The transfer portal has taken over the discourse in college football. In most cases, it’s taking up far too much of people’s time and energy to worry about. For the most part, it’s working as everyone expected it to work. The problem that some fans have is seeing it in action has created a panic.
The truth is that there are a million reasons why a player might want to transfer to a new school. Coaching changes, for instance, are a common reason to move on. Other times, players may have been misled in their initial recruitment. For others still, they simply have an opportunity to move up to a bigger program or move somewhere else for playing time. Whatever the case may be, players are making these changes to do what they feel is best for them. That’s something they very recently didn’t have the freedom to do, and it’s something that deserves to be applauded.
Of course, the reality is that every team is going to lose players to the transfer portal because of this. Those players being lost are going to have an impact on the teams that lost them, as well as the conference as a whole. The AAC is no exception, and it’s worth knowing who is moving on with their careers. Here are five of the conference’s biggest names to hit the portal so far.
Dillon Gabriel - Quarterback
UCF to UCLA to Oklahoma
The player who has certainly gotten the most attention for his time in the transfer portal has been former UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. He came into the 2021 season expecting to be the top passer in the AAC, at least statistically. A broken collarbone, however, derailed that. Freshman Mikey Keene took his job and showed growth as the season went on.
For Gabriel, it became clear that he didn’t want to play in new coach Gus Malzahn’s offense. He and his family, reportedly, felt there was too much running in the new scheme, which didn’t fit his skillset. So, he hit the transfer portal, initially committing to UCLA. However, once Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC, their staff turned over and star quarterback Caleb Williams hit the portal too. The Sooners hired Jeff Lebby, Gabriel’s first offensive coordinator at UCF, and he quickly flipped. We’ll see if the move works out for him.
Jaxon Player - Defensive Line
Tulsa to Baylor
A lot of people were surprised to see Tulsa’s Jaxon Player hit the transfer portal. Player was arguably the defense’s best piece this season, holding down a strong defensive line unit with his inside presence.
Player was a highly sought after target in the transfer portal, landing with Dave Aranda and the Baylor Bears. For Player, the move does make some sense. A graduate transfer, this move will give him a chance to play for one of the most respected defensive minds in all of college football, while also getting the opportunity to play for a good Big 12 team. That’s before you consider that Player is from Waco and likely grew up rooting for Baylor.
Alan Ali - Offensive Line
SMU to TCU
Stop me if this sounds familiar: a key person from SMU left for TCU. In this case, it was a player, Alan Ali. He had started 23 straight games and 39 games overall for the Mustangs, mostly as an interior offensive lineman. He has great size at 6’5” and 309 pounds and was Second Team All-AAC this past season. That’s a massive loss for what was a very good SMU offensive line.
It hurts a bit extra that he’s moving over to TCU, and acting as a reminder that sometimes fans feel more hatred for their rivals than the players actually do. This move isn’t all that surprising though, as he’s really just following his coach to the next stop in Sonny Dykes.
Jeffery Johnson - Defensive Line
Tulane to Oklahoma
Jeffery Johnson has been a defensive tackle for the Tulane Green Wave since 2018. He’s played extensively in all four of his seasons at Tulane but will be using his extra year of eligibility from the 2020 pandemic season to transfer to Oklahoma. This will give him a chance to play at a traditional power, while also getting coached up by the coach who developed players like Christian Wilkins.
Tulane is losing a key piece of their defense, though. He had 44 tackles as a defensive tackle last season, which is a massive number for an interior defensive lineman whose job is often to take up blockers so that linebackers can make plays. He also had 2.5 sacks on the season. Coming off a bad season, Johnson was a bright spot. Now, the Green Wave need to replace him.
Jadan Blue - Wide Receiver
Temple to Virginia Tech
Things went badly at Temple this season...really badly. It ended with head coach Rod Carey being fired, and a large number of key players on the Temple roster leaving for greener pastures. Jadan Blue was among them. Last season, Blue was the most exciting player on the Temple offense. He had 30 catches in just 8 games, and he made a name for himself with an excellent one-handed touchdown grab.
Blue is transferring to Virginia Tech now, as the Hokies are also under new management. Virginia Tech is hitting the transfer portal hard, and they’re hoping that the one year they’ll get out of Blue will help bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be.