In just a few short years, personnel management in college football has morphed into something closer to NFL free agency. Relaxing the transfer rules means key players can leave a program on a whim. Meanwhile, stakeholders can coordinate to offer unprecedented financial inducements for transfer candidates to switch teams thanks to changes to regulations on name, image and likeness rights.
So, between graduation, early entry into the NFL draft pool and transfers, what are some of the more pressing issues facing the Oklahoma Sooners from a personnel standpoint? Here’s a rundown of what has changed so far – and what hasn’t – since the end of the regular season. (Hat tip to SoonerScoop.com for diligently monitoring the comings and goings ($) around Norman.) Also, we’ve included some observations on the implications for coach Brent Venables’ management of the squad’s roster.
Biggest impact: Offensive line, linebacker, defensive line, secondary, running back, tight end
Once it became apparent around the middle of the season that junior offensive tackle Anton Harrison would be declaring early for the NFL draft, we had a solid idea of what OU’s losses from this group would look like. Players such as running back Eric Gray and tight end Brayden Willis would bounce for the pros, while others like defensive back Justin Broiles would exhaust their eligibility. Not many surprises.
For the most part, it looks as though OU’s coaches prefer their internal candidates over transfers to fill those openings. Look at the situation on the OL, for example. The coaching staff’s enthusiasm for Tyler Guyton’s potential seems to say a lot about replacing Wanya Morris at one tackle position. Similarly, the Sooners are looking to fill openings from the departures of Harrison and offensive guard Chris Murray with some combination of Savion Byrd, Jake Taylor and Jacob Sexton. All three have shown promise, which means any transfer OLs will likely provide depth.
Three notable exceptions at positions of need: TE Austin Stogner (South Carolina), DL Jacob Lacey (Notre Dame) and LB Dasan McCullough (Indiana). They should compete for playing time immediately.
Biggest impact: Defensive line, secondary, quarterback
Earlier this month, Venables spoke bluntly about the players transferring out of the program. He pointed out that aside from wideout Theo Wease, who has announced he’s headed to Missouri, the departing players couldn’t find a way onto the field this season. That’s not shade so much as an honest assessment of their potential futures – or lack thereof – as part of the program. Because if you were a holdover and couldn’t contribute on the weakest team OU has had in 20 years...
Frankly, the list of departing players reads like an indictment of the development and evaluation abilities of former head coach Lincoln Riley and ex-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Fifteen players on scholarship in 2022 have declared their intention to transfer – 10 come from the defensive side of the ball. Venables recruited two of them as late additions to the ‘22 class, Alton Tarber and Kevonte Henry. The previous regime accounted for the rest, and you could make the case that just one of those eight, junior college transfer Josh Ellison, had any impact on the field.
The upshot is that 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes generated a significant amount of attrition on defense. The Sooners can replenish depth in the secondary with freshmen who mainly sat out this season and recruits joining the team in the 2023 class.
Looking at the entire picture of the DL, though, Venables and Co. probably need at least one more transfer there in addition to Lacey. Unfortunately, the same goes for 99% of the rest of the teams in college football.
TBD: WRs Marvin Mims, Drake Stoops
Mims’ status going forward remains the biggest unknown for OU. All indications are that the Sooners’ top receiver is exploring his NFL options. The fact that Mims hasn’t made an announcement on his future yet is raising hopes that he will don the crimson and cream again in 2023.
In Stoops’ case, the issue is whether or not he will use his COVID-19 year of eligibility. He’d clearly have a spot on the team waiting for him in 2023.
If either does decide to leave, it probably becomes extra important for OU to find at least one immediate contributor in the transfer market this year. The Sooners have reportedly given scholarship offers to about five WRs in the portal already.
Keep expectations low
Every fan base seems to believe the transfer portal contains the solutions to their teams’ personnel needs. In reality, programs that recruit in the upper echelon of college football shouldn’t find many transfers who are better than what they already have in their locker rooms. There won’t be many Caleb Williamses in the portal, either.
The previous coaching staff’s management of OU’s roster has understandably prompted Venables and his staff to scour the transfer market. Don’t count on the Sooners being so aggressive about recruiting transfers in the future, though. If they are, it probably won’t bode well for Venables’ job security.