B/R CFB Recruiting: Winners and Losers of the Transfer Portal Part 1
The NCAA's decision to allow a one-time, penalty-free transfer has turned the portal into a revolving door and changed college football as we once knew it forever.
You're going to need a rolodex to be able to remember all the new faces in new places for the 2022 season.
But that's why we're here.
Transfers—like recruiting—never end. As a matter of fact, there's been another flurry of activity this week with fall camp in full swing, and more are expected as depth charts crystalize. Still, the massive transfer window that's already occurred has given us a glimpse of the sport's biggest winners and losers ahead of kickoff.
From Lincoln Riley's loaded attempt at a Hollywood turnaround to big names exiting little-known schools, there are a fair share of both.
Over the next couple of weeks, Bleacher Report will give you our opinions on the transfer portal chumps and champions in two parts. Here's Part 1.
Winner: Rich Get Richer
When the game changes, nobody adapts better than Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Through evolutions in offenses, coaching staffs, recruiting and NIL, Saban and the Crimson Tide stay at the top because of their ability to evolve.
The transfer portal game is no different.
After Alabama landed some quality puzzle pieces (like Jameson Williams and Henry To'o To'o) a season ago to outfit a national runner-up, the Tide appear to have hit the jackpot again this past cycle.
Electrifying playmakers on offense like former Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs and Louisville receiver Tyler Harrell should help right away, as should pass-catcher Jermaine Burton, who left Georgia for the SEC rival.
That's speed and production all rolled up into a trio that could have transferred anywhere in the country but chose to chase titles in Tuscaloosa.
Add in Vanderbilt starting offensive lineman Tyler Steen and elite former LSU cornerback Eli Ricks, and Alabama is adding some unreal talent to a roster that already had more ability than any other program in the nation. Ricks especially could develop into a high-round NFL draft selection with his immense skill set.
It surprises nobody the Tide are set up for another title run this year, and plenty of new faces could be catalysts.
Loser: West Virginia Mountaineers
If Neal Brown is ultimately going to experience success at West Virginia, he needs to stop losing so many players down those country roads exiting Morgantown.
According to 247Sports, the Mountaineers have watched 25 players depart to the portal since last August. That's an incredible number that equates to Brown having to sign an extra year's worth of recruits or transfers to make up for the departures.
Throw in the transfer turnover from the previous season, and Brown's program is hurting for depth.
Of course, quarterback JT Daniels electing to finish his career under Brown was a big deal, but he's got to have more talent around him.
Their departures weren't always "addition-by-subtraction" situations, either. Players left for programs such as Florida State, Maryland, Tennessee, Miami, Mississippi State and others.
Akheem Mesidor and Daryl Porter exited for Miami's South Beach, leading tackler Josh Chandler went to Colorado, and Jackie Matthews will finish his career at Mississippi State, depleting the defense.
Throw in leading receiver Winston Wright (Florida State) and former Clemson running back transfer Lyn-J Dixon (Tennessee) parting ways before ever playing a snap, and those are some serious talent gaps.
Though the portal took away, it also gave the West Virginia some potential snap-eaters in the secondary like Wesley McCormick, Rashad Ajayi and Jasir Cox.
“While maybe they haven’t played for us, they’ve played football at a really high level,” Brown told Blue Gold Sports' Rachel Libert.
Even so, replacing a gutted roster is going to be tough to overcome in such a short span.
Winner: USC's Rapid Rebuild
Nobody made a bigger offseason splash than the USC Trojans, who lured Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma.
Now, the former Sooner needs to rebuild the proud Trojans sooner rather than later. They aren't paying him for a gradual turnaround.
Good thing for Southern Cal and the first-year coach his reputation as an offensive guru precedes him, and quality offensive players lined up to head to the bright lights of Los Angeles.
There was no bigger coup than quarterback Caleb Williams, who left Norman to join his former coach after seizing the OU job from Heisman Trophy hopeful Spencer Rattler a season ago. Now, Williams will get to continue his development under Riley.
He isn't going to have to do it alone, either.
Receiver Mario Williams could be poised for a huge year, especially considering the rapport he built with Williams in Norman. Running backs Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford) are new faces with already hefty resumes at Pac-12 programs.
Then there's Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, who was college football's top pass-catcher a season ago.
Defensive portal wins like linebackers Romello Height (Auburn) and Shane Lee (Alabama) can help right away, too.
A major turnaround is not out of the question with so much new talent already in place.
Loser: Diamond Miners on the Lower Levels
One unmistakeable flaw with the transfer portal is that it takes away from the smaller schools.
