Running back Stephen Carr entered his name into the transfer portal this week, becoming the latest USC Trojans to do so in an effort to find a new school to finish his college career. USC hasn’t been the most active program with transfer portal additions and subtractions, but the Trojans have seen a number of players leave or arrive via the portal since its inception in the fall of 2018. Here is a look at those ins and outs and the impact they’ve had on the roster.
Out: CB Jack Jones
Obviously there was a serious off-the-field issue that led to Jones leaving USC, but strictly on the field, his departure is still being felt by the Trojans. He displayed plenty of growing pains in his first year, but he was still on the field for one of the most important defensive drives of the season late in the Rose Bowl against Penn State. He would have improved and absolutely would have earned some playing time or at least provided needed depth as USC has struggled to keep numbers up at the cornerback position the last few years. The Trojans brought in a bunch of defensive backs in the 2019 class, but Trey Davis didn’t stick at USC and several others have yet to see the field and are possibly in danger of being passed up by younger players. Jones is returning for his extra season of eligibility at Arizona State this fall.
Out: WR Trevon Sidney, WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR Keyshawn Young, WR Randal Grimes, DE Oluwole Betiku, LB Levi Jones, S Bubba Bolden, S Ykili Ross, CB Trey Davis
In: WR Bru McCoy, OT Drew Richmond, CB Chris Steele
Not mentioned above are the out-in decisions from quarterback Matt Fink and safety Greg Johnson, which both proved to be huge for USC and reason enough to understand why head coach Clay Helton leaves the door open for players to return to the roster after putting their names into the transfer portal.
Levi Jones and Bubba Bolden were sizable losses and Bolden’s departure left a big hole at safety that was filled by young players in Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga. But both Jones and Bolden were off-the-field issues that weren’t football decisions.
As for the rest, it looks like a USC win when comparing the ins and outs. The wide receiver logjam was alleviated and that led to a 100-catch season for Michael Pittman in 2019, as well as a breakout year for true freshman Drake London. Chris Steele has been a huge addition in terms of giving USC a reliable starter at cornerback. Drew Richmond wasn’t phenomenal, but he was a plug-and-play starter at right tackle. And McCoy’s potential impact this season outweighs anything the four departures likely would have delivered.
Out: QB J.T. Daniels, QB Jack Sears, WR Devon Williams, WR Velus Jones Jr., TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe, OL Clayton Bradley, S C.J. Pollard, K Thomas Fitts
In: QB Mo Hasan
Daniels’ decision is the one that stands out as the what-if, especially given what he did in his first season at Georgia. It’s fascinating to think what would have happened early in 2020 had Daniels still been on the roster. Would the USC coaches have stuck with Slovis despite the poor passes and shaken confidence, knowing they could go with a proven commodity in Daniels off the bench? Had Daniels not been all-but-guaranteed of being granted the transfer waiver because of the impending one-time transfer exception, maybe he sticks around for the fall and then heads elsewhere after the season. Or, if called upon to come in against Arizona State or Arizona, maybe he plays well enough to stick as the USC starter.
Sears’ departure happened right before the 2019 season, but gets lumped into the 2020 offseason. That’s one that hurt during the 2019 season, when Daniels went down in the first half of the season’s first game and was replaced by Kedon Slovis, who then went down in the fourth game and was replaced by Matt Fink. There’s a chance the depth chart never would have reached Sears, who began the season at No. 4, but having him could have allowed USC to make that move as Fink was struggling at Washington.
Devon Williams would have been a very interesting option at wide receiver along with Drake London, but he was never consistent enough on the practice field to warrant more time. Jones was a consistent kick returner, but if his departure meant more time and development for true freshman Gary Bryant Jr. last season, that’s definitely a trade USC would make again.
Out: RB Markese Stepp, RB Stephen Carr, WR Munir McClain, DE Connor Murphy, DE Caleb Tremblay, LB Abdul-Malik McClain, LB Palaie Gaoteote, K Chase McGrath
In: RB Keaontay Ingram, WR K.D. Nixon, WR Tahj Washington, TE Malcolm Epps, DT Ishmael Sopsher, S Xavion Alford
This is the most interesting in/out dynamic because the results won’t be felt until at least this coming fall. It’s the first time the USC coaches have gone big into the transfer portal and it’s pretty clear they are letting the chips fall as they may when it comes to pushing the current players on the roster for playing time and depth chart spots. The addition of Keaontay Ingram was going to shake up the running back room no matter how much the guys loved the competitive aspect of having so many veterans there. And getting both bigger and faster on offense seemed to be a point of emphasis as well. Washington and Nixon bring speed, while Epps is a big-bodied hybrid receiver/tight end. Alford’s addition helps out with USC not signing a safety in the 2020 class and reaching for others in the 2019 class. And if Sopsher can turn into a big-time get out of Alabama if he’s fully healthy and his motor is turned on.
On the field, there’s a chance that bringing in Ingram in exchange for losing Carr and Stepp could benefit the Trojans. Not having to juggle touches for a handful of backs is a positive and Ingram might ultimately be the most talented of the three after the injuries suffered by Carr and Stepp. What’s worth watching is the perception of the program both locally and nationally with players coming in and out, especially if the feeling from local prospects and coaches is that the scale is tipping towards out of state players.
The transfer portal additions this year are a good start for the Trojans and convey a message to the roster. Helton and other coaches have said the transfer portal is pure free agency in college football. You can’t build and rebuild entire rosters through it every year, but it’s going to be vital to managing a program and avoiding down seasons where an unexpected hole at a position can be quickly plugged with a veteran presence. What remains to be seen for the Trojans is if the coaches can turn USC into a transfer destination for the more important positions.
Inside linebacker and offensive tackle are clear positions of need in terms of transfer portal additions, but the USC coaches haven’t been able to find help there yet. Former Tennessee linebacker Henry To’o To’o recently announced his commitment to Alabama and former Tennessee offensive tackles Wanya Morris and Jahmir Johnson are headed to Oklahoma and Texas A&M, respectively.
Despite the number of players who have left USC via the portal, the Trojans have come out pretty well looking at the exchange over the past few years. This fall looks like a real test of USC’s transfer portal moves, and could be the first of many with the transfer portal becoming more and more a part of college football recruiting.