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Consistency in the transfer portal could be key for the future of Michigan recruiting

The college football landscape is changing, and so does the need for recruiting the “free agents” in the portal.

2021 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines scored big when Olu Oluwatimi chose to come to Ann Arbor. The former Virginia center could be the most influential transfer that Jim Harbaugh has pulled in a recruiting cycle, as he was a Rimington Trophy finalist in 2021 and expected to be among the better players on the offensive line this year.

Shea Patterson was another huge get. Moving from Ole Miss to Michigan created a ton of hype for the Wolverines as Harbaugh got his first five-star quarterback. We all know how that story wound up being written, but there have been so many instances where a key transfer player has meant the difference between a conference championship and a national title.

ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren recently wrote a piece on the top-40 most impactful transfers of the last five years. Only Oluwatimi’s transfer (ranked No. 15 overall) is on the list for Michigan. Meanwhile, Alabama has five, including two in the top-10: Jameson Williams (No. 6 overall) and Henry To’oTo’o (No. 7 overall).

All of the 1-4 rankings on VanHaaren’s list come from quarterback moves:

  • No. 1: Joe Burrow going from Ohio State to LSU.
  • No. 2: Jalen Hurts from Bama to Oklahoma.
  • No. 3: Justin Fields from Georgia to Ohio State
  • No. 4: Caleb Williams from Oklahoma to USC

Other than maybe No. 4 overall (Williams had poor numbers last year at OU). this shouldn’t be a shock. The top three all led their schools to College Football Playoff appearances in their first years with their new programs. Fields and Burrow would both advance to a National Championship in their careers, and Burrow actually won it in 2020.

After missing out on in-state star quarterbacks Dante Moore and CJ Carr and currently not having a face of the program beyond J.J. McCarthy, could the Wolverines look to the portal again? And even if they earn the commitment of a premier guy like Jadyn Davis in the 2024 class, should it stop them?

History says they absolutely should explore options in the portal, and not just at the quarterback position. True National Championship contenders have figured out a way to stack elite talent behind more elite talent. In order to take a further step towards winning a National Championship, Michigan may have to do the same.

With the way NIL is being used to recruit high school players, Michigan is at a severe disadvantage. The Wolverines will never pay up front for recruits to attend the university, so they have to sell what their current roster of players make off NIL deals. This may make it a bit easier to recruit guys in the portal rather than right out of high school.

But then we have the issue of admissions at U-M. Historically, it has not been kind to the athletics department, especially when it comes to transfer students. With new president Dr. Santa Ono being a huge advocate for athletics, perhaps things can be loosened up a little bit in that department. Time will tell, but it’s a possibility.

If all this lines up, the conference realignments could pose the perfect scenario for Michigan to take advantage of the portal. We are only two years away from USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten. Right now, the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC are shaking in their boots as to what this could mean for recruitment and revenue.

Those elite players who are stuck in these middling conferences as these dynamics change could, and should, want to play for what is becoming a Power 2 rather than a Power 5. Whoever can take advantage of those transfers could be the next powerhouse to form.

Even before then, there are still clear advantages to bringing in transfers. Recently, there seems to be a lot more willingness to reach into the portal for Michigan. Obviously, Oluwatimi is an example of that.

Just a season ago Michigan welcomed three transfers: Alan Bowman, Jordan Whittley and Daylen Baldwin. Baldwin was the only one to get real playing time, but there are chances being given to players who were not originally brought in and recruited by Michigan. Defensive lineman Mike Danna in the 2019 class was another good example of that.

I hate to say it, but look at what Michigan State has done with Mel Tucker since he took over. He completely changed that program in two seasons because of his aggressive use of the transfer portal. Kenneth Walker was a Heisman candidate a season ago. He was one of 14 transfers, most coming from Power 5 conference, to help fill a roster that lacked talent.

Now, in the 2022 class, eight transfers are headed to East Lansing and seven of them played roles on Power 5 teams last year. The Spartans play the toughest schedule in the Big Ten in 2022. If they perform well, it’s going to further show the power of the portal.

The days of the goal for Michigan to just beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten Championship are behind us. Eyes for the future need to be pointed at putting together a roster that should be one of the favorites to win a National Championship. History has shown using the transfer portal effectively could be the perfect avenue to do just that. And with the college football landscape looking awfully rocky outside of the Big Ten and SEC, now could be the time to strike for the Wolverines.