Accepting transfers has become one of the most important ways that coaches can improve the talent level on their teams these days. It’s really sort of a win-win for everyone as every program tends to get log jammed at some positions and then thin at others and the transfer portal allows for an evening out.
For the Big 12, where talent is harder to come by than in other leagues like the SEC, the transfer portal is often a huge part of the formula now for building competitive teams. Consider some players that have had a major impact on the league over the last few years:
-Safety Greg Eisworth (transferred to Iowa State from Ole Miss)
-Left tackle Calvin Anderson (transferred to Texas from Rice)
-Receiver TJ Simmons (transferred to West Virginia from Alabama)
-Everyone who’s played quarterback for Lincoln Riley
Back in the day the JUCOs would offer more of this “quick infusion” sort of talent but the JUCO well is dryer than it was back in the day. Online classes have helped programs steer the players they want who have academic issues into clearing the hurdles for eligibility. If you read either Bruce Feldman’s “Meat Market” or Michael Lewis’ “The Blindside” you can get a little insight into the sort of tactics schools can use to help players get eligible and avoid the JUCOs. Tutors, online classes, and minimal oversight can make a big difference.
Somehow players still manage to be ineligible and the JUCOs also stock up on guys that are just late bloomers, but the transfer portal is a bigger piece of the pie now and it offers a broader array of player types.
Here’s the main sort of guys you tend to find in the portal:
Type 1: Looking for easier internal competition
These are often your filler guys. “Shoot, if we just had someone who could walk and chew gum at the same time in our safety room we’d be in a lot better shape!”
Well, team X has three of those guys and one of them is looking to go somewhere else so he can actually play. There’s an awful lot of type 1 transfers in the portal. Teams don’t recruit to their exact needs, they try to reach an abundance at every position and good/capable players lose out as a result.
But then at one position, guys get hurt, lose focus, get into trouble, etc while at another position everyone pans out. Type 1 transfers even out the scales.
Sometimes these guys can be very good but usually they just help fill out a depth chart with guys that won’t sink in the floor of a team in a given year.
Nowadays you can sometimes find really talented players here in the form of blue chip quarterbacks and wide receivers that expected to compete to play immediately at their first stop only to see another or older player get entrenched and then leave for playing time. Joe Burrow and Justin Fields are obvious examples.
Recent B12 example: Austin Kendall, QB. Oklahoma to West Virginia
Type 2: Looking for tougher external competition
One way to find some really good offensive linemen is to poach grad transfers from smaller schools. Linemen are hard to evaluate out of high school, regularly include late bloomers who need time to grow into their frames or to coordinate their massive bodies, and they often graduate.
You often see teams upgrade their offensive lines with grad transfers from smaller schools in weaker conferences. Texas has been doing this very effectively for the last two seasons, taking left tackle Calvin Anderson from Rice in 2018 (came out of Austin in high school as a 6-4, 240 pounder) and Parker Braun out of Georgia Tech in 2019 (mauling flexbone guard).
This happens at other positions as well, typically it’s with a guy who’s a multi-year starter or overall effective player at the lower level who graduates early (usually) and transfers to a stronger football program that may not have given him much of a look out of high school.
Recent B12 example: Jarrett Doege, QB. Bowling Green to West Virginia
Type 3: Needing a second chance
It’s a time honored strategy for serious football programs, often in more remote locales, to boost the athleticism and talent level in their programs by taking the knuckleheads from other schools. This was essentially the foundation of Lane Kiffin’s FAU, starting from the top as he himself was something of a second chance head coach.
Utah State has often been a school where you’d see guys turn up after they got kicked out of their initial school for off field issues. Both of the Oklahoma schools sometimes take chances on guys like this. Art Briles’ Baylor and Louisville are bigger programs that have reputations for taking risky characters.
This was more or less the strategy for fielding championship caliber D-lines at Baylor as they took Phil Taylor (dismissed from Penn State), Shawn Oakman (dismissed from Penn State), Sam Ukwauchu (dismissed from Boise State), etc. Didn’t work out so well for them, sometimes these schools have systems in place to rehab these characters and sometimes they have systems in place to be blissfully ignorant as to the player’s off field activities.
These guys are typically very talented, which is why anyone would bother dealing with whatever baggage they are bringing in.
Recent B12 example: VanDarius Cowan, OLB. Alabama to West Virginia
Type 4: Coach/scheme change casualties
Kyler Murray is a really easy example here. You could argue that he was avoiding internal competition, except that his competition also transferred from Texas A&M and his new school (Oklahoma) had an entrenched starter who’d end up gaining an extra year of eligibility back. The bigger issue was coaching turmoil at A&M between offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and head coach Kevin Sumlin. Everyone wanted out after that fiasco.
