When the NCAA created, or maybe more accurately was forced to create, their transfer portal process with instant first-time eligibility for almost all cases, there was a popular assumption. To wit, that a ‘feeder’ system would develop of elite programs grabbing the best players of lesser leagues, of the raided-from-top teams doing the same to schools and leagues lower on the ladder, and so on.
Well, there has indeed been a good amount of that come true. But the bigger fact is that the real raiding has been much more horizontal than vertical. Power 5 conference programs are grabbing players from peers much more often than not. This is absolutely the Mississippi State case this year and generally so before then.
With the NCAA’s winter portal window closed and Bulldog recruiting there almost completed (stay tuned for just a couple of very late developments that can update this accounting) Coach Zach Arnett and staff have procured seven spring semester transfers. Of those, six come from Power 5 conference programs and three from right here within the Southeastern Conference.
Then again one could, in fact should raise those totals. That’s because Mississippi State successfully re-recruited a pair of Bulldogs who were outside bound for a while. Then receivers and kick return All-Americans Tulu Griffin and Zavion Thomas both opted to come back out the same portal door they’d entered and stick with Bulldog football.
There’s one other such possibility, pending a similar decision by the running back Dillon Johnson. He has hung around inside said portal considering other options including staying in Starkville. Yes, he would count in our running—and receiving, and defending—totals.
What those totals state is that in the current four seasons of portal recruiting, Mississippi State has looked more to players with a season or two, or more, of major conference experience. Of the 30 (again, so far) portal products, 21 started with Power 5 programs. Seven of them are SEC signees, too, with ’23 showing a definite uptick in this trend.
Of course P5 credentials are not at all necessary to be an impact Bulldog. This is especially true for specialists as 2022 showed. Transfer kickers Massimo Biscardi and Ben Raybon were utterly needed and after some early-season struggles delivered, much as a ’20 transfer kicker Brandon Ruiz did before injuries in ’21.
Also last year when Bulldog blocking was nicked by mid-season injuries, it was a Middle Tennessee transfer Steven Losoya stepping in at center and guard and eventually taking over as left guard entirely. Or take Randy Charlton, the 2021 transfer from Central Florida as an end who this past season moved to tackle and thrived. Without just those two and some clutch Biscardi kicking in a pair of games, the 2022 Mississippi State does not break even in SEC action or end the year forever ranked top-twenty by voting polls.
But without a receiver Makai Polk the 2021 team likely does not score a winning record.
Not all transfers do or can make that kind of difference to be fair. Some show why they had to leave one address by not being contributors here, whether rarely or at all. ‘Rarely’ is one way to describe the contributions of quarterback KJ Costello, who came from Stanford to play for new MSU coach Mike Leach in the air raid. It began well, no began spectacularly with an all-time SEC passing yardage record beating LSU. Five weeks later he lost his job.
The ultimate example and hopefully last such case was five-star Alabama receiver Tyrrell Shavers, a can’t-miss prospect who missed every which way at two SEC programs.
Hopefully his case is completely countered by the one (so far) 2023 transfer not of P5 or for that matter FBS credentials. Receiver Freddie Roberson though is exactly what the portal was at first thought to be about. A star at FCS Eastern Washington, he is now ready to test his skills with State in the FBS’s biggest, baddest league. As for provenance, well, ask the two P5 programs in Washington who’ve lost games to EWU in recent years.
The next portal window is open May 1-15, after spring training for Arnett to evaluate both the on-campus transfers and those who are either still left from winter or enter following their own camps elsewhere. Will more FBS and particularly SEC players find their way onto the 2023 Mississippi State roster?
If trends hold, yes. They will.
There is also this reinforcement item fresh in MSU memory. When the Bulldogs defeated Illinois in the Reliaquest Bowl to end one season and begin the Arnett Era, 19 points were scored by State. All came from a transfer player with touchdowns by receiver Justin Robinson (Georgia) and corner Marcus Banks (Alabama). Former Coastal Carolinan Biscardi did spoil the SEC/FBS narrative just a bit there with two field goals and a PAT, but as noted kickers are always an exception.
Mississippi State Power 5 transfers in overall classes
2023—8 of 9 so far
WR/KR Tulu Griffin (MSU)
WR/KR Zavion Thomas (MSU)
CB Raydarious Jones (LSU)
DB Ja’Kobi Albert (Kentucky)
QB Mike Wright (Vanderbilt)
CB Khamauri Rogers (Miami)
CB Christopher Keys (Indiana)
PK Nicholas Barr-Mira (UCLA)
2022—5 of 9
WR Justin Robinson (Georgia)
CB Marcus Banks Alabama
WR Jordan Mosley (Northwestern)
S Jackie Matthews (West Virginia)
DB Hunter Washington (Florida State)
2021–3 of 7
WR Makai Polk California
WR Jamire Calvin (Washington State)
S Jalen Green Texas
2020—5 of 5
QB KJ Costello (Stanford)
OT Scott Lashley Alabama
WR Tyrell Shavers Alabama
PK Brandon Ruiz (Arizona State)
WR Jay Banks (Louisville)