The five biggest Big Ten transfer portal winners
The transfer portal has continued to become a bigger and bigger part of how college football coaches construct their rosters. Here are the five Big Ten programs that bolstered their 2022 teams the most via the transfer portal this offseason.
The Badgers only signed six transfers, with one of them being a kicker. But each comes to Madison with a history of production.
The primary focus for Wisconsin was shoring up a secondary that lost starting cornerbacks Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams from last season. Jay Shaw played in every game for UCLA across the past two seasons with 12 starts and grabbed three interceptions in 2021. He looks like a probable starter. Kentucky transfer Cedrick Dort Jr. and fifth-year senior Justin Clark, who arrived from Toledo, will be in the mix for the other starting spot and both should have a chance to play regular snaps. The Badgers also added Kamo’i Latu at safety. Latu flashed quite a bit of promise as a redshirt freshman at Utah last season, when he played in all 14 games and made 19 tackles.
Wisconsin’s other transfer additions were Keontez Lewis, a former three-star prospect in the 2021 class who didn’t catch a pass during his lone season at UCLA, and former Arkansas kicker Vito Calvaruso.
The Hoosiers hit the portal harder than any program in the Big Ten not named Nebraska, and several of the newcomers will be expected to play major roles this fall. The most noteworthy is probably former Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak, who seems likely to replace Michael Penix as the team’s starter behind center — although he will have to beat out Jack Tuttle first. Bazelak played well for his first season and a half at Missouri but struggled down the stretch last season, throwing five touchdowns and six interceptions in his final five games. Which version of Bazelak the Hoosiers are getting will go a long way toward determining how good their offense will be this season.
Indiana added a few weapons for Bazelak via the portal, as well. Shaun Shivers comes to Bloomington after spending the past four seasons at Auburn, where he never led the backfield but always had a consistent role when healthy. Fellow running back Josh Henderson and wideout Emery Simmons both transferred to Indiana from North Carolina. Simmons showed some promise last season when he made eight starts and caught 11 passes for 243 yards.
On defense, the headliner is defensive end J.H. Tevis, who transferred in from California. Tevis earned All-Pac 12 honorable mention recognition last season when he made 37 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. Linebacker Bradley Jennings (Miami) has Power Five starting experience, as well.
After playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2014 last season, Rutgers turned to the portal to bolster its talent. The Scarlet Knights signed seven transfers with a focus on the offensive line.
Rutgers added four linemen with starting experience from the portal. Curtis Dunlap started all 13 games for Minnesota when the Golden Gophers went 9-4 in 2019, but after an injury caused him to miss the entire 2020 season, he never returned to a full-time starting role. Willie Taylor started nine games at left tackle for ULM last year. Mike Ciaffoni made five starts for Colorado State in his first season on the offensive line after making the switch from the defensive front. The most intriguing player of the bunch has to be JD DiRenzo, who will try to make the jump from Sacred Heart, where he started all four years and twice earned FCS All-America honors.
Other noteworthy additions include former Syracuse wide receiver Taj Harris. Harris was named to the All-ACC third team in 2020 when he caught 58 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns. He only played three games last year but led the Orange in receiving in two of them. Sean Ryan also bolsters the receiving corps after making 22 starts across the past three seasons at West Virginia. Ryan caught 25 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns last season. And New Jersey native Jahzion Harris brings talent to the Rutgers defensive line. Harris, a former four-star recruit, redshirted his lone season at Texas A&M.
2. Michigan State
Mel Tucker struck gold in the transfer portal a year ago, bringing in a massive haul of transfers headlined by star running back Kenneth Walker Jr. that helped the Spartans win 11 games in his second season. Could he possibly do it two years in a row?
Michigan State didn’t sign as many transfers this season, but several additions from the portal will likely be counted on to play significant roles. The most obvious candidate to do so is former Colorado running back Jarek Broussard, who (fairly or not) has been called the next Walker. Broussard was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, when he rushed for 895 yards and five touchdowns in six games. His production dipped a bit last year, when he had 661 yards and two scores on the ground. But Michigan State’s offense has proven that it can allow a running back to put up big numbers, and it looks like Broussard will be featured in the backfield.
Other transfers who have a chance to be instant-impact players for the Spartans include former Illinois tight end Daniel Barker, a fifth-year senior who caught 18 passes for 202 yards and four touchdowns last season. Brian Green, who started 10 games at center for Washington State last season, looks like a starter for a completely revamped offensive line. On defense, linebackers Jacoby Windmon and Aaron Brule both have solid credentials. Windmon earned All-Mountain West honors each of the past two seasons while playing for UNLV and racked up 118 tackles last season. Brule started eight games for Mississippi State last year.
With Scott Frost likely looking at a do-or-die campaign in 2022, he turned to the transfer portal to patch the holes in Nebraska's roster. The Huskers have added a league-high 15 transfers to their roster since the end of last season.
The headliner is former Texas quarterback Casey Thompson. Thompson, who hopped on the quarterback merry-go-round after Quinn Ewers transferred to Texas, is expected to replace Kansas State-bound transfer Adrian Martinez behind center. Thompson showed some impressive flashes last fall, like when he threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns against Oklahoma, but he struggled with consistency. Time will tell if he represents an upgrade over Martinez. If Thompson gets hurt or struggles, the Cornhuskers also added depth behind him in the form of Florida State transfer Chubba Purdy.
Other transfers who should help bolster the Nebraska offense include wide receiver Trey Palmer. Palmer caught 30 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns at LSU last season. Offensive linemen Hunter Anthony (Oklahoma State) and Kevin Williams (Northern Colorado) should have a chance to start, as well. Anthony appeared in every game for the Cowboys last season and has made five starts over the past couple years. Williams was a three-year starter but missed most of last season due to injury.
The biggest name added to the Nebraska defense is TCU transfer defensive end Ochaun Mathis. Mathis was named to the All-Big 12 second team last season after recording 45 tackles, including two sacks and four tackles for loss. Devin Drew, who started 11 games for Texas Tech and logged 34 tackles last season, and Stephon Wynn, a former four-star recruit who got buried on the depth chart at Alabama, will further bolster the defensive line. Like Wynn, safety Kaine Williams will look to live up to his four-star recruiting rating now that he’s no longer down the depth chart at Alabama. And cornerback Omar Brown will try to prove himself at the Power Five level after earning FCS All-America honors at Northern Iowa in 2019.
Lastly, Nebraska made a concerted effort to upgrade its special teams in the portal, which could be particularly important for a team that struggled in every special teams aspect at some point or another last year. Timmy Bleekrode should be the front-runner to take over placekicking duties after transferring in from Furman. He made 15 of 18 field goals last season. Brian Buschini will punt after arriving from Montana, where he was named the FCS punter of the year. And Palmer could help in the return game. He has returned both a punt and a kickoff to the house during his college career.