The State of College Football: Taming the Wild West
An in depth look at recruiting, the transfer portal and how to manage the million dollar budgets of college football blue bloods.
The college football offseason has historically been an underwhelming time period. Rarely would we see top players transfer, coaches stayed put and recruits found their way to the same programs year after year. But those times are over and the college football offseason is wild with excitement. So wild that many have been referring to college football as a new wild west. There are so few rules regarding transfers and NIL deals that one minute you think you have the best coach and a young Heisman trophy candidate and then they’re gone in a month's time. Sorry OU. (no I’m not)
So, let’s start with the transfer portal. “Back in my day” players didn’t transfer and if you did it was because you were bad - not because you were good and had better opportunities elsewhere. But those days are long gone and top tier talent is testing the waters of the transfer portal as soon as the season ends. This offseason we’ve already seen two five-stars (Caleb Williams and Quinn Ewers) and one four-star (Jaxson Dart) freshman enter the transfer portal and we’re not even to spring when guys start transferring because they aren’t named the starter or they’re pissed because of their rank on the depth chart.
Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas (from Ohio State)
Ewers has been a hot topic since before he stepped onto a high school football field but made name even hotter when he skipped his senior year of high school football and joined the Ohio State Buckeyes a year early - a move that many before him had made. But no one had ever done it and made it openly about money. Ewers was offered millions of dollars but couldn’t cash in due to Texas laws. After one season at Ohio State and CJ Stroud having a Heisman type season, Ewers is going back to Texas, where he was once the prized prospect of the Longhorns. The Longhorns return Hudson Card after losing Casey Thompson to the transfer portal but all signs point to Ewers being the uncontested starter in Austin - where he is also going to make a good chunk of change from NIL deals.
Caleb Williams, QB, USC (from Oklahoma)
The biggest name in the transfer portal and maybe the least surprising commit was Caleb Williams. Williams lit it up under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma and many speculated that Williams would follow Riley to USC when the coach departed. Well, they were right. Even though it took more time than most thought, Williams did in fact follow Riley to USC and the duo will be looking to build what they had in Oklahoma again, but this time in Los Angeles. USC is loaded with talent and Riley has even more on the way by means of the transfer portal and already has the top ranked PAC 12 class for 2023. With two more years (I can’t imagine he stays for 3) of Caleb Williams and his ability to recruit, Riley could have USC turned around very quickly.
Jaxson Dart, QB, Ole Miss (from USC)
Dart is the third biggest name in the transfer portal but could be the talk of college football under Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin. Dart played very well in his one year at USC, so well that I thought Lincoln Riley would keep Dart and not go after Caleb Williams. Even though that wasn’t true, Dart still looks like a legit NFL quarterback with three years of eligibility (most likely plays 2) left at Ole Miss. Dart has a live arm and good athletic ability. Even though Ole Miss is losing Matt Corral they may have upgraded at QB this offseason.
Other names to watch in new places:
Kedon Slovis, QB, Pitt (from USC)
Max Johnson, QB, Texas A&M (from LSU)
Spencer Rattler, QB South Carolina (from OU)
Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oklahoma (from UCF)
Casey Thomspson, QB, Nebraska (from Texas)
Grant Wells, QB, Virginia Tech (from Marshall)
Jarret Doege, QB, Western Kentucky (from West Virginia)
The Three-Headed Monster of Recruiting
—High School Recruiting
60 year old men sucking up to 18 year olds and telling them how great they are isn’t going anywhere. Nick Saban is still sitting in living rooms selling education and the hopes of making it to the NFL. Programs will still be built through high school recruiting and the core of your roster is going to come from National Signing Day. But it’s no secret, players want money through NIL deals and they’re getting them straight out of high school. While this money can’t come directly through the school, and can indirectly. Programs are going to “booster” and setting up deals for top recruits and even whole position groups. Before long, National Signing Day is going to look a lot like the NFL free agent signing period. And schools like Texas A&M should be boasting about how much they can pay players.
