Transfer portal scorecard: Winners and losers as the SEC navigates a new era
There’s been no shortage of comments, especially from SEC head coaches, about the transfer portal. But when the rubber hits the road, what are they going to do about it? Certainly not sit back and let a division rival get any sort of edge.
What has emerged in this new era of building a roster is that the heavyweight teams in the SEC appear to be cherry-picking certain positions to fill immediate needs, while the mid-tier programs make commitments for long-term sustainability.
There have never been more high-profile quarterback moves via the portal than this offseason. This season is when we’ll find out if these moves truly level the playing field, and allow the mid-tier teams to challenge the blue bloods at the top.
Here’s the SEC’s transfer portal scorecard:
South Carolina offense
Before Caleb Williams, former Heisman Trophy preseason favorite Spencer Rattler was the biggest splash of the transfer portal movement, and it came in improbable fashion as Shane Beamer leaned on his prior connections to Oklahoma. But what made Rattler’s addition even bigger was he brought TE Austin Stogner with him. Rattler’s addition also signals a significant upgrade at a key position where the Gamecocks have lacked since Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks have had a running back lead the SEC in rushing, they’ve had bona fide wide receivers shine. But the QB has been the missing piece, despite recruiting hype. Remember, about a year ago, South Carolina had its previous hot-shot QB, former top-70 recruit Ryan Hilinski enter the transfer portal, and Collin Hill also moved on as the Gamecocks were left with Luke Doty and midyear enrollee Colten Gauthier. Now the Gamecocks have an argument for the best QB in the SEC East. Beamer also added a pair of running backs, including Georgia transfer Lovasea Carroll.
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Ole Miss offense
The Rebels made similar moves to the Gamecocks by adding Southern Cal transfer Jaxson Dart and TE Michael Trigg, as the offseason theme in the SEC seems to be: Find a pair of teammates from out west and bring in a package deal. Dart and Trigg are a main reason the Rebels are No. 2 in the 247Sports Transfer Portal Rankings. There’s no reason to think Lane Kiffin can’t coach Dart into the same caliber of QB as Matt Corral, who is a potential first-round NFL Draft prospect this spring. Ole Miss finished ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, and combine Dart and Trigg with TCU transfer Zach Evans, and optimism abounds. Evans, after all, averaged 7.3 yards per carry in 2 seasons at TCU.
Alabama across the board
For the second straight year, Alabama lured a wide receiver from a team that played in the national championship. This time it was Jermaine Burton from Georgia, the No. 2 wide receiver in the portal who is no doubt looking to enhance his NFL Draft profile. Perhaps looking for an upgrade in Bryce Young over Stetson Bennett? Burton joined 5-star cornerback Eli Ricks (LSU) and running back Jahmyr Gibbs (Georgia Tech), the top running back in the portal a year after it added WR Jameson Williams from Ohio State, and everyone remembers what kind of impact he had in 2021.
Sitting at No. 10 in the portal rankings, Alabama in a more micro-focused manner, has cherry-picked precisely the gaps it needs to fill. And as an extra boost, Alabama landed arguably the best offensive line coach in Eric Wolford from Kentucky, who is at his third SEC program and has NFL experience.
Mississippi State wide receivers
It’s difficult to spin this situation any other way but troubling after the Bulldogs lost Makai Polk, their leading receiver in 2021 to the NFL Draft, and then Malik Heath, Quinton Torbor and 4-star freshman Theodore Knox to the portal. Heath, who transferred to Ole Miss, had 34 catches for 442 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2021, after he made 37 catches and 3 touchdowns in 2020. MSU added Georgia WR Justin Robinson, but he battled foot, hamstring and shoulder injuries and made just 2 catches for 18 yards and 1 touchdown in 8 games.
The Bulldogs desperately need a breakout wide receiver to emerge.
Auburn defensive line
Sheer numbers alone put the Tigers on this list as 8 Auburn defensive linemen have entered the portal since the end of the season. Lee Hunter was the best of the bunch, ranked No. 4 in the portal rankings, but defensive line is one of the most important positions for depth, and the Tigers were simply decimated. Oregon’s Jayson Jones was the one bright spot addition for Auburn as the former Alabama commit brings experience after he played in 13 games for the Ducks.
With the change in defensive line coach from Nick Eason to Jimmy Brumbaugh, on top of all of these departures, this is one of many areas Bryan Harsin needs to contribute early and often for Auburn to turn the corner.
Tennessee spinning its wheels
The transfer portal simply hasn’t been kind to the Vols. Yes, they added Florida offensive tackle Gerald Mincey, but Wyoming wide receiver Isaiah Neyor slipped away to Texas, and that came after running back Tiyon Evans, 4-star wide receiver Kaemen Marley, linebacker Morven Joseph and offensive lineman K’Rojhn Calbert hit the exits.
Josh Heupel explains the quiet movement as Big Orange being selective, but there are also questions being raised about Tennessee possibly self-imposing a thinner roster as a response to the Jeremy Pruitt recruiting scandal. Since August, UT has lost 11 scholarship players in the portal, including Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer at QB.
It brings to light Heupel’s roster management, and how Tennessee must make wise decisions if it’s dealing with a roster that’s down 10 to 15 scholarship positions.