Winners and Losers of the Transfer Portal So Far in 2019
Like it or not, the transfer portal has become a huge factor in how college football rosters are constructed from one year to the next. Some programs are much better than others at utilizing it.
Just ask Heisman Trophy winners and former transfers Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray how important the portal can be.
For the most part, the transfer portal is for scarcely used players who are looking for a chance to show what they are capable of doing. For whatever reason, things didn't work out at their first school, and they need a change of scenery just to see the field.
But when that scarcely used player is a former 5-star or 4-star recruit, that could be a huge deal for the team that acquires him. Or in the case of Illinois, the team that acquires four of them.
Our list of the biggest winners and losers of the transfer portal is solely based on what they have gained and lost via transfer. For instance, we have Florida Atlantic as a winner and Georgia as a loser. Although we wouldn't pick FAU to beat the Bulldogs on a neutral field in 2019, the Owls improved their roster by adding transfers while Georgia lost more talent to the portal than most other schools.
Teams are not listed in any particular order, but we do alternate between winners and losers.
Winner: Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Key Acquisitions: Tate Martell (QB, Ohio State); Asa Martin (RB, Auburn); K.J. Osborn (WR, Buffalo); Trevon Hill (DE, Virginia Tech); Chigozie Nnoruka (DT, UCLA); Jaelan Phillips (DE/LB, UCLA); Bubba Bolden (S, USC)
Key Departures: Lawrence Cager (WR, Georgia); Hayden Mahoney (OL, Boston College); Marquez Ezzard (WR, Georgia Tech)
Lawrence Cager is a tough loss for the Hurricanes. He led the team with six receiving touchdowns last year, bringing his career total to 10 scores. When Ahmmon Richards suffered a career-ending neck injury in the first game of the regular season, Cager became that much more indispensable.
But he was a small price to pay for the incoming haul Miami got.
Tate Martell is the answer at quarterback that the Hurricanes were desperately lacking in 2018. Mark Richt bounced back and forth between Malik Rosier and N'Kosi Perry, as neither one could seem to string together consecutive positive performances. The fifth-highest-rated QB in the 2017 class—who has since spent two valuable years as a backup to JT Barrett and Dwayne Haskins in Urban Meyer's offense—should provide much-needed stability behind center.
Speaking of recruiting ratings, 247Sports had Jaelan Phillips slotted as the No. 1 overall recruit in 2017. He medically retired after the conclusion of his second injury-plagued season, but he changed his mind shortly thereafter and decided to join Chigozie Nnoruka and Bubba Bolden in the West-Coast-to-Miami transition. Phillips most likely won't be eligible to play until 2020—nor will Auburn transfer Asa Martin—but he might be a remarkable acquisition for the Hurricanes.
Until Phillips is available, Trevon Hill should be a fine stopgap of a pass-rusher. He had 11.5 sacks in 30 games with Virginia Tech before he was dismissed from the team last September. Miami faces Virginia Tech on October 5, just in case you're wondering when he'll be most motivated to crush someone.
And to make up for losing Cager, Miami picked up K.J. Osborn, who had 892 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last year with Buffalo. Osborn (6'0") isn't as big of a target as Cager (6'5"), but he might be even better for this receiving corps.
Loser: Penn State Nittany Lions
Key Acquisitions: None
Key Departures: Tommy Stevens (QB, Mississippi State); Juwan Johnson (WR, Oregon); Mark Allen (RB, Duquesne); Brandon Polk (WR, James Madison); Irvin Charles (WR, TBD); Sterling Jenkins (OT, Duquesne); Torrence Brown (DE, Southern Miss); Jarvis Miller (LB, Massachusetts); Dea'lun Darien (LB, Delaware); Ayron Monroe (S, Temple); Zech McPhearson (CB, Texas Tech)
In case it wasn't enough that quarterback Trace McSorley graduated, running back Miles Sanders left a year early for the NFL and several key defenders (Shareef Miller, Amani Oruwariye and Nick Scott) are likewise headed to the pros, the transfer portal gutted Penn State.
The five defensive players that the Nittany Lions lost were relatively inconsequential. Torrence Brown barely played in 2017 due to injuries, "retired" before the 2018 season and is now with Southern Miss to give it one more go. The other four had a combined total of 29 tackles last season in reserve roles. None of them figured to be in the mix for a starting job, which explains their decisions to go elsewhere.
The losses on offense are a far different story.
