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IMHO Sunday: For USC, the NCAA Transfer Portal giveth and taketh away

Greg Katz04/10/21
Article written by:On3 imageGreg Katz
Keaontay Ingram
(John McGillen/USC Athletics)

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

Portal Potty: In the fall of 2018, the NCAA enacted its now “famous or infamous” legislation known in athletic circles as the NCAA Transfer Portal (NTP), which was designed for more transparency for “student-athletes” transferring from one university to another. Or as the NCAA put it, “a compliance tool to systematically manage the transfer process from start to finish, add more transparency to the process among schools and empower student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.”

Portal Potty – Part 2: It has been reported that within weeks, the NCAA will pass and make into law the one-time eligibility transfer to the NTP. In other words, if a football player wants to transfer in or out of USC, he’ll be eligible for the upcoming season if the paperwork is acceptable. Are you thinking like I am thinking? Get ready for transfer bedlam. Can’t you just see an early entry freshman arriving in January and by the end of spring ball saying, “This place and this program ain’t for me. I am outta here!”

Portal Potty – Part 3: It could be argued successfully that the NTP has created a secondary recruiting market or as USC head football coach Clay Helton has referred to the NTP: “Free Agency.” Gentleman Clay hit the nail on the head, but is it a good thing for the Trojans football? Is the NTP a giveth or taketh away crapshoot? And will that be enhanced with the NCAA on the brink of passing the “one-time eligibility” transfer rule?

Clay Helton photo above) says that the NCAA Transfer Portal is a form of college football free agency.

Portal Potty – Part 4: For college sports, the NTP and its impending new transfer eligibility rule has and will throw college sports, IMHO, into a bigger unpredictable meat market than it already is now. It will test a player’s patience in attaining instant playing time gratification and a coaching staff’s patience in emergency readjusting its roster, redoing recruiting needs, and fears that if a player that isn’t listed as a starter after spring ball - or even during the season – he’ll be upset enough to say “Sayonara” and immediately jump ship into the NTP.

Portal Potty – Part 5: Needless to say, for Clay Helton and head coaches across the country, rosters in the future may become even more chaotic. The Trojans, like other universities, have also had the experience of players entering the NTP only to return (QB Matt Fink), and they've had players enter the NTP and get stuck in limbo without a decision either by choice or confusion (LB Palaie Gaoteote, who Helton says would be welcomed back should Palaie decide to stay).  

Former Trojans quarterback Matt Fink (photo above) went into the NCAA Transfer Portal and then decided to return to his USC teammates.

Portal Potty - Part 6: Here is an unofficial list of players the Trojans have acquired through the NCAA Transfer Portal: WR KD Nixon (Colorado), DB Xavion Alfred (Texas), RB Keaontay Ingram, OL Drew Richmond (Tennessee), WR Tahj Washington (Memphis), DL Ishmael Sopsher (Alabama), QB Mo Hassan (Vanderbilt), CB Chris Steele (Florida), and WR Bru McCoy (Texas). A total of nine players.

The Trojans are hoping that NCAA Transfer Portal arrival, running back Keaontay Ingram (photo above) from Texas, will help boost their running game. (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Portal Potty – Part 7: Here is an unofficial list of USC players that have departed Troy through the NCAA Transfer Portal: WR Travon Sidney, Daniel and Josh Imatorbhebhe, DL Oluwole Betiku Jr. (Illinois), RB Markese Stepp (Nebraska), WR Randall Grimes, DL Conner Murphy, OL Clayton Bradley (UNLV), QB JT Daniels (Georgia), QB Jack Sears (Boise State), PK Chase McGrath, WR Velus Jones (Tennessee)

Former Trojans quarterback J.T .Daniels (photo above) elected to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal and found a home at the University of Georgia, where he had a very successful 2020 season as the Bulldogs starter.

DE Abdul-Malik McClain (Jackson St.), WR Devon Williams (Oregon), DB Jack Jones (ASU), DB CJ Pollard (Utah State), WR Keyshawn “Pie” Young (Marshall), LB Levi Jones (North Carolina St.), S Bubba Bolden (Miami), DB Ykili Ross (UTEP), DB Trey Davis (Washington St.), and Bru McCoy (Texas). A total of 22 players.

