Ranking college football’s best transfer classes: The top 10 for 2023

NCAAF

Now that the dust has settled after the early signing period, the February signing period and the winter transfer windows, we have a clear picture of the college football teams that have added the most to their rosters.

The transfer portal was a major part of teams reshaping their rosters, whether it was new coaches looking to rebuild or established coaches filling holes, and the sheer number of talented players moving from team to team was as prevalent as it’s ever been.

Because so many coaches have used the transfer portal to add talent to their teams, we have tracked and ranked the programs that have done the best job of bringing in new players who will likely make an impact. Here are the 10 teams that had the most success this offseason in the transfer portal and whom they added that could make an impact.

coverage:
Ranking the best transfers this cycle
Transfer grades for each Top-25 team
Best fits, steals and impact transfers

Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 4
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: CB/WR Travis Hunter (No. 1)

Deion Sanders introduced himself to the Colorado team shortly after being hired as head coach and told the players he was “bringing his own luggage.” He warned them that he would be bringing in transfers to reshape the roster, and he has moved quickly to add some big names who will make this a completely different Colorado team.

His son Shedeur Sanders followed him to Colorado and will play quarterback after excelling at Jackson State, winning the Jerry Rice Award his freshman season in 2021, helping lead the team to an undefeated regular season in 2022 and totaling 70 passing touchdowns over the past two years. Cornerback/wide receiver Travis Hunter also followed Sanders to Colorado, which is very likely the biggest transfer of the offseason.

Hunter is ranked No. 1 on ESPN’s transfer rankings and had plenty of options once he entered his name in the transfer portal. He was committed to Florida State out of high school before flipping to Jackson State, and Georgia was in pursuit as well. Ultimately, Hunter decided to go to Colorado, where he’ll pair up with five-star true freshman Cormani McClain, who signed in the 2023 class.

Sanders has had no shortage of big names wanting to play for him, including: Clemson linebacker LaVonta Bentley (68 career tackles, 5.5 sacks), Alabama linebacker Demouy Kennedy (former top-100 recruit), South Florida receiver Jimmy Horn Jr. (No. 31 transfer), Arkansas defensive lineman Jordan Domineck (16.5 career sacks), Arkansas safety Myles Slusher (93 career tackles), Michigan defensive end Taylor Upshaw (38 tackles) and Arkansas State tight end Seydou Traore (655 yards, four TDs in 2022).

Combining the transfers with Colorado’s No. 23-ranked recruiting class for 2023, Sanders could field mostly new starters in 2023 compared to the 2022 starters. There was a ton of hype surrounding Sanders being hired at Colorado, and so far he has lived up to that hype by showing how many players want to come and be coached by him.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 5
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: CB Fentrell Cypress II (No. 8)

The Seminoles received some good news when defensive end Jared Verse decided to return for another season rather than enter the NFL draft. That made things easier for the staff when building the 2023 roster, but Mike Norvell and his coaches did an outstanding job filling holes and managing the roster for next season.

On the defensive side, Florida State needed to give Verse help and added Western Michigan defensive tackle Braden Fiske, who is No. 24 on ESPN’s transfer rankings and had 12 tackles for loss and six sacks last season. Miami defensive tackle Darrell Jackson Jr. is also transferring in, along with lockdown corner Fentrell Cypress II — the No. 8-ranked transfer — who left Virginia to join the Seminoles.

With quarterback Jordan Travis coming back as well, adding offensive help was a necessity. The staff got offensive linemen Jeremiah Byers, Casey Roddick and Keiondre Jones, as well as tight ends Jaheim Bell and Kyle Morlock, and running back Caziah Holmes.

Morlock, the No. 47 transfer, is a 6-foot-7, 245-pound tight end who had 446 yards and six touchdowns for Division II Shorter in 2022. Despite playing for a smaller school, he had a ton of Power 5 programs after him, including Wisconsin, Oklahoma, LSU and Tennessee.

Between Morlock and Bell, who has seven receiving touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns over the past two years, Travis will have two big options to create mismatches against opposing defenses, along with leading receiver Johnny Wilson (6-7, 235 pounds). Having legitimate receiving threats who are that size could create nightmares for defenses.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 3
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: WR J. Michael Sturdivant (No. 42)

The Bruins are prioritizing the transfer portal each offseason to help manage the roster. While the staff is still going to recruit high school players, namely five-star quarterback Dante Moore, their 31st-ranked recruiting class pales in comparison to the group of transfers Chip Kelly is bringing in.

Even though Moore can help fill the void under center with Dorian Thompson-Robinson moving on, Kelly is also bringing in Kent State quarterback Collin Schlee, who threw for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions while rushing for 492 yards and four touchdowns last season.

