College football‘s spring transfer portal window closed on Sunday, with more than 1,000 FBS and FCS players having added their names into the portal.
The transfer has become a fixture of college football roster management since its inception in the fall of 2018. During the first cycle in 2018-19, there were 2,405 NCAA football players who entered the portal, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. From August 2022 through January 2023, 6,202 NCAA players entered the portal, including 2,729 in December 2022 alone.
The winter window saw plenty of activity, including quarterback Sam Hartman transferring from Wake Forest to Notre Dame, defensive back Travis Hunter following coach Deion Sanders from Jackson State to Colorado, and linebacker Dasan McCullough transferring to Oklahoma after a year at Indiana.
There was no shortage of movement in April, either. Cornerback Storm Duck, who transferred from North Carolina to Penn State in the winter, reentered the portal last month and found another landing spot in Louisville. ESPN’s No. 1-ranked spring transfer Bear Alexander, a defensive tackle who had a sack in the national championship game, left Georgia for USC. Former Notre Dame starting quarterback Tyler Buchner committed to Alabama. And more than 30 Colorado players have entered the portal in the past two weeks.
Who are the biggest names of this transfer cycle? Which teams did a good job at filling needs? Which teams have bigger holes to fill? And what could the future of the recruiting calendar look like? Tom Luginbill, Adam Rittenberg, Tom VanHaaren and Craig Haubert break down the spring transfer window.
Impact transfers | Improved teams
What’s going on at Colorado?
Steals | Transfer window takeaways
How would you change the calendar?
Who is the biggest impact transfer this spring?
Tom Luginbill: DT Bear Alexander (Georgia to USC). For all the talk of USC’s use of the transfer portal over the past 18 months, the two position groups that are truly going to get the Trojans over the hump and in the national title hunt are their offensive line and defensive line. Despite being young, Alexander is a significant upgrade in talent and should make an immediate impact in a league that lacks star power in the defensive line.
USC has struggled to dominate in the trenches, and Alexander is a big building block. He’s talented, disruptive and certainly looks the part. Alexander was the fifth-ranked DT in the 2022 recruiting class and No. 56 overall player in the ESPN 300.
Adam Rittenberg: S Patrick McMorris (San Diego State to California). Alexander is certainly a big pickup (literally and figuratively), but I’m staying in the Pac-12 with Cal’s addition of McMorris. He gives coach Justin Wilcox a proven playmaker in the secondary. McMorris was one of the nation’s best defensive backs in 2021, recording four interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 90 tackles, while earning first-team All-Mountain West honors.
Although his numbers dipped a bit last fall, he should help a defense that tied for 66th in takeaways last season. McMorris is a perfect fit at Cal, where his brother Malik, a former Bears fullback, is on staff.
Craig Haubert: QB Tyler Buchner (Notre Dame to Alabama). The Crimson Tide have a key role to fill on their roster with the departure of QB Bryce Young, and who takes his place remains a question. They have options on campus including Jalen Milroe, who gained some experience last season, and they signed two ESPN 300 QBs this past cycle, but none are sure plug-and-play answers.
To address this need, they added Buchner, Notre Dame’s top signee in 2021. While an injury sidelined him most of last season, he comes with valuable experience as a starter and ended his time with the Fighting Irish on a high note with an MVP performance in a bowl game win over South Carolina. He also reunites with his former offensive coordinator in Tommy Rees, who is now at Alabama as well. This addition could give Alabama a talented and experienced hand at the wheel of the offense of a national title contender.
Tom VanHaaren: CB Storm Duck (Penn State to Louisville). Duck was one of the biggest names in the winter transfer window as he transferred from North Carolina to Penn State. He once again entered the portal in the spring and is leaving Penn State for Louisville.
Duck was a second-team All-ACC player in 2022, playing in all 12 games with three interceptions. New coach Jeff Brohm immediately upgraded a secondary that is switching schemes with a new staff. Duck should be a big part of that defense in 2023.
Which team improved the most from the spring window?
Luginbill: BYU. Losing both Clark and Campbell Barrington to Baylor was a big blow to the Cougars up front, as both have NFL upside. Kalani Sitake’s group recovered nicely, although I’m not sure the additions are of the caliber of the Barrington brothers.
The biggest name added to the group is former Oklahoma State OT Caleb Etienne. He’s joined by Utah transfer Paul Maile, Missouri State OL Ian Fitzgerald and Utah State transfer Weylin Lapuaho. All bring experience, but Fitzgerald and Lapuaho will likely be adjusting to a higher level of competition.
Rittenberg: Louisville. Jeff Brohm could be building a fringe ACC title contender in Year 1 of his much-anticipated homecoming to Louisville. Brohm’s offense impressed in the spring game, as quarterback transfer Jack Plummer — who began his college career under Brohm at Purdue — knows how to operate the system. But Louisville’s defense, which ranked No. 11 nationally in points allowed last season, needed help and got better in the spring window.