Does it give players the opportunity to showcase their talents on bigger stages? Yes, and there's no question it benefits student-athletes. But lower-tier programs will too often see marquee players leave.
The Football Championship Subdivision and even Group of Five programs are going to bear the brunt of having to replace big-time producers. It's already happening.
When Washington State hired Eric Morris away from Incarnate Word to be its new offensive coordinator, he brought with him elite quarterback Cameron Ward, who is going to be an exciting new face in the Pac-12.
After Jared Verse blew up at Albany as a freshman, college programs around the country came calling, and now the edge rusher will play for Odell Haggins at Florida State.
That's two of the top 22 players in the 247Sports rankings, and both are from FCS programs, as are guys like Kentucky running back Ramon Jefferson (Sam Houston State) and Rutgers offensive lineman J.D. DiRenzo (Sacred Heart).
Jacob Cowing (from UTEP to Arizona), Kamryn Waites, O'Cyrus Torrence and Montrell Johnson (from Louisiana-Lafayette to Florida), Miles Frazier (Florida Atlantic to LSU), Jonah Laulu (Hawaii to Oklahoma), Jaxon Player (Tulsa to Baylor) and Cole Spencer (Western Kentucky to Texas Tech) are just a few other instant-impact guys heading to bigger spotlights.
The list will swell each year as highlight-reel players get better opportunities that are too hard to pass up, which will hurt the quality of competition on the low levels.
Winner: Brian Kelly
Whether Brian Kelly winds up being a great fit for the LSU Tigers is still up in the air, but the former Notre Dame head coach is having no issues selling the Bayou Bengals to players.
That's big news for a proud program that had fallen on hard times during the last two years of the Ed Orgeron era, a majestic tumble from the top of the college football stratosphere following the 2019 national championship.
Sitting on a hotbed of talent in the Boot, Kelly is always going to build his recruiting base in-state. But the Tigers saw a mass exodus of players throughout 2021 and wound up playing last year's Texas Bowl with a skeleton-crew roster.
Kelly worked wonders in the transfer portal, finishing third in the 247Sports rankings with 16 commitments, including six 4-star players.
Arguably one of the highest-upside transfers was former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels. If Kelly can turn him around in Baton Rouge and get him back on the pro trajectory he was on before a dismal 2021, LSU could thrive.
Jarrick Bernard (Oklahoma State), Sevyn Banks (Ohio State), Greg Brooks Jr. and Joe Foucha (Arkansas), Mekhi Williams-Garner (Louisiana-Lafayette) should fortify a secondary that was in dire need of reinforcements after Eli Ricks left for Alabama and Derek Stingley Jr. headed to the NFL.
Will the portal wins be enough to equal victories on the gridiron? That remains to be seen, but Kelly proved he could restock the pantry and sell a new program with his transfer work.
Loser: Supposed QB Incumbents
Whoever said competition makes you stronger didn't think to ask the man who was already in line to take over a starting gig.
But every team wants to put the best playmakers on the field to win games right now, especially at quarterback.
Perhaps the biggest storylines from the transfer portal era is just how many signal-callers wind up at other programs. For those guys already on campus in line to be QB1, it means they've got to elevate their games or risk getting passed by.
That fallout materialized Monday at LSU with the news Myles Brennan left the program, according to the Advocate's Wilson Alexander. It's unclear what factors piled up to lead the oft-injured, sixth-year senior to step away, but Alexander mentions Brennan had been taking second-team reps behind Jayden Daniels.
At Oregon, first-year coach Dan Lanning has ultra-talented redshirt freshman Ty Thompson ready to go, as well as another quality underclassman in Jay Butterfield. But former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix easily could start in Eugene.
Ole Miss' Luke Altmyer is firmly entrenched in a quarterback battle with Jaxson Dart, but the job post-Matt Corral era was almost certainly Altmyer's until Dart showed up.
The Quinn Ewers hype train in Texas is going to be hard to keep off the field, though coach Steve Sarkisian hasn't named a starter between him and Hudson Card. Washington's Dylan Morris started Huskies camp behind transfer Michael Penix Jr., who has experience in new coach Kalen DeBoer's offense. The list goes on and on.
Hey, the good news is it gives us a lot more quarterback races to watch.
Winner: Quinn Ewers
Quinn Ewers was supposed to be the top-rated quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class, but he reclassified to '21, signed with Ohio State and went off to Columbus to earn a huge NIL payday, bypassing his senior season.
Despite a reported huge payday, he bolted the Buckeyes to head back home and play for his original college choice: the Texas Longhorns.
Ewers took the money and ran.