At running back, the team is losing Zach Charbonnet to the NFL draft and is replacing him with Ball State transfer Carson Steele, the second-ranked running back to enter the portal this cycle. Steele ran for 1,556 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and should be able to contribute immediately for the Bruins.

The staff needed playmakers on the outside as well and added USC transfer Kyle Ford, California transfer J. Michael Sturdivant (the No. 42 transfer) and Oregon tight end Moliki Matavao. Sturdivant led Cal with seven receiving touchdowns last season and also had 755 receiving yards. Ford hauled in two touchdown passes and had 365 yards for USC.

The defense was not ignored, either, and the coaches have notably added Oregon defensive lineman Keanu Williams, who is a 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle.

Pennsylvania edge player Jake Heimlicher was an under-the-radar pickup for Kelly. A co-captain at Penn, he had 47 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, nine sacks and an interception last season. He might have played at a lower level in 2022 but will be someone to watch next season for the Bruins.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 5
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: LB Dasan McCullough (No. 3)

The Sooners’ new staff identified a need on defense after giving up 461 yards per game, which ranked 122nd of 131 this past season. One of the biggest gets for any team was Indiana linebacker Dasan McCullough, ranked No. 3 in the transfer rankings.

McCullough, the No. 43 prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, made an immediate impact as a freshman last season. He can rush the passer (49 total tackles and four sacks) and cover defenders (three pass breakups), so he should excel in Brent Venables’ defense and improve a much-maligned unit.

In addition to McCullough, Venables added Oklahoma State defensive end Trace Ford, Texas State defensive lineman Davon Sears, Texas Tech safety Reggie Pearson Jr., Notre Dame defensive lineman Jacob Lacey and Wake Forest end Rondell Bothroyd.

The staff added to the offense, too, with Michigan receiver Andrel Anthony (328 receiving yards and four TDs in two years), South Carolina tight end Austin Stogner (864 receiving yards and nine TDs in four seasons, three of which were at OU) and Stanford offensive lineman Walter Rouse, who has started 39 games over the past four years with the Cardinal. Pairing that with the No. 4 recruiting class this cycle makes for a significant haul.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 3
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: WR Dorian Singer (No. 6)

The Trojans are another team that needs help on defense after finishing 106th among 131 teams in yards allowed per game (423.9). That notion played out in the final game of the season in which the USC offense scored 45 points against Tulane in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl but the Trojans’ defense gave up 46 points and 539 yards of offense.

Lincoln Riley and his staff added Oklahoma State linebacker Mason Cobb, who was second on the team in total tackles (96) and also had 13 tackles for loss. Cobb was a big addition to the defense, and he’ll be joined by Georgia State linebacker Jamil Muhammad, Purdue defensive lineman Jack Sullivan, Texas A&M freshman defensive lineman Anthony Lucas (a former ESPN 300 recruit), Arizona corner Christian Roland-Wallace and Arizona defensive lineman Kyon Barrs.

The offense doesn’t need as much help with Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams returning, but filling the void left by receiver Jordan Addison (875 receiving yards and eight touchdowns) was a big priority. Riley added Arizona receiver Dorian Singer, who led the Pac-12 in receiving yards (1,105) and also scored six touchdowns. He’s the No. 6 transfer in ESPN’s rankings and is going to be a big target for Williams.

South Carolina running back MarShawn Lloyd (573 yards, nine TDs in 2022) also transferred in, as did Florida offensive linemen Michael Tarquin and Ethan White, and Washington State offensive lineman Jarrett Kingston. For a team that won 11 games last season but missed out on the College Football Playoff, USC is bringing in an impressive haul.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 3
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: QB Spencer Sanders (No. 10)

Lane Kiffin dubbed himself the “Portal King” last year, and he didn’t disappoint this offseason either.

Despite losing players such as linebacker Austin Keys, corner Miles Battle, backup quarterback Luke Altmyer, safety MJ Daniels and linebacker Jaron Willis, he added a lot as well — the biggest splash being former Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders.

Sanders, a four-year starter who was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021 after throwing for 2,839 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions and rushing for 668 yards and six touchdowns, helps upgrade the quarterback position. The Rebels used the portal to address quarterback last year, bringing in Jaxson Dart, who threw for 2,974 yards and 20 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, from USC.

In addition to Sanders, Kiffin added competition to the quarterback room by bringing in LSU transfer Walker Howard, who was the No. 42 prospect in the 2022 class and only a freshman this past season, setting the Rebels up for the future.

Outside of quarterback, Kiffin added former ESPN 300 receiver Chris Marshall from Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech receiver Tre Harris, (935 yards and 10 touchdowns), Louisville linebacker Monty Montgomery (161 career tackles), Georgia Tech corner Zamari Walton (123 career tackles), defensive lineman Joshua Harris (6-4, 325 pounds) from NC State and a handful of others.

