A week ago there seemed to be much angst in Gopher land. The team’s young and talented starting quarterback was transferring. The freshman backup quarterback was transferring. As was the freshman running back and Zach Evans, who would have been part of the 1-2 punch with Darius Taylor.
And let’s not get started about the angst over the pending transfer announcement that was sure to be coming from Taylor and presumably Daniel Jackson.
If you listen to A Pair and a Spare podcast with Justin Gaard, Ryan Burns and Chip Scoggins, you would have heard how Scoggins was getting several messages from colleagues at the Star Tribune regarding the demise of Gopher football. Other professionals who have some level of expertise regarding local sports also felt like the sky was falling for Gopher football.
Now, we may need to set aside the fact that most of the Star Tribune sports staff knows almost nothing about Gopher sports other than how to properly troll Gopher fans, but we will have to save that for another day.
But within hours of the regular season ending, the Gopher roster was taking a hit with defections to the portal. And experiencing some angst over the actual, along with the potential, defections seems normal. Particularly following a disappointing 5-7 season.
But maybe we have to rethink normal. Maybe with the advent of the transfer portal, the ability to transfer without having to sit out and NIL, this is the new normal.
For decades, recruiting high school players was the lifeblood of any college football program. Finding coaches who were good at recruiting was just as valuable as coaches who could teach and scheme. An 18-year-old kid comes into your program, typically takes his first year to gain strength while adjusting to being a college athlete and then at some point in year two or three he begins to contribute.
But things are very different now. Our definition of recruiting needs to expand. Dramatically. High school kids are still important, but once they are on campus, you are not finished with wooing them. Roster turnover is going to be much higher than we have been used to. And identifying the right fits through the transfer portal is probably becoming more important than recruiting the right high school seniors.
This is the same for everybody. The Gophers are no different. So first of all I would strongly encourage you to not be discouraged by what took place last week. Losing Athan Kaliakmanis to the portal was a bit of a blow and mostly unexpected. He struggled this season, but the talent is evident and there was still time to grow. But this is not just happening to the Gophers.
Ohio State’s starting quarterback is transferring after waiting his turn behind CJ Stroud, leaving Ohio State to find a new quarterback for the second straight season. Oklahoma’s starter is leaving after being a highly sought-after portal quarterback two seasons ago. By my count, there have been 70 quarterbacks who have announced their intent to transfer since the season ended just over a week ago. And that number will continue to grow.
Frankly, as we sit at the end of the first week, it appears that the program has done a great job in the early days of the 2023-24 portal. They have already replaced their departed starting quarterback by getting a commitment from one of the best passers in FCS. And perhaps more importantly, they have held on to almost every player that seems vital to bring back for next season. Taylor and Jackson both made formal announcements that they are returning. Danny Striggow, Deven Eastern and Jah Joyner are all coming back on the defensive line. Justin Walley will be back as one of the best corners in the Big Ten and all of our primary linebackers will be here in 2024 as well.
The job of managing your roster in today’s college football is complex and challenging. But as fans, we need to change our mindset with regards to the portal and high school recruiting. Losing players to the portal is going to happen. Sometimes guys you don’t want to see leave, but it is going to happen and this is the player’s option.
It is a mad world out there right now. It may or may not be good for the game, but this is today’s reality.