The transfer portal is open.
The difference between this year and the previous few years is that there is a set window for undergraduate players to enter the database better and more ominously known as the portal. And that window began today, Dec. 5.
There was uncertainty about how this opening day would go. Like the first moments of National Signing Day, with announcement after announcement after announcement? With a trickle throughout the day and the week? Would players be out of the portal (again, it’s just a database) as quickly as they entered it?
Through half a day of it, the answers are all somewhere in between.
For Notre Dame’s concerns, only two players have jumped into the portal thus far today: junior quarterback Drew Pyne, as expected since his announcement on Friday, and freshman cornerback Jayden Bellamy. More will assuredly follow in the coming month, likely this week if not even yet Monday night.
“We’ve had individual meetings with a lot of our players,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said Sunday night. “Really just talked to them about taking it a little bit at a time to kind of figure out their plans for the transfer portal, for playing in the bowl game and other decisions they have to make.”
Some players already have homes — most notably, Phil Jurkovec may finally get his return to Notre Dame Stadium next season, date to be determined, having already committed to Pittsburgh — while others are piling up. The quarterbacks draw the most attention, and understandably so, with North Carolina State’s Devin Leary joining the fray on Monday, perhaps a name for Irish fans to note.
The possibility of Leary, of course, is presumably part of why Pyne is transferring and not playing in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30 against No. 19 South Carolina (3:30 ET; ABC). Along with names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong (though the Syracuse rumors around Armstrong are noticeable and logical), Freeman has quarterback candidates to chase and intends to do so.
“We had a conversation this week, myself and Drew, as well as many of the other players that we have on our team in terms of our intentions, my intentions into certain positions, look for transfers,” Freeman said. “I’m always looking for ways to enhance our roster. I always want to be up front and honest, and I was with Drew, told him that we would possibly look at taking a transfer quarterback.
“I did not want him to leave, but he made the decision to enter the portal, and I definitely respect his decision.”
With the quarterback carousel moving at lightning speed — Michigan’s Cade McNamara to Iowa and Jurkovec to Pittsburgh already underscoring how quickly that specific position will develop each offseason; Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei is widely expected to land somewhere on the West Coast — Pyne skipping the Gator Bowl makes sense. He needs to secure his next position now, not in January.
“What he has done for our program, the ability for him to step in week 2 and throughout the season, he did a tremendous job,” Freeman said.
In Pyne’s stead, Freeman said sophomore quarterback and initial 2022 starter Tyler Buchner is “full go.” Now, let’s add in this space’s continued disclaimer that coaches are almost always more optimistic publicly about injury timelines than they should be, and all initial expectations for Buchner’s return from a serious shoulder sprain, one that necessitated surgery, ruled out a bowl game. But, Buchner has participated in Notre Dame’s two practices this week.
“We still have three quarterbacks on the roster,” Freeman said. “You have Tyler Buchner, Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus. All have been practicing the past two days that we practiced and could see any of the three play. They’ll all be ready to play.”
Neither junior tight end Michael Mayer nor senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey partook in those practices, something Freeman said was intentional as Notre Dame gears some of its bowl prep toward developing younger players. It also gives the two biggest NFL draft candidates on the Irish roster a chance to consider if they’ll play against the Gamecocks.
“We had a plan to sit out some guys as recovery for these last two practices of development and trying to really focus on the younger guys and developing the younger guys on our team,” Freeman said. “So I told both of those guys just take the week and take a couple of days to really think about what they want to do for their future.”
Freeman outright acknowledging the possibility of Mayer and/or Foskey skipping the bowl game represents both the changing of the times and the program’s understanding of the logic to such a decision.
“We will discuss it sometime this week, probably early this week.”
ON JAYDEN BELLAMY
Bellamy was one of three cornerbacks signed by Nore Dame last recruiting cycle, and while the other two blossomed into starters — Benjamin Morrison snagging five interceptions in the final two Irish home games and Jaden Mickey stepping in for Cam Hart at USC — Bellamy never saw the field.
