Around this time last offseason, I penned a story compiling some of the trends in Eli Drinkwitz’s usage of the transfer portal. With Mizzou’s work in the first portal window of this year mostly wrapped up in advance of spring ball, today we will revisit those conclusions and see how this year’s class of veteran newcomers fits in with Drink’s previous program building.
In last year’s piece, I identified two things: Missouri’s coaching staff had a clear preference for Power Five players, and especially targeted players with multiple years of eligibility. In previous portal shopping trips, the eligibility factor was critical. The staff was building the roster through the portal, not just patching it over; veteran players who transferred in could not leave again without either sitting a year or graduating. But that rule has been challenged in court, and is no longer a guarantee in the NCAA’s bylaws.
The trend of mostly power program transfers continues –- a third of this year’s class is from the Group of Five, mostly in line with nine of the previous 31 transfers from the lower levels of college football.
(Note: I am not counting specialists or preferred walk-ons in this accounting, even if those walk-ons do end up becoming All-SEC tailbacks.)
Missouri has had four portal offseasons. In three of them, they dropped down to the smaller schools mostly to plug roster holes with multiple players at the same position. See:
2021: Akayleb Evans and Allie Green, a ready-made cornerback tandem from Tulsa brought in to solidify a young secondary.
2023: Marcellus Johnson and Cam’Ron Johnson, offensive linemen from the Group of Five, to improve 2022’s beleaguered unit.
2024: Marcus Carroll and Nathaniel Noel, productive fifth-year Sun Belt running backs to restock a room rife with opportunity
Other than those restocks, there have been only a few players from outside of the power conferences brought in for depth: 2021’s LB Blaze Alldredge and OL Connor Wood, the Bence Polgar/Tyler Stephens duo from Buffalo in 2022, DE Nyles Gaddy in 2023, and STL native Sam Webb’s homecoming in 2024. While other SEC programs grab these scratcher tickets every offseason – thinking about South Carolina and Arkansas – Missouri has mostly preferred talents who have been scouted and played at the Power Five level.
But while Missouri’s pattern of where to get veterans from has remained the same, one thing is new for 2024: Missouri’s breakthrough 2023 season on the field has led to a sharp uptick in the evaluation pedigree of the transfers the team has signed.
In the three previous portal seasons, nine out of Missouri’s 31 incoming transfers had been ranked as a 4- or 5-star in On3’s evaluation service. Only one, Ty’Ron Hopper from Florida, also earned blue chip status as his transfer grade.
Enter the 2024 class: with nine total scholarship transfers in the mix from the early window, four were blue-chip prospects coming out of high school in On3, and four are considered blue-chip transfers. From one out of 31 of the most well-regarded players on the market, to four out of nine fitting that bill. Drinkwitz and his program have elevated their talent acquisition: Missouri has risen from 46th in 247’s overall team talent rating for the 2021 season to 25th for 2023, and the coming rating will likely be the highest ever for the program.
But where do these players come from? Has Mizzou’s talent risen enough to break through and stay with the sport’s elite? Another trend I wanted to unpack was based on a question posed by a member of the Rock M readership: did the Tigers poach more from the blue bloods this off-season than previously? The hypothesis is that Mizzou’s 11-win season elevated them in the eyes of transfers from blue blood programs and, thus, you would see the Tigers collect more talent in the portal from those schools.
I identified 12 programs that dominate college football’s elite talent acquisition, the schools with an average rank in the top 11 of 247’s team talent score over the past four seasons: Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson, LSU, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC, Notre Dame, and Florida.
In the previous three offseasons, eight out of Mizzou’s 31 transfers were from these 12 programs. In this offseason, four out of nine. An uptick in percentage for sure, but the sample size is small enough, and the sources of talent broad enough, that I would avoid drawing a sweeping conclusion.
Interestingly enough, Miami sits just outside the cutoff, averaging the 13.75th most talented rosters since 2020. The Tigers have taken one erstwhile Hurricane in each portal season – George, Clarke, Garcia, Flagg.
The conclusion I will draw, however, is that the portal and NIL era is not a death knell to non-blue-blood college football programs. The fear that the new structure would cause an upward flow of even more talent to the sport’s wealthiest institutions is unfounded; in fact, it might be the opposite. True money is made in the NFL, and you can not prove your worth to the league riding the pine at Georgia. Robust NIL programs have allowed schools like Missouri, Colorado, and Ole Miss to take a step forward in roster building.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Larry Van Dyne for reaching out with this story idea. If you have any ideas you’d like to send our way, be sure to visit the masthead page and email Sam, Josh or Karen with any pitches.