Expectations can transfer quickly
By Bill Contz
For the Mirror
Portal has become very busy place
Next month’s battle for the coveted Land Grant trophy has Penn State traveling to East Lansing to face a Michigan State squad off to a fast 7-0 start, one that has quickly served to put their pandemic-interrupted 2-5 finish in 2020 under first-year head coach Mel Tucker in the rearview mirror.
The Spartans’ surprising start can be partly attributed to a staggering 20 new signees courtesy of the transfer portal.
For those of you keeping score at home, that equates to a hefty 24% roster overhaul (assuming an 85 scholarship limit).
Evidently players relegated to back up roles at other lesser D-1 schools concluded that it is indeed high time to party with Sparty.
Kentucky is another school posting impressive results this year. Mark Stoops’ Wildcats enter today’s contest with Georgia ranked 11th nationally, reversing course from their own pedestrian 2020 campaign thanks in part to the presence of former Nittany Lion Will Levis.
Spot any trends here?
Michigan State and Kentucky are examples of schools aggressively leveraging the transfer portal and helping crystallize it for what it really is — a free-agent system enabling players to move around with minimal consequence to fill immediate voids at major programs decimated by graduation and piloted by athletic directors under the gun to deliver results.
The portal is fast becoming a shortcut to success for programs desperate to appease their boosters’ insatiable demand for a consistent winner.
Stoops and Tucker are just two coaches trying to survive the shark-infested, “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” waters that define the cutthroat culture that college football coaching is these days, and I expect other coaches on their own hot seats to adopt or revert back to this strategy.
Consider Ed Orgeron.
Twenty months removed from guiding LSU to a perfect 15-0 record and the 2019 national title — vanquishing no less than seven Top 10 opponents in the process — while riding the right arm of (surprise!) transferee Joe Burrow, Orgeron has produced disturbingly mediocre 9-8 results and now finds himself out of a job.
Tiger faithful have no tolerance for rival SEC fans referring to their program as the one from “Lose-ee-anna.”
I find no fault with players who find themselves stuck in situations that provide limited opportunity to showcase their skills.
The aforementioned Burrow transferred to LSU after playing second fiddle to the likes of J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State.
Justin Fields, himself slotted behind Jake Fromm at Georgia, promptly set sail for Columbus. (He was once a Penn State commit).
Both later went on to become high first-round NFL picks.
Levis simply saw the writing on the wall watching Sean Clifford take the majority of snaps and decided to take his talents to Lexington before exhausting his college eligibility.
The perennial contenders for college football playoff slots will continue to have their pick of the litter when it comes to elite signal-calling talent.
It’s the equivalent of the well-to-do high handicap golfer stopping in the pro shop to buy more sleeves of golf balls after spending their front nine depositing their existing supply into the nearby woods or water hazards.
The message is clear: If you’re a new coach that’s under pressure to turn around a program that’s headed in the wrong direction, then aggressive use of the transfer portal may just be the quickest way to do it.
Contz was a starting offensive tackle on Penn State’s first national championship team in 1982 and played six NFL seasons. He published a book in 2017, “When the Lions Roared: Joe Paterno and One of College Football’s Greatest Teams.” He resides in Pittsburgh.