Kirby Smart, Georgia football braced for spring NCAA transfer portal opening

041324 Athens: Head coach Kirby Smart confers with Carson Beck between plays during the G-Day game on Saturday, April 13, 2024.  Curtis Compton for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

041324 Athens: Head coach Kirby Smart confers with Carson Beck between plays during the G-Day game on Saturday, April 13, 2024. Curtis Compton for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

This is the final in a three-part series on the transfer portal, which opens on today.

ATHENS — Georgia football looked as dialed in as a title favorite should during its spring game on Saturday, even with transfer portal winds blowing behind the scenes and into the locker room.

“That’s the way of the world, and it’s who handles it and manages it best,” ninth-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s a new climate we’re in. The window will open and all across the country there will be guys going in and looking for greener pastures.”

The lure of NIL money or an immediate starting position elsewhere could lead to a surprise departure or two from Georgia, but no projected significant contributors on the 2024 team are expected to leave during the impending portal period (Tuesday-April 30).

More than 2,500 college football players entered the portal in 2023, per the On3 tracker, and another 2,398 had already entered in 2024.

The Bulldogs’ two-deep depth chart appeared rock solid as squads battled to a 20-20 tie in the G-Day scrimmage on Saturday, another indication this next round of free agency will produce several more headlines of players leaving than coming.

Georgia appears to have a surplus of talent at the defensive back and offensive line position, making them the two position groups most likely to see attrition.

“We’ll see what happens, I can’t predict the portal, I won’t even try to,” Smart said after the G-Day Game. “I’m worried about our guys and the retention of our players.”

It’s a star-studded roster highlighted by Heisman Trophy candidate Carson Beck at quarterback and returning Nagurski finalist Malaki Starks at safety.

There are no glaring needs, to the extent the only position Smart has publicly discussed in relation to the portal this spring is adding a backup quarterback.

Smart said he prefers to have four scholarship quarterbacks, and in fact received a pledge from QB Jayden Maiava in the previous portal window (Dec. 4-Jan. 2) before the UNLV transfer flipped to USC.

UGA third-year backup quarterback Gunner Stockton made it clear last week the addition of another quarterback would not affect this status.

“Coach Smart has always said he wants four quarterbacks — scholarship quarterbacks — on the roster, and I think that’s what it probably should be,” Stockton said. “And as a quarterback, why wouldn’t you want to come here? It should be a battle and competition.”

Indeed, and mid-term freshman QB addition Ryan Puglisi impressed before aggravating a knee injury, leading him to miss practice time and the G-Day Game.

Puglisi would not be affected by the addition of a transfer QB, either, having shown his mindset during the recruiting process when prior UGA-QB commit Dylan Raiola was receiving all the hype and accolades.

Smart re-confirmed his goal to have four scholarship quarterbacks and revealed Georgia is also getting “a preferred walk-on kid (Colter Ginn, Perry, Ga.) that’s a really good player that’s coming in.”

An impact defensive tackle is on every program’s wish list, but they are few and far between, and Smart noted Saturday that South Carolina defensive tackle transfer Xavier McCloud “flashed” for UGA in spring drills and has the potential to be a factor this season.

The Bulldogs were efficient enough in the winter portal period that there don’t seem to be many glaring needs.

Georgia added eight players — including Trevor Etienne (RB, Florida), Colbie Young (WR, Miami) and Ben Yurosek (TE) Stanford) — while seeing 20 exit the program via the portal.

The Bulldogs’ roster, as is, justifies the program being consider the offseason national championship favorite. And yet, attrition is a given and may even be encouraged when the staff meets with players to discuss roles and playing time.

“If you’ve been in a program for three years and you’re not playing, and you don’t feel like you’re going to play or you don’t feel like you’re being developed,” Smart said in December, “you might need to look somewhere else. It’s an okay thing, okay?”

Georgia, which hasn’t lost a regular-season game since 2020, has shown it can handle portal attrition as well as any program.

The Bulldogs went undefeated and won the 2022 CFP Championship despite losing 15 NFL draft picks from the 2021 team, along with four former starters who transferred out.

The portal, along with enticing NIL offers, has become a part of the landscape.

“Can I control it? I can’t, ....” Smart said. “It’s really one of those things of, ‘Do you want to be here or do you not?’

Part 1: What the spring window really means for Georgia, SEC

Part 2: Big Ten, SEC positioned to benefit most when spring transfer portal opens