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The transfer portal provided Conference USA with a massive infusion of talent in 2021

Concerns of the transfer portal and one-time transfer rules leading to the demise of G5 football were predictably overblown.

Miami v Duke Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We’ve flipped the page on the calendar to August and, suddenly, football is in the air. As programs begin to welcome their teams to campus to start their fall camps, the transfer portal has “turned over” to a new academic year, giving us our first full calendar year of data to track how the one-time transfer rule will impact the scales of talent between the Power Five and the Group of Five.

When the transfer portal was first activated back in 2019 there was a lot of doom and gloom among G5 fans. The most common opinion at the time was that the P5 would strip mine the G5 for every NFL talent residing across the mid-major landscape. While others pushed back on that narrative, the addition of a one-time transfer allowance in 2021 sparked even further concern that the G5 would be poached bare by the more resource-rich programs in college football, essentially using the G5 as a developmental league.

With the one-time transfer rule now approved by the NCAA long-term, cries of concern for the G5’s talent retention once again reached a fever pitch. While, yes, many athletes will continue to pursue opportunities at new programs each season, the data for Conference USA shows that the one-time transfer rule actually provided a jaw-dropping net addition in talent to the conference.

In order to determine how the dominoes aligned for Conference USA following the closure of the 2021 transfer portal, I recorded the 247 Composite Rating of each athlete to transfer to or from a Conference USA program over the past 365 days. I then tracked the movement from C-USA to any P5 program, as well as any P5 athlete transferring into a C-USA program.

While Conference USA did lose a bit of talent to the P5, the return for the conference was overwhelming. As a whole, the conference added an astonishing 62 former power conference athletes, while just 16 athletes moved from C-USA to a power conference.

Power 5 Transfers for C-USA Programs,

If we add up each transfer’s 24/7 Composite Rating and calculate the difference in the incoming vs. outgoing talent, the equivalent of a net addition of 45 three-star athletes joined Conference USA throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. Even though the conference lost a little bit of star power in the form of transfers of known studs such as Cain Madden and Blaze Alldredge, the overall transition of raw talent heavily favors Conference USA.

Interestingly enough, the list of C-USA athletes to transfer to a Power 5 program probably doesn’t resemble a list that most C-USA fans would expect. Out of the 16 players to transfer to P5 programs, only four of these players were named to the first or second All-Conference team throughout their C-USA careers.

C-USA 2020-2021 P5 Transfers

Team Player Composite Rating All-Conference?
Team Player Composite Rating All-Conference?
Charlotte Ty'kieast Crawford 0.83 No
Charlotte Timmy Horne 0.81 No
Marshall Broc Thompson 0.7845 No
Marshall Artie Henry III 0.8067 No
Marshall Cain Madden 0.92 Yes
Marshall C.J. McCray 0 No
Marshall Derrek Pitts 0.86 No
UNT Jason Bean 0.8054 No
UNT Cameron Johnson 0.85 No
ODU Kaleb Ford-Dement 0.85 No
ODU Jeremy Meiser 0.81 No
ODU Keion White 0.88 Yes
Rice Blaze Alldredge 0.82 Yes
USM Jacques Turner 0.8213 Yes
USM Jack Abraham 0.81 No
UAB Tony Fair 0.8649 No
C-USA 2020-2021 P5 Transfers Jared Kalmus

To further dive into these 16 transfers, 63% of them saw head coaching turnover at their program since their last season. While there’s no data on what drives an athlete to seek greener grass, I believe this statistic further combats a narrative of the Power 5 actively “poaching” P5 rosters, with many of these transfers instead looking to play for coaches they have established relationships with, rather than rolling the dice with a new hire at their current program who they may or may not have a pre-existing relationship with. Sometimes those trusted coaches just happen to be at the P5 level.

Of course, some schools have been treated more favorably by the transfer portal than others. Even though they lost two players to P5 programs over the past year, no school in Conference USA gained more P5 talent than Charlotte, with nearly half of their recruiting class hailing from the NCAA’s autonomous conferences. Western Kentucky, UTSA, and USM also reaped the benefits of the transfer eligibility waiver rule, adding six transfers a piece from P5 conferences.

On the flipside, Marshall was hit particularly hard this season as five members of the Thundering Herd left Huntington following Doc Holliday’s dismissal. Old Dominion was also hit fairly hard after the hire of Ricky Rahne, followed by the program’s difficult decision to sit out the 2020 season. Players opting to transfer after a coaching change is nothing new, and should be considered as part of the material cost of opting to cancel a coach’s contract.

Given the strong correlation with recruiting rankings to on-field outcomes, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Conference USA football doesn’t get better across the board following this incredible increase in overall talent levels. Yes, a few stars have exited the conference, but it’s only a matter of time before some of these incoming three and four-star recruits blossom at the G5 level. Most importantly, the floor of the conference should rise considerably given the huge improvement in depth along the league’s rosters.

While the concern for P5s to swallow up all of the best talent at the G5 level is understandable, at the end of the day there are only so many roster spots and snaps to go around. Football players know that they need to see the field if they are to make it to the next level and spending four years riding the bench in Columbus or Tuscaloosa isn’t going to put anyone on NFL scouts’ radars.

I’m eager to see how this redistribution of talent shakes out over the coming season, and I’m especially curious to monitor how Name, Image, and Likeness endorsement opportunities will further shuffle the pot.