Transfer portal takeaways: Best available, potential QB fits and biggest questions per conference

Sports

College football’s transfer portal officially opened Monday, and with it came all the storylines we’ve come to expect.

QB1 is out at one blue blood program, while several Power 5 schools witnessed a mass exodus. The names filled the portal and college football fans were left to figure out what this means for their favorite school — and player — ahead of bowl season and spring football.

Our reporters came together to find out the most intriguing prospects in the portal, the best quarterback landing spots and the biggest questions facing each conference after the first three days of the open window.


My favorite available transfer is …

David Hale: It’s not the biggest name in the portal, but cornerback Fentrell Cypress II could have a big impact wherever he lands. He was a huge part of a massive turnaround for the Virginia defense in 2022, finishing the season with 13 PBUs while allowing just 5.9 yards per target as the ACC’s top-graded corner by Pro Football Focus. He’s already on the radar of several blue blood programs, and if he’s not a household name today, he could easily blossom into one of the top corners in the country in 2023.

Andrea Adelson: The quarterbacks and skill players usually get all the shine, but we can’t forget the big guys up front. That is why I think Rhode Island lineman Ajani Cornelius is so intriguing. He obviously has the size (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) that everyone is looking for in an offensive tackle. He had a dominant year in 2022, including a performance against Pitt that should go a long way toward proving he can handle FBS defensive linemen (Cornelius did not allow one pressure in that game). He also has two years of eligibility left, which helps for both roster planning and development. With over 20 offers already, including Florida, Auburn and Oregon, Cornelius will have his choice of landing spots.

Tom Luginbill: Dasan McCullough. Pass-rushers come at a premium, and outside of Jermaine Johnson two years ago, who transferred to Florida State, few have entered the portal with McCullough’s skill set and production.

Dave Wilson: Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed. His path is the story of the current era of college football. In high school, he put up big numbers in his only year as a starter and finished third in the state’s player of the year voting, but was not heavily recruited. He signed with Southern Illinois, but after redshirting his first year, he transferred to the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where he led the Argos to a D-II national championship, throwing for 4,084 yards and 40 TDs, was second-team All-American and was sixth in the Harlon Hill voting, the small-school Heisman. Reed then transferred to WKU as a grad transfer, where he threw for 4,247 yards, second in the nation, and is now back in the portal looking for his fourth school.

Tom VanHaaren: Under Ball State running back Carson Steele‘s bio, it says he has a pet alligator. So that automatically vaults him to the top for me. Outside of Steele, I would go with Braden Fiske, a defensive tackle from Western Michigan. He had 58 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks this season for the Broncos. He’s getting interest from Notre Dame and USC among others and could be a player who shines in a Power 5 program next season.

Craig Haubert: Indiana linebacker Dasan McCullough jumps out for several reasons. A highly ranked ESPN 300 prospect in the 2022 class, he is a transfer option with still plenty of football ahead of him who has already shown signs of fulfilling his potential. His father, Deland, is the RBs coach at Notre Dame, and he contributed all season for the Hoosiers, getting several starts and registering 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The portal has no shortage for WRs, DBs and even QBs, but an explosive, aggressive versatile front-seven defender with some proven experience should not be overlooked.

Alex Scarborough: Fine. Since everyone is playing it cool and not talking about the big-name quarterbacks here, I will. Say what you want about the way DJ Uiagalelei fizzled out at Clemson, but he has potential. Remember, everyone left Spencer Rattler for dead once he transferred from Oklahoma to South Carolina — and for most of the season they were right — but then he showed against Tennessee and Clemson what he’s capable of. But I’d be chasing two quarterbacks in particular: Devin Leary and Spencer Sanders. I give Sanders a slight edge because he brings more of a dual-threat skill set to the table (18 career rushing touchdowns to Leary’s five), but you can’t go wrong with that much talent and experience at the most important position on the field.


The potential QB fit I like the most is …

Adelson: DJU to UCLA. Heading back to the West Coast might be the fresh start that Uiagalelei needs, and going to a school with a head coach who has built his reputation on his offense makes this one feel like a good fit. Uiagalelei’s struggles have been well documented, but there is a valid question to be asked about whether the Clemson offense put him in a good enough position to succeed.

