PJ Fleck Falling in Love With Transfer Portal

As most knew it would, the NCAA Transfer Portal has completely changed the college football landscape. The Minnesota Gophers, like many other schools, have experienced both extremes of this new world. They’ve lost top talent, like running back, Ky Thomas, who recently committed to Kansas. But as of the writing of this blog, they’ve also pulled in a top-25 transfer portal class that includes SEVEN total commitments

When PJ Fleck first arrived in Dinkytown, he preferred to build his roster via high school recruits that could grow and mature in his culture. But that was in the old NCAA, back when football players were penalized and forced to sit out one season for transferring to a new school.

Portal Payoffs

But when the immediately eligible transfer portal rules went into effect, Fleck adapted. And after getting major contributions from transfers like Jack Gibbens (LB – Abilene Christian), Micah Dew-Treadway (DT – Notre Dame), Nyles Pinckney (DT – Clemson) and Benjamin St. Juste (CB – Michigan) before them, PJ has embraced the portal this offseason to a degree we hadn’t seen to this point.

Minnesota’s seven transfer portal commitments is 3rd most in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.com. Indiana (10) and Nebraska (11) are the only two with more. The Gophers’ incoming transfer class currently ranks 18th in the nation and 4th in the conference. Harvard grad-transfer, (DL) Chris Smith, is yet to be evaluated and rated. I expect him to be one of the higher-rated transfers in the class so he will surely give them another bump up.

Individual transfer portal ratings at 247Sports.com are rather new so there are plenty of kinks to work out. With that said, they’re the best we have and 247Sports is the right outlet to assign such ratings, given their scouts have been following these guys since high school.

Who Contributes Immediately?

It’s most likely that all seven transfers have been promised a legitimate shot at immediate playing time and the Gopher staff has clearly attacked areas of need. But that doesn’t mean all of them will grab the opportunity. For every (DT) Nyles Pinckney, there’s a (DT) Val Martin, who transferred in from NC State last offseason and didn’t find the field as often as he hoped. He vanished from the Gophers roster when it released before the Guaranteed Rate Bowl last month.

Out of this 2022 group, Michigan OL Chuck Filiaga and Harvard DT Chris Smith have the highest immediate expectations. Filiaga played a combined 600 snaps in Ann Arbor during the last two seasons and entered their program as a top-100 recruit out of high school.

Smith hasn’t been assigned a 247Sports transfer rating yet, which is common in the way their transfer portal ratings work. But if his highlights out of the Ivy League, where he was a 1st-Team All Conference selection last season, are lying to us then they tell one hell of a story. Both Filiaga and Smith have one year of eligibility remaining, meaning their search was more about playing time and less about development.

Beefing Up the Interior

The Gophers lost a bunch of talent from last season’s trenches. Staples on the offensive side like Daniel Faalele, Sam Schleuter, Blaise Andries and Connor Olson are all moving on from college football. The defensive side lost just as much with Esezi Otomewo, Boye Mafe, Nyles Pinckney and Micah Dew-Treadway gone. Most of the linemen listed in this paragraph will make a run at the NFL and are scheduled to play in CFB All-Star games next month.

So there’s no surprise that five of the seven incoming transfers are offensive or defensive linemen. The most interesting might be Quinn Carroll, who sidestepped the Gophers and chose Notre Dame out of high school. Quinn now has three seasons of eligibility to resurrect his football career back in his home state.

Battle at Cornerback

Ryan Stapp was the first transfer commit for the Gophers this offseason. He hopes to become the second transfer from Abilene Christian University to make himself a staple of the Minnesota Gophers defense. Last season, linebacker Jack Gibbens arrived on campus from the same FCS university as a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility remaining and immediately inserted himself as one of the best players in the starting 11 on that side of the field.

But Stapp’s biggest competition at securing that nickel CB spot could be another transfer, Beanie Bishop. At Western Kentucky, Bishop played almost exclusively in the slot. He’s a ball-hawking type who can tackle but doesn’t have the motor Stapp seems to. We’ll see how it plays out on the practice field.

The Gophers are losing three cornerbacks from 2021, two of which got significant playing time in Coney Durr and Justus Harris. True freshman standout Justin Walley will enter spring practice as the starter on one side of the field. Terrel Smith, who has all the talent and physical gifts to be an NFL cornerback, has also seen the field for over 1,000 snaps during his 4-year career and will be in the mix to start opposite Walley.

What’s Next?

There’s a lot of time between now and when the Minnesota Gophers start fall camp and I expect a lot more moving and shaking to come. The 2022 squad could still use help at linebacker, wide receiver and (possibly) elsewhere. Spring practice will begin in February and, while we could see more movement before then, it’ll kickoff another wave of transfer portal entries and departures from across the country.

Should Mohamed Ibrahim or Trey Potts not return as their former selves come Spring, after both experienced major injuries last season, Fleck could target a running back. You’d have to think that any talented running back available at that time would seriously consider the Gophers, given how often they run the football.

As for the future, who knows. We’ll see how much success this new batch of transfers brings and how many departures they have in a given year. But one thing has become clear, PJ Fleck’s Minnesota Gophers will dive into the portal head first if they find it necessary.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan