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Transfer Games: AAC Brethren Thriving on Imported Players…is This the New Way?

In a recent article SMU 2nd year coach Sonny Dykes was talking about his quarterback Shane Buechele, who saw action in 2017 at the University of Texas before transferring over to the Mustangs. Dykes paused and then shot straight: “The transfer thing, for us, is a gold mine,” Dykes said.

Buechele is just one of a crowd of P5 transfers into SMU.

Buechele is one of a slew of talented transfers sliding into the SMU program and seemingly into the line up for the Mustangs who are making fast work of becoming more competitive in the AAC West and are looking to build on the gold rush.

In fact, SMU has 18 transfers (excluding JUCOs) on the roster with players ranging from a pair of linebackers from Texas A&M and Auburn, a tight end from Alabama, another gifted looking tight end from Rice, players from Notre Dame, Illinois, West Virginia, UCLA, Boston College, Arkansas and Nebraska, among others.

WR Audie Omotosho is just one of the three transfers to ECU.

Currently, the Pirates enjoy the talents of three (3) similar-type transfers. Two specialists in Punter Jonn Young (WVU) and Deep Snapper Keaton Forbes (App St.) along with late-signee WR Audie Omotosho (UCLA).

Former Coach Ruffin McNeill used to say that he didn’t want to microwave it at ECU, referring to fast-fixes with transfers who usually carry a lot of baggage. And that may be the best way to go.

But with the advent of grad transfers who can play right away – and many of those starting to be guys graduating in three years (sometimes with two years of eligibility) are the Pirates missing the boat? Is there somewhere between slow-cooking and the microwave?

If you take a look around the AAC East, you see a similar trend, particularly atop the league where Cincinnati boasts a roster with 17 transfers (from schools like Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Boston College) and UCF carries 7 including players from Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. South Florida rosters 12 such transfers hailing from places like Alabama, Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, Arizona State, UNC-CH, and Oklahoma. And, Temple, is employing 7 key transfers as well including players from Penn State, Baylor, Pitt, and LSU.

Joke of the post: I didn’t bother researching UConn…it would have been a waste of time.

Heupel strategic transfer plan
Heupel’s strategy for transfers makes a ton of sense.

Prior to preseason camp, UCF Coach Josh Heupel zeroed in right away on the value quality transfers bring to a team (a championship team in his case): “We have a couple transfers, a grad transfer and junior college transfer who has been here since the middle of May. I think they’re going to add great competition immediately.”

The Knights seem to be very strategic in the positions they court from big schools and the transfer portal: LINEMEN. And that strategy makes huge sense. Consider that for most college programs, the cost of a scholarship for an offensive or defensive lineman is well worth the money spent if you get two seasons with the guy on the depth chart…three seasons and you have struck big-time gold. So logic, IMO, would follow that if you are going to bring in transfers (meaning older veteran guys) go with the guys who are just coming into their “money” seasons, where they have been in an S&C program preparing to play for the last 2-3 seasons. At UCF of their 7 key transfers, there are 3 OLs, 2 TEs, and 2 DLs…guys who will be blocking and guys who will be battling guys who block.

USF Coach Charlie STrong on transfers
Strong considers the NCAA Transfer Portal a big player mall.

Pivot over to Charlie Strong at USF and its pretty much virtual shopping for the Bulls and the coach wasn’t bashful about his intentions when he signed his prep class as to how he intended to improve his team.

“There’s 1,400 names right now in the portal,” Strong said back around signing day, “so you’re gonna be able to go in and get the guys that you need, which will be a great asset to us in our program.”

He delivered on that promise and his roster carries 12 such transfers and get this, it is likely that almost 20% of his two-deep heading into this season will be transfers of this type.

Food for thought as the Pirates try to ascend the AAC East standings. I share Heupel’s strategy to farm the portal for linemen, offensive and defensive. Maybe also if there are some absolute gems in other positions, but resist where you can grow talent and positions where younger guys traditionally can step in (skill positions).

IMO, over utilizing transfers decays the relationship between the fan base and the program as players are not here long enough to develop a rapport with the fans. A “Guns for hire” team also runs the risk of leaving fans less satisfied even in victory. I loved Dominique Davis and Philip Nelson, but Shane Carden and Jeff Blake are baked into the fabric of ECU lore. Aundrae Allison…awesome…Lance Lewis also awesome, but will never be to ECU what Justin Hardy, Hunter Gallimore, Luke Fisher, Dwayne Harris, and Zay Jones, et al, are. But sometimes, you get that two or three big time guys and they can keep a rolling program rolling. So maybe, our time for really dipping into the transfer portal is a few years down the road when the program is moving along with a rich talent pipeline and in need really only for a guy or two to make a difference here and there or for added depth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the transfer portal era that has dawned in college football and what you think ECU’s position/strategy should be when it comes to roster building.