Duck, a second-team All-ACC cornerback at North Carolina who briefly landed with Penn State, gives the Cardinals a proven player in the secondary. Duck reunites with safety Cam’Ron Kelly, a fellow All-ACC honoree at North Carolina who briefly transferred to Virginia. Louisville also added Oregon linebacker Keith Brown, an ESPN 300 recruit in 2021, former Rutgers offensive lineman Willie Tyler III and former Purdue tackle Eric Miller, who reunites with Brohm.
Haubert: USC. When it comes to the transfer portal it can be easy to confuse quantity with quality. A successful utilization does not need to be represented by multiple additions, which brings us to USC. The Trojans’ roster has plenty of perimeter talent and brings in more via their 2023 class, but for them to return to the top of the college football world, questions still remain in the trenches.
The Trojans have worked to address that via the portal, including this spring window with the arrival of Alexander, who contributed to Georgia’s national title defense as a true freshman and gives a unit of need an immediate boost. They also infused more talent to their offensive trenches with Emmanuel Pregnon. He does not come with the same fanfare as Alexander, but he is a big man who excelled last season at Wyoming. Finding quality linemen in the portal is not easy, and the Trojans landed two of the best this go-around.
VanHaaren: Louisville. If we’re talking about additions in the spring window, it has to be Louisville. Brohm and his staff were able to add some big pieces in the spring, which could end up molding their roster and speeding up the rebuilding process.
In addition to the defensive players Adam mentioned, the staff also added up front along the offensive line with Purdue tackle Eric Miller and Houston offensive lineman Lance Robinson. Brohm could end up adding a couple more in the portal, but he’s well on his way to adding solid contributors for next season where there were voids.
Luginbill: I’m sure Colorado has a plan. At least I hope the Buffaloes do. But I don’t think folks truly understand how bad this roster was when Coach Prime inherited it. Yes, the additions of Travis Hunter, freshman Dylan Edwards and QB Shedeur Sanders are upgrades, but this roster has a long way to go.
More than 23 players have entered the portal since the conclusion of the spring game (I’m sure many by design), but the question has to be asked: How many players can Colorado get between now and the training camp who actually upgrade its roster? More than 50 players have entered the portal from Colorado since prior to the 2022 season. The Buffaloes don’t just need bodies, they need dudes.
Haubert: Godspeed to the individual updating Colorado’s printed program, because many changes are underway at the school. Dozens of players have entered the portal during this window, and as Luginbill mentioned, much of this is likely part of a big-picture plan by the new staff inheriting a program coming off a one-win season. It was clear watching the Buffaloes this spring that this was a roster with a decisive drop-off between some starters/stars and No. 2 or 3 on the depth chart, and the overall talent needs to be improved.
Can the Buffaloes make those needed upgrades, especially with the bodies needed to get through a long season, in terms of dealing with injuries and executing functional practices? There is a talent and cultural shift underway that will likely benefit this program down the road, but in the meantime with this type of turnover, there seems little room for error this coming season.
Rittenberg: No team has more holes to plug — not just in the starting lineup but throughout the depth chart. I’ve spoken to those at Colorado who insist this was the plan all along, and Sanders has been transparent about it. They say the team will pick up enough quality amid the quantity in May and June.
I’ve also spoken to sources who insist the staff did not want certain players to leave, especially starters like offensive tackle Jake Wiley and cornerback Nikko Reed. There’s little doubt Colorado will add some notable names, but will there be enough to fill out a roster?
VanHaaren: The focus has been on the players who were cut and asked to move on, but as Adam noted, there are players the staff wanted to keep as well. Some of this should be chalked up to a new staff with normal attrition when a change is made. But when combining the number of players who were told there isn’t a spot on the roster with the players who decided this wasn’t for them, it has put Colorado in a unique spot.
I have spoken to a few players who left the program who said they didn’t feel as though there was a family atmosphere at Colorado and wanted to seek other opportunities. If that wasn’t accounted for in Colorado’s plan, then Sanders needs to figure out a way to fill those holes. This isn’t just about the star players or the early contributors; the Buffaloes need depth on special teams and in case of injuries. Losing this number of players could impact the next few years if they continue to see attrition and can’t backfill the numbers.
Who is your favorite under-the-radar steal from the spring window?
Haubert: TE Var’Keyes Gumms (North Texas to Arkansas). Arkansas took one of the bigger hits with portal departures, including losing TE Trey Knox, but the Hogs have also been able to pull some talent from the portal as well. Tight end was a position of need that Arkansas worked to address this recruiting cycle, signing two ESPN 300 prospects, but with Gumms, the Razorbacks add a player with experience and proven production who can be a more assuring plug-and-play option.
He does not have elite size, but last season he was among North Texas’ most productive receiving targets (34 receptions), was a first-team all-conference selection and a key to the Mean Green’s attack, and he is an effective and willing blocker. A high three-star signee in the 2021 class, he was a steal for the Mean Green at that time, and now with a jump to Arkansas and the SEC, I think Gumms fits that category again.