Tommy Stevens was McSorley's primary backup for the past three seasons, and he entered the offseason as the obvious front-runner for the starting gig. But Sean Clifford played his way ahead of the oft-injured Stevens, leading the latter to pack his bags for Starkville.
Juwan Johnson had more than 1,000 combined receiving yards over the past two years. Brandon Polk didn't get much playing time, but he had 162 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns last year. And while Mark Allen was used sparingly with Saquon Barkley and Sanders on the roster, the sixth-year senior might have been an actual factor on the backfield depth chart this year had he remained in State College.
If Clifford, RB Noah Cain and WR Justin Shorter are as good as advertised, Penn State will be fine. And the Nittany Lions were fortunate that both Lamont Wade and Cam Sullivan-Brown entered the portal before changing their minds. Still, this is a lot of unexpected attrition to endure in one summer.
Winner: Missouri Tigers
Key Acquisitions: Kelly Bryant (QB, Clemson); Shawn Robinson (QB, TCU); Jonathan Nance (WR, Arkansas)
Key Departures: None
It's a small but mighty list for Missouri and head coach Barry Odom.
After three consecutive years of Drew Lock throwing for at least 3,300 yards and 23 touchdowns, the Tigers could have been in a world of hurt at quarterback. They signed a top-400, 4-star recruit (Connor Bazelak) in this year's class, but handing the reins to a true freshman quarterback is a great way for an SEC coach to lose eight or more games and possibly his job.
Instead, Odom acquired an immediately eligible quarterback with College Football Playoff experience (Kelly Bryant), as well as a former top-200 recruit and likely-to-sit-a-year transfer (Shawn Robinson) who will push Bazelak for the starting job in 2020.
According to the 247Sports Transfer Portal player rankings, Missouri landed two of the top six quarterbacks available via "free agency."
Even better, the Tigers picked up Jonathan Nance to bolster their receiving game and hopefully help to replace Emanuel Hall. Nance had 37 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns in 2017, leading Arkansas in all three categories.
After barely getting targeted in the first four games of last season, Nance—just like Bryant at Clemson—utilized the new transfer rule to leave the team and preserve his final year of eligibility. It would be a little poetic if those two form a bond and become one of the most productive QB-WR tandems in the conference.
Loser: Louisville Cardinals
Key Acquisitions: Ean Pfeifer (OL, Vanderbilt); T.J. McCoy (C, Florida)
Key Departures: Jon Greenard (DE/LB, Florida); Jairus Brents (CB, TBD); Allen Love (DT, Mississippi State); Marcus Riley (WR; TBD); Trey Smith (RB, Wyoming); Colin Wilson (RB, TBD); Jordan Travis (QB, Florida State); Sean McCormack (QB, Western Kentucky)
Fresh off a 2-10 season in which the Louisville Cardinals allowed more than twice as many points as they scored, early expectations for 2019 weren't exactly sky high. That didn't get any better as player after player entered the transfer portal, either.
Jon Greenard was the biggest blow for Louisville. He suffered a wrist injury in the first quarter of the season opener against Alabama and did not appear in another game last year, but he was arguably Louisville's best defender as a redshirt sophomore in 2017. He led the Cardinals in tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (7.0) as one of the best pass-rushers in the ACC. He'll now be a key cog for the Gators instead.
The Cardinals also lost a ton of depth on offense with two quarterbacks and two running backs jumping ship.
Neither Jordan Travis nor Sean McCormack played much last season behind Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham, and they were probably going to be buried on the QB depth chart again this year. But given how ineffective both Pass and Cunningham were in 2018, it's possible that either Travis or McCormack could have become a factor this year.
The running back departures are even more noteworthy, as Trey Smith and Colin Wilson each averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year in what was a backfield by committee. No Cardinal tallied 80 or more carries, but Smith and Wilson were the two best rushing options on the roster aside from Cunningham. With both of them leaving and Jeremy Smith having graduated, Louisville's rushing attack should be even more anemic in 2019 than it already was.
Winner: Florida Atlantic Owls
Key Acquisitions: Deondre Francois (QB, Florida State); Calvin Ashley (OT, Auburn); BJ Emmons (RB, Alabama/Hutchison CC)
Key Departures: De'Andre Johnson (QB, Texas Southern); DeAndre McNeal (WR, TBD)
As was the case with Missouri, the quality of Florida Atlantic's transfers makes it a big winner rather than the volume.
