Analyzing the comings and goings: How did BYU football fare in the transfer portal?
Cougars added a standout quarterback and running back, but lost some valuable offensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs
That collective sigh of relief heard around the college football world last week probably came from coaches and fans, who now don’t have to worry about losing their teams’ top players to other programs for more than three months.
As of last Thursday, football players can’t enter the transfer portal until May 1. That window will last only 15 days, after this past one lasted 45.
For the BYU football program, the recent window was full of surprises, both in terms of which players it lost, and which players it gained.
Obviously, teams can continue adding players from the portal, although that seems unlikely for BYU because the last day to add or drop classes was Jan. 17, and the school doesn’t allow students to enroll mid-semester.
So now seems like a good time to explore the question: Was the recently completed transfer cycle a net positive for the Cougars, or a net negative?
As of Monday, BYU had lost 13 players to the portal and/or other schools, although some of those players — see chart below — were nonscholarship guys. Also earlier this week, the Cougars had signed a dozen new players from the portal.
It should be noted that quarterback Jake Retzlaff is not on this list because he was at Riverside (California) City College, and not in the transfer portal. Nevertheless, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound gunslinger from Corona, California, has to be considered a fantastic addition to BYU’s quarterbacks room. More on that later.
Back to our question: How did BYU football fare, overall, in this transfer cycle? Did the Cougars get better, or worse?
Well, it is close to even, from the vantage point here. The Cougars picked up some players who should be starters and major contributors right away, guys such as former USC/Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis, former Louisville/UNLV running back Aidan Robbins, former Boise State edge rusher Isaiah Bagnah, former Weber State defensive back Eddie Heckard and former Utah offensive lineman Paul Maile.
But there are significant losses, most notably tight end Dallin Holker to Colorado State, defensive back Gabe Jeudy-Lally and linebacker Keenan Pili to Tennessee, blocking brothers Campbell and Clark Barrington to Baylor, and highly touted recruits who never really got to show what they could do at BYU, including quarterback Jacob Conover (Arizona State), linebacker Tate Romney (ASU) and defensive end Logan Fano (Utah).
Perhaps Jarom Jordan of BYUtv’s “BYU Sports Nation” said it best: “Is it a net gain or net loss? It is either barely negative or barely positive. I think it is pretty similar that way.”
Of course, only time will tell. It will be interesting to circle back at this time next year and pose the question again, with the benefit of a full season of data to scrutinize and analyze.
Which departures hurt the most?
In my opinion, losing Fano to Utah, the defensive starters (Pili and Jeudy-Lally) to Tennessee and the Barrington brothers to Baylor bring the most bite. Fano because of his potential and the others because they are walking away from almost certain playing time at a new Power Five school to some uncertainty at established Power Five schools.
Deseret News contributor Dave McCann put it this way on “BYU Sports Nation”: “I don’t think BYU lost anybody in the portal who isn’t replaceable. Clark Barrington to Baylor (hurts), but we all thought he was going to the NFL, because of his age, and all that. ... The fact that he decided to go somewhere else and keep playing (college ball), that was a loss. But (BYU) was expecting to lose him anyway.”
No question, BYU filled some needs — particularly at quarterback, running back, cornerback and defensive line.
As McCann noted: “They got starters who are going to help them. … They went shopping for those guys, and they got what they went for. I don’t think they picked up anybody that (doesn’t fill a need) on their list.”
Getting Maile, a starter in two Rose Bowls while at Utah, is an unexpected bonus, certainly. Maile told BYUtv he could have stayed at Utah or gone to other Power Five programs, but chose BYU because of his relationship with head coach Kalani Sitake.
Also, the late addition of Heckard, a second-team All-American at the FCS level for Weber State, should help ease the loss of Jeudy-Lally and two cornerbacks who are graduating: Kaleb Hayes and D’Angelo Mandell.
Is another receiver needed?
The Cougars lost a couple pass-catchers in Holker and Terence Fall, who was used sparingly but had tremendous upside, according to coaches. The Frenchman signed with Northern Colorado, where Ed Lamb is the new head coach. With Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney and Brayden Cosper trying their hands at the pros, the void at receiver is significant, and not yet addressed through the transfer portal.
Keeping rising stars Kody Epps, Keanu Hill and Chase Roberts was huge, in that regard. But BYU seemingly needs another experienced receiver, and those aren’t easy to find in the portal. Guys who are getting touches and playing time generally don’t jump ship for supposed greener pastures.
A couple of high schoolers — tight end Jackson Bowers and receiver Josiah Phillips — could see some early playing time if this issue isn’t resolved through the portal.
Slovis should slide right in
With the aforementioned Retzlaff from the juco ranks, along with incoming Springville quarterback Ryder Burton and veterans already in the room, BYU should be set at the most important position in college football for years to come.
But the future is now, and that means expectations are sky-high for Slovis to fill in seamlessly for the NFL-bound Jaren Hall. Is the four-year starter (three at USC, one at Pitt) up to the task?
He checks all the right boxes — throwing accuracy, leadership ability, big-game experience — and seems to be adjusting well to life in Provo.
