College football roster management has always been a rather fraught affair. Between stars weighing whether to go pro, underplayed underclassmen thinking about transferring, the forever-stressful experience of both winning key recruiting battles and keeping said battles won, everyone needing to keep their grades up and so on, projecting what a roster will look like six months or a year into the future always has come with a pretty large margin for error.
That has gotten even trickier, of course, with the advent of the transfer portal and the NCAA's long-awaited decision to no longer require first-time transfers to sit for a year. This was a welcomed and downright necessary development in terms of improving and expanding the rights of athletes, but the resulting (and dramatic) increase in transfers has made life trickier for both coaches and those of us in the expectation-setting business.
The 2022 season will feature more transfers than we've ever seen. First-year coaches like USC's Lincoln Riley (20 known transfers), LSU's Brian Kelly (16), SMU's Rhett Lashlee (16), Oklahoma's Brent Venables (14), TCU's Sonny Dykes (14) and Texas Tech's Joey McGuire (14) have used the transfer portal to attempt massive and immediate roster overhauls.
Coaches who are deeper into their tenures but in need of a quick jolt -- such as Buffalo's Maurice Linguist (21), Georgia Tech's Geoff Collins (17), Nebraska's Scott Frost (16), USF's Jeff Scott (15), Arizona State's Herm Edwards (14) and Indiana's Tom Allen (13) -- have taken the plunge as well. And a couple of the sport's more unique thinkers, Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin (17) and UCLA's Chip Kelly (13), have come to see the portal as a door to scoutable and potentially high-level talent.
While 2022 has seen more transfers than ever before, there were a lot in 2021, too. What lessons can we learn from last year's batch that might inform and help set expectations for this year's?
To answer this question, I used stats to compare what players produced at their previous schools in 2020 (or, where applicable, earlier seasons) to what they produced at their 2021 destinations.
Because the requirements of different positions are so varied, and because the statistics for measuring performance at given positions are too, I decided to keep things simple. I created a quick scoring system based primarily on two things: How much did a transfer play, and how well did he play?
Loosely speaking, the scoring scale was set up like this:
1. Almost never played
2. Played a little
3. Played quite a bit and performed at an average or worse level
4. Played quite a bit and did well
5. Absolute star, one of the best in college football at their position
I gave players a score for their old school and their new school, then looked at the resulting changes and averages. Here are my takeaways.