Deondre Francois was dismissed from Florida State in February following allegations of domestic violence. He was also cited with a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana in April 2018, and a knee injury cost him almost the entire 2017 season. Guys with that much baggage don't get phone calls from many FBS programs. But Lane Kiffin has had success with "Last Chance U" players in the past, and he might hit the jackpot if Francois is able to stay on the field and out of trouble.
As a redshirt freshman, he threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns while leading Florida State to a 10-win season, including a near-upset of national championship-bound Clemson. Francois was a big reason the Seminoles were among the preseason favorites to win the title the following year. If he can reharness that potential in his restart with the Owls, look out, Conference USA.
To keep Francois on his feet better than FSU did, Kiffin also brought in former 5-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley.
Despite the lofty reputation he had entering college, Ashley never found his place with Auburn. He redshirted in 2017 and barely saw any action this past season. It's unclear whether he'll be eligible in 2019 or will be required to sit a season, but he'll assuredly be a key member of this offensive line once he's allowed to play.
BJ Emmons actually signed with Florida Atlantic in February 2018 and sat out this past season, but he bears mentioning as yet another key transfer addition. The No. 35 overall recruit in 2016 didn't get many touches in his lone season with Alabama, but he could be the perfect successor to Devin Singletary in FAU's backfield.
Loser: UCLA Bruins
Key Acquisitions: Colson Yankoff (QB, Washington)
Key Departures: Jaelan Phillips (LB, Miami); Mique Juarez (LB, Utah); Rahyme Johnson (LB, TBD); Chigozie Nnoruka (DE, Miami); Josh Wariboko-Alali (OG, TBD); Justin Murphy (OT, Houston); Colin Samuel (CB, Houston); Brandon Stephens (RB, TBD)
This isn't even the full list of players leaving UCLA. Eighteen Bruins have entered the transfer portal, more than half of whom are still trying to decide between choosing a new school or remaining in Los Angeles.
For the most part, they are inconsequential losses. A total of six running backs, wide receivers or tight ends are leaving UCLA, none of whom recorded a single rushing attempt or reception last season. Only one of the departing defenders recorded eight or more tackles last season, and even he (Jaelan Phillips) didn't rank among the top 15 on the team in tackles.
However, many of them feel like huge losses because they failed to live up to their potential.
Phillips was the No. 1 overall recruit in 2017, but injuries kept him from ever coming anywhere close to that level of production. Mique Juarez was also a 5-star recruit, rated as the No. 11 overall prospect in the 2016 class. He and Phillips should have lit up Pac-12 quarterbacks for a few years, but concussions limited Juarez to only two tackles over the past three seasons.
Four of the aforementioned skill position players were 4-star recruits, most notably Damian Alloway, who was the No. 3 all-purpose back in the 2016 class. Josh Wariboko-Alali was rated just outside the top 100 overall in 2015. Rahyme Johnson and Colin Samuel were both 4-star recruits who never panned out.
Losing those players doesn't necessarily hamper UCLA's potential in 2019, but it has been a harsh reminder of how little the Bruins were able to get out of their top-20 classes in recent years.
Winner: Illinois Fighting Illini
Key Acquisitions: Oluwole Betiku Jr. (DE/LB, USC); Luke Ford (TE, Georgia); Trevon Sidney (WR; USC); Richie Petitbon (OG, Alabama)
Key Departures: Cameron Watkins (CB, Vanderbilt); Bennett Williams (S, TBD); Larry Boyd (OT, TBD); MJ Rivers II (QB, TBD)
Illinois hasn't had a top-40 recruiting class since 2011. It's hardly a coincidence that the Illini haven't had a winning season since 2011, either. It's like they have been stuck in quicksand, trying to climb their way back to relevance in the Big Ten.
In lieu of recruiting pull, head coach Lovie Smith has decided to start bringing in guys from programs who get so many talented high school players every year that they can't use them all. Alabama, Georgia and USC each had top-10 recruiting classes each year from 2014-18, and the Illini were able to acquire four of those guys who were looking for an opportunity at more playing time.
Luke Ford made only one catch with Georgia. Trevon Sidney wasn't much better at USC with 10 receptions over the last two seasons. But Ford was the No. 51 overall recruit in last year's class, and Sidney was a top-150 guy in 2016. They both have talent. They were just stuck behind the likes of Isaac Nauta and Tyler Vaughns. That won't be a problem at Illinois.
