This last two weeks alone, WVU had four players enter the NCAA transfer portal in offensive lineman Parker Moorer, linebacker VanDarius Cowan, wide receiver Isaiah Esdale and tight end T.J. Banks. All three were on scholarship, and since the start of 2021 in early January, 25 scholarship WVU football players have entered the portal, equivalent to an entire recruiting class.
Last year because of the COVID-19 riddled 2020 season, the NCAA expedited the idea of giving players a pass to transfer freely with penalty. Prior, most players, with a few exceptions, were required to sit out a season before being eligible at their new school.
Later, it made the rule a permanent addition, and with the portal, which has existed since 2018, schools must place a player in there within 48 hours of the initial request. From there, coaches from all over the country and contact the player, basically creating an all-new recruiting environment.
So, going back to the Mountaineers, is their large number of portal entries the norm across the country for a Power Five school, or is there cause for concern within the program that should have fans worried?
The answer? Maybe a little bit of both.
Every Power Five program is dealing with transfers, and with the rule changes, it has only increased interest in players seeking different opportunities for different reasons.
The biggest is obviously a chance at playing time. Being recruited to play big-time college football to begin with enough proof for someone to believe they should have playing time. If it’s not happening at their original school, they’ll go seek it somewhere else.
Since the start of October, 11 scholarship players have entered the portal. Of those, only two saw significant playing time in Esdale and Cowan. Moorer was a starter at right tackle but was benched in favor of true freshman Wyatt Milum.
Another COVID rule by the NCAA was allowing the 2020 season to be a “free” year, and a few players are simply deciding to use their extra year somewhere else. Former WVU quarterback Austin Kendall is an example of this, using his extra year to start at Louisiana Tech this season rather than back up Jarret Doege.
Perhaps the two biggest losses for the Mountaineers since the rule change were defensive backs Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller. Smith, an All-American at WVU in 2020, left for Georgia, where he was limited this season because of a torn ACL.
Miller transferred to Auburn and later admitted in an interview that he left WVU for the Tigers because he thought Auburn could raise his NFL profile.
Instead, Miller was buried on the depth chart and did not record a single defensive stat this season, proving grass isn’t always greener and the portal can work against you.
Regardless of the reason for transferring, 28 players seems like an incredibly high number, so where does WVU stack up against the rest of the Big 12?
The second most in the conference right now is Oklahoma, with 19, but the Sooners are dealing with a coaching change when Lincoln Riley left for USC. Behind OU is Texas, sitting at 18 following a 5-7 season.
The Mountaineers’ 28 is a significant jump from the next closest in the Big 12, so why is WVU’s number so high? There is a strong chance the timing of head coach Neal Brown’s arrival and the pandemic are aligning in a cruel twist of fate.
There is typical turnover every time a coach leaves and a new hire is made. Of the 25 scholarship players in the portal in 2021, 14 were originally recruited and signed by Dana Holgorsen prior to his exit in late 2018. Three more transferred in to WVU with limited eligibility anyway, and things may not have worked out in the end — Kendall, defensive tackle Darel Middleton and linebacker Bryce Brand.
Then bring in the rule changes brought in because of COVID, and transferring was made easier than ever in 2020, Brown’s second season in Morgantown. Keeping players happy who originally signed to play for the previous coach can be difficult, then add younger players who may see writing on the wall early in their careers as another challenge.
There’s no denying the number of WVU players in the portal is eye-popping, but the Mountaineers will also benefit from it and the immediate eligibility rule, as well. Looking at this season, offensive guard Doug Nester, cornerback Charles Woods and linebacker Lance Dixon all made significant impacts.
Former Clemson running back Lyn-J Dixon is already on board for 2022.
So take a deep breath, what appears to be a mass exodus from the program isn’t an indictment on this coaching staff or a disgruntled roster. It’s more about the ever-changing landscape of college football and more player-friendly rules passed down by the NCAA.
It’s happening everywhere, even at the likes of Alabama and Cincinnati, two teams in the College Football Playoff. It’s time to accept the college football of old — grind it out and earn playing time — may be about over.