One year ago, Michigan State coach Mel Tucker responded to a 2-5 campaign by betting big on the transfer portal. Suddenly, the Spartans were 11-2, Peach Bowl champions and a model for every program hoping for an instant turnover.
After a tumultuous offseason, 36 FBS programs added 10 or more transfers to rebuild their rosters. Five of the top eight such classes involved new coaches trying to put their own spin on a program. However, the sheer number of quality FBS contributors meant programs could transform by the fall.
Here are five college football programs poised to rise thanks to the transfer portal in 2022, ranging from national contenders to coaching staff who just need a few breaks.
1. USC Trojans
Notable additions: QB Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), WR Jordan Addison (Pitt), RB Travis Dye (Oregon), LB Eric Gentry (Arizona State), CB Mekhi Blackmon (Colorado)
If there was any doubt, USC has no interest in waiting to compete for the College Football Playoff after stealing Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. The Trojans reeled in 19 transfers – four more than any other program – including two of the top four players in the class.
Quarterback Caleb Williams is the story after following Riley from Oklahoma, but Biletnikoff-winning receiver Jordan Addison made headlines after joining the Trojans last week. The combination immediately rivals C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba among the best QB-WR combos in college football. Additionally, don't think Riley skimped on defense. Eleven defenders are coming to Los Angeles via the transfer portal.
USC's roster was already underappreciated after collapsing following Clay Helton's firing. With the influx of talent heading to Heritage Hall, the Trojans will quickly hold expectations to challenge for the Pac-12.
2. Ole Miss Rebels
Notable additions: QB Jaxson Dart (Ole Miss), RB Zach Evans (TCU), EDGE Jared Ivey (Georgia Tech), TE Michael Trigg (USC)
The Rebels ranked No. 2 in the 247Sports transfer rankings after reeling in nine prospects rated four-star transfer recruits or higher, trailing only Alabama and Texas in average recruit rating. Dart is the headliner of the group as the No. 3 overall recruit and a worthy successor to NFL Draft pick Matt Corral.
Additionally, the Rebels went heavy on skill talent to give Dart weapons. Running backs Ulysses Bentley IV and Evans played on both sides of the Battle for the Iron Skillet. Receivers Malik Heath, Jaylon Robinson and Jordan Watkins are proven commodities.
Ole Miss won 10 regular season games for the first time in program history in 2021. The Rebels have a year of transition with so many new faces, but Lane Kiffin has Ole Miss ready to compete.
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Notable additions: QB Casey Thompson (Texas), QB Chubba Purdy (Florida State), DL Stephon Wynn (Alabama), DE Ochaun Mathis (TCU)
The Cornhuskers went quantity through the portal, adding 14 transfers with more potentially on the horizon. Nine of the transfers were from Power Five institutions, including a pair of defenders from Alabama in the past few days.
Nebraska went heavy on the offensive end after an inconsistent unit cost them numerous one-score games during a shocking 2021 campaign. Thompson should settle the job under center, but FSU transfer Chubba Purdy gives Nebraska a long-term option. Receivers Trey Palmer and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda team up with Omar Manning to give the outside a new look.
The Cornhuskers have consistently struggled to generate the speed and separation necessary to play Scott Frost's spread system. Between the transfers and new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, Nebraska is better prepared to enter competitive games.
4. Texas Longhorns
Notable additions: QB Quinn Ewers (Ohio State), WR Agiye Hall (Alabama), WR Isaiah Neyor (Wyoming), CB Ryan Watts (Ohio State), TE Jahleel Billingsley (Alabama)
The Longhorns added only five transfers, but few teams will rely on their new additions quite like Texas. Ewers was the first perfect 1.0000 quarterback recruit since Vince Young and immediately changed the vibes around a program that went 5-7 in 2021.
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian beefed up his skill groups after fielding 1,000-yard rusher Bijan Robinson and near-1,000-yard receiver Xavier Worthy in 2021. Neyor posted 878 yards and 12 touchdowns at Wyoming, while Hall and Billingsley both expected to be major contributors for Alabama in 2022.
If Texas can make strides on defense and on the offensive line – both of which are not guarantees – the Longhorns can emerge as the Big 12 favorite. However, every transfer needs to hit.
5. South Carolina Gamecocks
Notable additions: QB Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), S Devonni Reed (Central Michigan), WR Antwane Wells (James Madison), TE Austin Stogner (Oklahoma)
The Gamecocks surprised even themselves at times in 2021 by turning a depleted roster and quarterback carousel into a promising 7-6 campaign. Catching tanking Florida and Auburn times at the right time played a critical role, but South Carolina coach Shane Beamer has leveraged the shocking success into real roster success.
Rattler was the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft heading into last season before a tumultuous Oklahoma season tanked his value. Rattler still boasts perhaps the best overall arm talent in college football, and should provide an unbelievable upgrade. Beamer did well to surround him with targets, adding 1,200-yard receiver Wells from James Madison and 800-yard receiver Corey Rucker from Arkansas State.
The SEC East will take another step forward with Tennessee and Kentucky poised for special seasons, but South Carolina could take a step towards the top of the league if Beamer's growth continues. Calling the Gamecocks' offensive talent transformed is an understatement.