College football’s transfer portal cycle in review: 10 trends, lessons and takeaways


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While the latest round of conference realignment has dominated the news, we quietly passed a milestone for college football’s transfer portal era last week: Year 5 is now officially in the books. In the NCAA’s transfer portal database, the calendar year begins on Aug. 1. Teams are now deep into fall practice and their rosters are mostly set, so it’s time to zoom out and study the 2022-23 portal cycle after all the transactions of another wild offseason.

Here’s where all those transfer players ended up, what made this portal cycle different from the rest and what we can learn from it before the next one gets underway.

1. Another record-breaking year for transfers

Over the past 12 months, more than 2,400 FBS scholarship players have entered their name into the NCAA transfer portal. Year after year, that number just keeps increasing.

When you take out the players who withdrew from the portal, went pro or retired from football, the final total for the 2022-23 cycle was 2,303 FBS scholarship transfers. That’s an 18 percent increase from 2021-22.

More importantly, that record-breaking total means more than 20 percent of all FBS scholarship players have transferred in the past year.

More roster flexibility guarantees more movement. Colorado was the most extreme example we’ve ever seen in this portal era, but there were 24 other Power 5 schools that parted with 20 or more scholarship transfers this offseason. In fact, the SEC schools averaged 21 departures.

So far, 83 percent of all FBS scholarship transfers have found a new home. That number is in line with last year’s total. New NCAA president Charlie Baker should be happy to hear that. He has cited NCAA transfer data suggesting 43 percent of all Division I transfers went unsigned as proof that “the whole thing is basically not working for anybody.” Perhaps the percentage is truly that bad in some other sports, but it isn’t for FBS football.

2. Where they ended up

More than 1,900 FBS scholarship transfers have found somewhere to continue their college football career in 2023. Let’s break that number down position-by-position.

Among these transfer signees, more than 70 percent (1,365 total) were able to stay at the FBS level. If you’re curious what percentage of these transfers are moving down a level for the upcoming season, the total came out to almost exactly 50 percent. Given how many players are going into the portal seeking more playing time, that makes sense. It’s also a reality of the marketplace: Not everyone gets to move up to bigger and better.

Despite the steadily rising number of transfer portal entries, the amount of Power 5 opportunities out there pretty much stayed the same: Only 454 of the 2,303 FBS transfers have ended up on Power 5 rosters so far, which is close to 20 percent. The total last year ended up being 465.

One aspect of this chart that clearly stands out: Yes, nearly 500 defensive backs transferred in the past year. The total was 410 a year ago. Most defenses are regularly starting five DBs these days, so it’s not particularly surprising. But defensive back continues to be a high-attrition position in this sport, with many teams looking to improve their talent and depth.

3. High attrition at Power 5 level

There were 1,187 scholarship transfers in this cycle who left programs that were in the Power 5 last season, a 13 percent increase from last year’s cycle. Almost 90 percent of these transfers have been able to find new homes. Here’s the updated scorecard for where these Power 5 transfers are going:

Power 5 transfers

Status Total %




Power 5



Group of 5












The 69 programs (including Notre Dame) that will be playing in Power 5 conferences this season lost an average of 18.5 scholarship players to the portal this offseason. It’s always interesting to see which teams are on the extreme ends of that spectrum.

You already know Colorado had more players enter the transfer portal than anyone. The final count in Boulder: 57 scholarship players transferred out during the 2022-23 cycle. Ole Miss (31 transfers), Oregon (31), Arizona State (30), Cal (28), Arkansas (27) and Texas A&M (27) had the most roster turnover behind the Buffs. But we should be praising the programs that had the least portal attrition.

Oregon State was No. 1 on that list, with only seven scholarship players transferring out of the program. That’s a credit to coach Jonathan Smith and what he’s building. The Beavers are coming off a 10-win season and look like they’ll be in the Pac-12 title race. They picked up Clemson transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and potentially three more starters via the portal with the limited room they did have. Who else is in that top 10? It’s an interesting bunch of schools that, as you might expect, are generally focused more on strong talent evaluation and development than battling for blue-chip recruits (with a few notable exceptions).

