How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the
Bomb Transfer Portal
I’ll admit it, I’m not a fan of the transfer portal. In my (not so very) humble opinion, it takes away a big part of what delineates college sports from professional sports. I also see it as a necessary evil at this point. Those feelings, however, will have to wait for another article, because the transfer portal is here, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
After much thought and consideration, I believe Kansas State is in the sweet spot of the transfer portal, and utilizing the portal isn’t so different from the Wildcats history of filling out their roster using junior college transfers. I view the transfer portal as an upgraded version of the JUCO system, in terms of filling immediate needs on a roster, and that’s a good thing for K-State.
Recruiting Magic Eraser
Teams that recruit on the level of Kansas State will have holes to fill every season. When you mainly recruit 3* talent, you’re making educated guesses you hope pan out in the long run. Historically, the Wildcats have been good at playing this recruiting game, and occasionally, win big when an undervalued player like Deuce Vaughn falls into their lap. For every Deuce, however, you’ve got 2 or 3 missed evaluations. Looking at 17 or 18 year old football player and discerning what that player may develop into as a 20-21 year is an art, not a science. It’s way more reading tea leaves and much less plugging a number into a formula.
One trend I’ve noticed in the transfer portal at Kansas State tier of college football is players transferring out of Kansas State (or Purdue, another school I cover) tend to transfer down a level of competition, not up. You’ll get an occasional Josh Youngblood, who transfers from one P5 school to another (Rutgers in this case), but you’re more likely to see John Holcombe transfer to Florida A&M or DeMarrquese Hayes transfer to Texas State than Deuce Vaughn transfer to Alabama.
What Kansas State is losing in terms of back end of the roster developmental players, they’re gaining in experienced G5 or FCS players moving up to test themselves at the P5 level. In addition to snagging players that want to move up, the Wildcats also provide a soft landing spot for P5 players that are looking for a new start (Julius Brents) or a change of scenery at the end of their career (Russ Yeast).
Beyond those two buckets of players, the Wildcats should also be a solid destination for players looking to “move down” from “blue blood” P5 schools. Those sort of transfers haven’t started flowing yet, but I expect to see more 4* guys buried on the bench at Oklahoma, Alabama or Clemson to jump in the portal once they start seeing similar transfers have success with their new teams. If you don’t have a clear path forward at Alabama, and every recruiting class brings in a fresh batch of guys that are gunning for your spot, why not move on to a team like Kansas State, where you have a clear path to the playing time you covet? Football is football, regardless if it’s played in Tuscaloosa or Manhattan, and if your goal is to make the NFL, it’s better to be on the field in Manhattan, than on the bench in Tuscaloosa.
Originally, I thought the transfer portal would facilitate the “rich getting richer” but the more I watch, the more I think it’s going to facilitate a broader distribution of 4* talent across college football. The “blue bloods” will still be stacked on the front end of their roster, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to carry the depth of talent they’ve become accustomed to over the last decade.
This brings me back to my original premise. For K-State, the transfer portal is a recruiting magic eraser. If you miss on a few high upside defensive backs in one class, it’s no longer a killer. Those “misses” are able to quickly find a better situation by moving down a level of competition, and teams like K-State will be able to fill those recruiting holes with guys looking to move up or talented players looking to move down for more playing time.
Essentially, the talent coming in is going to be better than the talent going out, and that makes for better football both at Kansas State and across the college football landscape.
Offensive Line is the Exception
One clear exception to this rule is offensive line talent. It’s one position that requires patience. You can swap skill position players all day, but offensive linemen aren’t ready until they’re ready (if that makes sense). Beyond needing longer to develop, cohesion is more important on the offensive line than any other position. The Wildcats can revamp their entire secondary, and come out with a better product on the field. They couldn’t do the same the same thing by bringing in 5 new offensive linemen.
Luckily for K-State, developing offensive line talent is their forte. If you can keep a high standard from year to year on the offensive line, the skill position players (where K-State often struggles in recruiting) are available in the portal. It’s easier to find quality wide receiver or running back in the portal than it is to find a quality left tackle, and when a left tackle does come available, there is a feeding frenzy of offers. Teams with the ability to develop offensive linemen while using the portal to find speed and athleticism will be that much further along in the game.
Chris Klieman is leaning into the transfer portal. He’s saving up to 10 scholarships a class to use in the portal, and it’s exactly what he should be doing. Bill Snyder built the program on developing players and filling holes through junior college transfers. Coach Klieman may be able to pull off the same trick using the transfer portal.
Things are trending up for Kansas State.