Go Pirates! Beat State!


4 comments on “Transfer Games: AAC Brethren Thriving on Imported Players…is This the New Way?

  1. Ron: Great work as always. In the end talent wins football games and championship teams are built from the lines out. Skip left the blueprint for this where our D line could could compete with the best in the land. In addition we could also run the ball including the red zone. With Lincoln here we could score with anyone yet watching our Dline get driven off the ball 5 to 8 yards before a hand was laid on anyone was never fun. It was also next to impossible to run the ball in short yardage situations. I got to spend some time with Mo on several occasions. He was a great guy but what a disaster.

    Overall I think you need to focus on how the recruiting world has changed. I have been shouting for years that we need to recruit the DMV. If you are to look at the top High School programs 4 of the top 11 schools in the nation are located here. 3 of these teams are from the same conference with a 4th just outside the top 25 nationally. If I have 4 of the top teams from the same league less than 270 miles from my front door I’m setting up a field office here. These kids now play a national schedule against the best the land has to offer. They get to play and practice against the best on a daily basis. They are prepared to play on the biggest stage and can carry the load in the classroom. I’m not suggesting we will ever land 5 star kids but the 3 star kids are legit 3 stars. Recruiting big fish in small ponds with the hopes of them developing is a long shot at best that they all work out. Like we see with the BS P5 the pool of High School talent is also becoming more concentrated.

    Professional sports teams show that to build a winner for the long haul you do it through scouting and the draft. I would love to enhance our team with transfers especially big bodies on the lines but many of these guys have not panned out. In a perfect world you recruit quality and red shirt them all. You get them to learn the system and bring them up as a group where they learn the system inside out. The issue you have though is time. Fans want a winner and if you win the coach is looking for a payday so can you get the coach to hang around if you have success.


    • Always…always love hearing your thoughts DC. As you know, I too have always thought we should mine that area for recruiting. Happy to see a small trickle starting from Pennsylvania as well. Hoping maybe my kid finds his way to ECU in four years!!

      Your point on the concentration of HS talent is a good one and I think it is related to the emergence of the transfer portal and coaches who are smart will understand that if 5 4-5 star RBs sign with say Alabama, then logic would tell you that at least 1-2 will be hitting that transfer portal because they all want to play. When they are 18, they all think they will be No. 1 guy so they ALL sign with a top team, get there and see other No. 1s waiting in line. So, I think you start to see healthier, more talented kids hitting the transfer portal as we go forward. it is an avenue I don’t want our staff to ignore. BUT, if Coach Houston can find the secret sauce to get those uber talented kids to bypass the logjam at a P5 Elite program and just come straight here, then our future will brighten exponentially.

      Holtz really did understand that the game is won in the trenches and you have to focus hard on getting those guys in and working them up. It drives everything behind them on both sides of the ball.

      Let’s keep up the dialogue through the season DC…I think this program is due to turn forward.

      Cheers my friend!

  2. Recruiting has changed so much that it is unreal. The transfer route is becoming much like free agency in the pros. In many ways the gradual transition from college football going to a year-round activity is coming back to bite the schools in the butt. When kids started going to school year-round it became relatively easy for any serious college student to graduate in three years, and then transfer away to play their 4th year of eligibility. And the NCAA is making it much easier for transfers to avoid sitting out a year. As an example, the quarterback transferring from Georgia to Ohio St. was granted immediate eligibility. And even worse (to me anyway) is a growing trend of players transferring from G5 schools to major P5 schools. Its like the P5 schools are recruiting players that have been successful away from the schools that developed them and helped them become stars.

    I don’t deny your premise that this is becoming a major route of gathering talent, but to me it is making college (amateur sports?) more and more like professional sports.

    • Hey TTH…always love to hear your thoughts.

      The NCAA has long since left behind any notion that they stand for fairness or what’s best for the game. It is about money and keeping the powerful happy IMO.

      Tough one this weekend…a win against Navy would be a big one at this time in our program history.

      Best to you.

      Go Pirates!

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