Sometimes a school will change the scheme or coach and leave a good player without an obvious role or position that fits their skill set or preference. That then opens up an opportunity for someone else to swoop in and get a steal.
Recent B12 example: Alex Delton, QB?. Kansas State to TCU
(ran out of West Virginia examples 🙁 )
Occasionally you’ll see other types of transfers, like when Stanford’s Michael Williams (and some other Cardinal men) couldn’t get into Stanford’s grad school and instead found an opportunity to do so at SMU. The Cardinal don’t really make exceptions for their football players when it comes to grad school it seems, and they recruit serious students. Williams graduated on time at Stanford and had redshirted one year so he still had one more year of eligibility, big win for SMU. Probably a good bet that some players are getting offer$ to transfer but it’s typically going to be hard to know when that’s occurring. Type 4 is probably the most likely to include those types of players.
Here’s what’s been happening with the portal within the Big 12 this offseason.
West Virginia, transfer U
Under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia was a big time destination for transfers. Under Neal Brown, they’ve maintained that approach for adding some high end talent. Morgantown can be modestly attractive to top high school talents but to top transfer talents looking for playing time it’s even better.
Scottie Young, DB. Arizona. Type 4.
It seems that Young, who was a starter for the Wildcats, just got listless after coaching changes and wanted a change of scenery. I don’t even know where he fits into a pretty solid West Virginia safety rotation but it’s hard to have too many safeties in the Big 12.
Bryce Brand: 5-11, 248. 3-star OLB. Maryland. Type 1
As best as I can tell, Brand wasn’t getting a lot of playing time in the Maryland system and is looking to have a shot at playing more as a jack OLB in the West Virginia defense.
West Virginia played a ton of young guys last season and it went pretty well in those places, so there wasn’t a ton of appealing spots to add transfers with limited eligibility remaining save for on the O-line. Nothing doing there, but these guys are useful players.
Josh Sills: 6-6, 325. 4-star LG. West Virginia. Type 4
Best bet here is that Sills didn’t want to use his final seasons on a rebuilding program when he could grad transfer and play for a potential champion. Big loss for the Mountaineers and maybe a bigger win for Oklahoma State, Sills is a good guard.
Dee Anderson: 6-6, 230. 4-star WR. LSU. Type 3
Anderson redshirted last year after being suspended over “conditioning issues.” I don’t know what that means but I will note that LSU isn’t known for being particularly demanding in terms of off field requirements. If you get kicked out of LSU they probably don’t think you’re that good or you really messed up. Before last season, Anderson was considered supremely promising for the Tigers…
Christian Holmes: 6-1, 200. 3-star CB. Mizzou. Type 4
The Tigers fired their defensive-oriented head coach Barry Odom and Holmes decided to use his final year of eligibility somewhere else rather than for the rebuilding new regime. Big gain for the Cowboys, who need help at cornerback.
Collin Clay: 6-4, 285. 4-star DL. Arkansas. Type 4
Arkansas sacked Chad Morris and Clay decided to go sack quarterbacks somewhere else. He’s only a second year player who played a lot last year for the Hogs so he’ll either use his redshirt this season or get a waiver and likely play immediately for the ‘Pokes. Finding impact defensive tackles is often a serious issue for the Cowboys, or really any “little 8” team in this conference, so this is another big score. Clay is originally from Oklahoma, which surely helped here.
Mike Gundy is all in on this season. He’s returning arguably the best athlete in the league at QB, WR, and RB and now adds a top level guard, defensive tackle, cornerback, and a freak-level talent at wide receiver.
William Bradley-King: 6-4, 250. 2-star WDE. Arkansas State. Type 2
Bradley-King has been a productive player for multiple seasons now at Arkansas State who’s grad transferring to spend his final year of eligibility playing for Dave Aranda. Nice pick-up for Baylor, who was probably leaning on redshirt freshman Matt Jones in that outside-backer role before landing this addition.
Not really much doing here. I know they wanted a grad transfer quarterback and lost out on Chase Brice from Clemson. I’m sure they’re still on the hunt for extra help. Matt Rhule did leave behind a lot of development talent.
Greg Ross: 6-0, 188. 3-star CB. North Carolina. Type 1
Ross was a part-time starter for the Tar Heels in recent years who’s grad transferring to Iowa State for his final year of eligibility. I’m thinking he’ll probably start immediately for the Cyclones, hence his move, he was a solid press-man corner for the Tar Heels last year.