The second phase of recruiting is re-recruiting. If your favorite team has a standout player they’re going to have to do a damn good job to keep him on the roster. Just look above at the list of quarterbacks leaving good programs. The top teams in the Nation already do a fantastic job at this. Not many players are leaving Alabama and if they are it’s usually a depth chart issue. Watching Nick Saban convince a running back to comeback to Alabama even though he has been or will be a backup has been amazing to watch. This will be the most important part of recruiting for small programs. If you have a good player you better hold onto them the best you can.
—Transfer Portal Recruiting
The newest phase of recruiting has been life or death within blue blood programs. Some programs are getting richer and others are struggling to keep up. But it isn’t going away. The transfer portal has changed college football forever and the smart coaches are taking advantage of it. If you lose a corner to the draft you can find an immediate replacement for him like Kirby Smart at Georgia did with Derion Kendrick from Clemson. Hell, the transfer portal is going to look damn near identical to NFL free agency. And it’s not just small school to big school players. This offseason alone Alabama has added players from LSU, Georgia and Georgia Tech that will be starters on next season's roster. Failure to recruit the transfer portal is going to be death for coaches that refuse to accept its importance.
Blue Bloods are Now Green Bloods
The term “blue bloods” refers to the traditionally great teams in college football and that used to mean something when it came to recruiting, coaching and bowl games. I don’t think that matters anymore though. Now players, coaches and bowls are directly following the money. Programs like Texas A&M can now sit in the living rooms of prospects and discuss the millions of dollars they have allotted to the recruiting class - both high schoolers and transfers. Texas can offer $50k to each player at a position group - and it’s not going to stop at the offensive line or with Texas. LSU, Alabama and Ohio State want the title of DBU? They can easily buy that title by offering a similar deal to what Texas is offering their offensive line, but to defensive backs. I’m not saying that the blood bloods won’t carry weight when it comes to recruiting, coaching hires or bowl selection, but there is a power shift coming in college football and the green bloods are leading the charge.
—Taming the Wild West
If you haven’t gathered by now - I love the transfer portal, I love NIL deals and I love college football. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. We still need to tame the wild west of college football and put some rules in place. Specifically regarding transfers and recruits.
Trying to parent, live life and work has been hell this offseason with trying to keep track of who is transferring where, who has declared for the draft and ALL the scandals. What I’m proposing is the NCAA *eye roll* puts a time frame or “window” on when a player can transfer. The NFL has been doing this with their free agent window and even though there is a gray area on when that window opens, it works. If the NCAA were to say the transfer window is from December 26th to February 2nd that would help alleviate some of the stress on coaches who are worried about trying to field a roster in the fall. The NCAA could even open a second window (May/June?) after spring practice for players to transfer that didn’t win the starting job or playing time they expected - The Joe Burrow Window
As far as teams go - They should start talking with boosters and getting them to commit to a recruiting budget so they can go to recruits and say “We have X dollars from our boosters for this position” or “We have X dollars from our boosters for this class” and they can figure out what reasonable offers the team can commit to. Players would also be able to work on their own, with agents, to get deals from sponsors. Again, much like the NFL model. Players can get a direct deal from boosters (not the school but if we’re being honest we know it’s from the school) and also work on getting NIL deals from Beat by Dre. Also, this is too much work for a coaching/recruiting staff to handle. The big time programs should start looking at NFL front offices and grabbing a “cap guy” to manage the millions of dollars their athletic programs are working with for NIL deals.
Patrick Mahomes - Gets paid by the Chiefs (Booster) and Adidas (NIL deal)
Caleb Williams - Gets paid by USC boosters (Team) and NIL deal (Beat by Dre)
Team Example (Hypothetical):
—Texas has $50k committed to every lineman on scholarship (not hypothetical)
—Texas has $1M committed to their starting quarterback
—Texas has $25M committed to a recruiting class
—Texas has $100M committed to its football team
Someone has to budget this money and it’s not going to be Steve Sarkisian - or any other college football coach or athletic director.