Tom Luginbill: Spencer Sanders to Auburn. He could have Malik Willis-type production in Hugh Freeze’s scheme. He has the ideal blend of passing prowess and dynamism. The downside is he’s got only one year left of eligibility.

VanHaaren: I agree with Andrea about Uiagalelei at UCLA, but I would like to see Devin Leary at Wisconsin with Luke Fickell. Not just because Wisconsin took Russell Wilson from NC State and saw success, but Fickell is going to need immediate help at quarterback with Graham Mertz entering the portal. Leary could come in and start from day one, elevate the Badgers’ quarterback play and get into a system that helped get Desmond Ridder to the NFL.

Craig Haubert: There are plenty of big names out there. And one who may be a long shot, but could be intriguing, is Georgia Tech‘s Jeff Sims to Florida. The Gators scored big on the recruiting trail by flipping ESPN 300 QB Jaden Rashada from Miami, but with Anthony Richardson entering the draft, there is room for an experienced QB on the roster. Sims had been inconsistent at Georgia Tech, but he is a talented dual-threat QB who has flashed big-play ability and could benefit from a fresh start. He would also give the Gators’ QB room a player in the mold of Richardson who is arguably a slightly stronger passer. Sims would likely also come in with tempered expectations as compared to some other transfer QBs, allowing for a good fit and competitive offseason QB battle.

Scarborough: I’m with Craig. I’d love to see Sims at Florida. He’d be a great fit in Napier’s offense.


Conference questions

ACC

Biggest ACC storyline to emerge​​: The QB exodus. The ACC entered the 2022 season billing it as “the year of the QB.” It didn’t work out so well for a number of big names, including Clemson’s Uiagalelei, NC State’s Leary and Boston College‘s Phil Jurkovec. All three have now entered the transfer portal, along with Georgia Tech’s Sims, Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong and Pitt’s Kedon Slovis. Those six QBs account for 142 games started at the schools they’re leaving. While some, like NC State, BC and Clemson have replacements on their current rosters, it still figures to be an active portal season for the league, with Louisville and Wake Forest potentially looking for veteran talent, too. In 2022, just two teams — North Carolina and Duke — entered the year without a veteran QB at the helm. At this point, they’re among the few — along with FSU, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Pitt (where Jurkovec announced he intends to transfer) — who have a QB on the roster with more than a handful of starts to their name.

ACC contender with the most work to do in the portal: Florida State Seminoles. There are probably other teams with bigger needs in the portal, but no one in the ACC has the combination of prior portal success and potential for a huge 2023 like FSU. Mike Norvell has completely rebuilt the program through the portal, landing stars like Jermaine Johnson, Fabien Lovett, Dillan Gibbons, Jared Verse, Trey Benson and Jammie Robinson over the past two years. The only downside to that success is that he’ll need to keep going back to the well, as his transfer success stories became NFL draft picks. Still, the impact those transfers turned Florida State from laughingstock to genuine contender in the ACC, and if Norvell works his magic again this offseason, 2023 might be the year the Seminoles finally reclaim their spot at the top of the conference. — Hale

Biggest remaining question: There is little doubt Miami wants to use the portal to not only turn over its roster, but answer significant questions at key positions (wide receiver, running back, offensive line, for starters). The Hurricanes were not as successful with the portal last year, as many of the key transfers they brought in had mixed results. But after a 5-7 record in Year 1 under Mario Cristobal, there is a bigger sense of urgency to make sure the Canes use the portal to their advantage to help supplement what is projected to be a top-10 recruiting class. There was already pressure on Cristobal to get the Hurricanes back to national relevance. After a disappointing 2022, that pressure will only grow. — Adelson

Big 12

Biggest Big 12 storyline to emerge: The initial stages haven’t been overly damaging to the Big 12 teams, other than some key losses at Oklahoma State. Texas had several highly rated recruits jump in, but most of them weren’t significant contributors, and Oklahoma is in a similar situation, although the impending departure of wide receiver Theo Wease is a loss. But the Sooners and Longhorns will always draw their share of portal attention.

