Ohio State More Active in Transfer Portal Than Ever Before While Continuing to Minimize Outgoing Attrition

By Dan Hope on May 13, 2023 at 8:35 am
Davison Igbinosun
Davison Igbinosun

Ohio State has never been more active in the transfer portal than it has been this year.

In Ryan Day’s first four years as Ohio State’s head coach, the Buckeyes never added more than three scholarship players from the transfer portal in any year. This offseason, the Buckeyes have added eight scholarship-level transfers: quarterback Tristan Gebbia (Oregon State), offensive linemen Josh Simmons (San Diego State) and Victor Cutler Jr. (Louisiana-Monroe), defensive tackle Tywone Malone (Ole Miss), cornerbacks Davison Igbinosun (Ole Miss) and Lorenzo Styles (Notre Dame), safety Ja’Had Carter (Syracuse) and long snapper John Ferlmann (Arizona State).

Ohio State’s increased transfer portal activity wasn’t completely unforeseen. When Day was initially asked in December about the Buckeyes’ transfer strategy for this offseason, he said Ohio State would be open to adding a higher number of transfers than it had in the past if it made sense to do so.

“To say we're just gonna go recruit 15 transfer guys and bring them in just to say we're bringing in 15 transfer guys? No, we're not going to do that. But every year, maybe you take one, maybe you take five, maybe you take 10. I don't know. We'll have to continually figure that out on a year-to-year basis,” Day said.

At the time, there was still plenty of skepticism that Ohio State would actually be more aggressive in the transfer portal, understandably so given its history. Over the course of the past five months, however, it became clear the Buckeyes wouldn’t be afraid to bring in talent at any position where they could use a boost.

Day has consistently laid out a specific set of criteria when outlining Ohio State’s transfer portal approach. The Buckeyes are looking for players who fill needs, who they view as upgrades and who they are confident will fit the team’s culture.

Ohio State’s transfer additions this year still check those boxes. There was an evident need last year for the Buckeyes to add more talent in the secondary, while the departures of three NFL draft picks on the offensive line left Ohio State needing reinforcements up front. The Buckeyes didn’t have a scholarship long snapper on the 2023 roster before bringing in Ferlmann, while they were set to have only three scholarship quarterbacks this year before adding Gebbia. The Buckeyes were a bit thin on defensive tackle depth with only five non-freshmen on scholarship at the position.

That said, the standard for what constitutes a need seems to have become wide-ranging. While the Buckeyes focused on filling their most glaring needs in past years, they pursued players at every position where they weren’t fully confident in their depth chart this year – even pursuing a tight end during the first transfer window (CJ Dippre, who transferred from Maryland to Alabama) and another safety (Jaylen Key, who transferred from UAB to Alabama) during the second transfer window.

Ohio State’s Scholarship Transfer Additions Under Ryan Day
Year Number Players
2019 3 Justin Fields, Jonah Jackson, Gunnar Hoak
2020 1 Trey Sermon
2021 2 Noah Ruggles, Palaie Gaoteote IV*
2022 3 Tanner McCalister, Chip Trayanum, Parker Lewis*
2023 8 John Ferlmann, Ja’Had Carter, Victor Cutler, Tristan Gebbia, Davison Igbinosun, Lorenzo Styles*, Josh Simmons, Tywone Malone
*Gaoteote and Lewis began their Ohio State careers as walk-ons as they were not cleared to play by the NCAA until after their first season as Buckeyes started. Styles could start his Ohio State career as a walk-on if the Buckeyes remain above the 85-man scholarship limit.

Day said this spring that Ohio State would look to continue adding transfer help at any position where it felt it either needed another starting-caliber player or needed more depth, ultimately leading to the addition of a potential starter at right tackle (Simmons) and two more depth pieces on defense (Malone and Styles).

“We have to sit down at the end of spring and identify what positions do we feel good about, where do we have depth that we feel strongly about, because we know we're going to lose guys along the way and guys are gonna have to step up,” Day said in April. “So if it's someone that we feel like is at starter level, we're okay there, that's great. If we feel like there isn't someone there that is at starter level, then maybe you need to add a piece. If we feel like it's a depth issue, we'll add somebody.”

Ohio State pursued and ultimately brought in more transfers than ever before – five before spring practices and three after spring practices – all the while continuing to minimize attrition in the form of outgoing transfers.

Day takes pride in creating a culture that players want to remain a part of, and that’s stayed true even as the Buckeyes have upped their transfer-acquisition game. With this year’s windows to enter the portal now complete, Ohio State lost only nine scholarship players to outgoing transfers, tied for the second-fewest of any Power 5 school.

Among those nine transfers, only two of them saw significant playing time – cornerback JK Johnson and defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste – and both of them would have been backups this year if they stayed at Ohio State. The other seven transfers – wide receivers Kaleb Brown and Caleb Burton, offensive lineman Ben Christman, linebacker Teradja Mitchell, safeties Jantzen Dunn and Jaylen Johnson and kicker Jake Seibert – didn’t project to see significant playing time for the Buckeyes this year and had uncertain paths to future playing time beyond this season.

One could argue that a bit more attrition wouldn’t actually be a bad thing. There are several players on the roster who remain buried on the depth chart after multiple years with the Buckeyes, and Ohio State is currently projected to be above the 85-man scholarship limit. But the Buckeyes didn’t let that stop them from pursuing all the players in the transfer portal they thought could help them this year.

There will need to be a few corresponding moves for Ohio State to get down to 85 scholarships between now and the start of the season. Big Ten rules prevent schools from revoking scholarships from players who signed National Letters of Intent with the team out of high school, so that likely means a player or two stepping away from football, a transfer or two agreeing to be a walk-on this season and/or possibly a graduate transfer entering the portal (which is permitted outside of designated transfer windows), though no graduate transfers are currently anticipated.

Regardless of the semantics of getting down to 85, Ohio State showed it could adapt to the transfer-happy environment of modern college football by becoming more active in the portal than it had ever been before – both bolstering the Buckeyes’ 2023 depth chart and adding numerous players who should be multi-year contributors at Ohio State – all the while keeping the vast majority of players it’s signed out of high school in Columbus rather than transferring elsewhere.

“Our culture matters, our chemistry matters, our leadership matters. As you guys know, we've been very careful to add pieces here. But we know it's a necessary thing,” Day said in April.

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