Trojans wide receiver Bru McCoy (photo above) had the unique experience of coming to Troy as an early enrollment freshman, then entering the NCAA Transfer Portal and transferring to Texas, and then returning to USC, where his future appears bright. (Photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

Portal Potty – Part 8: The NTP can be hit or miss. There was the desperation to find a starting right tackle in 2019, so the Trojans dipped into the NTP to grab University of Tennessee grad transfer Drew Richmond, a former starter on the Vols team, which had a poor running game. The best thing one could say during Richmond’s time at Troy was that while he wasn’t a difference- maker, he was serviceable.

Portal Potty – Part 9: Prior to 2021 spring practice, Clay Helton was looking heavily at the NCAA Transfer Portal for a replacement at left tackle for the upcoming 2021 season after Alijah Vera-Tucker announced earlier that he was entering the NFL draft. Attempts to find a Portal replacement failed after a selected number of cracks at it. However, that could change by what happens inside the NTP after spring practices have concluded. It would shock nobody if after spring ball the Trojans return to the Portal in the search of that great offensive line puzzle piece.

After the conclusion of spring practice, will the Trojans decide to look again to the NCAA Transfer Portal for more offensive line (photo above) help and options? (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Portal Potty – Part 10: Although the previous rules and systems in the past were far from perfect in trying to limit mass transfers, at least it had some guardrails. We may now be entering into a new phase of total roster chaos, and you might need to buy – more than ever – a game program to identify the participants.

From the press box…

Spring Week 2: On Tuesday, the most explosive play on offense was a 50-yard touchdown pass from Kedon Slovis to grad transfer K.D. Nixon for a catch and run, but a real downer was the loss of safety Max Williams to an ACL on the same knee he injured his senior season at Gardena Serra. Clay Helton said on Saturday that he didn’t expect Max to return until 2022 but was confident that the kid would return ready to go in 2022. Helton also said this week that he would like to have a featured back on offense who would have between 23-25 touches per game with a backup back getting around 15 touches.

Spring Week 2 – Part 2: Like Tuesday, the running game was virtually a non-factor, but again showed an explosive played by running back Vavae Malepeai, who went for a 50-yard touchdown run with one caveat, the defense didn’t appear ready and there was a sizeable hole on the left side. Well, you’ll take rushing touchdowns anyway you can get them at this point.

Spring Week 2 - Part 3: Helton said on Saturday morning that he expected it would take all of the 15 days of spring practice and the weeks allowed in training camp in August to decide the best starting five along the offensive line. Courtland Ford continues to hold down the first unit left offensive tackle while the other four linemen were starters from last season.

Courtland Ford (photo above - No. 74) continues to play with the first offensive unit at left tackle. (John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Spring Week 2 – Part 4: Saturday also provided a defensive score when corner Jayden Williams decoyed quarterback Mo Hassan and returned an interception 70 yards. Earlier Saturday morning at his presser, Clay Helton said he was very impressed with Mo Hassan and his decision-making, and that the Vanderbilt grad transfer was very accurate in his throws. Offensively, the Trojans worked on 3rd and short situations, an area last season that was almost a complete breakdown, and defensively the Trojans worked on 3rd down defense to getting the unit off the field, another area of 2020 weakness.

Texas transfer running back Keaontay Ingram (photo above - No. 28) continued to physically impress during Saturday's practice. (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Spring Week 2 - Part 5: Saturday’s “scrimmage” was not a good day for Trojans quarterbacks as not only was Mo Hassan charged with a pick-six TD, but All-Pac-12 signal caller Kedon Slovis was intercepted by junior safety Chase Williams and Texas transfer Xavion Alford. The Williams PI was a case of Slovis throwing across field (a no, no) while Alford’s pick was a diving snatch that went through the hands of John Jackson lll. You can be sure that John Jackson Jr. will have comments about letting a ball go through his son's hands and becoming an interception.  

Spring Week 2 – Part 6: The good news on Saturday was the return of Drake Jackson, Chris Steele, and Ralen Goforth. As Gentleman Clay had said earlier in the day, backup center Justin Dedich was given time at left guard, which came as no surprise. As no surprise, Courtland Ford continues to hold down the offensive left tackle spot, where he’s expected to open when the Trojans kickoff against San Jose State in the Coliseum come September 4.