With Kansas State and TCU playing in high-profile games, there could still be movement, but right now, the biggest losses have come in Stillwater.

Big 12 contender with the most work to do in the portal: Oklahoma State. Now, Sanders, who has been incredibly exciting and puzzlingly inconsistent in four years as a starter, has entered his name into the portal looking for a fresh start. Star in-state recruits like Braylin Presley and Trace Ford are portal-bound. Dominic Richardson, a key member of the running back rotation, is too, along with safety Kanion Williams, who has been a team captain. Linebacker Mason Cobb, who had 96 tackles (13 for loss), is also in the portal.

Coach Mike Gundy has rebuilt over and over again and has done more with less for years. But this will be quite a test at a time when the Cowboys are looking to stand atop the new Big 12.

Biggest remaining question: Can TCU capitalize on this incredible run in Sonny Dykes’ first year? At SMU, he made Dallas a bounce-back destination for players from the area who wanted to come back home and play. Now in a Power 5 job, making the playoff in his first season, there’s proof of concept to sell recruits. After hitting on several key transfers last year like Johnny Hodges and Josh Newton, who both earned All-Big 12 honors as key pieces, can the Horned Frogs become an even bigger player? — Wilson

Big Ten

​​Biggest Big Ten storyline to emerge: Maryland had 14 players enter the transfer portal since the beginning of December. That included tight end CJ Dippre, who had three touchdowns in 2022, and linebacker Ahmad McCullough, who had 45 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack this season. There aren’t a ton of star players leaving, but 14 is a significant number and will hurt the depth for a team that needs depth to make a run late into the season. Maryland coach Mike Locksley has done well in the portal in the past, so if he can replace some of those spots with contributors, it won’t be a negative for the team.

Big Ten contender with the most work to do in the portal: Penn State has added some good pieces to its roster through recruiting over the past few classes, especially with quarterback Drew Allar and running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. The Nittany Lions had a good season in 2022 with 10 wins, but their two losses were to Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State needs to add a few solid contributors from the portal to bulk up the roster while some of the high school prospects continue to develop. They’re not far off from being where they want to be, but have already been active in the portal to shore up the roster. Penn State has offered wide receiver Jimmy Horn Jr., a South Florida transfer, tight end Kyle Morlock, defensive end Elijah Jeudy, former Alabama cornerback Khyree Jackson, among others. Getting some immediate contributors will help Penn State continue to improve and compete with Michigan and Ohio State in the coming years.

Biggest remaining question: Michigan doesn’t typically take in transfers unless they’re graduate transfers, and Ohio State has typically built its team through recruiting and picking up a few transfers here and there. But there are a few Big Ten teams that could use big hauls from the portal. Michigan State and coach Mel Tucker have seen success in the portal in the 2021 season, winning 10 games and plucking running back Kenneth Walker III from Wake Forest. But they have also seen the downside in 2022, when transfers don’t contribute as much as anticipated and high school prospects aren’t fully developed. In addition to Michigan State, new Nebraska coach Matt Rhule could benefit from bringing in transfer players. The question, though, is because he has been in the NFL, will he have the relationships to get in fast enough with difference makers before they make a decision? Rhule and his staff will have to work fast and be active to try to get players they want who can help from day one. — VanHaaren

Pac-12

Biggest Pac-12 storyline to emerge: The Deion Sanders era has begun in Colorado and it has kicked off with plenty of fireworks already. Sanders made news quickly upon arriving in Boulder, where a video showed him talking to current Colorado players and telling them to enter the portal. He also effectively told them his son, Shedeur, would transfer and be the Buffs’ quarterback. The message was pretty clear: change is coming. And change, in today’s game, is only quickened by the portal.

Sanders’ recruiting prowess now that he’s at a Power 5 school will inevitably seep into not just high school recruiting but transfers too. There is already chatter about Jackson State recruits (especially No. 1 overall prospect Travis Hunter) following Sanders to Boulder, and there’s no doubt Sanders is going to be making plenty of calls to players entering the portal, selling them on his vision for the Buffaloes.

