Oklahoma uses transfer portal, new NCAA rule to shape national football title contender

You can make an argument for every program in the Football Bowl Subdivision benefiting from the transfer portal and the legislation enacted by the NCAA this month allowing all student-athletes one free transfer without sitting out a season.

Combined, the portal's exponential growth in popularity and the new legislation promise to make widespread transfers a staple of every offseason, impacting in one form or another every team in the Group of Five and Power Five conferences.

The lowest rung of teams on the Group of Five ladder will offer second chances to underperforming Power Five transfers gently nudged aside amid unmatched expectations. Better teams in the Group of Five will attract a proportionally higher quality of transfer from the Power Five, drawing in players squeezed out of playing time who would've overlooked Group of Five scholarship offers as recruits.

The bottom half of teams in the Power Five would benefit by using two sorts of transfers as a roster-management tool: one, experienced and accomplished players moving up from the Group of Five as a showcase against a higher level of competition; and two, Power Five transfers who have played enough to warrant a parallel move from one major-conference program to another. Arizona and first-year head coach Jedd Fisch have added 10 transfers since the end of last season, six from the Power Five.

It might even seem like the elite teams in the Power Five would be hurt by college football's new transfer environment — the best of the best would be consistently losing non-starters to the portal, with that wealth eventually trickling across the FBS.

That very likely will not be the case. The programs in annual College Football Playoff contention may in time come to dominate the transfer environment as they've owned the more traditional recruiting landscape, with the top-ranked transfers in any given cycle gravitating toward a specific subset of teams.

"We're going to adapt to it and make it an advantage for us," said Alabama coach Nick Saban.

One team already has. By making transfers a crucial part of this season's roster, Oklahoma has shown how top contenders can lean on the portal to overcome attrition, paper over any depth concerns and find plug-and-play additions to bridge the gap between reaching the playoff and winning the national championship.

That road begins Saturday with the annual spring game (5 p.m. ET).

"These guys, this isn't a deal about facilities and all that, that sometimes high school guys get wrapped up in,” said coach Lincoln Riley. “For these guys, there's a little bit more of a businesslike demeanor to it.”

Oklahoma lost nine players in the week following the end of the 2020 season, which saw the Sooners drop back-to-back Big 12 games in September for the first time since 1999 but close with eight wins in a row, including a 55-20 blowout of Florida in the Cotton Bowl that cast the Sooners as one of the nation's hottest teams heading into 2021.

OU then added 16 players on the two national signing days, including the nation's top quarterback prospect in Caleb Williams, with six of those signees enrolled in time to participate in spring drills. Only seven teams in the Power Five signed fewer traditional prospects during this recent recruiting cycle.

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