“The world has changed. I see it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, For none now live who remember it.”
That quote is from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, spoken by Galadriel an elf who is, at the time of the story, over 8,000 years old. That’s old. Yet somehow, it’s how the changes to college football can make someone my age, just 37, feel. I’m not talking about rule changes on the field but rather the way rosters are made off of it. There was a time, not that long ago, when almost the entirety of a roster was made of up players that the head coach recruited straight out of high school. Sure, there would be a transfer or two, maybe a JUCO guy if you were desperate but that was about it. The roster was yours from the day they set foot on campus as bright eyed 18 year olds until they left at 22 or 23. Your job was to develop them and make them the best they could be. It’s what allowed someone like Joe Tiller to find diamonds in the rough and turn Purdue into an offensive juggernaut during his tenure. Now, it’s changed.
We all saw what happened at Colorado. Well, maybe you didn’t. According to The Athletic, new head coach Deion Sanders has seen 46 players (remember there are 85 scholarships players on every college football team) enter the portal in 2022-2023 with 41 of those coming since Sanders took over. Now, that’s a shocking number, but what was Sanders supposed to do? Colorado went 1-11 last year. Is there talent there? I’m sure there are some players that you can build around but imagine being hired at a job where you make millions of dollars per year as part of a huge business, the team you’re brought on to lead is the lowest performer but then your boss says you can’t bring in any new people until these people finish their contracts. You’d be doomed to fail. It’s easy to point at Sanders and scapegoat him because he’s brash, he’s honest, and he’s a new kind of football coach and that scares some people. But the fact of the matter is he’s doing what he needs to do to survive in a sport that will chew him up and spit him out if in three years he finishes 1-11. I don’t blame Sanders, and in fact I appreciate his honesty. Coaching is big business and it’s time we stopped pretending it isn’t,
With so many players coming and going via transfer portal how should any college coach allocate their recruiting time? Often, the calendar does it for you. The transfer portal is only open during certain windows as is the high school recruiting window. Coaches can only be on the road so often and during those certain periods. So that makes it a little easier, but given that you’ve only got 85 scholarships to give out, how do you determine how many spots to give to HS recruits versus transfers looking to find a better home? Last year alone, according to Axios, 8,699 college football players entered the transfer portal. That’s just an astounding number of players. Ryan Walters hit the portal hard and fast this offseason upgrading the defense and the secondary especially. Walters also grabbed the likely starting QB in Hudson Card. Walters filled out a roster that to him, and many of us, had a lot of holes that needed filled immediately and getting a low three star recruit to come in out of high school simply wasn’t going to cut it for this season.
This offseason alone Walters has added 10+ players via the transfer portal and lost 10+ as well. Did Purdue get better or worse as a result of these changes? Certainly better in the defensive backfield but at the offensive line and linebacker? I think that has yet to be determined. Purdue lost some guys there who were going to be key contributors. As we’ve said on this site for the last couple years, the portal giveth and the portal taketh away.
My original question remains, how much time (and scholarship space) do you devote to high school versus transfer portal recruits? Do you split it up evenly? Do you just sign 20 HS recruits per class anyway knowing that every year you’re going to lose 10 players to the portal? Recruiting high school players will still be incredibly important as you build relationships with coaches, players you don’t get that might look for a second home down the line, and local communities. Unfortunately, there is no blueprint for this. The system is so new, I haven’t even mentioned NIL yet, that everyone is sort of making it up as they go along. Building the plane in the air as it were. I’m not sure there’s a good answer, but Ryan Walters has $4 million reasons to get it figured out, and fast.