When the final whistle is blown, and a champion in College Football is crowned, we enter what is called the winter of college football. This is a cold and barren waste land where we turn our attention to other sporting leagues, because outside of a few coaching changes, NOTHING HAPPENS.
Until now. Introducing the Transfer Portal. As of October 15th, 2018, players may receive a scholarship from another school without asking their current school for permission. How this works is a player notifies his team of an interest of transferring and within two business days the school must enter the players name into the database now known as the transfer portal. Once a player enters the portal they still may return to the school where they currently play football. However, this now essentially creates free agency in college football. You can think of the old system of asking permission to transfer as a super restricted free agent, and now–especially with graduates–we have unrestricted free agents who can field offers and sign with new programs. A lot of these players will still be required to sit out one year, but hardship waivers and grad transfers can still play IMMEDIATELY.
As someone who played college football, it’s so strange to see this amount of freedom given to the players. To be honest, I love it! I understand the reservations of not holding 18-22 year old men accountable to their commitments; college football should be there to develop boys into men. But if a coach can break his agreement and go to another school for a better opportunity, players should be able to do the same; and yes, I’m talking to you Willie Taggart.
With all that said let’s see who has ventured through the portal already and who is still inside.
Justin Fields: QB
Former School: Georgia
Current Status: THE Ohio State University
Justin Fields spent last year–his true freshman season–backing up Jake Fromm at Georgia and failed to unseat Fromm. He completed 27 of his 39 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He rushed 42 times for 266 yards and four touchdowns. He did however play in 12 of the 14 games for Georgia, which signals Kirby Smart trying to get Fields on the Field (pun intended) in an attempt appease his young star.
Fields is loaded with talent not only in his arm, but with his legs. He was the number two recruit in the nation behind now national champion, Trevor Lawrence. Even with Fromm cementing himself as the starter the year before, many at Georgia believed he would eventually take the starting job (almost like Lawrence did at Clemson). As the season progressed, Fields didn’t seem like the QB to lead Georgia to a national championship. Fromm looks to have regressed a bit, but still deserved the starting job over Fields. With that being the case, Fields wouldn’t see the field till his junior, if not senior, year. Along with that, during the game against Tennessee, Georgia baseball player Adam Sasser directed racist slander towards Fields, which under NCAA guidelines may grant Fields immediate eligibility due to the hardship waiver. Fields’ family is expected to work with Attorney Tom Mars who recently helped Michigan QB Shea Patterson transfer on the hardship waiver from Ole Miss. As it stands, Fields is in line to usher in the Ryan Day era of Ohio State football.
Jalen Hurts: QB
Former School: Alabama
Current Status: Oklahoma
This transfer is something everyone saw coming a whole 365 days before it happened. When Tua Tagovailoa took the reins and willed Bama back against Georgia in the 2017-18 National Championship, the beginning of the end had begun for Hurts. Tua, as a true freshman, displayed in one half what Hurts hadn’t done in two seasons: challenge teams vertically. Hurts is a threat in the run and intermediate pass game, but in his two seasons as a starter for the Tide, he passed for 4,861 yards, 40 TDs, and 10 interceptions, along with 1,809 rushing yards and 21 rushing TDs. Stats like that get you to the big game, but don’t win it. In his freshman season, he was bested by Deshaun Watson. The following year, Jake Fromm had his number until Tua took over. Hurts displayed the ability to play very efficiently in the regular season, but when forced to play in a playoff format, was completely shutdown.
Hurts, who could have redshirted last season and transferred after his fall graduation, chose to come back and play as a backup behind Tua, which in this transfer era is almost never done. But Hurts is a different cat and much more mature than the average college athlete. While being the backup, Hurts threw for 765 yards, 8TDs, and 2 interceptions while rushing for 167 yards and two TDs. He also took over for an injured Tua and got his revenge against Georgia. As a fan, this brought me to tears seeing this young man go through so much and see it all come full circle for him. It was one of the best stories of this season.
With that said, he gets a brand new start at Oklahoma, who has produced two Heisman winners out of transfer quarterbacks in two years. Now I’m not saying Hurts for Heisman, but I’m not counting this man out. As I said earlier, my one knock on Hurts is his ability to throw the ball down the field. He’s going to a Big 12 school that specializes in just that with a head coach who is bound to coach in the NFL sooner rather than later (especially in Sean Mcvay’s NFL). Hurts also got to work with Tua for a year, so I have to imagine he has improved in that field by competing against that animal for two years.
I imagine Hurts has a second breakout year in Norman next season and gets a chance to see his old team in the CFP! He could even possibly play himself into a late first round pick with a good season.
Tate Martell: QB
Former School: Ohio State
New School: Miami
From the O to “The U,” Tate the Great is moving on to his second school. Martell battled Dwayne Haskins last spring for the starting spot and according to many was the favorite to win it. But Haskins had a breakout season that has catapulted him into a top 10 projected pick that few had predicted. This upcoming season, Martell was set to take his rightful place atop Buckeye QB hierarchy. Then, Justin Fields decided to show up and will most likely be able to play right away. Kinda puts a damper on Martell’s parade. Just weeks earlier before Fields transferred, Martell had expressed on Twitter how he wasn’t worried about a transfer QB after he had waited his two years to be the guy. Seems he, just like a lot of guys, eventually realized just how cut-throat college football can be and simply made a business decision like most people on this list.