Fewest portal departures, Power 5

4. Huge jump in G5-to-P5 transfers

There were 1,116 scholarship transfers in this cycle who played at Group of 5 programs last season. That’s a pretty significant increase (25 percent) from the 2021-22 portal cycle. How did the decision to make a move pay off for those players? Here’s the breakdown:

Group of 5 transfers

Status Total %




Power 5



Group of 5












In May, we wrote extensively about tampering for top Group of 5 talent and the fear among many coaches and staffers that they were being treated like a farm system for Power 5 programs. They were right to be concerned. A total of 238 scholarship players transferred up from Group of 5 to Power 5 teams this offseason. That’s almost double the number of G5-to-P5 transfers we saw in the previous cycle (123). There are more than 60 all-conference players on this year’s list and a bunch who are expected to make a big-time impact this fall and probably make some NIL money in the process.

One positive development: the added roster flexibility FBS programs now have to replace who they lose and stay at the 85-man scholarship limit created more opportunities for Group of 5 players in the portal. A total of 463 Group of 5 transfers will continue playing at the FBS level this fall. Last year, that number was just 294.

5. The transfer windows worked

The NCAA introduced transfer windows to try to bring more order and predictability to the year-long transfer market. Underclassmen needed to enter the portal during a 45-day period starting on Dec. 5 or during the 15-day spring window that opened on April 15. Graduate transfers could still enter their name in the portal at any time, but the windows set clear deadlines for everyone else. The big question after this first cycle: Did the windows help?

Let’s start here, with a breakdown of how many FBS scholarship players ended up transferring during each window.

Window Transfers P5 G5 Signed

Winter (12/5-1/20)





Spring (4/15-5/2)





Outside of windows





During this transfer cycle, 82 percent of all transfers were initiated while the windows were open. That seems like a good sign. There were more than 300 grad transfers who entered the portal outside of the windows, but the vast majority of underclassmen looking to transfer abided by the new rules.

The data suggests it’s generally wiser to make a move in December than wait until April. So far, 93 percent of Power 5 players who transferred in the winter have found a new home. Among all scholarship players who transferred in the winter window, 55 percent transferred down or are still unsigned for this upcoming season. Among spring transfers, it was 66 percent. There’s a high volume of players transferring after the spring (an average of 38 per day), but there are much fewer scholarships available.

In October, the NCAA’s D-I Council will decide whether the transfer windows should be shortened from 60 total days down to 30. Presumably, that would mean underclassmen only get 15 days to enter the portal in December. This would make for an absolutely frenzied time for coaches and recruiting staffers at the end of the regular season, especially if we’re talking about 1,200-plus players hitting the portal in a two-week period. But a shorter window would provide more clarity about their roster needs before the early signing period.

6. Fifty starting QBs from the portal?

In the 2022-23 portal cycle, 98 FBS scholarship quarterbacks transferred to other FBS programs. Half of them might end up earning starting jobs this fall. That’s really not an exaggeration.

We’ll see how things play out in preseason practice this month, but it’s entirely possible that 28 to 30 transfer quarterbacks from this cycle could earn starting jobs for Power 5 teams entering Week 1. At the Group of 5 level, we’re likely going to see as many as 20 teams roll with a QB1 they picked up this offseason, and that might be a conservative estimate.

There was plenty of talent in this year’s quarterback market. Eleven transfers were top-100 recruits coming out of high school, and a total of 45 were blue-chip recruits. A total of 76 programs picked up FBS transfer quarterbacks this offseason. A couple of them — Louisville, Wisconsin and UCF — even signed three transfer QBs in this cycle.

One notable trend with this group: There were 36 freshmen or redshirt freshmen among those 99 quarterbacks. True freshman Walker Howard (LSU to Ole Miss) was the biggest name from that group, but that’s quite a few young backups who didn’t like their situation or path to playing time after just a year or two on campus. We know more than 70 percent of top-50 quarterback recruits in the Classes of 2016-2020 have transferred during their career, so that trend of transferring early is fairly common now. The backup QB market was very active in this cycle, and there will probably end up being a few gems among all these passers on the move.

7. The rarest finds

In our review of the 2021-22 portal cycle, we noted that only 39 Power 5 grad transfer offensive linemen hit the market to point out the scarcity of proven talent at that position. The funny thing is, in this year’s cycle, only 22 became available.

As the portal gets flooded with more and more underclassmen looking to use their one-time transfer exception, quality grad transfers are starting to feel like more of a rarity. Less than one-third of all FBS scholarship players who transferred in this cycle were grad transfers. Of the 298 who left Power 5 schools and hadn’t previously transferred, 141 signed with another Power 5 school. That’s a rather small group of P5-to-P5 transfers.