It will be fascinating to see the turnover at Colorado and how much change Sanders can effect this offseason alone. The portal allows him to flex his strength in a completely different way: He doesn’t have to wait for recruits to get on campus, get acclimated and go through the learning curve that comes with making the leap from high school.

Pac-12 contender with the most work to do in portal: UCLA. The Bruins are losing some valuable seniors on both sides of the ball, and unlike their counterparts at Oregon, Utah, USC, Washington and even Oregon State and Arizona, they don’t have a recruiting class (as of now) in the top 50 in the country.

The good news for UCLA is that Chip Kelly and his staff are already making moves. On Monday as the portal opened, the Bruins nabbed Cal inside linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo to begin shoring up their defense.

Above all, the Bruins have to decide how to replace outgoing quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and his incredible performance in 2022. It felt like Kelly and DTR found something this season, and the program would benefit in a major way if they were to continue that momentum despite a change at the position. Could they go with backup Ethan Garbers? Is freshman Justyn Martin ready? Or will they dip into the portal and try to snag a quarterback looking for a fresh start and a new home?

Biggest remaining question: How many quarterbacks will make their way West? The conference, with its inconsistent defenses and offensive-minded coaches, has become a bit of a refuge for quarterbacks looking for greener pastures.

Last season, the Pac-12 added Caleb Williams, Michael Penix Jr., Bo Nix and Cameron Ward via the transfer portal, while Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura made his way to Tucson. Only one of the aforementioned quarterbacks (Nix) is leaving college, and there’s already spots available (UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State) for other highly touted quarterbacks like Devin Leary and D.J. Uiagalelei to consider.

The Uiagalelei landing spot will be particularly interesting to watch. The now-former Clemson quarterback is from Southern California and played at L.A. County powerhouse St. John Bosco. If UCLA wants to transition from the Dorian Thompson-Robinson era without having to turn to an underclassman, Uiagalelei presents an intriguing option. — Uggetti

SEC

Biggest SEC storyline to emerge: All in all, it has been relatively quiet in the SEC so far. The only noteworthy quarterbacks to hit the portal have been Ole MissLuke Altmyer and Vanderbilt‘s Mike Wright — and neither was a starter to end the season. ArkansasMalik Hornsby is on the move, but KJ Jefferson already announced that he was coming back after an injury-plagued season. Only a handful of our top 35 transfers are from the SEC: Missouri wideout Dominic Lovett, South Carolina tight end Austin Stogner, Alabama receiver Traeshon Holden and offensive lineman Javion Cohen. Given how Alabama lost two games and missed the playoff, the Crimson Tide are worth watching. So far, more than a dozen players are in the portal, including former top offensive line prospect Tommy Brockermeyer. They have needs at several key positions, including receiver, offensive line and quarterback.

SEC contender with the most work to do in the portal: I’ll be interested to see whether Georgia does any work in the portal. The Bulldogs were the only Power 5 team this season that didn’t sign a single transfer. So let’s rule them out from being overly active. To me, that leaves rival Florida as one of the teams to pay attention to. Napier did a lot in the portal during his first offseason, bringing O’Cyrus Torrence and Montrell Johnson with him from Louisiana, and signing Ricky Pearsall from Arizona State. But he needs even more help. The roster isn’t anywhere near complete, and now he’s got a starting quarterback to replace and more than a dozen players who just hit the portal. Look for Napier and his staff to beef up the offensive and defensive lines.

Biggest remaining question: Who’s going to get a quarterback? Because there are quite a few teams with a need at the position. Florida just lost Anthony Richardson to the NFL. Stetson Bennett is finally leaving Georgia. Same for Hendon Hooker at Tennessee, Will Levis at Kentucky and Bryce Young at Alabama. Joe Milton III seems like he’ll get a long look to replace Hooker in Knoxville, but everywhere else feels wide open for competition. At Alabama in particular, dual-threat Jalen Milroe didn’t take the bull by the horns when Young was injured. While there are a few good young prospects waiting in the wings — freshman Ty Simpson and commits Dylan Lonergan and Eli Holstein — Nick Saban might not have the patience to develop a quarterback when a readymade product is available in the portal. — Scarborough

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