Group of Five football transfers: Boise State's Malachi Nelson, Tulane's Ty Thompson aim for instant impact



The transfer portal does more taking than giving at the Group of Five level, and that can bring its share of frustrations. Coaches who unearth hidden gems in the high school recruiting process and develop them into high-level players in Group of Five leagues must be prepared to lose them to deep-pocketed Power Four programs.

But the Group of Five schools do have something to offer in the portal, even if they often struggle to compete financially in college football’s NIL economy: opportunity. When logjams pop up on power-conference rosters, talented players wanting to spread their wings can look to the Group of Five ranks for a place to shine.

Liberty went 13-1 last season and was the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the final College Football Playoff Rankings thanks largely to a Tennessee transfer at quarterback (Kaidon Salter) and a Wake Forest transfer at running back (Quinton Cooley). That’s just one prominent example of how a Group of Five program has broken even through the portal in recent years.

As the 2024 season creeps closer, it’s time to take a look at which Group of Five transfers could make the biggest impact in the season ahead. The highest-ranked Group of Five team is guaranteed a spot in the 12-team CFP at season’s end, which puts this contingent squarely in the national conversation.

Here are the top 10 Group of Five transfers to know.

Nelson, the No. 15 QB from the portal, spent a lot of time under the spotlight for a player with just three career pass attempts. He ranked as 247Sports’ No. 13 overall player in the 2023 high school recruiting class and made headlines by flipping his commitment from Oklahoma to USC when coach Lincoln Riley left the Sooners for the Trojans late in 2021. But after one redshirt season at USC, he left Riley and hit the portal in search of a starting gig. He will be tasked with leading the offense for a Boise State team that is expected to compete for the Group of Five’s automatic College Football Playoff bid.

Texas State played some musical chairs at quarterback after an impressive 8-5 debut campaign for coach G.J. Kinne. The Bobcats lost incumbent starter TJ Finley to Western Kentucky and brought in former Washington State and Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura. But then de Laura withdrew from school, leaving Kinne in need of a QB. He landed a gem in McCloud, who led James Madison to an 11-2 season in 2023 while throwing for 3,657 yards and 35 touchdowns. McCloud also rushed for eight touchdowns with the Dukes last season. If all goes well, the No. 26 QB from the portal could wind up actually being an upgrade over Finley.

Harris arrives at UTSA with a bad reputation after being suspended twice as a freshman at Texas A&M before running into more trouble as a sophomore at LSU. Now on his third school in three years, the former blue-chipper has another chance to realize his immense talent. The Houston native ranked as the No. 45 overall player in the Class of 2022, per 247Sports, and is entering into of the Group of Five’s most stable programs at UTSA. If coach Jeff Traylor and his staff can manage him properly, Harris, the No. 17 CB from the portal, could could be an AAC star.

Herring led Tennessee in tackles during the 2023 season and will be instrumental in helping Memphis pursue its AAC title ambitions. The Tigers are expected to be potent offensively and just need their defense to hold its own. If Herring can help the Tigers become an above-average AAC defense, it will go a long way toward legitimizing the program’s aspirations of claiming the Group of Five’s College Football Playoff bid. Herring was the No. 23 LB in the portal. 

Thompson never broke through in three seasons at Oregon after ranking as the No. 9 quarterback and a top-100 overall prospect in the Class of 2021. Now, he heads to Tulane for a crack at replacing program legend Michael Pratt. Thompson will have to battle incumbent backup Kai Horton for the job as former Troy coach Jon Sumrall takes over following Willie Fritz’s departure for Houston. Assuming Thompson wins the gig, he may finally realize his potential and could help the Green Wave remain an AAC title contender. Thompson was the No. 33 QB in the portal. 

6. Western Kentucky QB TJ Finley

After starting sporadically at LSU and Auburn during the first three seasons of his career, Finley thrived as Texas State’s unquestioned QB1 in 2023, leading the Bobcats to their first-ever bowl appearance with 3,439 yards passing and 24 touchdowns. Now, he’s off to play his final season of college football at a program known for producing prolific quarterbacks. WKU has fielded a top-15 passing offense each of the last three seasons, and Finley, the No. 42 QB from the portal, will have a chance to put up monster numbers for the Hilltoppers in 2024.

Williams caught 104 passes for 1,316 yards and 11 touchdowns over one season at Oklahoma and two at USC after ranking as 247Sports’ No. 15 receiver in the high school Class of 2021. Tulane is in a new regime under Sumrall and has a ton to replace offensively from a squad that finished the 2023 regular season at 11-1. Despite the departures of Fritz and Pratt, among others, Tulane still has AAC title aspirations. The No. 31 WR in the portal may be the top passing target, and he should have the biggest season of his career. 

It’s hard to dispute the “bust” label for Foreman, who struggled to make an impact in three years at USC after ranking as the No. 3 overall player in the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports. But the No. 11 edge rusher in the portal will have a chance to rewrite the ending to his college career as he heads to the Mountain West with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Foreman hasn’t recorded a sack since Dec. 4, 2021. But there is still talent and upside to his game, and if the Bulldogs can tap into it, they will be big winners.

Catalon is reuniting with former Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who is entering Year 2 as UNLV’s coach. Perhaps it will reignite his once-promising trajectory. Catalon made 99 tackles and three interceptions for the Razorbacks in 2020 before a bad run with injuries slowed him down. He started four games for Texas last season and will now be using his sixth season of eligibility to suit up for a Rebels team that is coming off a strong 2023 campaign under Odom’s direction. Catalon was the No. 46 safety from the portal. 

Former James Madison coach Curt Cignetti took his top two running backs with him to Indiana, leaving new JMU coach Bob Chesney with a significant role to fill in his backfield. Pettaway could be a big part of the answer after spending two seasons at North Carolina. The former four-star prospect redshirted in 2023, meaning the No. 43 RB from the portal has three seasons of eligibility remaining. Chesney’s Holy Cross team ranked No. 3 in rushing offense at the FCS level last season, so look for Pettaway to shine as he heads from the ACC to the Sun Belt. North Texas transfer Ayo Adeyi will also factor in heavily after rushing for 1,017 yards with the Mean Green in 2023.





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top