Hitting the Portal: First-year coaches relying on key transfers

NCAA Football

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The transfer portal is an integral part of roster building in college football and its importance is magnified for new head coaches. Take a look at some impact transfers for coaches who will be at new schools this fall.

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Alabama – Kalen DeBoer

Taking over for Nick Saban won’t be easy for Kalen DeBoer but he has one of the most talented rosters in the nation and a few key transfers should help him in the early going. Getting Kadyn Proctor back after a few months at Iowa is a major win for the Crimson Tide and they were able to fill the hole left by Caleb Downs when they added Keon Sabb from Michigan.

Desmond Ricks decided to leave Tuscaloosa but picking up Domani Jackson from USC should help. With Dallas Turner off to the NFL, a key spot was open for a big-time pass rusher, and LT Overton should be able to fill.

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Arizona – Brent Brennan

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Arizona lost a lot when Jedd Fisch left for Washington but the Wildcats also kept most of their core players so new head coach Brent Brennan didn’t have too many gaping holes to fill on the roster. His focus when recruiting the transfer portal was on the defensive side of the ball.

Arizona brought in San Jose State defensive line transfer Tre Smith, Tennessee linebacker transfer Jack Luttrell, UC-Davis defensive line transfer Chubba Maae and Stanford linebacker transfer Lance Keneley in hopes they’d solidify their defense this season.

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Boston College – Bill O’Brien

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Bill O’Brien is back in college football as head coach of Boston College, filling the vacancy left by Jeff Hafley‘s departure. Much of the portal cycle had already been completed by the time O’Brien had his feet under him in Chestnut Hill but he was still able to add a few important pieces.

On the defensive side of the ball, former Ohio State defensive backs Ryan Turner and Cameron Martinez transferred to Boston College. Tight end Kamari Morales left North Carolina and could end up being an impact player in O’Brien‘s offense, which has been good to tight ends in the past.

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Duke – Manny Diaz

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Manny Diaz came to Duke from Penn State after leading one of the best defensive units in the nation and got another shot at being a head coach in the ACC. The Blue Devils added a number of transfers this cycle, but none are as important or will have as big an impact on Duke’s upcoming season as Maalik Murphy.

One of the most physically talented quarterbacks in the last few years, Murphy has incredible upside and was able to show off that potential in limited action while at Texas. Duke is certainly a different animal than Texas but Murphy has the tools to make a major impact in Durham.

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Houston – Willie Fritz

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Willie Fritz arrives at Houston as the Cougars are still trying to get their feet under themselves in the Big 12. There is a solid foundation of talent for Fritz to work with but adding transfers was a necessity.

Maliq Carr, a tight end who transferred out of Michigan State, is the best of the transfer additions. Defensive lineman Everitt Rogers followed Fritz from Tulane to Houston and hopes to continue to play a key role on the defensive line.

Linebacker Kendre’ Gant left Louisiana-Lafayette for Houston and is in line for a big season this year.

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Indiana – Curt Cignetti

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Former James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti now leads the Indiana program and a number of his former players followed him from Harrisonburg. Linebacker Aiden Fisher, receiver Elijah Sarratt, tight end Zach Horton, defensive lineman Mikail Kamara and linebacker Jailin Walker are just some of Cignetti’s former players at James Madison who decided to transfer to Indiana.

Keep an eye on Michigan State defensive line transfer Andrew Depaepe and Old Dominion safety transfer Shawn Asbury as well.

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Michigan – Sherrone Moore

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Sherrone Moore was on the Michigan staff last year and was the interim head coach for part of last season so he isn’t taking over a new team like the other coaches on this list but he still qualifies for this list as Michigan’s new head coach.

His program has brought in key transfers on both sides of the ball but most are on defense. Linebacker Jaishawn Barham, a former freshman All-American at Maryland, leads the way followed by defensive back Jaden Mangham, who transferred from Michigan State. Defensive backs Ricky Johnson (UNLV transfer) and Wesley Walker (Tennessee transfer) are also expected to be key contributors this season.