“It has been surprisingly good,” Slovis told ESPN 960 Sports Radio last week. “The guys and the coaching staff have done a good job of making me feel welcome. I have quite a few friends on the team already. It is a close-knit group of guys, so it has been a quick, easy adjustment so far.”
Slovis said he has been “immersed” in learning Aaron Roderick’s offense and already has a solid foundation with it.
“Last year, I didn’t really have an OC, didn’t have the offense set up (before camp), so being able to kinda have the offense ready to go, just to learn it, is so much easier,” he told host Darnell Dickson. “I feel like I’ve (almost) learned it. Now it is time to memorize the new words, because most of the concepts are … a carryover from every offense you are in. Different code words, different signals. To learn all that stuff definitely takes some time, but yeah, I don’t think it will take too long to figure it all out.”
Robbins: ready to deal at running back
For the second straight year, BYU is replacing a productive running back, after Tyler Allgeier was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in April 2022 and had a fantastic rookie season in the NFL. Cal transfer Chris Brooks is moving on after a strong year at BYU, although a case could be made that the graduate transfer was a bit underused, particularly in the middle of the season before he suffered a hamstring injury.
Versatile back Lopini Katoa is also turning his attention to a shot at pro football.
The 6-3 Robbins, who is slightly taller than Brooks, should fill in admirably. He spent three years at Louisville, but was used sparingly and transferred to UNLV last year. Robbins rushed for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns and caught one touchdown pass for the Rebels in 2022 and expectations are high that he will pick up where he left off this fall in Provo.
The Cougars could probably use another big-time ball-carrier, but the need isn’t as big as it is at receiver. Hinckley Ropati, Mason Fakahua, Miles Davis and, maybe, if he returns from injury, Jackson McChesney are in the running to complement Robbins.
Freshman running backs rarely contribute immediately, but BYU is still actively pursuing LJ Martin, a four-star prep RB from El Paso, Texas, who committed to Stanford last fall but is taking a look at some other schools, including BYU.
Liability at linebacker?
To date, the Cougars haven’t landed any linebackers out of the portal, which is a bit puzzling considering Pili, Payton Wilgar, Tate Romney and Pepe Tanuvasa are gone. New Mexico Bowl hero Ben Bywater and Max Tooley return, but there are plenty of question marks for that unit as well.
BYU needs oft-injured Chaz Ah You and sophomore Tavita Gagnier (ACL) to return back from injuries better than ever; coaches like returned missionaries Michael Daley and Bodie Schoonover, but those guys probably need to be brought along slowly in the Big 12.
Offensive line needs an overhaul
BYU coaches knew they would have some holes to fill on the offensive line and would probably have to turn to the transfer portal for some help, but not like this. As expected, starters Harris LaChance, Joe Tukuafu and Blake Freeland declared for the NFL draft.
Clark Barrington was viewed to be 50-50 to join them or return to BYU, but the four-year starter shocked everybody and entered the transfer portal, then committed to Baylor — where his younger brother, Campbell, is also heading.
Former Bountiful High standout Talin Togiai also hit the portal.
So there are only three guys with any kind of game experience back for the Cougars: Kingsley Suamataia, Connor Pay and Brayden Keim.
Snow College transfer Lisala Tai, redshirt freshman Peter Falaniko, Tyler Little and former tight end Ben Ward are also back; Sione Veikoso died tragically during winter break in Hawaii.
So far, the Cougars have landed the aforementioned Maile, along with Utah State’s Weylin Lapuaho and Missouri State’s Ian Fitzgerald out of the portal. Those are good moves, although Lapuaho and Fitzgerald will be making a big jump up in terms of competition.
There’s also some intrigue surrounding the center position. Will Pay make the move to guard to make room for Maile at center, or will the former Ute be able to migrate positions in one direction or the other?
BYU’s losses to the transfer portal (13)
Tight end Dallin Holker — Colorado State
Quarterback Jacob Conover — Arizona State
Offensive lineman Clark Barrington — Baylor
Offensive lineman Campbell Barrington — Baylor
Defensive back Gabe Jeudy-Lally — Tennessee
Linebacker Tate Romney — Arizona State
Defensive end Logan Fano — Utah
Linebacker Keenan Pili — Tennessee
Receiver Terence Fall — Northern Arizona
Defensive back Nathaniel Gillis — Northern Colorado
Offensive lineman Talin Togiai — Undecided
Defensive back Korbyn Green — Undecided
Defensive lineman Isaiah Perez —Undecided
BYU’s additions from the transfer portal (12)
Quarterback Kedon Slovis — Pitt/USC
Defensive tackle Jackson Cravens — Boise State
Running back Aidan Robbins — UNLV
Kicker Will Ferrin — Boise State
Defensive end Isaiah “Zay” Bagnah — Boise State
Defensive tackle Wyatt Dawe — Southern Utah
Offensive lineman Weylin Lapuaho — Utah State
Offensive lineman Ian Fitzgerald — Missouri State
Defensive lineman Nu’u Sellesin — Weber State
Offensive lineman Paul Maile — Utah
Defensive back Eddie Heckard — Weber State
Defensive back Crew Wakley — Utah State