What’s the NCAA transfer portal window like? ‘Insanity’

We asked a couple coaches about this wild, pivotal stretch of roster management.
Antonio Grier announced he is transferring from USF to UCF.
Antonio Grier announced he is transferring from USF to UCF. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 13, 2022

TAMPA — When USF fired coach Jeff Scott, athletic director Michael Kelly set Dec. 5 as the day his Bulls needed a successor in place because that’s when the NCAA transfer portal window began.

When Alex Golesh started his first full day on Portal Monday, he joked that his first priority was to finish his media obligations as soon as possible “because the portal is open.”

Related: Is new USF football coach Alex Golesh the next Jim Leavitt? Or another Jeff Scott?

A week later, we’re seeing what, exactly, that means: 780 additions on the first day alone, according to SportSource Analytics.

“Like drinking through a firehose,” Mississippi State interim coach Zach Arnett said.

Though the portal is not new, the calendar is. Instead of players entering the portal and committing whenever they want, the activity is largely relegated to the 45-day window that began Dec. 5 and another 15-day stretch after spring practice.

That timeline has created a dizzying amount of movement.

In a period of slightly more than 24 hours ending Monday afternoon — deep breath — Maryland tight end Wes Wolff committed to USF, Florida long snapper Marco Ortiz picked Nebraska, Louisville defensive lineman Caleb Banks chose the Gators, USF linebacker Antonio Grier selected UCF, Zephyrhills High alumnus Ja’Quan Sheppard announced he was going from Cincinnati to Maryland, Florida State landed South Carolina tight end Jaheim Bell and Daquan Evans withdrew from the portal to stay at USF after all.

“Insanity,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said recently at a promotional event for the Jan. 2 ReliaQuest Bowl against No. 24 Mississippi State.

The insanity, however, was expected. The Illini hired two extra personnel staffers last year to prepare for these flurries.

“When the portal gets active,” Bielema said, “it’s a lot of times about who comes first, right?”

And that creates a timing challenge for coaches who must balance monitoring the portal with bowl preparation, recruiting high school players and trying to keep their own players from transferring elsewhere. New coaches like Golesh have to do all that while also hiring staffers.

Related: Salary, contract details for new USF football coach Alex Golesh

Bielema said the three years (2018-20) he spent on NFL staffs helped him adjust his approach to roster management. He wants the Illini to build through college football’s version of the draft (high school recruiting) while adding spot players through the portal (free agency) to fill specific needs. It’s similar at Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs want to focus on nearby high school players while adding transfers that make sense.

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“It’s kind of a new era of college football, but obviously it’s a good time to be a college football player,” Arnett said. “There’s a lot of opportunities available to them. We’re all dealing with the same thing. We’re all navigating the best we can.”

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