At the outset of this week, Kansas State’s football program already had nine players who had entered the transfer portal since August. During his weekly press conference Tuesday, head coach Chris Klieman said he didn’t “really have a reaction to it.” He chalked it up to 2020 being 2020.
“Everybody has a different circumstance,” he said. “I’m excited about the guys who have stuck with each other and stuck together for their teammates, but it’s not easy. I’m not condemning anybody who has left or opted out. Everybody has their own reasons, and I respect all those reasons.”
One day later, defensive back Will Jones II became the 10th Wildcat in the transfer portal. That added to what already was the highest total among the Big 12’s 10 schools since preseason camps began in August.
As of Friday morning, the tally for the rest of the league is thus, per 247Sports’ transfer portal database:
• Baylor: 2
• Iowa State: 1
• Kansas: 2
• Oklahoma: 4
• Oklahoma State: 2
• TCU: 6
• Texas: 5 (Defensive lineman Myron Warren, who entered his name in the portal Aug. 6 only to withdraw it and return to the team four days later, is counted in this total.)
• Texas Tech: 4
• West Virginia: 5
Mississippi State receiver Powers Warren reportedly entered the transfer portal Thursday afternoon. That would make him the 10th Bulldog to transfer since the fall began, putting Mississippi State alongside K-State. North Carolina also has 10 players in the transfer portal.
The only Power 5 program with more transfers than K-State, Mississippi State and UNC? Another “state” school: Washington State has had 11 since Aug. 3.
(There's only one school that resides outside the Power 5 leagues with a double-digit transfer number. That's UMass, which also has 11 transfers and might be the most hapless program in the land. The Minutemen are 0-2 in a fall in which they only have four games scheduled. They've gone 1-11 three times since 2012 and haven't won more than four games since 2011, when they went 5-6 in their final season as an FCS school.)
Back to the Power 5!
Mississippi State and Washington State are different cases than K-State, though. Both the Bulldogs (Mike Leach) and the Cougars (Nick Rolovich) have first-year coaches. Roster turnover is to be expected, with players who hadn’t been recruited by the new coaching staff believing greener pastures are elsewhere.
K-State reportedly came close to matching Washington State’s number Friday morning, though. GoPowercat.com reported that sophomore receiver Malik Knowles was expected to transfer.
Knowles publicly responded less than an hour later.
“If it’s not from my mouth or it’s been announced please leave my name out of all assumptions,” Knowles wrote on Twitter. “Thank you.”
If it’s not from my mouth or it’s been announced please leave my name out of all assumptions. Thank you— Malik⁴🕵🏽♂️ (@Leekfor6) November 20, 2020
Not the same
UNC, it of the 10 transfer-portal entrants, is the most analogous to K-State; the Tar Heels also have a second-year head coach in Mack Brown.
There's a major difference between the two, though: UNC's recruiting has skyrocketed under Brown.
Four of the Tar Heels' top 11 all-time recruits, per the 247Sports Composite, have signed or committed in the past year. Of the Tar Heels' 10 transfers, only one has a four-star rating; the rest are either three stars, two stars or no stars. It's easy to see what's happening in Chapel Hill, N.C.: The players transferring notice the talent upgrade going on around them, so they're getting out of Dodge in search of reps.
Under UNC's previous coach, Larry Fedora, the team signed 25 four-star prospects (per the 247Sports Composite) from 2012 to 2018. The Tar Heels never landed a five-star signee with Fedora.
Since Brown took over, the Tar Heels already have combined to sign 14 four-star players over the last two classes. They have 10 more four-star players committed in the 2021 cycle. They signed a five-star prospect earlier this year in defensive back Tony Grimes, the top overall player in Virginia and the No. 3 corner nationally in 2020. And they have another five star (in-state defensive end Keeshawn Silver) pledged for their 2021 class.
So while K-State and UNC's transfer number is the same, the situations aren't all that similar.
K-State isn’t Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State. The Wildcats’ roster isn’t filled to the gills with five-star prospects. K-State defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman acknowledged K-State’s program-building approach, one that dates back more than three decades, to Bill Snyder’s first tenure: The Wildcats, Klanderman said, are “a developmental program.”
K-State finds diamonds in the rough on the recruiting trail. Mostly three-star prospects. The Wildcats then polish them into All-Big 12 — and sometimes All-America — performers. Some even forge a path into the NFL.
