The most compelling transfer portal storylines in the SEC
The transfer portal continued to spin last offseason with no sign of slowing down. With the first college football games of 2022 kicking off this weekend, we take a look at the most compelling transfer-related storylines in each Power Five conference. Up next: The SEC.
THIS SERIES: Biggest transfer portal storylines in Big Ten
1. Can Max Johnson win the Texas A&M starting job and elevate the Aggie offense?
Texas A&M fans have been waiting for a breakout season since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach in 2018. Yes, the Aggies went 9-1 and finished ranked in the top five in 2020, but given the amount of money Fisher is making and the amount of talent he has brought to campus in the past year, the expectation is that the team starts competing in SEC championship and College Football Playoff games.
Whether or not the Aggies can get there this season will depend largely on quarterback play. Texas A&M could never find an answer behind center last season after Haynes King went down with an injury in the second game, and that contributed to the team’s 9-4 campaign. As a result, Fisher added Max Johnson, who started all 12 games at LSU last season, to the roster.
It’s far from a sure thing Johnson starts when Texas A&M opens its season against Sam Houston State on Sept. 3. He’s still competing with King and freshman Connor Weigman during preseason camp, and there have been some murmurs from College Station that King currently looks like the player to beat.
But if Johnson does find himself leading the Aggie offense at any point this season (fans don’t have to be reminded of the value of depth after last season), his performance will be perhaps the biggest factor that determines whether Texas A&M can finally break into the CFP or has to endure another four-loss season.
2. Which other new signal-callers will win starting jobs?
Johnson is far from the only quarterback in the league who changed teams via the portal this offseason. Of those signal-callers, Spencer Rattler is the only one who has been named his team's starting quarterback, as South Carolina has hitched its offense to the Oklahoma transfer. Auburn’s Zach Calzada and Robby Ashford, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Ole Miss’ Jaxson Dart are still embroiled in quarterback competitions at their new homes.
Calzada filled in for the injured King at Texas A&M last season. He completed 57.1 percent of his passes while throwing 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions before leaving for Auburn. He’s competing with Ashford, who transferred in from Oregon after never seeing the field for the Ducks, as well as TJ Finley, himself a former transfer.
Dart’s commitment to Ole Miss brought a lot of hype after the former high-profile recruit appeared in six games as a true freshman for USC last season, but he hasn’t been named the starter over Luke Altmyer. Whether those quarterbacks are able to win their respective quarterback competitions and how they perform will not only loom large for the fate of each team this season, but could set the stage for more quarterback movement in the portal prior to next season.
3. Can transfers help the first-year coaches speed up their rebuilds?
Two coaches took over for fired predecessors in the SEC this offseason in LSU’s Brian Kelly and Florida’s Billy Napier. Both hit the transfer portal pretty hard in an effort to re-stock their rosters and speed up the rebuilds for their teams.
LSU’s case is even more interesting. Kelly brought in a host of potential starters in addition to Daniels.
Plus, while neither coach is anywhere near the hot seat prior to coaching a game at his new school, the LSU job always comes with significant pressure to avoid down years, as evidenced by Ed Orgeron’s firing less than two years after winning the national title.
4. Ricks headlines list of high-profile players facing off against former teams.
Gone are the days when coaches could block players from transferring to specific programs, which has resulted in an increase of players transferring within the same league. In the SEC, there will be several matchups that pit players who played significant roles at their prior school against their former teams.
New Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks might be the headliner. Ricks looked at one point like he would be the next in a long line of first-round draft picks from the LSU secondary but transferred to the Crimson Tide in December. Alabama and LSU will play their annual meeting on Nov. 5.
If Calzada and Johnson win their quarterback competitions, they’ll face their former teams. The Arkansas-LSU matchup brings the most familiarity, as two former Razorback starters (Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr.) left for Baton Rouge during the offseason, while Arkansas added a pair of former LSU defenders in Dwight McGlothern and Landon Jackson.
5. Will Georgia's no-transfer strategy pan out?
The defending national champions didn’t add a single transfer player to the roster this offseason. How rare is that in the current college football climate? Georgia was the only FBS program not to grab a player out of the portal.
It’s certainly worth pointing out that the Bulldogs should be better positioned to pull that strategy off than most. Georgia’s signing classes have ranked among the top five in the Rivals team rankings every year since 2018, with three No. 1 finishes during that span, so there should be plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
However, Kirby Smart’s team lost a ton of experience from its national championship squad, especially on defense. The Bulldogs had a whopping 15 players picked in last spring’s NFL Draft, including five first-rounders, all of whom played on the defensive side of the ball.
There’s risk in relying on the transfer portal, of course, but part of the reason it has become such a popular tool for building rosters is that coaches can see what players have done in college games rather than hoping talent translates from the high school ranks or practices. Will the talent on Georgia’s roster equate to production on game days without too many growing pains? The answer will go a long way toward determining whether the Bulldogs have a shot to defend their crown.