The same goes for Richie Petitbon. He was the fifth-best offensive guard in the 2015 recruiting class, but he was one of many big dudes on Alabama's roster with NFL potential. After seeing the field for only a handful of snaps over the past four seasons, he's going from Tuscaloosa to Champaign, where he might immediately become the best lineman on the roster.
And then there's Oluwole Betiku Jr., the No. 15 overall recruit in 2016, who could form a high-upside partnership with pass-rusher Bobby Roundtree if he fully recovers from the hip surgery that kept him from playing at USC last year.
Even though the Illini lost a few key players to the portal, their acquisitions more than outweigh the departures.
Losers: Georgia Bulldogs and Texas Longhorns
Key Georgia Departures: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State); Deangelo Gibbs (S, Tennessee); Jaden Hunter (LB, Western Kentucky); Tray Bishop (S, TBD); Luke Ford (TE, Illinois)
Key Texas Departures: Shane Buechele (QB, SMU); Cameron Rising (QB, Utah); Kyle Porter (RB, Houston); Toneil Carter (RB, Sam Houston State); Cameron Townsend (LB, TBD); Bru McCoy (WR, USC)*
*McCoy transferred from USC to Texas in January and transferred back to USC in May.
We're lumping Georgia and Texas together as portal losers because each team still has legitimate national championship aspirations in spite of a litany of personnel losses.
Both the Bulldogs and the Longhorns get back their starting quarterback for at least one more season, but their QB depth charts took a serious hit this offseason.
Justin Fields was the No. 2 overall recruit in last year's class and was the presumed successor to Jake Fromm in 2020, but he didn't want to wait that long for a starting gig. And with both Shane Buechele and Cameron Rising leaving, Texas is one bad hit on Sam Ehlinger away from putting its College Football Playoff dreams in the hands of a freshman quarterback.
Texas also lost a fair amount of potential backfield production. Kyle Porter and Toneil Carter combined for 513 rushing yards, 74 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns in 2017 before getting buried on the depth chart last year. With Tre Watson (185 carries) graduating, either or both could have been in line for many more touches in 2019. The Longhorns still have two solid options in Keaontay Ingram and Daniel Young, but as is the case at quarterback, there's now almost no room for error or injury.
Back to Georgia: Luke Ford, Deangelo Gibbs, Jaden Hunter and Tray Bishop have all been non-factors in Athens, but each was a 4-star, top-160 recruit in either 2017 or 2018. The Bulldogs will get along just fine without them. But coupled with Fields, that's a lot of talent moving on to greener pastures.
Winner and Loser: Utah Utes
Key Acquisitions: Cameron Rising (QB, Texas); Manny Bowen (LB, Penn State); Mique Juarez (LB, UCLA); Nephi Sewell (DB, Nevada)
Key Departures: Jack Tuttle (QB, Indiana); Armand Shyne (RB, Texas Tech); Siaosi Mariner (WR, Utah State)
Let's wrap up our trip into the transfer portal with one program that both gained and lost more than the average team.
The quarterback swap doesn't matter for Utah in the short term. With both Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley returning, Jack Tuttle was unlikely to play this season. Cameron Rising will be ineligible to play until next season. It might be a good move in the long run, though, if Rising is able to work his way into the mix for 2020-22.
Elsewhere on offense, the Utes lost way more than they acquired.
Armand Shyne rushed for 512 yards and five touchdowns last season, making him one of the most productive running backs to change teams this summer. The Utes have Zack Moss returning for his senior season, but the No. 2 spot on their RB depth chart is a bit of a question mark now.
The departure of Siaosi Mariner (17 receptions, 209 yards, 1 TD) isn't anywhere near that noteworthy—especially with Britain Covey, Jaylen Dixon, Samson Nacua and Demari Simpkins all returning—but he is still a somewhat productive player that Utah is losing.
The offensive departures make Utah a loser, but the defense gained a trio of big wins.
Mique Juarez was a 5-star recruit in 2016. Manny Bowen was a 4-star guy in 2015 who recorded 136 tackles during his three seasons with Penn State. If either one pans out, it would be a huge boost for a Utes linebacking corps trying to replace Cody Barton and Chase Hansen.
They also snagged cornerback Nephi Sewell from Nevada, who had more than 100 tackles over the past two seasons. He might not be eligible until 2020, but that could be a huge acquisition anyway.