Spring Week 2 – Part 7: One “new” player that has caught the attention of Helton is early freshman enrollee Jay Toia, the massive defensive lineman from local Grace Brethren. Saturday morning, Helton said that he had never seen a head as big as Jay’s cabeza and said in jest, “He has a head like an elephant.” In a more serious tone, Helton also said that Toia (6-3, 325) is so big and physical that it already takes a double-team block to neutralize the young stud.

True freshman defensive lineman Jay Toia (photo above - No. 93) from local Grace Brethren has been impressive this spring, according to head coach Clay Helton. (Photo by Derek Marckel/USC Football)

Culture Club: On Saturday morning, Clay Helton was effusive in his praise of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and how Orlando and his staff have brought a mental toughness and edge to the team. Helton wished that Orlando would have had a spring practice last April because he could see the attitude change at practice. Helton said that Orlando is the definition of toughness and edginess.    

It all adds up: Speaking about wide receiver grad transfer KD Nixon, receivers coach Keary Colbert said that Nixon adds “great experience” to his receiving unit and that he’s “a pro” at the collegiate level.

Thus far in spring practice, Trojans wide receiver coach Keary Colbert has liked what he has seen from former Colorado wide receiver grad transfer K.D. Nixon (photo above). (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics).

No hoops:
The Trojans men’s basketball team made it to the Elite 8 before losing badly to Gonzaga. Asked about not playing on the basketball team this season to concentrate on a future in football, super wide receiver Drake London said he did miss playing basketball while watching the tournament, but he thought he made the right decision to concentrate on just one sport – football.  

One player that has caught the eye of Keary Colbert has been true freshman wide receiver Michael Jackson Jr. Colbert said the youngster is very competitive, and that he opened camp with a very positive performance.

Trojan true freshman wide receiver Michael Jackson Jr. (photo above) has made some early impressive catches during spring practice. (Photo by Alex Verdugo/USC Football)

Where Passion Lives: This summer, there is a new college football book on the way called Where Passion Lives – The Spirit of College Football by Dean Hawthorne, a 1978 alum of USC. The book speaks to college football across the land and, of course, according to its author, “SC figures prominently into this unique story.” To check it out, go to: www.deanchawthorne.com 

A new college football book soon to be available, Where Passion Lives - The Spirit of College Football, written by Trojan alum Dean Hawthorne, speaks to the excitement and devotion to college football and contains a number of prose regarding the Trojans.

The post-game show…

Not For Long: That’s what they say “NFL” stands for – Not For Long - and that applies to former Trojans QB standout Sam Darnold, who was traded this week to the Carolina Panthers in exchanged for draft picks after a difficult time with the mismanaged New York Jets. As you might be aware, the horrendous Jets couldn’t give Darnold help, and Sam, IMHO, was used as a scapegoat for its team’s failures. Hopefully, this change of scenery will bring a new beginning for the surfer from San Clemente.

Former Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (photo above) has been traded by the New York Jets to the Carolina Panthers in what could be a refreshing change of scenery and opportunity.

The NFL draft:
Circle your calendar for the NFL draft from Cleveland, which will be Thursday, April 29, at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on ESPN and ABC. Certainly, the draft eligible Trojans players (OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, S Talanoa Hufanga, DLs Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu, corner Olaijah Griffin, WRs Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns) will be watching with high drama.

Trojans' All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu (photo above) hopes to get an early draft call .

The NFL draft – Part 2:
On ESPN, Mike Greenberg will lead ESPN’s 42nd NFL Draft on Day 1 and 2 along with senior NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., Louis Riddick, and Booger McFarland. ESPN’s event coverage will also feature Senior NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, and NFL host Suzy Kolber, who will cover the event and interview draftees.

The NFL draft – Part 3:
Not to be outdone, veteran Rece Davis and Maria Taylor will co-host the ABC prime-time broadcasts on Day 1 and 2. Davis will cover the event with college football analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, and Todd McShay. From a nearby set, Taylor will anchor with college football analyst and third-year draft commentator Jesse Palmer. College football analyst David Pollack will also provide insights alongside his College GameDay teammates.

Trojans wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (photo above) should hear his named called during the NFL draft, which will begin on Thursday night, April 29. (Photo by John McGillen)

The NFL draft – Part 4:
On Day 3, Davis will host the 2021 NFL Draft on ESPN and ABC with Kiper, McShay, Riddick, Mortensen and Schefter.

