Ole Miss cornerback Davison Igbinosun transferred to Ohio State, won a starting job, and would eventually become the first of three Rebels to move to OSU in the span of a year.
This year, however, when Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins became the third Rebel to transfer to Ohio State (defensive tackle Tywone Malone being the second), it was a surprise to many considering nobody really expected Judkins to leave the South.
Eleven days later, all hell broke loose when the Buckeyes added their second Freshman All-American defensive back in as many years. Alabama safety Caleb Downs transferred to Ohio State following the unexpected retirement of legendary head coach Nick Saban.
Ohio State, who finished second in Downs’ recruitment a year ago, was a familiar choice for the Georgia native. Two days later, Downs was joined by freshman quarterback enrollee Julian Sayin, who had also been recruited by Ohio State, albeit after he had already been committed to Saban and the Tide.
The Buckeyes have landed six transfers this winter, but it was the final three that got a lot of pundits and fan bases talking.
Ohio State was in the portal “buying players.”
Just look at their haul.
It started with Kansas State quarterback Will Howard, which netted absolutely no concern nationally. A quarterback addition was expected following the transfer of 2023 starter Kyle McCord. Then came the transfer of Ohio University tight end Will Kacmarek, which flew under the radar lower than a submarine stuck on the bottom of the ocean floor.
One week after Kacmarek, Alabama starting center Seth McLaughlin transferred in following a difficult outing in the College Football Playoffs against Michigan. To say that the nation was not yet up in arms would be incredibly accurate.
Then came Judkins, Downs, and Sayin, and now suddenly Ohio State is going into the portal and “buying” whoever they want.
The Timing Is The Thing
The Buckeyes have brought in six transfers. It’s one more than they brought in at this time last year, and one fewer than Michigan brought in by this time a year ago.
With the influx of transfers, there are now transfer class rankings. According to Rivals, Ohio State has the No. 16 transfer class in the country — and the No. 5 transfer class in the Big Ten.
That’s a lot of consternation for the No. 16 class in the country and the fifth-best class in the conference.
Interestingly, no team in the top 70 of those class rankings has fewer than OSU’s six transfers.
The Buckeyes landed three former Alabama players in the transfer portal. That wasn’t going to happen if Nick Saban hadn’t retired. Seth McLaughlin was the lone transfer of the trio before the retirement.
Ohio State may also not have gone into the transfer portal for a quarterback if Kyle McCord hadn’t left. The Buckeyes also lost two running backs to the transfer portal and one to the NFL draft. The exact same scenario also played out at tight end. There were holes that needed to be filled, and that’s what OSU head coach Ryan Day set out to do.
Even losing starting free safety Josh Proctor to graduation opened up the perfect opportunity for Caleb Downs.
“I think I’ve said this before, in that type of situation what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to fill needs,” Day said last week of OSU’s approach in the transfer portal. “We always want to recruit high school players and then develop them. I think we’re doing that as good as anybody in the country. But when we have opportunities to fill needs, you know, [running back] Chip [Trayanum] left, so we have to bring in Quinshon. Kyle went into the portal so we were able to bring in Will. We’re trying to fill needs.”
Nearly two years ago, Ryan Day suggested that it would take $13 million annually to keep OSU’s roster from being poached by other schools. The idea being that if the Buckeye collectives weren’t competitive nationally, Ohio State players could leave for greener pastures.
Head coaches from around the nation heard those figures and each of them had their own personal thoughts. Then-Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh later responded, “My thoughts were, ‘I think we can do more.’ I think maybe we can even double that eventually. I think that’s possible and I think it’s going in a terrific direction that way. You know me, I’ve always been for NIL. I believe players should have a share in the revenues and I think that’s something that’s really possible at Michigan.”
Harbaugh did not stick around long enough to see those figures come to fruition, and others will tell you that Ohio State has not reached Day’s figures either.
There is no denying that Name, Image, and Likeness compensation is a hell of a selling point. But if Ohio State was not an enticing place to be, then running back TreVeyon Henderson, receiver Emeka Egbuka, left guard Donovan Jackson, defensive ends Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau, defensive tackles Ty Hamilton and Tyleik Williams, linebacker Cody Simon, and defensive backs Denzel Burke, Jordan Hancock, and Lathan Ransom wouldn’t all have put the NFL on hold for one last ride in Columbus.
And according to Day, that’s as much of a selling point in the transfer portal as anything.
“I think guys can see what’s going on here,” he said. “I think even having someone like Davison Igbinosun, who was at Ole Miss, just to give a little feedback on what it’s like to be at Ohio State. For Caleb, he knew what this was. He’s had relationships with Jordan Hancock and some of the guys on our team. So a big part of it goes back to the guys that came back. And I think that was the number one thing coming off the season is the guys coming back and seeing that they wanted to be with their teammates and reach their goals. And to me that’s where all this started.”
One of the fallacies of the NIL era is that championships can be bought. It takes more than transfers to get it done, but done correctly and the right transfer can be the missing piece of a championship puzzle.
“So when you think about where J.T. and Denzel, Jack, Tyleik, Lathan, TreVeyon, Emeka, Donovan, I mean, these are all really high-end players who decided they wanted to come back,” Day said. “And it wasn’t for anything other than their teammates, their coaches, the culture, and that kind of set the tone for all of it. And then we started to fill in a couple of the pieces. There wasn’t a lot. It wasn’t big numbers. But hopefully the guys we brought in can make an impact.”