National signing day: Is the NCAA transfer portal sustainable for Miami?

Why the Miami Hurricanes are the offseason’s most interesting college football team.
Published Feb. 1, 2019

Miami’s season was tumultuous, with a fall from the top 10 to mediocrity.

Its December was disastrous, with an abrupt coaching change and a subpar recruiting class.

Its January was remarkable, with an infusion of talent through the NCAA’s transfer portal.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Larry Blustein, a voice on UM’s pregame shows and the dean of south Florida recruiting.

And as February begins, that whirlwind has made the Hurricanes the most interesting program of the offseason.

Miami is fascinating because of the way it has handled two of the sport’s biggest changes. The first one was a failure, because the ’Canes flopped during the December signing period.

UM’s recruiting class began crumbling during the season, when the momentum from the 2017 Orange Bowl crashed with a 7-6 disappointment. Then highly touted defensive coordinator Manny Diaz bolted to become the head coach at Temple in mid-December.

“When he decided to leave, it started to fall apart,” said Mike Farrell, Rivals’ national recruiting director.

RELATED: Manny Diaz’s first game as Miami coach? Against former boss Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators

In the immediate aftermath of Diaz’s departure, Miami lost three recruits, including four-star linebacker Anthony Solomon. Add in previous and subsequent defections, and the ’Canes lost 17 commits — the most Farrell remembers ever seeing in one class.

Because of that turnover, Miami landed only 13 recruits during the December signing period. Only six Power Five programs signed fewer prospects, putting the ’Canes more in line with Kansas (10 signees) and Illinois (11) than Clemson (27) or North Carolina State (19).

“We didn’t have the best December at Miami,” Diaz said recently on The Audible podcast. “I kind of contributed to that, with, you know, leaving when I did.”

When Diaz returned quickly to replace Mark Richt as Miami’s new head coach, he began trying to make up for that poor December by taking advantage of the sport’s other groundbreaking change: the transfer portal.

“I think they had to,” Farrell said.

They had to because they needed depth and experience.

The traditional talent pool was small because only 40 of the nation’s top 300 prospects didn’t sign in the early period. Even if it was larger, that wouldn’t help fix a young roster with only nine seniors who have seen significant playing time (including the punter).

Miami addressed both concerns through the portal, landing four of 247Sports’ top 17 available transfers: safety Bubba Bolden (from USC), quarterback Tate Martell (Ohio State), receiver K.J. Osborn (Buffalo) and running back Asa Martin (Auburn). Two others, offensive lineman Tommy Kennedy (Butler) and defensive lineman Chigozie Nnoruka (UCLA), could contribute immediately.

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Miami also got back leading receiver Jeff Thomas, a pseudo-transfer who had planned to play at Illinois, and the ’Canes are among the favorites to land the No. 1 overall recruit in 2017, UCLA’s Jaelan Phillips.

RELATED: Quarterback transfers have hit almost half the Power Five programs

“They’re the kings of the portal,” Blustein said.

But ruling the portal probably won’t be enough to allow Miami to start ruling the sport again — at least not directly. Even though NCAA rule changes have eased restrictions, building a program through transfers doesn’t seem like a sustainable model.

“There’s a reason these kids transferred,” Farrell said. “They’re not transferring because they’re superstars.”

Instead of a new blueprint for roster management, Farrell and Blustein view transfers as a Band-Aid to address immediate problems. The way to solve problems long-term is through winning enough on the field to attract top talent.

“That’s something they really haven’t done,” Blustein said. “Maybe the only way to do it is to get those older guys, to get kids who have been through the wars a little bit.”

So even if Miami doesn’t claim many recruiting victories this signing day, the ’Canes could be setting themselves up to win more next season. And that, they hope, will be enough to help them win the recruiting wars in December.