Honoring Anthony: Congratulations to USC all-time great offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, who will honored by the Cincinnati Bengals in their new Ring of Honor inside Paul Brown Stadium, which will also honor team founder Paul Brown and two individuals to be named later.

Trojans Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz (photo above) will be honored in the new Cincinnati Bengals' Ring of Honor, which will be displayed inside Paul Brown Stadium.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Katzer, what did you think about safety Max Williams going down with an ACL during practice at the Coliseum last week?

Caller No. 1, it was terrible news for Max, who tore his ACL in the same knee in the first game of his senior season at Serra High School. The redshirt sophomore, who is a true competitor, is expected back in 2022, so that is the good news and the fact he has been through this before, he knows the drill. That being said, with nickel Greg Johnson unable to perform (torn meniscus rehab), it puts a strain on that position going through spring. However, it’s next man up, and it means some of the youngsters will get an even closer look as we head towards fall camp. And let’s not forget the incoming freshmen in August camp. Still, the loss of Williams is tough no matter how you look at it.  

Trojans safety Max Williams (photo above - No. 4) was apparently lost for the 2021 season with an ACL injury that required surgery. The Trojans hope to get Williams at the very latest in time for the 2022 season. (Photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Caller No. 2: GK, who do you think could be a surprise on offense that may have been overlooked?

Caller No. 2, I must say that maybe everybody overlooked grad transfer quarterback Mo Hassan as a frontrunner for the backup quarterback position to Kedon Slovis. Hassan has kind of flown under the radar due to his surgery recovery and attention paid to the two true freshmen QBs, Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss, both of whom have had their good and not so good moments thus far. Well, somebody forgot to tell Mo Hassan “don’t bother.” Thus far this “outsider” looks like he belongs and is pushing for notice in the early phase of spring camp.  

Caller No. 3: Greg, do you think that the defensive staff has intentionally or unintentionally forced the offensive staff to get more animated and intense in practice?

Caller No. 3, by nature, the Trojans defensive staff, under highly intense defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, really bring the emotion and passion to practice. The defensive staff is high energy, vocal, and is always ready to go. I think it would be slightly unfair to say that the offensive staff doesn’t bring fire, but the first place you look when trying to see if there is some sort of equality of emotion on the offensive side of the ball is the offensive line coach. Thus far, first-year O-line coach Clay McGuire has made his emotional presence felt.

USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (photo above) and his defensive staff brings the passion and fire to spring practices.

Normally, you don’t see quarterback coaches going nuts in practice nor do you normally see the other offensive position coaches. If the defensive coaches are dictating culture and attitude at each practice, IMHO, that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t say that Clay Helton is chill, but he isn’t Marv Goux or Pete Carroll either.   

Caller No. 4: Coacher, have you heard how former running back Markese Stepp is doing at Nebraska?

Caller No. 4, Funny you should ask. According to Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, Markese underwent surgery of an undisclosed issue, but he did say it was something that when Stepp arrived from USC, neither Frost nor the Huskers knew about it until getting into spring practice. Frost said it was in Markese’s best interest to have surgery now and prepare for fall camp. The former SC back is expected to return to activity sometime this summer.

Former Trojans running back Markese Stepp (photo above - No. 30), who transferred to Nebraska, recently underwent undisclosed surgery and is lost for the spring. Nebraska is hopeful that Stepp can return in August in time for fall practice.

Caller No. 5: Mr. G, are you a big breakfast eater?

Caller No. 5, normally I am very basic and wouldn’t consider myself a breakfast guy. For example, a typical morning breakfast for me would be a bowl of oat bran with either sliced bananas or oranges thrown in. However, when I am with my Sharon (she likes to cook and have some sort of variety), the “menu” expands to pancakes – sometimes waffles - turkey bacon, and fruit. I am a water guy and don’t indulge in orange juice or grapefruit juice. Both orange and grapefruit juice have too much acid for me in the morning, so I stick with water. Now, if I am on a USC football road trip, I try to stay at a place that has a free morning “all you can eat” breakfast, which while not a 5-star menu, allows me bagels and blueberry muffins as a change of pace.   

Nothing healthier for breakfast than a bowl of warm oat bran and a sliced banana (photo above).

The last word: This past week on the Garry P. message board, regular contributor Boselli wrote, “I want a 100-yard (rushing) game from someone -- anyone--before I die.”