"He absolutely ripped Ohio off," Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel said when talking about UT's budding quarterback battle. "Just walked in, stole the money, and went back to Texas. Got to applaud it. Anyway, we'll see. I expect that to be Quinn Ewers, especially with Arch [Manning] coming. I mean, you got to give him the year. Let's go."
Ross Dellenger joked, "Two snaps and $2 million. $1 million a snap."
Since coming to Texas, Ewers has signed a deal with the makers of video game Fortnite and bought an Aston Martin, according to SI.com's Adam Glick.
Regardless of how much money Ewers has already made in his two college stops, he carries a lot of accolades to Austin. Even with Arch Manning arriving next year, there is plenty of buzz around Ewers and his ability. Can he live up to the massive hype?
Of course, Ewers has NFL aspirations beyond a hopefully legendary Longhorns career, but he stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the NIL and the transfer portal.
College football is big business, and everything is bigger in the Lone Star State, including contracts. Ewers is making some smart business decisions; now it's just a matter of seeing what kind of choices he makes with a defensive end breathing down his neck.
Loser: Pac-12 South Slumpers
With an ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting improprieties looming at Arizona State, the Herm Edwards honeymoon is coming to an abrupt end.
After that news and a season of lackluster on-field performances, the Sun Devils watched as quality players headed for the portal and a once-promising 2022 recruiting class fell to pieces.
Now, Edwards is forced to face life beyond quarterback Jayden Daniels, as well as playmaking receivers Johnny Wilson, Ricky Pearsall and LV Bunkley-Shelton. Defensive leaders Eric Gentry and Jermayne Lole departed, too.
Arizona State was even dealt shocking blows like backup running back DeaMonte Trayanum leaving to play linebacker at Ohio State.
Even though teams like USC and even rival Arizona appear to be on the come-up, the Sun Devils aren't the only Pac-12 South team being blasted by the portal.
Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes lost leading rusher Jarek Broussard to Michigan State. Receiver Brenden Rice and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon headed to USC, and Blackmon's fellow defensive back Christian Gonzalez went to Oregon.
To add insult to injury, one of CU's big recruiting wins from the portal, Ramon Jefferson, changed his mind and is now at Kentucky.
Things couldn't get much worse for Dorrell and Edwards.
Winner: 'Come to the 'Sip'
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin sometimes doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut, but that quirk is a journalist's dream.
One of the most golden moments of the offseason came in late January when Kiffin took to Twitter to declare himself the "Portal King" with a meme portraying him as Tiger King's Joe Exotic.
He wasn't lying.
The Rebels were one of the most active and best-producing teams in the transfer portal, and even though they lost Matt Corral and a lot of playmakers from last year's Sugar Bowl team, there are plenty of reasons for excitement in Oxford.
Quarterback Jaxson Dart (USC) is one of the most talented signal-callers in the portal, and he has three seasons of eligibility remaining. Former TCU running back Zach Evans, SMU running back Ulysses Bentley and Trojans tight end Michael Trigg also could be instant-impact players for the Rebels.
Difference-makers abound on the other side, too, like Central Michigan linebacker Troy Brown and Georgia Tech edge-rusher Jared Ivey.
When the portal season was over, Ole Miss had 17 commitments, including nine 4-star prospects. USC's two 5-star transfers catapulted the Trojans over the Rebels to 247Sports' No. 1 portal class, but nobody recruited more quick-turn playmakers than Kiffin.
The biggest question mark is chemistry. If Kiffin can find the right formula, Ole Miss could have a very nice follow-up season to last year's success.
Loser: A Rambling Wreck
If Jahmyr Gibbs had played for one of college football's top programs the past couple of seasons, he'd already be a household name.
Unfortunately for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Gibbs will have that opportunity this year as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Geoff Collins' team, on the other hand, appears to be primed to struggle for another season in Atlanta.
Replacing Paul Johnson and transitioning the program from a triple-option attack to a more modern offense was never going to be easy, but Collins' leash can't be too much longer after a 9-25 start that has seen the Yellow Jackets get blown out far too often.
Now, they're facing life without Gibbs, who was one of the best weapons with the ball in his hands in all of college football. What he's going to be able to do in Tuscaloosa will hurt Georgia Tech fans every week.
The program also must replace edge-rushers Jared Ivey (Ole Miss) and Jordan Domineck (Arkansas) who will be making plays on an SEC football field near you this season.
Add it to the list of reasons why Collins is one of the coaches on the hottest of seats entering the season. It's going to take a colossal turnaround for him to get the opportunity to rebuild this thing his way.
Losing quality players is just too tough to overcome for a middling program trying to regain its footing.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.