From its first snap of the season, Michigan State showed that coach Mel Tucker’s rebuilding project wouldn’t take as long as expected.
Wake Forest Transfer Kenneth Walker took a transfer, rounded a defenseman and ran to the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown against Northwestern.
Walker and Co. have shown how relaxed NCAA guidelines allowing players to transfer without skipping a season can help revitalize slowdown schedules.
“I knew the coach (Tucker) had a plan and I believed in his plan,” said Walker, who added that he wrote down his goal of winning the Heisman Trophy in March.
Walker rushed for 680 yards to lead all Football Bowl Subdivision players and help the 11th-ranked Spartans win their first five games, a dramatic increase from their 2-5 last year in the first. season delayed by the pandemic for Tucker.
He’s not the only transfer making a difference for the Spartans. And Michigan State isn’t the only undefeated Big Ten team bouncing back from a losing season while getting great contributions from players who started their college careers elsewhere.
The impact of the new transfer policy is found to be most apparent in East Lansing. Michigan is on its fastest start since 2015, when it won its first eight games and reached the college football playoffs.
Tucker reshuffled his squad during the offseason by adding 20 transfers, including 14 from other Power Five schools. He said ahead of the season that his roster was stronger and more competitive and that would lead to better football.
The Spartans’ defense includes three starters who played for Southeastern Conference Schools last season with linebacker Quavaris Crouch (Tennessee) and cornerbacks Chester Kimbrough (Florida) and Ronald Williams (Alabama).
The Penn State No.4 has also benefited from transfers while winning his first five games after going 4-5 a year ago.
Former Temple defensive end Arnold Ebiketie leads the Nittany Lions with three sacks. Other transfers playing a major role for Penn State include defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo (Duke), running back John Lovett (Baylor) and goalkeeper Eric Wilson (Harvard).
“I felt like leaving Duke would give me more visibility,” Tangelo said. “I just felt like I needed a fresh start.”
The Michigan No.9 turned the tide after going 2-4 last year, in part thanks to former Jackson State wide receiver Daylen Baldwin, who had touchdowns from 56 to 69 yards.
It is not uncommon for a Big Ten competitor to benefit from transfers. Last year, Ohio State won its fourth consecutive conference title and advanced to the national championship game with a fullback starring former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields and former forward. Oklahoma Trey Sermon balloon winner.
Fields needed a waiver to play for Ohio State without skipping a season, and Sermon could only play for the Buckeyes immediately because he was a graduate transfer. These steps are no longer necessary now that the NCAA has decided that all athletes can transfer once without having to wait a year to play for their new teams.
“Everyone gets a pass,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Some people got them before anyway. Now everyone has one. At least they have a mulligan card in their pocket. We’ve played a lot of transfers over the past four or five weeks, and we’ll see more of them this year.
The policy change makes it much more tempting for schools to tap into the transfer portal when they need to replenish their rosters.
Big Ten Network analyst and former Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo could see the trend continue, with the teams ensuring that a member of their support staff has the specific role of viewing the video to see what potential transfers might be suitable.
“There’s no rule against having a back room as big as you want,” said DiNardo, who has also coached LSU and Vanderbilt. “As long as athletic directors are prepared to give coaches unlimited staff resources, this will continue.”
The impact of the transfers was evident from the first game of the season, when former North Carolina State linebacker Calvin Hart and former Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski played a key role in the victory. Illinois over Nebraska.
This set the tone for the rest of the season. The Big Ten gets a lot of performances from guys who were on other shows last year.
Stephen Carr of Indiana (Southern California) and Chez Mellusi of Wisconsin (Clemson) are the top runners of their respective teams. Samori Toure of Nebraska (MT) and Dylan Wright of Minnesota (Texas A&M) lead their teams in receiving yards.
Minnesota linebacker Jack Gibbens (Abilene Christian) is the Gophers’ most prolific tackle. Purdue’s Jamari Brown, a cornerback for Kentucky last season, is tied for the team lead in breakouts.
Of course, these new transfer policies can work both ways.
The third-best receiver in the Southeastern Conference is Wan’Dale Robinson of Kentucky, who played for Nebraska last year. Indiana has lost two backup backers on the transfer portal since August. Michigan State put three players on the transfer portal less than two weeks ago.
But it’s a tradeoff that Big Ten programs are prepared to make. They only have to look at the league standings to understand how this era of generalized transfers can benefit them.
AP Sports Editors Dave Campbell, Tom Canavan, Larry Lage, Michael Marot and Eric Olson and AP Freelance Editors John Bohnenkamp and Travis Johnson contributed to this report.