May 25, 2024

College football transfer portal: Are Group of Five programs actually being raided by power conferences?


In the new world of recruiting with no transfer restrictions and NIL, there’s a harsh reality for Group of Five teams these days. When a Group of Five coach walks into a recruit’s school or home, he is fully aware that if he gets that recruit to commit, and if that recruit becomes a top player, there’s a good chance he’ll soon lose him to a Power Four school.

In the 2024 transfer cycle, 247Sports has five Group of Five players ranked in the top 75 overall, and all five have transferred to Power Four schools:

The perception is that Group of Five schools are being raided every offseason by Power Four conferences, and that their rosters are being left bare because of the transfer portal. Perception isn’t always reality, though, so we did a deep dive into the transfer numbers to see if this is really the case for Group of Five conferences.

In this past transfer window, Group of Five schools lost 239 players to Power Four programs. That works out to around four players for each Group of Five program. Sixty of 62 Group of Five programs have lost at least one transfer to a Power Four school this year, with Army and Sam Houston State being the lone exceptions. New Mexico State, James Madison, and San Diego State were hit the hardest after losing at least 10 transfers to Power Four schools.

Schools that lost the most transfers to Power Four

  • New Mexico State — 13
  • James Madison — 12
  • San Diego State — 10
  • Ohio — 9
  • Memphis — 8 

Normally, all the talk is about Group of Five schools losing their top talent to power conferences, but it also works both ways. So far, 325 power-conference players have transferred to Group of Five schools, meaning Group of Five schools have actually added 86 more power-conference players than they’ve lost. Schools like Charlotte, North Texas, Marshall, East Carolina, and Nevada have loaded up on the most Power Four transfers in this cycle.

Schools that gained the most Power Four transfers

  • Charlotte — 16
  • North Texas — 16
  • Marshall — 15
  • Nevada — 14
  • East Carolina — 13

Seeing that Group of Five and Power Four transfers are more of a two-way street than most realize, the reality is that the transfer portal for Group of Five programs is actually more of a quality vs. quantity situation. They’re losing a lot of top players to power-conference schools, but they’re also adding even more power-conference players to their own rosters and giving guys that were stuck on the bottom end of SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC rosters a chance to play. In fact, the only Group of Five conference that lost more transfers to Power Four schools than it gained is Conference USA (-14).

2024 Group of Five transfer additions and subtractions

  • Incoming Power Four players: 325
  • Players lost to Power Four schools: 239
  • Difference: +86
Conference Incoming P4 Players Players Lost to P4 Difference
AAC 101 51 50
C-USA 33 47 -14
MAC 48 39 9
MW 62 47 15
Sun Belt 81 55 26

The numbers don’t lie, and while each circumstance is different — especially when a player is dropping down a level — there are certainly opportunities for Group of Five schools to take former power-conference players and give them the playing time or bigger role that they weren’t receiving before. One example would be Luke McCaffrey, who appeared in 11 games and started two games at quarterback for Nebraska in 2019 and 2020 in the Big Ten. Fast forward three years after a transfer to Rice, a position change to wide receiver, and 13 receiving touchdowns in 2023, and McCaffrey was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Washington Commanders.

The hit rate of former power-conferences players transferring to Group of Five schools and then getting drafted is extremely low, but there are success stories where players got a new opportunity to play at that level and succeeded. Running back Peny Boone had 258 yards rushing and two touchdowns in two seasons at Maryland before transferring to Toledo, where he was eighth in the FBS with 1,400 yards rushing and 16 total touchdowns in 2023. He went from a Big Ten backup to the MAC Offensive Player of the Year. Now, Boone has transferred back to the Power Four this offseason and will look to lead the UCF rushing attack in 2024.

While the perception that Group of Five schools are being raided by power conferences for their top talent is true, the reality is that Group of Five programs also have a chance to build their rosters with power-conference players, too. Group of Five coaches know that the next McCaffrey or Boone just committed to a Power Four school and that it’s only a matter of time until they get a chance to change someone’s career trajectory because of the portal.





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