Bradley’s Buzz: The transfer portal changed everything, even recruiting

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Today is National Signing Day. There’ll be another in February, but that, which stood for decades as the only NSD, has become the lesser. Things do change, don’t they?

Today is National Signing Day, and as we ponder the eternal question – whose class ranks first, Alabama’s or Georgia’s? – we also wonder if, five years from now, anyone will give a hoot about NSD. As much as alums might celebrate these staged-for-TV announcement “ceremonies,” the same alums, being college grads and all, are surely thinking: “This time next year, half these guys will be headed elsewhere.”

Today is National Signing Day, on which we while away the hours hitting “refresh” on 247Sports’ class ranking page. We do this because we know recruiting matters.

We old folks recall the tale of Ben Tamburello, an offensive lineman from Birmingham, who met with Bear Bryant, then the greatest coach who ever lived, and informed him he’d decided to play for Pat Dye and Auburn. It’s said that Bryant, long accustomed to getting whomever he wanted, told himself, “If I can’t get Ben Tamburello, it’s time to retire.” And he did.

From George O’Leary of Georgia Tech, speaking near the end of the 20th Century: “Recruiting is like shaving – if you don’t do it every day, you look like a bum.”

From Nick Saban, who lifted recruiting to a higher plane, after Alabama beat Notre Dame for the BCS title in January 2013: “That damn game cost me a week’s recruiting.”

From Georgia’s Kirby Smart, at worst the second-best recruiter of this century: “There’s no coach out there who can outcoach recruiting.”

Of the past seven national championship games, six have included Alabama or Georgia. Two included both. Bama won’t be in SoFi Stadium on the night of Jan. 10, 2023. Georgia probably will.

And yet, and yet …

Alongside the warp-speed capacity of the transfer portal, sacred recruiting seems almost quaint. The portal itself was activated in July 2018, but transfers had already become the alternate coin of the realm – the crypto-currency of college football, if you will. Three consecutive Heisman winners – Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow – had begun their studies at a different school. It happened again this year with Caleb Williams, now of USC.

Williams was one of 26 transfers taken by USC coach Lincoln Riley, himself a recent transfer to Troy. Nine became starters. Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss tweeted that his program should be known as Transfer U, as if that was a title to be desired. Kiffin’s transfer class of 2022 was rated No. 2 – behind USC – by 247Sports, and yes, there’s such a thing as transfer-class rankings. (Michigan is No. 1 for 2023, FYI.)

Not everyone is thrilled by this. On Monday, Texas-San Antonio coach Jeff Traylor tweeted: “Dear @NCAAFootball, how does @UTSAFTBL report Power 5 schools who are trying to poach our young talent? How much evidence do we really need to make this not be a part of our game?”

Best of luck there. Pitt won the ACC in 2021 behind quarterback Kenny Pickett and receiver Jordan Addison. Pickett left for the NFL. Addison left for USC. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s not-so-fond farewell to Addison, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner: “Sometimes people forget how they got where they are.”

Speaking of USC quarterbacks: J.T. Daniels was the Trojans’ starter in 2018. He was injured in 2019. He transferred to Georgia in 2020. He finished that season as the starter. He was supplanted by Stetson Bennett in 2021. Daniels left for West Virginia, where he became this season’s starter. He was demoted with two games remaining. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported that Daniels is transferring to Rice.

Personal observation: I don’t LOL often, but I did over this Thamel line: “(Coach Mike) Bloomgren tried to recruit Daniels to Rice the previous two times he transferred.”

Not long ago, Georgia was happy to accept transfers – Daniels, Jamie Newman, even Bennett on the rebound from his year at Jones County JUCO. After winning the 2021 national title, Smart accepted nobody via the portal. “It wasn’t a philosophy,” he said. “It was more the way it played out.”

Georgia is 13-0 and ranked No. 1, a seven-point favorite over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl semifinal. UGA is among the very few programs that can out-recruit the portal – Alabama apparently could not, having welcomed transfers from Georgia and Georgia Tech – but the Bulldogs might be the last of their breed. Recruiting is hard. The portal is easy.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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