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Evaluating the Success of the ‘Transfer Portal’

The last three number one picks entered the transfer portal before landing with their team. Three straight Heisman winners on their resume as well. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Joe Burrow put a final stamp on their college careers that translated to hearing their names called first on their respective draft days. We know their individual stories. Those three found success in the transfer portal, but what about others? And, is their success a blueprint for the future, or just an anomaly? Let’s dive in.

Evaluating the Success of the “Transfer Portal”

Hundreds of four and five-star athletes enter into college football, all sold on one dream: play on Saturday’s that lead to a chance to play on Sunday’s. So many high school and young college players enter the game with that mindset: get to the NFL and get paid millions doing what they love. It’s the American Dream. But what happens when they hit college, and all of a sudden, they barely see the field after being all over it in high school? Or what if they are now sitting behind a perennial All-American who is poised to have an NFL career, leaving that player with maybe one or two seasons to prove his worth to NFL scouts?

Enter the Transfer Portal. Designed to allow athletes to leave their current Division I school and transfer to another, some being granted immediate eligibility while others have to sit out a year. Athletes transferring is not a new phenomena, but with the new notification-of-transfer model implemented by the NCAA, it has become it’s own sport in a sense.

High profile athletes are transferring from big program to big program and potentially shifting the momentum from the season prior. Whether it was Jalen Hurts moving from Alabama to Oklahoma, Kelly Bryant moving from Clemson to Missouri, or even Justin Field from Georgia to Ohio State, constant shake-ups seem to happen every year. Teams who seem bound to have down seasons are now rebounding with these high-profile transfers, and all of a sudden, the whole trajectory of their seasons change.

Success is double-edged sword

Teams play to win conference and national championships at the college level. You win, you bring in better recruits, the higher chances you have to always win. Lather, rinse, repeat. But now, recruits may feel alienated because coaches may sell them on a dream two years prior, but who could have known a top-notch player would fall right into their laps unexpectedly? Austin Kendall is a perfect example. Sat behind Kyler Murray for a season and had the inside track to win the starting job in 2019. Then, Jalen Hurts enters the portal, and talks of him going to Oklahoma. All of a sudden, Kendall is likely the odd-man-out, so he transfers to West Virginia.

An even crazier example of this is Georgia’s quarterback room in 2018. It featured Jake Fromm, Justin Fields and Jacob Eason. All were talented enough to lead Georgia’s offense but there could be only one signal-caller. The Bulldogs chose Fromm, so the other two transferred, yet Eason was drafted before Fromm in the 2020 NFL Draft and Fields will likely be a first-round pick. There is no exact science in this. Players want to play for a team that wants, and/or needs them. We are past the days of “sitting and waiting.”

Kelly Bryant got beat out by freshman Trevor Lawrence and we see how that’s playing out. Coaches are doing things in the best interest of the team and winning culture, and now players are controlling their destiny. And while programs are looking out for the bottom line, players are now joining in — whether they’re successful or not.

The “Others”

No one talks about what happens to the athletes who have it blow up in their face. Tate Martell is a perfect example. After leaving Ohio State for Miami (FL), most people thought he could win the job down South, and follow Joe Burrow’s footsteps in a former OSU QB finding success elsewhere. In the words of Justin Fields, it was a “swing and miss.”

What about former Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson who transferred to Maryland, a team that was rebuilding under a new staff? Another failed experiment, unfortunately. Maryland came out guns-a-blazin’ against Hampton and Syracuse but it went down the drain within weeks.

Alex Hornibrook is yet another example of a player who transferred, as he left a potential starting spot to join Florida State. Hornibrook ended up backing up James Blackman for the majority of the season, only appearing in five games and throwing for 986 yards and seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. There would have been no guarantee he would be Wisconsin’s starter, but the transfer probably did not work out the way he thought it might.

The list goes on and on from position to position. And as the years go along, we can continue to track the successes and failures of these transfers, but it comes down to the coaching staff, maximizing the players you have, and just being flat out elite. The thing about football is, there are no guarantees. What we think we know? Half of it could go wrong in a split second.

Looking forward to the Unknown

D’Eriq King (Houston to Miami), KJ Costello (Stanford to Mississippi State), Feleipe Franks (Florida to Arkansas), Tarik Black (Michigan to Texas) are now the latest players to test their waters in the portal, to try and find success elsewhere. Whether they lost their starting spot, wanted to get a fresh start or anything in between, they get another chance to write their next chapter, with what it seems like a 50/50 chance of becoming an NFL draftee. Success is relative in this process and all we can do is fans, scouts, enthusiasts is watch from afar, and let it unfold. The portal continues to revolutionize the game we love.

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