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How Different AAC Teams are Using the Transfer Portal

With the transfer portal, the way teams are building rosters is changing. But is everyone’s approach for the future the same?

NCAA Football: Central Florida Spring Game Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The world of college football recruiting has completely shifted in recent years. Transferring has become commonplace, and after years of confusion over waivers and needing to sit out a year, the NCAA finally changed the rules to allow players to transfer relatively freely.

Some coaches have been critical of this, as they claim this essentially means college football has free agency now. Of course, this is really more complaining that their job changed, and got harder in the process...Yes, you need to make sure your current players are happy in the program. Coaches also need to find the right balance between taking in transfer players and taking in freshmen too.

So, what’s the right balance to find? It’s almost impossible to know right now. It’s possible that teams may build primarily through the portal. After all, it seems like a good quick fix in a rebuild. In other cases, it might be better to continue to develop talent up from the time they go into college, up to when they become starters.

Different teams in the AAC are approaching the transfer portal in several ways, all of which are worth taking a look at.

All numbers on transfers are based on 247 Sports’ transfer portal.


Cincinnati

3 incoming transfers, 10 outgoing transfers

The Bearcats basketball team may be facing controversy regarding how many players are transferring out of that program, but the football team hasn’t been dealing with that same issue. That’s probably a compliment to Luke Fickell, who has been bringing in the top AAC recruiting classes in recent years and developing them incredibly well. It looks like his plan is to keep going like he has been, despite new transfer rules.

Cincinnati has mostly ignored the portal this offseason. Through, in all fairness, the Bearcats have very few major holes to fill and have been stable at the head coach position. Those things tend to limit the need for transfers in the first place, after all.

ECU

12 incoming transfers, 12 outgoing transfers

ECU needs to make a move in the standings, or whispers about Mike Houston and a lack of tangible results are going to pick up. So, Houston is bringing in a ton of fresh faces who can contribute right away. They should be able to plug holes that ECU has had trouble filling in recent years, while also filling in depth that can become valuable in the case of injuries.

This is a strategy that you see a lot with teams trying to rebuild. These more experienced players should be able to contribute sooner than younger players, which gives those younger players more time to develop. ECU needs it to work, as the Ruffin McNeill era moves further and further away.

Houston

5 incoming transfers, 11 outgoing transfers

Dana Holgorsen and roster building have had a stressful relationship during his time at Houston. He tried to play new redshirt rules. The plan was to use transfers on the defense to bring them up to speed, while the top players on offense would buy them another year. This would give Holgorsen time to bring in his own players and develop them for the future, making a smoother transition going forward. For a lot of reasons, notably D’Eriq King transferring and COVID-19, it didn’t work in the short-term.

NCAA Football: Houston at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Now, it would appear that Holgorsen is primarily trying to build more traditionally, and just plug a few holes with the portal. Still, there’s a lot of interesting things going on here. Logan Holgorsen, son of Dana Holgorsen, is transferring but doesn’t have a new home yet. You also have Tre Williams, a defensive end who transferred in from Missouri, only to transfer out for Arkansas.

Memphis

10 incoming transfers, 23 outgoing transfers

Let’s talk about Memphis for a second...something has to be wrong here. 23 outgoing transfers is absolutely insane.

A couple of things here. First, everyone is going to transfer for one reason or another. They’re not always related. Second, every team is going to have more outgoing transfers than incoming. It’s becoming a bottleneck and a real issue for players who don’t have a new team to go to. At the same time, this is an extreme example and it’s hard to find a reason for it. The quarterback job should be an open competition, with Brady White moving on, but four quarterbacks have transferred out. Is there a cultural issue we don’t see from the outside? Is it Ryan Silverfield?

Silverfield was an important assistant coach at Memphis before becoming the head coach. It’s hard to imagine that the internal approach is so different now that it would force players out. Still, something is going on and it hurts your confidence in Memphis going forward.

Their new starting quarterback will likely be coming from the portal in Grant Gunnell. The Tigers have several other players coming in as well, who should be contributors. It’s just hard to judge how much right now.