Unlike Fields, Martell will most likely not be allowed to play right away. This arguably works in his favor since Miami needs to restock as several positions. With this move, Martell now has a clear path to becoming a starter in 2020 and a top QB draft prospect by 2021. As a fan, I hope this provides stability for Martell, someone who has been in the spotlight since receiving a college offer at the age of 12. This kid is wildly talented and has the opportunity to build something special at Miami for potentially two seasons.
Bru McCoy: WR
Former School: Enrolled at USC
New School: Signed With Texas
Bru McCoy is a 5 Star wide receiver who was the 9th overall prospect in last year’s recruiting class. McCoy, who is from Mater Dei in Southern California, signed with USC on January 5th during the All-American game. Several weeks later he was in the Transfer Portal. To McCoy’s defense, it was a toss-up between USC and Texas until then USC Offensive Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury convinced him to sign with the Trojans. Kliff, just like McCoy, had a super short tenure with USC due to him getting offered the head coaching gig with the Arizona Cardinals. I’d imagine McCoy was sold on being able to work with Kliff so with him gone, USC had to deal with the fallout. He will also be seeking the hardship waiver so that he can play immediately.
Kelly Bryant: QB
Former School: Clemson
Current Status: University of Missouri/Could Re-enter Portal
Kelly Bryant, just like Jalen Hurts, is a causality of a truly transcendent young star going to the same school. Bryant is a good college quarterback who led a solid Clemson team to a CFP birth last year, but couldn’t carry them past ACC play this year. Like Hurts, Bryant doesn’t scare you deep, but he can make all the intermediate throws and beat you with his feet. Going to Missouri allows Bryant to go into a Big 12ish offense which will allow him to throw the ball down field more comfortably than in his previous offensive scheme. Missouri is known for having a potent offense, so it will be exciting to see if this team can help Bryant rebrand himself like Hurts at Oklahoma. I predict a 8-4 season and maybe a round 3 draft ceiling in the NFL Draft.
Just as Bryant is preparing to start spring ball at Missouri, the school has been rocked with a bowl ban due to a tutor completing course work for 12 players. This may or may not jolt Bryant to leave once again. He would be eligible to play anywhere in the FBS immediately after transferring if he is granted the hardship waiver. If he does leave, I personally would love to see him go to Florida State after they just recently released their former starting quarterback, Deandre François. Bryant would be a good fit on a team that needs stability and could be a contender just on sheer talent alone. Chances are he may not leave Missouri and just decid to play the regular season before turning his attention to the NFL. Regardless, this news does give him a chance to be the first person to use the portal twice. DOUBLE PORTAL!!!!
Jaelan Phillips: DE/OLB
Former School: UCLA
Current Status: In the Portal
As some of you know, Phillips was the Number one prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, yet has somewhat disappeared since national signing day. Most of that has to do with injuries. In 11 games, Phillips had 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks for the Bruins. A concussion ended his 2018 season and he had announced he was medically retiring. Since then, he has had a change of heart and decided he wants to play again, but at a different school. He has taken an official visit to Miami, but is currently still uncommitted. Before he makes a decision, he should look at schools like Oregon Miami, and Texas A&M; three schools that fit his style of play and would suit him very well. If Philips can stay healthy and put together two 10+ sack seasons at a new school, he has the ability to still be a first round talent. Him and Tate on the same team at Miami would be a sight to behold.
Wrapping it All Up
With the real first off-season, we’ve seen a flurry of player use the portal to pursue a change of schools. Most of the high-profile transfers come from the QB positions since that is the most volatile for the sport at all levels.
Before I wrapped up this topic, I wanted to give my perspective as a former player. From my experience in pre-portal life, some coaches used the transfer system as a means to black ball and threaten players from leaving. At one specific school, I saw the head coach run a scorched earth campaign against a transfer and call schools attempting to black ball the player from landing offers. While I realize one school isn’t a representation of how all schools conduct themselves, it does offer a picture of how ugly things can get when coaches get desperate.
With that said, I do not want to see players using this new device to leverage or threaten their coaches. Coaches and players need to be transparent throughout recruitment, development, and implementation of the scheme itself. If you recruit a player only so another school doesn’t get him (common practice), you cannot be mad when they leave. And on the flip side, players need to work for their spots and not expect it will be handed to them.
To say the transfer culture is toxic and ruins college football is simply a lie. Without transfers, we would never get stories like Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Cam Newton, and many more. To be deprived of seeing these players play at the right school would be downright criminal.
I’ll leave you with this: player mobility is a device that makes sports more interesting. Lebron to Miami, then back to Cleveland, then finally to LA has dominated the sports world for the better part of the past decade. It has made the NBA vastly more watchable than the NFL and now has a chance to reshape the landscape of college football as well. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see the first Heisman transfer schools.