With Hart returning next season, though missing the bowl game due to a shoulder injury, Notre Dame’s top three cornerbacks for 2023 are established, and there remain three sophomores on the depth chart for Bellamy to compete with and five defensive backs committed in the recruiting class that should sign on the dotted line on Dec. 21, when the early signing period commences.
RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
UPDATE: ON Osita Ekwonu
Senior defensive end Osita Ekwonu joined Bellamy and Pyne in the portal late Monday, finishing his Irish career with six tackles in 16 appearances, two of those tackles coming on Senior Day against Boston College, his only defensive snaps in his Notre Dame career. In his previous 15 games, Ekwonu had appeared on only special teams.
An Achilles injury sidelined Ekwonu in 2021, costing him some traction on the Irish depth chart amid its most talented position group.
His transfer can illustrate some of the folly around transfer portal discourse, something this space somewhat and regrettably encouraged with an embedded tweet on Monday. When pointing out only half — give or take — of portal entrants eventually find homes, it is too easy to ignore that many entrants are former walk-ons looking to elongate their playing careers or graduates who would have needed to transfer following their undergraduate careers all along, including long before terrifying concepts like a “transfer portal” existed. Ekwonu would have transferred 10 years ago, too, but his next stop always would have been uncertain.
Those numbers also neglect to remember there are more players than ever eligible thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. The vaguest of math suggests it is up to 20 percent more than usual roster size allocates for. As a result, some players are inevitably not going to have homes even if they want to keep playing.
Maybe that will not be Ekwonu; the intention here is not to suggest his career is over. The intention is to remind that Ekwonu would have been transferring somewhere as soon as graduate students were allowed immediate eligibility after a transfer, a rule instituted in 2006.
RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
This outgoing roster flux will continue for a week or two, and then there may be a few more departures immediately after the bowl game, though most players will want to get a head start on the transfer process.
Freeman is in communication with all those weighing options, so few possibilities should catch him completely off-guard, but he is not pressuring players to decide today or tomorrow.
“We haven’t set a firm date, deadline, but we told them, … we need to kind of have an idea of what the future plans are for certain guys,” Freeman said. “For our guys that are deciding if they’re going to play or opt out for the NFL draft, they understand the sooner the better. I just didn’t want them to have to rush into a decision.”
Players debating the NFL draft or another season at Notre Dame are more likely to make that decision following the bowl game, completing the second wave of outgoing decisions.
The timing of incoming transfer possibilities will reveal much about what Freeman has or has not been able to accomplish in working with the academic side of the University in the past year. The greatest struggle for Notre Dame admitting many incoming transfers has not been their academic standing, although that itself is a clear hurdle, but the delay in academic decision-makers communicating the academic standing to potential transfers.
Traffic in the portal moves fast; making highly-sought playmakers wait to hear if they will lose one semester of academic progress or two if they transfer to Notre Dame is a sure way to lose those players.
So if a receiver or a quarterback — undergraduates, to be clear — commits to the Irish this week, even if there is no official Notre Dame welcome, that would indicate Freeman has made headway.
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Notre Dame will face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 30
— Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility
— Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need
— CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023
— Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart
— Chris Terek’s flip from Wisconsin gives Notre Dame five OL commits in third straight class
— Highlights: USC 38, Notre Dame 27 — Arm, legs and foot of Caleb Williams too much for Irish upset bid
— USC defense, Caleb Williams’ Heisman-worthy performance never give Notre Dame an opening
— College football’s transfer portal window is open. Buckle up for a frantic 45 days
— Several Stanford players set to transfer as search for David Shaw’s replacement continues
— Transferring Western Michigan D-lineman Fiske set to visit Notre Dame
— Inside Luke Fickell’s move to Wisconsin, why he decided to leave Cincinnati now