The transfer portal giveth, the transfer portal taketh away.
Free agency is alive and well in college football, and a program’s culture is now more important than ever. For the Kentucky Wildcats, Mark Stoops and his coaching staff have done a really good job of building a solid locker room and that has led to minimal departures.
Power 5 programs have lost an average of 12 scholarship players to the portal in this year's cycle.@NicoleAuerbach and I talked to HCs about the need to increase the 25-man signing limit…and why it won't happen soon: https://t.co/981NPa9StP pic.twitter.com/pFO1cDRvzC
— Max Olson (@max_olson) June 9, 2021
The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach and Max Olson did some digging and found out how the portal altered every roster in the Power Five. There is some concern with coaches long-term about how staffs are going to be allowed to build rosters due to the strict 25-scholarship limit schools have per season. That’s a problem to figure out at a later time. Today, we’re focused on the present.
From Kentucky’s point of view, teams heavily affected by the portal show up multiple times on the schedule this fall. The Wildcats will face 4 of the 7 teams most changed by transfer portal losses. Here is how things changed for those programs and this turnover could give the Wildcats an upper hand on the gridiron this season.
To no one’s surprise, the Volunteers lead all of college football with 25 departures since October by a pretty comfortable margin. The Tennesee administration fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt after three seasons and admitted NCAA wrongdoing in a very strange press conference where the chancellor and president both weirdly went out of their way to defend Phillip Fulmer.
This resulted in some quick departures with Oklahoma plucking three talented players — running back Eric Gray, offensive tackle Wanya Morris, and safety Key Lawrence. Each will play a major role for a Sooners team expected to compete for a national championship. Elsewhere, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano went to Washington State, running back Ty Chandler moved to North Carolina, edge Deandre Johnson went home to Miami, linebacker Quavaris Crouch jetted north to Michigan State, and star linebacker Henry To’o To’o is now at Alabama.
Most of these moves came before Josh Heupel was hired to become the new head coach. It didn’t help that it took Heupel weeks to hire a defensive coordinator. The Vols have added seven Power Five transfers since Heupel arrived — most notably Michigan quarterback Joe Milton — but it’s clear that the former UCF coach has inherited a total rebuild.
The schedule is not super daunting, but the Vols have a ton of questions and the defense might be one of the worst units in the SEC.
Mississippi State (20)
To say that Mike Leach and Joe Moorhead act a little different would be a huge understatement. The latter was fired after just two seasons in Starkville because of an awful fit. Leach came in with much buzz, but it’s clear that this fit is also a bit weird. However, the biggest change is due to the scheme on the field. The Bulldogs are now running old-school Air Raid combined with a funky 3-3-5 defense. This wasn’t going to be for everyone.
So some departures were expected, but 20 is a lot. The Bulldogs did add Air Raid quarterback Jack Abraham from Southern Miss to go with two Pac-12 wide receivers to improve the personnel on the offensive side. However, there is a culture shift occurring in Starkville, and watching how it develops will be mighty interesting.
Things aren’t all bleak for the Bulldogs. The offense has three individuals — quarterback Will Rogers, running back Jo’quavious Marks, and slot receiver Jaden Walley — that all appear to be good fits for Leach’s offense.
Eli Drinkwitz had a very good first season going .500 in SEC play and finding Mizzou’s quarterback of the future in Connor Bazelak, but there are some transition issues in CoMo.
Drinkwitz appears to be a drastic change from Barry Odom and defensive coordinator Ryan Walters left after just one season to go run the unit at Illinois. The Tigers have lost potential starters at cornerback, wide receiver, and defensive line in the offseason. Even with the losses, things are on track.
The Tigers are making waves on the recruiting trail while landing transfer help at offensive guard, slot receiver, cornerback, and linebacker. Things are trending in the right direction but losing 20 players in one offseason to go along with five draft picks can be tough for any program to overcome in the short term.
I’m beginning to see a trend with coaching changes. Clark Lea takes over for Derek Mason in Nashville, and that has led to plenty of departures. Losing safety Donovan Kaufman to Auburn and leading rusher Keyon Henry-Brooks to the portal were the headliners.
However, this might not be a bad thing. This was a program that needed to be gutted as Lea attempts a full-out rebuild at his alma mater. The road back to contention is long for the ‘Dores but at least this allows the new coaching staff to get their guys into the building faster than usual.
Down I-64, things are not going great for Scott Satterfield. The Cardinals saw a bunch of assistants leave following the head coach’s flirtation with South Carolina to go along with plenty of personnel packing their bags. Most recently, starting safety Lovie Jenkins entered the portal as the Cardinals have seen six defensive backs leave the program.
The coaching staff has responded by landing defensive transfers from Alcorn State, Georgia Southern, and Southern Miss to help fill some holes. Satterfield is entering a monster year three, and things certainly don’t appear to be trending in the right direction.
This is a program that is struggling to get talent onto the roster. It might just be as simple as that.