Friedlander: Rating the 10 most impactful ACC football transfers
The 1st of 2 transfer portal window closed last week, ending a free agent feeding frenzy throughout college football.
More than 1,000 players nationwide changed schools with more certain to come when the window opens back up for 2 more weeks at the end of spring practice in May.
While there’s a calm to the storm, it’s a good time to take stock of how the transfer market might impact the ACC in 2023.
Here’s a look at the 10 most impactful additions to conference teams:
10. Al Blades Jr., DB (Miami to Duke)
After 5 years at the school in which his father and namesake starred, Blades decided to leave Miami for what is officially his junior season. A former 4-star recruit played both safety and cornerback with the Hurricanes. He’ll likely be slotted as a safety with the Blue Devils to replace graduating starter Darius Joiner.
Blades was credited with 11 tackles and a pass breakup while seeing action in all 11 games with 1 start, for the Hurricanes in 2022. It was a comeback season for him after sitting out 2021 with a health issue. Prior to that, he played in 49 games with 15 starts as a cornerback, amassing 93 tackles, 14 pass breakups and 4 interceptions.
9. Logan Taylor, OT (Virginia to Boston College)
Eagles coach Jeff Hafley addressed his team’s most glaring need with the addition of a physical, proven offensive lineman. Taylor is a 6-6, 300-pound tackle who comes to BC after playing 2 seasons at ACC rival Virginia.
The former 4-star prospect is the high school teammate of the Eagles’ projected starting quarterback in 2023, Emmett Morehead. He held offers from the likes of Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and Miami, A first-time starter in 2022, Taylor saw action in all 10 of the Cavaliers games this season. He was much more effective as a pass blocker than a run blocker, allowing only 2 sacks in his 699 snaps.
8. Alijah Huzzie, CB (ETSU to North Carolina)
After losing 6 defensive backs to the portal since the end of the season, Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik replenished their secondary by adding 3 veteran newcomers. The most impactful of the group projects to be Huzzie, a 5-11, 190-pound cornerback from East Tennessee State, where he earned first-team FCS All-American honors in 2022.
Huzzie intercepted 6 passes, tied for the most nationally among FCS players, including a 38-yard pick-6 against Mars Hill. He also recorded 59 tackles, 16 pass breakups and 2.5 TFLs and added 3 interceptions and 76 tackles as a freshman in 2021. Huzzie has 3 years of eligibility remaining including his bonus COVID season.
7. Nate McCollum, WR (Ga. Tech to UNC)
Brown didn’t just concentrate his portal efforts on strengthening the ACC’s worst defense. He also took steps to provide Heisman hopeful quarterback Drake Maye with as many weapons as possible. McCollum is the likely replacement for All-American slot receiver Josh Downs.
The leading receiver for Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech last season, McCollum caught 60 passes for 655 yards and 3 touchdowns in 11 games. The 1 game he missed was the Yellow Jackets’ upset win in Chapel Hill. The 5-11, 195-pound McDonough, Ga., native has up to 2 years of eligibility remaining.
6. Phil Jurkovec, QB (Boston College to Pitt)
The Panthers’ first attempt at finding a quarterback in the portal didn’t work out well last season. Southern Cal’s Kedon Slovis, who has since taken his show on the road again to BYU, was a major disappointment. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
This time, coach Pat Narduzzi went with a more known quantity. Jurkovic is a Pittsburgh native who returns home for his final season of college eligibility. He’ll also be reunited with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., who called plays for him at Boston College in 2021 before joining the Panthers last year.
Jurkovec has had problems with injuries, missing significant time in both of his seasons with the Eagles. He still managed to amass 5,183 yards and 35 touchdowns on 59% passing in 24 games.
5. Jaheem Bell, TE (South Carolina to Florida State)
As if the Seminoles didn’t already have enough playmakers, they added another in Bell, the No. 1-rated tight end in this year’s portal class. A 6-3, 232-pound junior, he caught 25 passes for 231 yards and 2 touchdowns for South Carolina last season. He was also used extensively in the ground game by the Gamecocks — but not as a blocker. He ranked 2nd on the team in rushing with 261 yards and 3 scores.
As a sophomore in 2021, Bell earned 2nd-team All-SEC recognition by averaging 16.6 yards on his 20 catches, including touchdowns of 69 and 66 yards in a Duke’s Mayo Bowl victory against UNC.
4. Kobe Pace, RB (Clemson to Virginia)
Pace has the potential to make an immediate impact in a Cavaliers’ offense that could use all the help it can get. UVA was the lowest-scoring team in the ACC at just 17 points per game last season and ranked 11th in the league on the ground in Tony Elliott’s 1st season as coach.
The 5-10, 205-pound running back has already had success in Elliott’s system, having rushed for 641 yards and 6 touchdowns while averaging better than 6 yards per carry when the 2 were together at Clemson in 2021. He was named the ACC’s Back of the Week after rushing for 191 yards in a win against Wake Forest that season. But because of an injury and the emergence of Will Shipley, he was limited to 30 carries and 77 yard last season, prompting his entry into the portal.
3. Jack Plummer, QB (Cal to Louisville)
Jeff Brohm and his offensive coordinator brother Brian are both former quarterbacks who plan to install a variation of the Air Raid offense with the Cardinals. But to do that, they need a talented passer to pull the trigger with Malik Cunningham out of eligibility.
The Brohms got just that in Plummer, who completed 62.5% of his passes for 3,095 yards and 21 touchdowns at Cal last season. Like several others on this list, Plummer’s transfer to Louisville brings him back together with a former coach. He played his first 4 college seasons for the Brohms at Purdue, throwing for 3,405 yards and 26 touchdowns in 17 games before losing his starting job to Aiden O’Connell 4 games into the 2021 season.
2. Brennan Armstrong, QB (Virginia to NC State)
Yet another example of an impact player following a former coach to another school in hopes of recapturing past success. With Robert Anae as his offensive coordinator at Virginia, Armstrong led the ACC in passing while throwing for 31 touchdowns in 2021. After Anae left for Syracuse, Armstrong’s production was virtually cut in half.
Anae is now at NC State, which found itself in the market for a veteran quarterback when Devin Leary transferred to Kentucky. Armstrong won’t just be counted on to lead a potentially explosive Wolfpack offense in 2023. He’ll also be asked to serve as a mentor for his heir apparent, MJ Morris.
1. Fentrell “Deuce” Cypress, CB (Virginia to Florida State)
The rich get richer. Cypress was the ACC’s best cover corner in 2022 at Virginia, He racked up a league-leading 14 pass breakups, a total that ranked No. 4 nationally, while only allowing 18 receptions all season. He didn’t give up a single passing touchdown in the 9 games he played while being credited with 39 tackles.
Although he doesn’t play the same position as the 1 major piece to the puzzle the Seminoles lost this offseason, his arrival will allow coach Mike Norvell to move 1 of his 2 returning starters at corner – Jarrian Jones or more likely, Renardo Green – to safety in order to fill the void left by the departure of Jammie Robinson to the NFL.