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The Transfer Portal and the AAC

Transfers have taken over the NCAA, but how has that looked in the American Athletic Conference?

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Memphis v Penn State Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The transfer portal, especially the quarterbacks within it, were the story of the 2019 college football season. After an off-season full of high profile transfers going from one blue blood to another, those transfers went on to dominate play on the field as well.

In the end, three of the four College Football Playoff teams were led by transfer quarterbacks. The top three players in Heisman voting were all transfer quarterbacks.

Typically, the narrative around the transfer portal surrounds the blue bloods of college football. It’s rare to see much talk about how this has affected G5 programs. So, it’s worth taking a look, through admittedly AAC colored lenses.

Eight of the twelve AAC teams started a transfer quarterback for at least one game in 2019. Memphis, SMU and Tulane went on to have very successful seasons in large part due to their transfer QBs.

Take Tulane for example. Once Justin McMillan, a LSU transfer, was ready to go they exploded onto the scene. Under McMillan, Tulane won back to back bowl games. Without the transfer portal, McMillan would remain buried on the bench in Baton Rouge. Instead, he had a chance to play, compete, and show his talent.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 04 Armed Forces Bowl - Southern Miss v Tulane Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is where the AAC, as the best G5 conference, is at a great benefit. They offer players a chance to no longer be buried on depth charts. You can go to Cincinnati, play on TV, and in a great atmosphere. Sure, it’s slightly less high profile than Ohio State, but it’s still major college football.

The transfer portal has allowed AAC teams to fill their needs with players who have had time in FBS level strength and conditioning programs. It allows them to fill their roster with guys who have reps against starters on P5 teams. It allows them to fill their roster with former four and five star recruits.

Of course there are negatives.

The AAC has a history of losing its best coaches to conferences with more prestige. Look no further than Mike Norvell, this year. Well, the same can be true of players. Top level AAC talent has wide eyes for playing a season or two in the Power 5.

Take Quincy Roche, of Temple. He’s entered the transfer portal, the same season he won AAC defensive player of the year. Why? There’s a lot of potential reasons. His message on Twitter indicated that he loved Temple. A likely guess is that he wants to play at a P5 program.

He’s not alone. ECU is losing their back-up QB, Reid Herring. He, undoubtedly, sees that he won’t pass Holton Ahlers on the depth chart. So, he’ll likely drop to a smaller conference, or even FCS to get playing time. That’s what USF’s Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun did last season, after Blake Barnett (a former Alabama five star) took over the job.

Basically, AAC teams need to deal with their players being recruited by more prestigious programs, and those who can offer more playing time. It makes for a precarious balancing act by coaches, who want to bring in the best transfers possible, without losing anyone.

Different coaches have different strategies to do this. For positions like wide receiver of defensive line, simple rotations usually keep players happy. Positions like quarterback are trickier.

Temple’s Rod Carey would give their back-up quarterback, Todd Centeio, at least a series every game. It was a change of pace style-wise, and incentive for Centeio to stay in Philadelphia. It was kind of like how Georgia used Justin Fields. In the end, Fields transferred to Ohio State. So far, Centeio is still in town.

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - North Carolina v Temple Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

As a whole, the conference has worked to incentivize players joining the AAC, ahead of other conferences. For instance, they allow transfer who walk-on to play immediately, instead of waiting out the customary season.

Still, the NCAA makes things difficult on small conferences.

Take their highly criticized waiver process. Players like Tate Martell have been granted waivers to play immediately. Meanwhile, players like Parker Boudreaux did not. Martell, a quarterback who went from Ohio State to Miami was given a hardship waiver because there was a new coaching staff. Mind you, they promoted the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, so it always seemed a flimsy argument. Meanwhile, Boudreaux left Notre Dame and went to UCF to be close to his sick sister. His waiver was denied.

At the end of the day, the transfer portal is neither good nor bad. Just new, and different. Teams will succeed based on how well they can figure out how to use the portal. In the AAC, this means both poaching players, and avoid having your own players poached.