VanHaaren: Gumms. Gumms can come in and contribute right away, which likely takes some pressure off the 2023 signees and allows them to get acclimated before throwing them into the fire and putting all the production on them. If Gumms can put up the type of numbers he has in the past, he’ll be a big asset for the Razorbacks in 2023.
Rittenberg: DL Jeffrey M’ba (Auburn to Purdue). M’ba is an intriguing player with a hulking frame at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds. He was ESPN’s top-rated junior college prospect in the 2022 class and received offers from many SEC and Power 5 schools.
M’ba, who was born in Gabon then immigrated to France before coming to the U.S., saw time at several positions last fall for Auburn but didn’t truly break through. New Purdue coach Ryan Walters worked wonders with Illinois‘ defense, and he should find the best spot for M’ba to showcase his talents. M’ba had a sack and a forced fumble against Mississippi State last season.
What is the biggest takeaway of the first year of the transfer windows?
Luginbill: They should have been implemented from the very start. However, I believe the first window is way too long. Players don’t need 45 days to find a landing spot. Those who have been tampered with will likely commit within 48 hours of entering the portal. Otherwise, transfers do not need 45 days to see what their market value is; they’ll know within a week or two what options they have. Two weeks, just like the spring period, would be plenty of time, three weeks at most.
Rittenberg: I agree with Luginbill. Coaches say they advocated for windows long before they were implemented, and they were clearly on to something. The first window seems a bit long, and I would love to see the transfer periods reduced just to limit overall chaos with rosters. I initially preferred the second window to be May 1-15, but I like that it’s in late April, as players still have time to enter the portal even if their teams are wrapping up spring practice on the later side, like we saw at Colorado.
Haubert: This process at least went from flat-out chaos to organized chaos. These transfer windows were needed as the previous process was unsustainable. Anyone who follows the transfer market knows once these windows opened, there was great volume in terms of entries, and while it still felt a bit like drinking from a fire hose, at least it was funneled into structured time frames that can help programs better prepare and navigate the process. I agree with my colleagues that the first window can be narrowed.
Another noticeable difference between the two in addition to length was the depth of talent available. Those in the market had better options and more impact potential available during that first window than what was on offer during this spring window, and I would imagine that will continue to be the case.
VanHaaren: The coaches and personnel directors I’ve spoken to say there are still issues with the windows, but no one really knows a complete solution. Given the sheer number of players entering the portal every year, this condensed the process and gave coaches a little more structure when it comes to roster management. There are definitely still questions and problems, as coaches need to juggle bowl game prep, the early signing period and the transfer portal all in December, but they at least know when it’s all going to happen. There should be some tweaks to the calendar to separate the December window and the early signing period to make it easier to juggle, but this was one of the better solutions anyone could come up with for now.
How would you adjust the recruiting calendar if you could?
Luginbill: I’d start with reimagining the December period entirely. You can’t have the portal, national signing day and bowl prep all overlap each other. I’d also reconsider either going back to one signing period or still having two, but back them both up. Maybe one in late January and one in mid-February.
Another idea would be to make the first signing period for transfers only. Whatever changes that need to be made need to revolve around the scholarship numbers. Programs have to be able to know where they stand with their numbers. The way it currently stands now is almost impossible to accomplish.
Rittenberg: There definitely needs to be better spacing. December is way too packed right now. I found it interesting that coaches came out of their annual convention pushing for a signing date before the first transfer window opens, not much later. I wonder how that would impact the timeline of coaching changes.
Coaches also don’t want to build their teams mostly through the portal, so they want high school and junior college recruits to get the first opportunities before the four-year school transfers. I have always favored an open signing date, where recruits and teams have 48-72 hours to reach a decision on both ends. There would be more weight on both scholarship offers and decisions.
Haubert: The bottom line is that no recruiting Xanadu exists and every option or adjustment would come with its pluses and minuses. Even the world’s greatest multitasker can still find December incredibly challenging, so changes to the calendar to bottleneck less into that month would be beneficial.
With two signing periods having now been in play for several cycles, I still long for the days of the traditional first Wednesday in February being the sole signing period for high school prospects. Again, it was not perfect but was not a liability to the sport and brought a level of excitement and focus to high school football and recruiting we have not seen since expanding to the two periods. That said, I can swing the complete opposite direction and get on board with Adam’s “open period” suggestion for the reasons he stated. That is as worth exploring as any other option.
VanHaaren: Coaches have told me that the problem with moving the recruiting signing period back to February and doing away with the early signing period is the large number of players enrolling early in January — admissions and enrollment would still be a factor.
LSU coach Brian Kelly told me SEC coaches think they should have the early signing period in December and then start the transfer window a few days after the high school recruits have signed. Take it as somewhat of an NFL approach, where free agency and draft periods are separated so schools know what voids need to be filled. That way, the high school prospects get precedence, and the coaches know where they missed in the recruiting process as they move to fill holes with transfers.