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The first offseason with two official transfer portal windows is winding down, and the new era of player movement is at the center of a national discourse. Undergraduate players no longer have to sit on the sideline for an entire season before hitting the field, and a version of free agency has taken control of the sport. Like it or not, this is the new reality, and we’ve seen players around the country take advantage of the new rules.
Among the big names to find new homes are former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, who made his way to Notre Dame; former NC State signal-caller Devin Leary, who moved to Kentucky; and star wide receiver Travis Hunter, who followed coach Deion Sanders from Jackson State to Colorado.
Some teams went hard by targeting multiple players in an effort to revamp their rosters, while others targeted specific players that can add some depth and summer competition to help them make the College Football Playoff. Which method will work? That depends on the needs of each program and coach based on where they currently sit in the landscape of their divisions and conferences.
The new era has ushered in more freedom for players than we’ve ever seen before thanks to immediate eligibility and the ability to make money off of their name, image and likeness. Following these chess pieces around the board nearly impossible. No worries, CBS Sports has you covered. Here are the five teams that benefitted the most during the transfer portal madness of the winter and spring windows.
1. Colorado Buffaloes
Notable additions: DB/WR Travis Hunter (Jackson State), QB Shedeur Sanders (Jackson State), LB Demouy Kennedy (Alabama), RB Alton McCaskill (Houston), Jimmy Horn Jr. (South Florida), EDGE Derrick McLendon II (Florida State), S Brendan Gant (Florida State)
Notable additions, of course, could take up several lines at Colorado given the way coach Deion Sanders has utilized the transfer portal; instead, we’ll focus on headliners from the most substantial roster overhaul (incoming and outgoing) in modern college football.
Hunter pulled a stunner as the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2022 by choosing Jackson State over Florida State. He went on to nab two interceptions (including a pick six) during his freshman campaign. Additionally, he had 190 yards receiving and four touchdowns as an offensive weapon. He should do some serious damage in the Pac-12.
Shedeur Sanders is already entrenched as the starting quarterback after following his father from Jackson to Boulder. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound dual-threat stud has the tools and production (accounting for 70 passing touchdowns in two seasons at JSU) to contend for the top tier of the Pac-12’s loaded quarterback room.
Will the new-look Colorado roster help the Buffs contend for the conference title this season? That’s a tall order for a program coming off a 1-11 season, but Sanders made it clear from the moment he stepped onto campus that what was in place wasn’t going to remain. That “process” has come to fruition, and it was significant regardless of what happens this fall.
Notable additions: QB Payton Thorne (Michigan State), RB Brian Battie (South Florida), OL Avery Jones (East Carolina), OL Dillon Wade (Tulsa), DL Justin Rogers (Kentucky), WR Caleb Burton (Ohio State)
First-year coach Hugh Freeze’s portal plan was clear right away: “Go get ’em.” Freeze went hard after offensive and defensive linemen to build SEC-caliber units. It’s nearly impossible to find 6-foot 5, 320-pound offensive tackles with feet like ballerinas in the transfer portal, so stocking up on some developmental projects is a healthy approach.
“We had to try to get depth in the offensive line and defensive line first for this league,” Freeze told CBS Sports in February. “The only way that I knew how to do that was the portal. We are excited about numbers that we signed and the guys we signed out of the portal who have experience to try to lay us a foundation of how we are going to keep.”
Freeze also needed another option at quarterback alongside incumbent starter Robby Ashford, and he gets a multi-year starter with New Year’s Six bowl experience in Thorne from Michigan State. Freeze made sure to provide help at wide receiver, too, and he added a former 1,000-yard rusher in Battie, who is also a factor special teams.
3. Florida State Seminoles
Notable additions: WR Keon Coleman (Michigan State), Fentrell Cypress II (Virginia), TE Jaheim Bell (South Carolina), DL Braden Fiske (Western Michigan), EDGE Gilber Edmond (South Carolina)
The Seminoles are trendy College Football Playoff picks, and coach Mike Norvell used the portal to add even more to his championship-caliber roster. Coleman, a 6-foot-4, 216-pounder, is a breakout candidate in a receiving corps that includes 6-foot-7 star Johnny Wilson and 6-foot-4 junior Deuce Spann. That’s a lot of length for star quarterback and preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Travis to use.
Star defensive lineman Jared Verse passed on the NFL and has plenty of help for what should be one of the best units in the country. Fiske was ranked 18th nationally among players in the transfer portal and No. 2 overall along the defensive line. Edmond was the top-ranked EDGE and ninth overall in the 247Sports transfer portal rankings. Norvell clearly wanted to create more depth and versatility up front, which is exactly what championship-caliber programs need.
Florida State isn’t like Auburn and Colorado, two programs that clearly went for quantity to beef up their rosters. Norvell was more targeted in his approach, indicating he could be more comfortable with his roster.
Notable additions: CB Denver Harris (Texas A&M), CB Duce Chestnut (Syracuse) CB Zy Alexander (Southeastern Louisiana), RB Logan Diggs (Notre Dame)
Coach Brian Kelly did a great job in the portal, specifically in the secondary. Harris and Chestnut have high-profile Power Five experience, and Alexander moves up to FBS with plenty of hype. LSU likes to tout itself as “DBU,” and Kelly wants to make sure that moniker sticks through a massive haul through the portal.
“You know we have a little bit of experience when you take a look at Alexander, Harris and Chestnut who played a lot at Syracuse,” Kelly said in April. “I don’t feel like we have put ourselves in a position where we are throwing freshmen out there.”
Star quarterback Jayden Daniels could use some help, too, and Kelly targeted several weapons, including the recently committed Diggs — Notre Dame’s second-leading rusher last season. The rushing attack at LSU is loaded with experience, but the statuses of several of those incumbents are up-in-the-air based on multiple factors, including injuries to three potential contributors and the absence of veteran John Emery Jr. due to academic issues.
Notable additions: DL Bear Alexander (Georgia), DL Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M), DB Christian Roland-Wallace (Arizona), RB MarShawn Lloyd (South Carolina), WR Dorian Singer (Arizona)
The Trojans defense was brutal last season, so coach Lincoln Riley loaded up on defenders in the portal — especially up front. Alexander, a 6-foot-3, 325-pound monster, was a four-star prospect and the No. 111 overall player in the Class of 2022. He was ranked 12th among players in the transfer portal and was the top-ranked defensive lineman. He will likely be the centerpiece of the Trojans’ defensive line.
If they are going to make a run to the CFP, it’s imperative that Riley makes his defense at least ‘average’ considering how dynamic the offense should be. Lloyd was a star with the Gamecocks and Singer was a 1,100-yard performer for the Wildcats. Star quarterback Caleb Williams won the Heisman Trophy last year after an unbelievable season, and 2023 looks even scarier thanks to what Riley did to supplement his offensive depth chart.