NCAA Football: Texas Christian Spring Game

The NCAA transfer portal has become a roulette wheel of sorts for talent-hungry programs, but the wins are impossible to ignore. Quarterback Adrian Martinez, for example, played a pivotal role as a complementary piece in the Wildcats' run to a Big 12 championship (though QB Will Howard started the actual game). At TCU, safety Josh Newton and center Alan Ali each earned All-Big 12 honors while helping the Frogs to College Football Playoff National Championship appearance. 

Now, 13 of the 14 schools in the continuing Big 12 have reeled in at least five transfers (and straggler Iowa State still took a pair). The 10 returning schools combined for 90 credited transfers, with Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor each putting together top-25 transfer classes. Adding to the mix, the "Freshman Four" schools – BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF – have a combined 78 transfers as they try to build Big 12 depth on the fly. 

Numbers help, but there's no magic formula to leaning on transfers. Oklahoma learned that the hard way in 2022 when the nation's No. 4 transfer class led to a losing record for the first time since 1998 under first-year coach Brent Venables. However, the upside is simply too high not to try. 

It's no secret that outside of Texas and Oklahoma, none of the Big 12 schools recruit at a Blue-Chip Ratio level. However, TCU's magical run gives teams hope that pressing the right buttons in the portal could lead to a season to remember of their own. Here is one transfer from every Big 12 school that could make instant impacts in 2023. 

Baylor LB Mike Smith

Smith earned rave reviews out of camp as a potential senior leader after transferring from Liberty. In his lone season on campus, Smith was dynamic, posting 85 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four passes defended, three forced fumbles and an interception. The Bears had to slide Dillon Doyle over to the MIKE linebacker spot, which never felt like a perfect fit. However, Smith is a dynamic playmaker in the mold of Terrel Bernard who should allow coach Dave Aranda to get back to his aggressive linebacker blitzing philosophy. 

Texas DB Jalen Catalon

Catalon has been limited by injuries over the past two seasons. When he's healthy, he has a case to be one of the best defensive backs in the nation. Catalan earned All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2020 at Arkansas after posted 99 tackles, three interceptions and four passes defended during a sensational redshirt freshman campaign. In just seven games over the past two years, Catalan fielded 54 tackles and two interceptions. If Catalon can stay healthy, he could develop into a high draft pick in Pete Kwiatkowski's system. 

TCU WR JoJo Earle

The Horned Frogs lost top receiver Quentin Johnston to the first round of the NFL Draft, but coach Sonny Dykes and his staff didn't have to look far to find his heir. Earle ranked as a consensus top-100 recruit after starring at Aledo High School, just 20 miles from TCU's campus. He never quite found his footing at Alabama due to injuries, but the dynamic Earle should immediately fold into TCU's dynamic offense in the slot and maybe even become a top target. 

Oklahoma LB Dasan McCullough

McCullough flashed big-time potential during his freshman season at Indiana, posting 49 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and three passes defended while appearing in all 12 games. Now, McCullough comes to Oklahoma as one of the biggest breakout candidates in the Big 12. McCullough could slot into the coveted "Cheetah" hybrid role in Brent Venables' defense and cover up holes on multiple levels of the field. 

West Virginia DB Keyshawn Cobb

Cobb starred in one season at Buffalo after transferring from the JUCO ranks, posting 66 tackles, six tackles for loss, eight passes defended and three forced fumbles in 10 starts at nickelback and cornerback. Now, West Virginia will slot Cobb into a starring role in its defensive backfield, whether at safety or a hybrid SPEAR role. West Virginia only had one defensive All-Big 12 team selection in 2022, so getting some playmaking would be a big addition.

Top transfers for remaining Big 12 teams

BYU OT Caleb Etienne: After quietly developing into a standout left tackle with an impressive physical skillset at Oklahoma State, Etienne ultimately left the Cowboys for greener pastures in Provo. There, Etienne will play a critical role for a Cougars offensive line that's losing multiple starters. Etienne was one of just two offensive players to start all 13 games at Oklahoma State last season. 

UCF CB Decorian Patterson: Knights coach Gus Malzahn has been aggressive in the transfer portal, and the Middle Tennessee transfer Patterson projects as a difference-maker. Patterson posted more than 180 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in his career, and he had seven interceptions in 2022 while earning All-Conference USA honors. The senior has one year of eligibility remaining, and should be able to slide in at either cornerback or safety. 

Cincinnati WR Xzavier Henderson: The Bearcats are making a quarterback change and lost their top two receivers to the NFL. To fill the holes, Cincinnati was aggressive in the transfer portal, landing seven wide receivers transfers to surround Florida and Arizona State quarterback transfer Emory Jones in the starting lineup. Henderson ranks among the best after post a 100-yard game against Georgia and 835 yards total in his first three years of college football at Florida. His explosive 6-foot-3 frame should give the Bearcats their most dynamic receiving threat since Alex Pierce graduated.  

Houston QB Donovan Smith: The Cougars have some of the Big 12's biggest shoes to fill. Five-year starter Clayton Tune, who threw for nearly 12,000 yards in his career, is gone. Smith is the only quarterback on Houston's roster with any major game experience after two years as a starter at Texas Tech, so getting the most out of him will be critical. Turnovers have been an issue for Smith, so he will have to get things under control in Dana Holgorsen's system. 

Iowa State RB Arlen Harris Jr.: The Cyclones only took two transfers in the 2023 recruiting class and neither played a major role for their respective teams in 2022. However, Iowa State is desperate for running back depth and Harris ranks as one of the best on the market. Harris held offers from many of the nation's best programs in the Class of 2022 before heading to Stanford. Iowa State's offense just works better with an explosive running back in the lineup, and pairing Harris with returner Jirehl Brock should help balance the offense. 

Kansas OL Logan Brown: Kansas has never recruited a five-star football player to campus. Adding one as a transfer – an offensive lineman, no less – will do just fine. Brown was listed as the No. 7 recruit in the nation in the Class of 2019 but dismissed from Wisconsin after a practice incident. Injuries have limited his effectiveness over his first four seasons in college football, but Kansas has done a strong job of building role definition and development. The talent is too much to pass up. 

Kansas State RB Treshaun Ward: The Wildcats lost two-time All-American running back Deuce Vaughn to the NFL, but they quickly looked east to fill the hole. Ward had an inconsistent start to his career at Florida State because of injuries but averaged 6.5 yards per carry over the past two seasons. He provides a speedy counterpart to the physical DJ Giddens next to Will Howard in the Kansas State backfield.

Oklahoma State QB Alan Bowman: The Cowboys were aggressive in the transfer portal, but the former Michigan and Texas Tech quarterback remains the most intriguing addition on the board. A lifetime ago, Bowman set the all-time Big 12 freshman passing record with 605 yards in a 63-49 victory over Houston. Bowman struggled to fit into Jim Harbaugh's pro-style system, only throwing 11 passes over the past two seasons, but Pokes coach Mike Gundy will slot Bowman back into the spread. Health has been a major issue for Bowman, but the gamble is more than worth it. 

Texas Tech WR Deandrae McCray: Despite his 5-foot-9 size, McCray was coveted at the Power Five level for his blazing speed and production. McCray posted 1,000 yards as a true sophomore and recorded 17 touchdowns over his two years at Austin Peay. Texas Tech's roster is filled with massive receivers, so adding a speedster to spread the field gives offensive coordinator Zach Kittley more toys to play with in 2023.