How tough is it to go get one of these veteran players? Look at the scarcity by position. It’s no wonder these Power 5-caliber grad transfers become seriously coveted as soon as their name pops up in the portal.

Quarterbacks: 9
Running backs: 9
Wide receivers: 14
Tight ends: 7
Offensive linemen: 22
Defensive linemen: 25
Linebackers: 21
Defensive backs: 25
Special teams: 9

Even better: Only 16 of these grad transfers hit the portal during the spring window. They can enter the portal at any time, but the majority of them (102 in this cycle) are going to change schools at the end of the regular season. Better catch ‘em while you can. If you’re curious who benefitted from landing a bunch of these players, Colorado and Georgia Tech each picked up seven while Arizona State and Arkansas landed six.

8. More linemen on the move

Rule changes have given FBS coaches more freedom to essentially cut players from their 85-man scholarship roster and send them into the portal. Maybe that’s a harsh way to put it, but it’s happening. The list of spring transfer window entries was full of inexperienced players who weren’t getting on the field and needed to move on.

Perhaps that context helps explain why we saw a big rise in scholarship offensive linemen and defensive linemen hitting the portal in the 2022-23 cycle. About the same number of FBS scholarship quarterbacks entered the portal in this cycle as last year. There were small increases for most other positions. But it’s hard not to notice a 31 percent increase in O-line transfers and a 28 percent increase in D-line transfers at the FBS level.

Is the difficulty of evaluating and developing linemen the reason behind that rise? Or are these coaches just preferring to look to the portal to upgrade up front, which leads to more backups opting to leave? Interestingly, 75 percent of these signees got to stay at the FBS level, because pretty much every program is looking for big dudes who can play. Only 47 percent transferred down. Recruiting misses might be a reason for the trend, but if you’re a healthy offensive or defensive lineman with decent measurables, you’re still going to have a chance to find a good home.

9. Repeat transfers on the rise

More than 300 FBS scholarship transfers in this cycle had previously transferred during their college career. If they’re a grad transfer, that’s not a problem. Grad transfers are the true free agents in this system because they’re immediately eligible wherever they go. But one-third of the repeat transfers in this cycle did not have their degree.

Our study found that only 59 of those 106 players have found somewhere to play this fall. And the ones who did find a new home have to put up a fight to try to become eligible this season. This past Tuesday offered a reminder that the waiver process for second-time transfers has become much tougher. North Carolina receiver Tez Walker and Florida State defensive lineman Darrell Jackson Jr. had their hardship waivers denied by the NCAA.

Both players entered the portal in December before the waiver rules changed in January, which might help their chances for an appeal with the NCAA. But those new rules made it clear that repeat transfers need documented cases of injury, illness or mental health issues in order to seek a waiver for immediate eligibility. Several more players in this cycle ran into this same issue and are still trying to get eligible.

Although that might sound like a losing battle for the NCAA, as most of these matters are, there’s a reason for the rule. The aim of the one-time transfer rule is for players to graduate before trying to transfer again. Coaches don’t want true free agency with unlimited transfers, so the membership sets these rules. Then coaches complain when the rules are enforced. It’s unfortunate for these players, no question, and it’ll be curious to see whether the waiver rules discourage more of them from transferring a second time next year.



Transfer again and play right away? NCAA says no, but coaches are wary of enforcement

10. Hundreds still available in the portal

At this point, there are 392 FBS scholarship players in the portal who remain uncommitted. That’s never a good number. Let’s hope many of them did find a home and just haven’t publicly announced where they’re going or picked a school that hasn’t updated its 2023 roster.

Everybody’s story is different. It’s a safe bet some of these players tested the portal and decided to retire from football. Some had an extra year of eligibility and won’t end up taking advantage of it. We know a few of these unsigned portal players have made the transition into coaching. It wouldn’t be fair to say all 392 of them made the wrong decision.

Many of these unsigned players are working through academic, legal, injury or eligibility issues that are preventing schools from taking a chance on them. What you hate to see is 278 of these players who appear to be stuck in the transfer portal don’t have their degree — even some seniors and redshirt seniors. There are 2023 recruits on that list, too, who are already in the portal after just one spring or summer in college.

Where will they end up? Most players who get stuck in the portal for an extended period of time eventually matriculate to junior colleges, FCS programs or Division II programs. Now that we’re into August, it’s tough to find scholarships. But that doesn’t mean their college football career has to end.

(Photo: Eakin Howard / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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