This was a nice addition, I’d have thought offensive line would be the place they’d most want to get more help but obviously that’s the no. 1 place where almost everyone is looking to add available talents.
Bold strategy, cotton. I know they’ve wanted to add some, maybe they still will.
Briley Moore-McKinney: 6-4, 250. 0-star TE. Northern Iowa. Type 2
Moore was recruited out of Blue Springs, MO, which is a football factory that sends multiple players to D1 schools on scholarship every year. UNI bulked him into a productive tight end and now in his final year of eligibility he’s looking to take a step up in competition and play for Kansas State.
Kiondre Thomas: 6-0, 190. 3-star CB. Minnesota. Type 1
Thomas got a few starts last year for Minnesota but wasn’t locking down a starting job so he’s grad transferring for a chance to play more with Kansas State. This should be interesting as the Wildcats still have Walter Neil, Jr and AJ Parker. Either Parker is still dinged up, Neil, Jr is moving back to nickel, or Thomas had some other reason other than an obvious depth chart for moving programs.
Hunter Henry: 6-1, 200. 3-star DB. Rice. Type 2?
This is a sort of interesting case. I first became aware of Henry because he transferred back and forth between Lake Travis high school and my alma mater Cedar Park, finishing with Lake Travis. He redshirted last year at Rice and now he’s at Kansas State on the depth chart at safety. I’m guessing he saw an opportunity to play more serious football, or there’s always the chance that the Rice academic/football life wasn’t working him. I don’t know but he walked on to make it happen at K-State and he was a good athlete that played a lot of cornerback in high school. Guys that play cornerback in HS but are big and will tackle are great bets at safety in college.
The tight end is the big name here, he was pretty solid for UNI and caught a few balls against Iowa State in the season opener last year.
Cason Grant: 5-11, 180. 0-star WR. Mississippi State. Type 4?
Grant is a West Texas kid that walked on at MSU, never played much, and is now transferring to Oklahoma. I’m wondering if the thin depth chart at wide receiver had the OU staff offering him a preferred walk-on spot if he wanted to come over. At any rate, this is probably primarily about filling in the last sort of depth you think about. Practice squad depth.
Obi Obialo: 6-3, 214. 2-star WR. Marshall. Type 2
Obialo has an interesting story. He hurt his foot as a senior in high school and ended up walking on at Oklahoma State. Then he couldn’t find the field ahead of Marcell Ateman, Tyron Johnson, and James Washington and headed to Marshall. He was emerging there as the top guy and got hurt last year and redshirted. Is he the top guy at Oklahoma? Maybe. Probably not. But he’s a valuable player that could end up contributing and maybe get a ring out of it.
Theo Howard: 6-0, 182. 4-star WR. UCLA. Type 4
Noticing a theme here? Riley wasn’t going to allow a lack of competent wide receivers to wreck their season. Howard seems to be a part of a massive exodus from Chip Kelly’s UCLA program. He took a redshirt last season after injuries derailed his season before it could get started and then grad transferred to Norman. Howard is much more proven than Obialo with a pair of 50-catch seasons before 2019. The Sooners would have scouted those in preparation to play Howard in 2019 so they have a fair idea of what they’re getting. I think this is a Nick Basquine sort of addition. They need guys to give them the flexibility to mix in reliable 10 personnel sets.
Chris Murray: 6-2, 298. 4-star OL. UCLA. Type 4
Another player fleeing the wreckage of Kelly’s UCLA. Chris Murray had to give up more to make it work, he was an immediate starter with the Bruins and is transferring with three years to play two and the need to use one to sit out in 2020. Oklahoma will surely lose one or all of their interior O-line after this season (Hayes, Humphrey, Robinson) and Murray will be ready to take over a spot in 2021. He’s pretty quick, obviously kinda small, Riley will know what to do with him.
Mostly Lincoln Riley just wanted to get some reliable hands on campus because of the way that injuries, graduation, outgoing transfers, and smoke had cleared out the receiver room for at least parts of the season. Stealing Murray was the equivalent of grabbing a talented JUCO.
Mark Jackson, Jr: 6-1, 236. 4-star OLB. Oklahoma. Type 1
Jackson didn’t really pan out for Oklahoma. I remember when it was considered a loss on the Texas side that the Sooners beat them out for the edge-rusher. He didn’t do much of anything in crimson and white under Mike Stoops and it said a lot when he couldn’t play over all the young guys that Alex Grinch sent out at jack linebacker in 2019. But TCU is desperate for defensive ends and have been taking type 1 transfers at that position for the last few years. They really need to find another type 2 guy like Ben Banogu.
