The five biggest Pac-12 transfer portal winners
The transfer portal has continued to become a bigger and bigger part of how college football coaches build their rosters. Here are the five Pac-12 programs that bolstered their 2022 teams the most via the transfer portal this offseason and some of their key acquisitions.
5. Washington State
The success of new Cougars head coach Jake Dickert at restocking his roster via the transfer portal will ultimately hinge on how well new quarterback Cameron Ward makes the jump from the FCS level. Ward comes to Washington State from Incarnate Word, where he was a second-team All-American last season. Ward completed 65.1 percent of his passes and averaged 357.5 yards per game through the air. He tossed 47 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. Those numbers are sterling. However, any time a player makes the leap from FCS ball to a Power Five conference, there is going to be a learning curve. Add in the fact that Washington’s State’s entire offense will likely be revamped by Dickert and his staff and there’s potential for some growing pains.
The Cougars not only added Ward from Incarnate Word, but his top target, wide receiver Robert Ferrell. Ferrell, who began his college career as a walk-on at Nevada, caught 74 passes for 815 yards and nine touchdowns last fall. Washington State also appears to have added a likely starter on the offensive line in Northern Colorado transfer Grant Stephens as well as a couple all-Mountain West defenders from Nevada who should play regular roles in linebacker Daiyan Henley and defensive back Jordan Lee.
Much like Washington State, Oregon will feature a new coach and (most likely) a new starting quarterback from the portal this season. Whether Bo Nix can add some consistency to his game and elevate the Oregon offense will go a long way toward determining how the Ducks’ transfer portal haul is ultimately viewed and what kind of season the team has in Dan Lanning’s head coaching debut.
Nix is far from the only noteworthy addition Lanning made from the portal, however. Oregon filled several positions of need with players who have starting experience. Christian Gonzalez looks like a sure-fire starter at cornerback after he started each of the past two seasons at the position for Colorado. Defensive tackle Sam Taimani started 10 games for Washington last season and will be in the regular rotation, at a minimum. The duo of Jordon Riley and Casey Rogers, both of whom followed new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti to Oregon from Nebraska, should add depth to the defensive front, as well. Mar’Keise Irving (Minnesota) and Noah Whittington (Western Kentucky) both performed well as freshmen last season and will help ease the loss of Travis Dye and CJ Verdell from the Duck backfield.
3. Arizona State
Arizona State lost a lot to the transfer portal, but the Sun Devils signed a huge haul of transfers, as well. Head coach Herm Edwards, whose seat is already warm thanks to some NCAA infractions issues, better hope the group looks as good on the field as it does on paper, because he has essentially replaced high school recruiting with the additions from the transfer portal and junior college ranks. Arizona State only signed six high school prospects in the 2022 class, one of which was a kicker.
The headliner of the Sun Devils’ transfer class is former Florida quarterback Emory Jones. Jones, a former four-star recruit, started 12 games for the Gators last season and put up decent numbers, but he struggled with turnovers, throwing 13 interceptions, and his stats were padded by huge days against Samford and Vanderbilt. Jones looks like he’ll start behind center for Arizona State, but it remains to be seen whether he’s an upgrade from Jayden Daniels, who is now at LSU.
The list of other positions that Edwards and his staff revamped through the portal is long. Wyoming transfer Xazavian Valladay appears likely to lead the way at running back now that Rachaad White is off to the NFL. Valladay rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Des Holmes (Penn State), Chris Martinez (San Diego State), Joey Ramos (Iowa State) and Emmit Bohle (Div. II Northern State) will all have a chance to compete for starting jobs along an offensive line that lost three starters from a season ago. Cam Johnson brings three seasons of starting experience at wide receiver with him from Vanderbilt.
On the defensive side of the ball, Nesta Jade Silvera should immediately make an impact on the defensive line. The Miami transfer started 18 games across the past two seasons and earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition in 2020. Khoury Bethley of Hawaii and Chris Edmonds of Samford both earned all-conference honors last season, as well, and have a chance to represent the Sun Devils’ new starting safety duo if they can successfully navigate the leap to the Pac-12.
The only team on this list who didn’t bring in a new quarterback from the portal, Chip Kelly and the Bruins added players at seemingly every other position. The UCLA defense, in particular, added a plethora of playmakers.
Linebacker Darius Muasau is the headliner. Muasau has racked up more than 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons and earned first-team All-Mountain West honors both years. He should immediately start in the center of the Bruin defense at middle linebacker. The defensive line duo Gabriel and Grayson Murphy bring versatility and production from North Texas. The twins combined to record 26.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks last season. Laiatu Latu (Washington), Gary Smith (Duke) and Jacob Sykes (Harvard) will add depth to the defensive front, as well. And Azizi Hearn, the one-time Arizona walk-on who transferred to Wyoming and then to UCLA, looks like a starter at cornerback.
On offense, the Bruins filled a couple holes left by NFL-bound players with the additions of Raiqwon O’Neal and Jake Bobo. Bobo led Duke in receiving yards each of the past two seasons and was picked to the All-Pac 12 preseason second team. O’Neal, who started 17 games at Rutgers across the past two seasons, could wind up being the most important player added to the UCLA roster this year if he can start and perform well at left tackle. The Bruins lost both starting tackles from a season ago and had only one player on the roster who had started a game at tackle prior to the addition of O’Neal in redshirt freshman Garrett DiGiorgio, who had started exactly once.
Since taking over at USC, Lincoln Riley has signed not only the best transfer class in the Pac-12 but the country. The addition who has drawn the most press, of course, is former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams. The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2021 comes to Los Angeles after throwing 21 touchdowns and four interceptions as a true freshman.
Riley added a smorgasbord of playmakers to join Williams on the Trojan offense, as well. Jordan Addison won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver while at Pitt last season. Addison’s 17 receiving touchdowns led the country and his 1,593 yards ranked fourth. He will be able to line up opposite Mario Williams, a five-star recruit in the 2021 class who caught 35 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns last season. And Williams will be able to hand the ball off to Travis Dye, who rushed for 1,261 yards and 16 touchdowns at Oregon a year ago, as well as Austin Jones, who totaled 645 yards from scrimmage for Stanford.
The Trojan defense still has some question marks entering Riley’s first season, but USC added quite a few solid pieces to that side of the ball, as well. The secondary, in particular, should be improved. USC added former Colorado cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, who earned All-Pac 12 honorable mention recognition last year, as well as Bryson Shaw, who started all 12 games for Ohio State in 2021 and finished third on the Buckeye team with 59 tackles. Arizona State transfer Eric Gentry could find immediate playing time at linebacker after earning freshman All-America honors last season, when he made 45 tackles. Solomon Byrd (Wyoming) and Romello Height (Auburn) should add depth on the defensive line.
Riley hasn’t shied away from putting pressure on his team during his first season, saying at Pac-12 Media Days that “we came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time.” If he’s able to live up to that hype, this transfer portal class will be a major reason why.