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Michigan State – Jonathan Smith

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Jonathan Smith put Oregon State in a great position last season but now he’s at Michigan State hoping to rebuild that program and the transfer portal is playing a major role in that process.

Quarterback Aidan Chiles was a star in the making under Smith at Oregon State and he’s hoping to continue on that track at Michigan State. Tight end Jack Velling was one of the better tight ends in the nation last year at Oregon State and that should continue this year as a Spartan.

Offensive lineman Andrew Dennis signed with Illinois as a member of the 2024 recruiting class but he quickly decided to transfer to Michigan State.

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Mississippi State – Jeff Lebby

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Mississippi State hasn’t been the same since the passing of Mike Leach but Jeff Lebby is hoping to turn things around in a hurry. There’s a chance Memphis offensive line transfer Makylan Pounders and Illinois defensive line transfer Anthony Johnson play major roles in the trenches while former top-50 prospect and Louisville receiver transfer Kevin Coleman is hoping to bring more explosiveness to the passing game.

Linebacker Stone Blanton (South Carolina transfer) and quarterback Blake Shapen (Baylor transfer) could be important pieces for Mississippi State as well.

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Oregon State – Trent Bray

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Trent Bray and Oregon State have a tough road ahead but they’ve worked hard to reload after losing a lot this offseason. Former Liberty defensive back Kobe Singleton expects to play a major role in the secondary for Oregon State this coming season. Quarterback Gabarri Johnson transferred from Missouri and hopes to land the starting job. Van Wells transferred out of Colorado and the expectation is that he will be a major piece of Oregon State’s offensive line this fall.

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Syracuse – Fran Brown

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Fran Brown was named the new head coach at Syracuse in late November and hit the ground running. The list of impact transfers Syracuse is bringing in is long but Kyle McCord tops the list. The former Ohio State quarterback arrives in Upstate New York with a lot to prove after last season but he certainly isn’t the only one.

McCord will be throwing to former Georgia receiver Zeed Haynes and former Colorado State receiver Justus Ross-Simmons. The Syracuse defense will look a lot different thanks to former Texas A&M defensive lineman Fadil Diggs, former West Virginia linebacker James Heard Jr., former Louisville defensive back Marcus Washington Jr., former Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Hastings and many others.

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Texas A&M – Mike Elko

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Texas A&M had tons of talent on its roster but it lost a lot during the transition from Jimbo Fisher to Mike Elko. Once Elko was in place, the Aggies went to work adding important pieces to their roster.

Elite pass rusher Nic Scourton left Purdue for Texas A&M. Talented defensive back Desmond Ricks ended up at Texas A&M after he left Alabama. Linebacker Scooby Williams chose to transfer out of Florida and the Aggies added him to their roster.

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UCLA – DeShaun Foster

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UCLA named DeShaun Foster as its head coach in mid-February after most of the top transfer prospects had chosen their destinations but the Bruins did add a few key playmakers to their roster.

Rico Flores had plenty of bright spots while he was at Notre Dame and he’s hoping to continue to play at a high level at UCLA. Two transfers on the defensive side of the ball should pay immediate dividends. Former Yale linebacker Joseph Vaughn was an in-demand transfer target who chose UCLA over a number of suitors. Talented defensive lineman Collins Acheampong decided to leave Miami for UCLA as well.

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Washington – Jedd Fisch

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Jedd Fisch turned around Arizona’s program in just a few short years and now he takes over a Washington team that was just in the national championship but had a depleted roster when he showed up.

Fisch and his staff did a pretty good job addressing some of the holes for Washington, including bringing in quarterback Demond Williams, who just signed with Arizona out of high school. Mississippi State transfer quarterback Will Rogers decided to stick with Washington after transferring there while the previous staff was still in charge.

Like Williams, running back Jonah Coleman and defensive back Ephesians Prysock followed Fisch from Arizona to Washington. Cal receiver transfer Jeremiah Hunter and Miami defensive end transfer Jayden Wayne could also end up impact players for Washington.

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