a few months after stepping on campus.
College football’s most underrated transfer portal hauls
Here’s a look at 10 facts — courtesy of 247Sports’ terrific research department — concerning the transfer portal every fan should know entering the new season:
At the quarterback position, the transfer portal has unleashed several gems in recent years. Beginning with Baker Mayfield, who left Texas Tech for Oklahoma and ascended to become one of the college game’s all-time greats under center, four of the last five Heisman-winning quarterbacks have been transfers. Kyler Murray won the trophy after transferring to Oklahoma from Texas A&M, Joe Burrow shattered numerous single-season records at LSU in 2019 after coming over from Ohio State and former five-star Caleb Williams became Lincoln Riley’s third Heisman winner (and former transfer) last fall at USC. Since 2017, only Alabama’s Devonta Smith and Bryce Young were non-transfers to win the award.
Tennessee’s Joe Milton, Quinn Ewers at Texas, Washington’s Michael Penix and Oregon’s Bo Nix are all former quarterback transfers on the preseason Heisman shortlist for 2023. The overwhelming favorite is Williams to repeat. And most importantly, all are starting for teams who expect to be in the mix for a College Football Playoff berth. Very rarely do Heisman contenders star for programs outside of the top 10. Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman, who owns several program records at Wake Forest, is another transfer to watch this fall in the Heisman race.
Kelly and Riley are the only two coaches nationally who have landed consecutive top-5 transfer classes according to 247Sports’ portal team rankings. Kelly made the most of his first class at LSU last fall and did so in short order, while Riley signed the best player in the country for the 2022 cycle and nearly won the Pac-12 with him (Caleb Williams). In the 2023 cycle, LSU currently sits at No. 3 overall in the transfer portal team rankings with 14 arrivals, while USC is at No. 4 (15 commits). Lane Kiffin and Mike Norvell are two others who have made portal recruiting a priority each of the past two cycles.
Looking back at last five years worth of transfers, the number of player entries during the 2022-23 portal cycle is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, not all of those players have signed and are still searching for a home heading into summer ahead of the fall season. According to 247Sports’ individual player rankings in the portal, less than 3% of those ranked inside the top 500 remain available. And most of the instant-impact guys signed prior to the portal’s two-week April re-opening.
- 2022-23: 3,252 total transfers
- 2021-22: 3,085
- 2020-21: 2,647
- 2019-20: 1,692
- 2018-19: 1,717
When it comes to transfer additions in the 2023 recruiting cycle, Big 12 newcomers BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF have done all they can to compete at the Power Five level with portal talent. The four programs account for nearly half of the conference’s total portal signees, yet Oklahoma and TCU headline the league’s transfer arrivals, per 247Sports’ team rankings in the portal. One player from this quartet to watch is former Florida and Arizona State quarterback Emory Jones, who assumes the starting role at Cincinnati. He’s one of the most dynamic players nationally at the position.
Take a peek at last season’s final College Football Playoff rankings and you’ll quickly notice that half of the top 20 were teams with portal quarterbacks leading the charge offensively. College football’s new era offers ample opportunity to completely reface one’s team with talented, proven players under center and numerous programs took advantage, including Washington and Oregon among several out West. During Kalen DeBoer’s first campaign with the Huskies, former Indiana signal-caller Michael Penix Jr. helped Washington finish 11-2 and No. 8 in the final rankings.
Kenny Dillingham and Deion Sanders worked overtime in the transfer portal this offseason. And it appears transfer talent accumulation will be a staple at both programs in the years to come, at least in the infancy for both coaching staffs. Colorado saw more than five dozen players exit after the spring game last month, something Sanders expected — and predicted — would happen. The Buffaloes have signed a record number of transfers this cycle and rank No. 1 overall per 247Sports’ team rankings in the portal. Dillingham has revamped the roster for the Sun Devils left in the wake of Herm Edwards’ firing and expects to field a competitive team with experienced newcomers in the top-heavy Pac-12.
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Hendon Hooker and Will Levis headlined the SEC’s former transfer starting quarterbacks last season and that number may expand this fall where several teams will be added to a growing group that’s expected to start former transfers including Auburn (Payton Thorne), Florida (Graham Mertz), Alabama (Tyler Buchner) Kentucky (Devin Leary) and Tennessee (Joe Milton). Vanderbilt, Missouri, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Arkansas and are the only SEC teams in 2023 projected to take the field with a starter at quarterback that signed with that program as a high school prospect.
And there’s a chance that number will be even higher this fall with the arrival of Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei at Oregon State and Shedeur Sanders at Colorado to headline another star-studded crop of transfers at quarterback. For Uiagalelei, a former five-star recruit who started two years for the Tigers post-Trevor Lawrence, leaving the ACC for the Pac-12 was a developmental decision.
“I wanted to go somewhere where the scheme is going to fit me,” Uiagalelei told ESPN earlier this spring. “I wanted to go somewhere where they’re going to let me be who I am as a player, let me play free, and let me go out there and just cut it loose. Just somewhere where I can do what I wanted to do.”
RELATED: Every Pac-12 starting QB in 20223 could be a transfer
No Group of Five conference saw more first or second-team all-conference selections leave the league for the portal this cycle than the AAC (38% transferred). Among the most notable playmakers to leave was three-year offensive line starter Avery Jones at ECU, who bolted for Auburn, and former USF wide receiver and specialist Jimmy Horn Jr., who signed with Colorado. In all, 26% of all Group of Five first or second-team all-conference players from last fall hit the portal after the 2022 season.
Remember when programs would have a full quarterback room with numerous multi-year backups at the position waiting on their chance? Those days are over. When starters leave and staffs aren’t sold on the current depth chart, there’s a load of quarterbacks available in the portal as plug-and-go options. And for the elites, losing quarterbacks is an unfortunate reality when there’s a logjam in the two-deep. It’s part of the reason Burrow left Ohio State when he did and Justin Fields departed from Athens. Both became national names at their new schools and there’s a litany of other examples at the spotlighted position.