The Wildcats have begun recruiting at a slightly higher clip since Klieman arrived. They have a commitment from Jake Rubley, a four-star quarterback in the 2021 class. If he signs, he’ll automatically become one of the most highly touted prospects the Wildcats have landed since the advent of recruiting rankings. (Per the 247Sports Composite, the only quarterbacks K-State has ever signed with a higher rating than Rubley are Nick Patton and Josh Freeman.) Still, even if Rubley ends up joining the Wildcats, rare will be the year they field a more talented roster, top to bottom, than Oklahoma or Texas.
'This program isn't for everybody'
Klieman said he believes the pressures of living through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has affected nearly every aspect of daily life since it began, has played a sizable role in the transfer numbers at his program and beyond.
“Everybody is going through some of this stuff, whether or not it’s a kid who’s opting out or a kid who’s decided to leave the program like is happening all over the country,” he said. “There’s not one thing throughout this fall that is normal from any other fall. Sometimes that’s really hard to handle and really hard to deal with.”
Jumping to conclusions about K-State’s Big-12 leading (for now) transfer number is foolhardy.
Listen to Klieman: These are unprecedented times.
Every player who has entered the transfer portal likely had his own reasons.
Some are homesick. Confined to their homes at all times other than when they’re practicing or playing games, it can take a mental toll. They can’t travel home to see family members, either. Even those who have family members attend games must remain physically distanced when they meet, either before kickoff or after the clock strikes zero.
Others know that with the NCAA granting a waiver for this season — this fall won’t count against a player’s eligibility, no matter how much or little they play — leaving in the middle of 2020 campaign won’t affect their status at a new school. In addition, the NCAA is expected to pass a permanent rule allowing a one-time transfer for all players. Instead of having to sit out a season after transferring, players would be eligible to play as soon as the next season begins. Transferring out of a school now gives players more time to vet their next potential stop.
Still murky is what K-State will do with players who can return next season as sixth-year seniors, most notably quarterback Skylar Thompson.
“We just haven’t gotten into that yet,” Klieman said Tuesday. “It’s not too early, it’s not too late, but I just want guys to focus on what they are doing right now and playing. We’ll have time on that at a later date.”
Given the fact that eight of K-State’s 10 transfers play defense — four in the secondary (Jones, Walter Neil Jr., Jonathan Alexander and Tyrone Lewis), three on the line (Derick Newton, Ronald Triplette and Matthew Pola-Mao) and a linebacker (Demarrquese Hayes) — it leads to speculation about the coaching staff, specifically Klanderman. But that doesn’t track. Klanderman is in his first year on the job, replacing Scottie Hazelton, who left for the same position at Michigan State. Klanderman and Hazelton both were part of Klieman’s first-year staff in 2019. While Klanderman has put his own spin on the defense, making minor tweaks, it’s not as if the Wildcats’ defense has undergone wholesale changes.
If Hazelton had been K-State’s defensive coordinator for a decade, and then this spate of transfers happened in Year 1 under Klanderman? Then, yes, an argument that Klanderman bears some responsibility for the string of transfers might have some merit. But now? No dice. It just doesn’t add up.
Only one of the 10 transfers (Neil) is a player signed by the previous coaching staff, captained by Snyder. Unlike Washington State and Mississippi State, K-State hasn’t hired a new head coach in the past year. That means nine of the transfers — though Newton is a standalone case; he originally signed with the Snyder-led Wildcats in 2018, transferred to Butler Community College for a year and then signed with the Wildcats again as a 2020 prospect — were recruits Klieman’s staff identified as players they thought could contribute to the program.
That’s why the most obvious reason — that players simply were unhappy with playing time, or felt that they weren’t touching the ball enough — likely holds some water.
Even so, K-State is forging ahead, continuing to work with the players it already has, trying to help them exceed their star ratings.
“We’ve been taking time out so we can get a look at everybody and so that everybody is getting those chances. ... I don’t know if there are guys that we’re finding who are ready right now,” Klanderman said Thursday, “but maybe there are guys we’re finding we can count on in a year and get put into that same situation that an Eli Huggins was in heading into this year, or a Jaylen Pickle that, ‘Hey, next year you might have to play a significant role, and can we count on you to do that?’”
All in all, Klanderman said he’s pleased with what he’s seen on the practice field.
He won’t stand in the way of those who want to walk out the door and into the uncertainty contained within the transfer portal.
“As far as the attrition goes, this program isn’t for everybody,” Klanderman said. “We’re going to do things a certain way to try to achieve a certain standard, and not everybody is able to adhere to that standard. That’s just what it is.”