What the transfer portal means for Iowa football and how it stacks up against Big Ten opponents


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Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Charlie Jones (16) catches a pass during warm-ups ahead of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, December 12, 2020 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)

IOWA CITY – The story this offseason isn’t how many players have left Iowa, but how many returning players will take the field this fall.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz told Big Ten Media Days that one position he says may lack depth is defensive tackle. The Hawkeyes acquired transfer from northern Illinois graduate Jack Heflin last fall to add veteran experience following the departures of Cedric Lattimore, Brady Reiff and AJ Epenesa, but found themselves in a similar situation this year when Chauncey Golston, Daviyon Nixon and Heflin went to the NFL.

As of April of this year, the NCAA has allowed all varsity athletes, not just graduate students, to transfer once without having to be absent for a season. With a few shortcomings in question, Iowa is relying primarily on its development lineup to prepare existing players to play for the fall. But some of his other Big Ten schools are taking the opportunity.

Iowa added a graduate transfer this offseason – Xavior Williams of northern Iowa – but that was in anticipation of the potential departure of senior Matt Hankins. Hankins chose to stay for his sixth season.

Iowa also won’t have a tight side to support junior Sam LaPorta with field experience.

Shortly after the transfer law was passed, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said Iowa would remain a program that primarily focused on recruiting suitable players, but when several players moved in the NFL, he sees the portal as an opportunity to fill in the gaps.

“We take care of that a bit at the close end of the race,” said Brian Ferentz in April. “We tried to do it two years ago with a tight ending that we got pretty serious with and he ended up going to another school. This is the difficult part of the transfer portal: you are recruiting, it is not free agency. We try to use it to strengthen our list more than to build it. “

As of August 2021, Iowa had four transfers from four-year programs on its roster: Williams, senior defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg (Hillsdale), senior returns specialist Charlie Jones (Buffalo) and junior punter Nick Phelps ( State of North Dakota). Jones transferred from Buffalo after the 2018 season, missed his first year in Iowa in 2019, and played in 2020. Phelps signed up for Iowa in 2019, but was not on the team until. ‘he leaves in the spring of 2020.

The Hawkeyes are tied with Wisconsin for the fewest four-year transfers on current Big Ten rosters. There are seven teams in the Big Ten with double-digit transfers from four-year schedules on their current rosters: Illinois (26), Michigan State (24), Nebraska (19), Rutgers (19), Indiana (15) , Minnesota (11) and Purdue (10). Michigan State made 19 transfers from four-year programs through 2021, Mel Tucker’s first full offseason as a head coach; he also lost more than 20 players on the transfer portal.

The change to the head coach position can trigger a change in philosophy and staff, especially when it comes to the transfer portal or recruiting.

“What I love about recruiting kids on the transfer portal is that they already know the recruiting pitch and were impressed with a graph or the number of subscribers they get or how many times has someone looked at their Instagram and all that jazz, “New Illinois said. said head coach Bret Bielema. “Now they’re a little more surreal and more focused on what’s important in making decisions, which is being in an environment where you can be successful.”

Greg Schiano returned to Rutgers for a second stint as head coach the same year Tucker took over as MSU. Bielema is the Big Ten’s newest coach and has the most transfers on his roster.

But in schools like Indiana, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Purdue, the story is different. Of Indiana’s 15 transfers, Auburn junior Jaren Handy will be the first to potentially take advantage of the new no-seat rule. The defensive lineman joined in May.

“We’ve used it more this year than ever before, and the constant theme was finding guys that fit,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen told Big Ten Media Days. “It also allows us to fill a need for a certain position where we can give certain young people a chance to develop a little longer.”

Rutgers’ Aron Cruickshank was able to play immediately after his transfer from Wisconsin in 2020 due to a hardship waiver, bypassing the usual withdrawal rule for undergraduate transfers. But junior wide receiver and returns specialist Josh Youngblood (Kansas State) and offensive lineman David Nwaogwugwu (Temple) are two transfers that have the option to compete due to the new rule. At the time of their recruitment, the rule had not yet been changed. Both should have acquired a waiver.

Schiano said recruiting portal actors for immediate impact on the ground requires trust in their relationships. Schiano was a volunteer assistant coach at Tampa Berkeley Prep when Youngblood played there and Rutgers strength trainer Jay Butler also worked at the school. Nwaogwugwu knew defensive coordinator Fran Brown and defensive line coach Jim Panagos, who was a coach at Temple.

“I think the portal is really a good thing for people who are trying to rebuild their program and get started,” said Schiano. “I insisted on this with our staff – that we can only take guys from the portal that we have a relationship with.”

Northwestern is tied with Maryland for 10th place in the Big Ten with eight transfers from four-year programs on its roster in August 2021. Six of them signed up for the 2020-21 offseason. But Northwestern has acquired three-quarters of the portal in three years.

The Wildcats had a big void to fill when Clayton Thorson left for the NFL after the 2018 season. Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson missed this season due to the rule, but took over in 2019 before injury set in. end of its season. The Wildcats finished 2019 with a 3-9 overall record and just one Big Ten win.

While the transfer portal did not bode well for Northwestern the first time around, the Wildcats added a more experienced graduate transfer in 2020 to Peyton Ramsey of Indiana. He led the team to a 7-2 season and a Big Ten Championship game. Now the Wildcats are adding second student Ryan Hilinski of South Carolina, who will compete for the position with Johnson, junior backup Andrew Marty and a number of subclasses this fall.

“I think I was one of the last coaches in the country to take on a transfer quarterback,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I thought we did what we needed to do with Peyton last year was a byproduct of how we played 2019. You can’t say no to that type of player, but we’re going to have five quarterbacks. and, in an ideal world, you have five high school kids, but I don’t think that’s going to happen in college football today.

Ohio State is more picky about its transfers, but it works. The Buckeyes currently have five transfers from four-year programs on their roster, the third under in the conference.

While Ohio State didn’t add a transfer after the rule change in the offseason, its most notable recent transfer portal acquisition was quarterback Justin Fields. Fields arrived on campus after his first season in Georgia in 2018 and earned immediate eligibility through a waiver to play in 2019. He led the Buckeyes to back-to-back Big Ten championships and football playoff appearances. university.

The Buckeyes are reportedly seeking a waiver for the transfer of USC linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV to become eligible this fall.

“What this forces coaches to do is be really transparent in recruiting and communicate too much,” said Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. We took a few guys, but we haven’t had that many guys gone.

The high school recruiting season peaked this summer when the COVID-imposed deadlines were lifted. So far, Iowa’s verbal engagement class in 2022 is small, but Iowa has time to review not only high school graduates, but an expanded transfer portal with players who may have immediate impact.

“We’re not shopping, but that’s probably going to be factored in at some point,” said Kirk Ferentz. “Probably the biggest concern I personally have is that the player understands that the grass may not be greener on the other side.”

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