Can We Learn Anything From The First Week Of The 2022 Transfer Portal?
Mountain West football has seen another huge exodus in the early days of the transfer portal season, but what meaning does it all have?
Are these the correct takeaways?
While many college football fans surely noticed the trickle of players announcing their intention to enter the transfer portal throughout the season, the floodgates opened once again on December 5 and, once again, the Mountain West has seen a good deal of activity on that front. What remains to be seen is what meaning should be attached to the moves, individually and collectively, but after a week of action we make our best guesses.
1. Hard jobs might be getting harder.
The first big thing that stands out is that at least two jobs that are considered some of the toughest in the conference, New Mexico and Wyoming, have bled a significant amount of talent at the positions where they could least afford to lose it. In the Lobos’ case, the exits of both Ronald Wilson and A.J. Haulcy, taken in tandem with Jerrick Reed II’s jump to the NFL Draft, mean that Rocky Long’s defense will have to start over at safety.
Add to that Jake Saltonstall, arguably the team’s most effective defensive lineman; Geordan Porter, nominally the team’s top wide receiver last year; and depth pieces like Antonio Hunt, Jaden Hullaby, and Jaden Phillips, and you start to get a picture of a struggling program stuck in a cycle of continually playing catch up. New Mexico isn’t unique in this regard, of course, as there has been an obvious trend of standouts on lackluster teams in search of bigger stages on which to perform, but the calculus of “recruit and develop” may have to change if Danny Gonzales wants his team to take the next step forward.
Wyoming’s concern, by contrast, is that of a program in danger of running in place. Most of the big names who left the program last year — Xazavian Valladay, Solomon Byrd, and Sean Chambers, to name a few — enjoyed a measure of success at their new destination while the program’s imports were… okay? Andrew Peasley didn’t play like an upgrade over any of his predecessors at quarterback while Jakorey Hawkins played his way into a more prominent role at cornerback, but that’s all the Cowboys really managed.
They’re going into the Arizona Bowl without four starters, as well, so while Craig Bohl’s track record would suggest that they will manage just fine, “fine” may no longer sit well with a frustrated fanbase that increasingly perceives the team to be stuck in a rut.
2. Is San Jose State on to something?
This could be an old take exposed in the next few weeks, but it is noteworthy that Brent Brennan’s Spartans haven’t seen any noteworthy defections to the portal so far. It may be in part because San Jose State was a veteran-heavy team in many respects — by my count, five starters and a handful more rotation players are listed as graduate students on the official roster — but the surprising early stability would seem to augur good things ahead for a football program that has made substantial off-field bets on sticking around.
3. Championship-caliber teams still aren’t immune to the portal.
This isn’t exactly a new development since Utah State lost the likes of Peasley, Elelyon Noa, and Cam Lampkin to the portal last year, but it was still a mild surprise to see Fresno State defensive backs Emari Pait and Cale Sanders Jr. announce their departures shortly after the team won the Mountain West title. Pait played a critical role down the stretch in 2021 while Sanders Jr. came on strong as a freshman and became one of four Bulldogs cornerbacks to play over 400 snaps in 2022, but the college football landscape is rife with opportunities that appeal to everyone everywhere, even if you have a ring coming your way at some point.
4. Barry Odom will have some work to do.
There’s no doubt that the former Missouri head coach and Arkansas defensive coordinator will start from a much better position than Marcus Arroyo did three years ago at UNLV, but the transfer portal has inevitably made hitting the ground running that much more difficult.
Top cornerback Nohl Williams has already landed at Cal while former Mountain West freshman of the year Kyle Williams, among others, hasn’t changed his mind about leaving despite the best efforts of one Doug Brumfield. Replacing Aidan Robbins at running back and Leif Fautanu at center may not be easy, either, but the silver (and scarlet) lining is that the Rebels used the portal themselves to great effect a year ago: Robbins, Preston Nichols, Ricky White, and Marshall Nichols were all quality additions.
5. Ladies and gentlemen, your Nevada… Ducks?
Another trend that has carried over from 2021 is that Wolf Pack head coach Ken Wilson hasn’t been shy about raiding his old program to reinforce Nevada’s foundation for 2023. After bringing in Cross Patton, Spencer Curtis, and others from Oregon during the last portal cycle, two more former Oregon players, linebacker Jackson LaDuke and running back Sean Dollars, have already signed on to play in Reno next fall. If nothing else, it’s a unique gambit in the Mountain that’s worth keeping an eye on programs increasingly raid one another.