Navy

O incoming transfers, 6 outgoing transfers

This should be no surprise. The Naval Academy isn’t going to take someone as anything other than a freshman to play football. A few players are leaving, but that’s not shocking either, as the academies aren’t for everyone and they only can find out once they get there. Don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

SMU

11 incoming transfers, 8 outgoing transfers

Sonny Dykes has become the master of the transfer portal in the AAC’s hierarchy. That’s where they found Shane Buechele, who came to SMU from Texas. Now, their next presumed starter at QB, Tanner Mordecai from Oklahoma, came from the portal too. Mordecai isn’t the only incoming transfer who’s going to have a big impact either. This is an impressive class, and it’s becoming clear this is how SMU’s roster is going to be built going forward.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

What’s completely unique, however, is that SMU has more incoming transfers than outgoing transfers. It’s hard to say why this is, but you’d have to assume the culture that Dykes has built is so solid that players don’t want to leave too quickly.

Temple

9 incoming transfers, 18 outgoing transfers

After a very long and difficult year at Temple, Rod Carey is now facing a mass exodus from his roster. It’s just another layer added to the problem that is Rod Carey’s tenure as Temple head coach. This tends to happen when you’re coming off a season towards the bottom of the conference and look like you’re heading for another season in the gutter.

Starting quarterback Anthony Russo left the program for Michigan State. Carey did a good job to bring in D’Wan Mathis from Georgia to replace him. Mathis is known for having a 30% completion percentage, 2.6 yards on average, and 2 INTs against Florida. With that being said, Mathis is a high upside pick up who Temple needs to show some improvement.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Tulane

4 incoming transfers, 11 outgoing transfers

When you look at the list of players leaving Tulane, a couple of names might jump out. Keon Howard, who started in week one last season, is looking for a new home. Amare Jones, meanwhile, has already landed at Georgia Southern. So there is some talent leaving, but nothing overwhelming.

For their part, the Green Wave don’t seem overly interested in bringing in too many new transfers, at least not this season. Transfers have had a big impact at Tulane in the past. Justin McMillan and Jalen McCleskey have both been important players to Tulane in recent years. This may have more to do with how Willie Fritz has evaluated their team needs than anything else.

Tulsa

4 incoming transfers, 6 outgoing transfers

After one of their better seasons in recent memory, Tulsa has decided not to play too heavily into the portal, at least not yet. Their defensive secondary is likely the most impacted unit, with five defensive backs moving on from the program. That notably includes Akayleb Evans, who has offers from Notre Dame and Texas among other schools.

It’s a little surprising Tulsa isn’t spending more time in the portal, with that many defensive backs out the door and Zaven Collins moving on, you run the risk of taking a step back on defense that you can’t afford. Furthermore, they need to find a new quarterback and it seems strange not to even consider a veteran player or a high upside transfer to try and spark your offense.

UCF

9 incoming transfers, 14 outgoing transfers

With a new coach, UCF has used the portal a lot to turnover the roster. First, you have several key players who are leaving for one reason or another. McKenzie Milton and Brandon Moore, both coming off injuries, are at Florida State now. Four dismissed starters from last years team are all in the portal too.

When new head coach Gus Malzahn came in, he hit the transfer portal hard. This has included three former Auburn players, two new running backs to replace the likes of Otis Anderson and Greg McCrae, multiple wide receivers to replace everyone who has moved on, and a new kicker among others. This could be one of two things. Either Malzahn wants to build through the portal going forward, or this is him trying to quickly make up for the failures of Josh Huepel in the recruiting department.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Minnesota vs Auburn Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It’s also worth noting that none of the outgoing Knights are going to Tennessee, as several did when Scott Frost left for Nebraska, despite Tennessee being desperate for players.

USF

9 incoming transfers, 16 outgoing transfers

USF is one of the most interesting AAC teams in the transfer portal this offseason. Jordan McCloud and Johnny Ford are both gone to Arizona and FAU respectively. That’s ok, because they have Jarren Williams transferring in from Miami to play quarterback (If he can beat out last year’s transfer, Cade Fortin), and Jaren Mangham along with several other skills players coming in.

The amount of players leaving seems like a mess, but it might be more of the reality to how Jeff Scott’s time in Tampa has started. USF hardly had a spring to evaluate, so they figured things out as they went along. Now, the players and coaches know each other a bit better. So, this may be an outlier. It may also be Jeff Scott’s approach going forward. For now, it’s still hard to say. Still, many of the Bulls’ most important players from last season are moving on.