Despite the large number of players leaving, Kiffin added transfers who can help right away and improve a few position groups in 2023.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 1
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: OL Gunner Britton (No. 45)

New Auburn coach Hugh Freeze didn’t have a ton of time to add players to the roster since he was hired on Nov. 28. That left only a few weeks to strategize for the transfer portal and for the early signing period. He and his staff pulled it off, though, and had one of the better transfer hauls.

Freeze added one of the more sought-after offensive lineman in Western Kentucky‘s Gunner Britton, ranked No. 45 among all transfers. He also added Tulsa offensive tackle Dillon Wade and East Carolina lineman Avery Jones to shore up depth and competition after the unit ranked 97th in pressure rate in 2022.

The coaches were able to bring in Cincinnati receiver Nick Mardner (1,488 career receiving yards, 11 TDs), South Florida running back Brian Battie, who ran for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns last season, and Florida International tight end Rivaldo Fairweather (838 yards, five TDs).

On the defensive side, Freeze picked up LSU linebacker DeMario Tolan, Kentucky defensive lineman Justin Rogers, (35 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss), Ole Miss linebacker Austin Keys (39 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks) and Purdue defensive lineman Lawrence Johnson, among others.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 4
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: LB Ernest Hausmann (No. 22)

The Wolverines have traditionally not gotten very involved in the transfer portal. The staff added center Olusegun Oluwatimi from Virginia prior to last season as a grad transfer. This cycle, coach Jim Harbaugh has brought in more transfers, including some big names who could help Michigan make the College Football Playoff for a third straight season.

Nebraska linebacker Ernest Hausmann recorded 54 total tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack as a freshman for the Huskers this past season. The coaching staff also added Coastal Carolina edge Josaiah Stewart, who had 80 total tackles, 16 sacks and four forced fumbles in his first two seasons.

The Wolverines have won the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line in college football for two straight years and are adding to their stout line with Stanford center Drake Nugent, Stanford tackle Myles Hinton and Arizona State lineman LaDarius Henderson. Tight end AJ Barner and quarterback Jack Tuttle both transferred in from Indiana as part of a really good transfer class for Michigan.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 4
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: LB Omar Speights (No. 16)

Coach Brian Kelly had success in the portal last season when he brought in Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, who started at quarterback for the Tigers this past season. Kelly had the No. 6 recruiting class in the 2023 cycle and continued to go after the portal to fill needs.

He and his staff lost some important players, including quarterback Walker Howard, but Kelly convinced some important transfers to shift to LSU, notably on defense.

Omar Speights, a linebacker who transferred in from Oregon State, led the Beavers in total tackles last season (83) and had eight tackles for loss. He should be a leader of the defense immediately for LSU and a veteran presence who has experience at a high level.

Kelly also added Syracuse cornerback Duce Chestnut, who was an ESPN freshman All-American and a third-team All-ACC player his first season at Syracuse in 2021. He started all 12 games that season and had three interceptions. He had one interception this past season and was honorable-mention All-ACC. Chestnut is joined by Texas A&M corner Denver Harris, who was the No. 25 prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, and Ohio State corner Jakailin Johnson, a top-100 recruit in the 2021 cycle.

The staff also bulked up the defensive line with West Virginia tackle Jordan Jefferson, Oregon defensive end Bradyn Swinson and Florida defensive tackle Jalen Lee, who have combined for 108 career tackles.

On offense, LSU brought in Alabama receiver Aaron Anderson, who was the No. 69 prospect in the 2022 class, rounding out a really balanced transfer class for the Tigers.


Number of transfers in ESPN’s rankings: 3
Highest-ranked incoming transfer: OL Ajani Cornelius (No. 5)

The Ducks won 10 games this season, but the three losses came to Georgia, Washington and Oregon State, which combined to go 36-5 in 2022. Coach Dan Lanning finished with the No. 8 recruiting class overall and also brought in some impact transfers who should help immediately.

After ranking 115th in sacks, the staff added Iowa linebacker Jestin Jacobs, Arizona State linebacker Connor Soelle and South Carolina defensive lineman Jordan Burch, who was a former five-star prospect out of high school.

In the secondary, the Ducks brought in Alabama corner Khyree Jackson (a former No. 1 junior college prospect) and Ole Miss safety Tysheem Johnson (78 total tackles in 2022).

On offense, Lanning added Alabama wide receiver Traeshon Holden (six TDs in 2022), Troy receiver Tez Johnson (863 yards and four touchdowns), Texas offensive lineman Junior Angilau and Rhode Island offensive lineman Ajani Cornelius, who was among the most highly sought after linemen in this transfer class.

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