The NCAA’s shift allowing immediate eligibility instead of forcing undergraduates to sit out a season has transformed the transfer portal population from a small village to a major metropolitan area. As a result, several star players and former prized recruits have the ability to search for greener pastures — and several have landed in the best football conference in the country.
SEC teams have lured starting quarterbacks, superstar skill players and elite defenders to their rosters, many of whom will be an integral part of their team’s success or failure in 2022.
Who will have the biggest impact? Here’s a breakdown of the top transfer players in the SEC.
The Crimson Tide have essentially turned the rest of college football into their own farm system, and coach Nick Saban called up Georgia Tech’s leading rusher to fill the void left by the departure of Brian Robinson Jr. Gibbs rushed for 746 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Yellow Jackets, averaging 5.22 yards per carry. He popped off a 75-yard touchdown run in Alabama’s spring game despite running behind an offensive line that struggled for the majority of the scrimmage.
Gibbs is a true multi-purpose back who can pound it between the tackles, but he also provides enough versatility to be a difference-maker as a receiver out of the backfield. Wide receiver is a bit of a concern in Tuscaloosa, so Gibbs should be the centerpiece of the new-look Crimson Tide offense.
After losing stars Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry from last year’s squad, the Razorbacks were looking for a complementary piece alongside veteran linebacker Bumper Pool. Coach Sam Pittman found one in former Alabama linebacker and one-time five-star prospect Drew Sanders. He had 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack last year serving primarily as a backup, but he did get significant snaps at times after the lineup had to be shuffled due to injuries.
Reports out of Fayetteville this spring say that Sanders has become the perfect complement to Pool and, most importantly in this day and age, is capable of covering running backs and tight ends in pass coverage. That’s huge in the SEC West, which is littered with offensive coordinators who get athletes involved in every conceivable way. The strength of the Hogs’ defense was the linebacker corps last year. Thanks to Sanders, that won’t change in 2022.
Daniels was a three-year starter at Arizona State before heading to the bayou, and he provides much-needed experience for first-year coach Brian Kelly. Daniels threw for 6,025 yards and 32 touchdowns in 29 games for the Sun Devils, adding 1,288 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. That last part is important because quarterbacks have run for at least 200 yards every season since 2014 under Kelly at Notre Dame.
He’ll have to beat out Myles Brennan and Garrett Nussmeier for the starting job, but if Daniels can live up to the hype that followed him to Tempe as a true freshman in 2019, Kelly’s first year in Baton Rouge could be a huge success.
Coach Lane Kiffin had to find a difference-maker to replace Matt Corral, and he found one in ex-USC signal-caller Jaxson Dart. The former four-star prospect took over for Kedon Slovis last season and threw for 1,353 yards and nine touchdowns in six games, showing the ability to stretch the field deep after blooming late during his high school career.
The Rebels should have a more run-heavy offense than last season with transfers Zach Evans (TCU) and Ulysses Bentley IV (SMU) in the house, and fellow USC transfer Michael Trigg is the kind of hybrid tight end that Kiffin can use to create mismatches all over the field. All of that suggests that Dart can not only fill in nicely for Corral, but become enough of a difference-maker to keep the Rebels in the thick of the SEC West race.
Rattler’s reputation took way too much of a hit after he was beaten out by Caleb Williams for the top spot on the depth chart at Oklahoma. The dude threw for 4,594 yards, 40 touchdowns and only 12 picks in 23 career games in Norman, and he is still a big-time weapon that coach Shane Beamer can use to keep momentum going in Columbia.
The Gamecocks are relatively inexperienced at wide receiver, but Rattler’s strong arm, downfield accuracy and experience in Lincoln Riley’s offense will accelerate the development of those receivers, taking some much-needed pressure off of the Gamecocks running game. Will Rattler win the Heisman Trophy — as was expected this time last year when he was the Vegas favorite? Probably not, but he will keep South Carolina competitive in every game.
Top transfers for remaining SEC teams
- Auburn — QB Zach Calzada: The former Texas A&M quarterback started 10 games in 2021 and led the Aggies to a shocking victory over No. 1 Alabama. Now, he is the frontrunner to win the Tigers starting quarterback job in August.
- Florida — OL O’Cyrus Torrence: The senior earned All-Sun Belt honors twice and played on a pair of Joe Moore Award semifinalist offensive line units under Billy Napier at Louisiana. Now, Torrence provides an anchor on the Gators’ rebuilt offensive line in Napier’s first season.
- Georgia — n/a: The Bulldogs didn’t receive any transfers this offseason.
- Kentucky — WR Tayvion Robinson: The former Virginia Tech pass-catcher posted more than 1,500 yards receiving in three seasons. Now, Robinson hopes to emerge as the top replacement for Wan’Dale Robinson next to projected first-round quarterback Will Levis.
- Mississippi State — DB Jackie Matthews: The West Virginia transfer was a standout at cornerback with 42 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2021. He could play either cornerback or safety while filling a key role in Zach Arnett’s aggressive defense. Regardless, Matthews will start for the Bulldogs.
- Missouri — RB Nathaniel Peat: The ex-Stanford standout was a rotational player for the Cardinal during his first two seasons in Palo Alto before emerging as the offense’s leading rusher in 2021. He will be in the running for snaps now that Tyler Badie is on to the NFL.
- Tennessee — WR Bru McCoy: As a former five-star prospect, McCoy carried a ton of hype dating back to his recruiting days. However, multiple transfers between USC and Texas, coupled with his 2021 suspension stemming from a domestic violence arrest, have hurt his career. Could he finally live up to the hype after leaving USC?
- Texas A&M — QB Max Johnson: The former LSU starter could take the same role in College Station. He still has to compete with Haynes King, but Johnson does have a leg up with a bit more starting experience.
- Vanderbilt — DB Jeremy Lucien: The Commodores still have a lot of building to do under coach Clark Lea, but Lucien brings a ton of experience as an instant-impact player. He has nearly 30 starts in his career with UConn and provides some immediate help on one of the SEC’s worst pass defenses.