Dylan Horton: 6-4, 230. 3-star DE. New Mexico. Type 2
Here we go. Horton headed to New Mexico as a 6-4, 200 pound safety but played last year as a jack linebacker/end hybrid at about 222 pounds before getting injured for much of the year and is reportedly already up to 230.
As I’ve noted, TCU has really been struggling to find top athletes to play at defensive end and their 4-down scheme hinges on having such players. Their lack at that spot last year, which they couldn’t fill with type 1 Shameik Blackshear or JUCOs like Parker Workman, really hamstrung them. Horton has three years to play two and will sit out 2020, add more weight, and learn to play defensive end.
Logan Burnett: 6-2, 200. 0-star QB. Type 1
Grad transfer back-up quarterback that comes to TCU to help them maintain a quarterback depth chart behind Max Duggan, who’s an obvious injury risk given how much he runs around.
TJ Storment: 6-6, 320. 3-star OL. Type 2
Storment is grad transferring from Colorado State after a nice year for them that came after transferring from yet another school. He actually started out at Old Dominion, transferred to Fullerton community college and was All-Conference, then went to CSU and was All-Academic team. Now he’s grad transferring to probably start at tackle for TCU in his final year of eligibility. I took a look at some of his tape, he’s quite good, this was a nice pick-up by the Frogs and should make it easier for them to avoid a disaster like last year when Lucas Niang went down and they ran out of competent tackles.
Storment is supposed to help tide them over while they rebuild their offensive line. Some of these others are attempts to solve the problem of finding high level athletes to play defensive end for Gary Patterson.
Tarick Black: 6-3, 215. 3-star WR. Michigan. Type 1
This one is a little bit mixed. Black exploded onto the scene at Michigan as a freshman and was regarded as the most talented receiver on campus immediately. Then he broke his foot. His return was very exciting until he got injured again. Last year he was finally healthy but couldn’t win to the top of the depth chart against Nico Collins and other wideouts. He would have likely been the no. 3 target (if that) in 2020 and decided to come to Texas instead.
He’s probably the no. 3 target at Texas as well but he has a good chance to start opposite Brennan Eagles and outside Jake Smith/Jordan Whittington. Texas gains a big, reliable chain-mover in a year when they need to squeeze every remaining drop of production out of Sam Ehlinger.
Texas’ roster is now nearly entirely comprised of Tom Herman recruits and the top ranked 2018 class he signed are now juniors. Black was a valuable addition for ensuring the passing game has weapons but this go round they’ll mostly sink or swim based off their high school signees.
Jacob Morgenstern: 6-4, 210. 3-star LB. Duke. Type 1
Grad transfer who was a steady special teams guy for the Blue Devils but could never win a starting job. Tech just needs some quality depth, it appears.
Christian LaValle: 5-11, 240. 3-star DL. Utah State. Type 2
Presumably Matt Wells and Keith Patterson recruited LaValle to Utah State just before they left and are familiar with his skill set. He was listed out of high school as a linebacker but he played last year at “defensive tackle” while redshirting. There’s various bits of speculation on why he’s heading to Tech, let me throw my own in. This guy is thick, he’s a former discus/shot put guy from high school, and power is the name of the game.
I’m guessing they want him playing downhill and rushing the passer as a rover/weakside linebacker or jack linebacker. It’d be better to use him as the former and play 3-2-6 personnel. Texas was trying that last year but Joe Ossai didn’t translate as a pass-rusher from the will like he did as a jack. Stocky LaValle may be a better fit for that role. He’ll have to sit in 2020 though.
Josh Burger: 6-4, 290. 3-star OL. Wofford. Type 2
Burger was a multi-year starter at FCS Wofford playing right tackle. I have never seen him play and don’t intend to look him up but it seems reasonable to assume that he’s looking to step up his level of play before finishing his career, perhaps to get a better look for the NFL.
The Red Raiders are in good shape inside with Jack Anderson, Weston Wright, and Dawson Deaton returning, so he will probably get a chance at tackle.
Brandon Randle: 6-2, 234. 3-star LB. Michigan State. Type 1
Randle entered the portal during the season when it was clear that he wasn’t going to earn the starting job at sam linebacker. Tech has been chasing him since and secured him as a likely Jordyn Brooks replacement. He definitely had some production at Michigan State before 2019 but couldn’t break through and beat out their other backers on the roster.
Frankly this roster needs a lot of help and I don’t think these guys can offer it. I suppose Wells will get at least three years to make things work but when your reputation is built on defense and you immediately get lit up before losing a linebacker in the 1st round, it’s not a great sign.
If you’re a big fan of the Big 12, check out my book which chronicles much of the league’s history: