Kirby Smart beat Nick Saban in the Transfer Challenge. Will it matter on the football field? | Toppmeyer
But within the SEC, Smart's Georgia Bulldogs won the 2021 Transfer Challenge, the inaugural great plunder amid the NCAA’s new transfer landscape that allows immediate eligibility for first-time transfers.
Alabama came out ahead from its comings and goings, too, but not to the extent that Georgia triumphed.
This isn’t the first time Smart has enjoyed an offseason conquest over Saban.
Georgia outdueled Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings twice in the past five years, with the Crimson Tide topping the chart in the other three years.
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Of course, no one hoists a trophy for winning the recruiting rankings, and Saban is 3-0 against Smart on the field. I remain unconvinced that Georgia’s transfer maneuvering will position the Bulldogs to dethrone Alabama this season, but if Smart continues his reign as King of the Transfer Portal, that should help Georgia creep closer.
Here are my winners and losers from transfer season.
Georgia: The Bulldogs added three all-conference-caliber players in tight end/wide receiver Arik Gilbert (from LSU) and defensive backs Tykee Smith (West Virginia) and Derion Kendrick (Clemson). The transfer exits of defensive backs Tyrique Stevenson and Major Burns and defensive end Jermaine Johnson put a chink in Georgia's transfer trophy, but it still came out way ahead.
Alabama: Linebacker Henry To’o To’o (Tennessee) and wide receiver Jameson Williams (Ohio State) more than offset Alabama's top loss, cornerback Brandon Turnage.
Florida: Adding running back Demarkcus Bowman (Clemson), a former five-star recruit, might encourage Dan Mullen to consider making handoffs part of his offense. Defensive tackle Antonio Shelton (Penn State) is a useful veteran.
Kentucky: The Wildcats’ portal pickups will help keep them relevant in the SEC East. Kentucky will find unique ways to deploy versatile wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (Nebraska). Dare Rosenthal (LSU) adds to an already robust offensive line, and linebacker Jacquez Jones (Ole Miss) will aid the defense. Quarterback Will Levis (Penn State) should help offset the transfer of Terry Wilson.
Mississippi State: Who better to master the art of the plunder than pirate aficionado Mike Leach? He added a quarterback with starting experience in Jack Abraham (Southern Miss). Defensive end Randy Charlton (Central Florida) and defensive back Jalen Green (Texas) boost a defense that already ranked among the SEC’s best.
Tennessee: No Power 5 program suffered more transfer exits than the Vols. They lost top talents To’o To’o and running back Eric Gray (Oklahoma), along with several other starters or rotation regulars. Most of the damage occurred before first-year coach Josh Heupel's January arrival, and he’s bandaged the wound by adding Turnage, linebacker Juwan Mitchell (Texas) and quarterback Joe Milton (Michigan). But there’s no denying that transfers decimated an already suspect roster.
LSU: Linebacker Mike Jones (Clemson) fills a void on LSU’s defense. The bad news: Gilbert's departure headlined a group of exits that included Rosenthal and safety Kevontre Bradford. It will be interesting to see whether LSU regrets losing quarterback TJ Finley to Auburn.
Arkansas: No team raided the portal quite like Oklahoma. The Sooners’ haul included Arkansas wide receiver Mike Woods, who had been a valuable sidekick to Treylon Burks.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.