HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Southeastern Conference front-runners Alabama and Georgia upgraded their depth and talent, adding key players when the transfer floodgates opened wide.
Alabama landed inside linebacker Henry To’o To’o from Tennessee and ex-Ohio State wide receiver Jameson Williams. Georgia’s bounty included former LSU tight end Arik Gilbert and some much-needed defensive back help.
The two division front-runners were hardly the only SEC teams to land key pieces during the offseason with intraconference transfers now allowed to play immediately. The transfers have been a hot topic at this week’s SEC media days.
Defending SEC East champion Florida added Daquan Newkirk (Auburn) and Antonio Shelton (Penn State) to the defensive front. Former five-star tailback prospect Demarkcus Bowman arrived from Clemson.
The impact wasn’t all be good. Tennessee and LSU took hits.
Alabama and Georgia were considered national championship contenders before the portal opened. They just added more talent to teams already loaded.
To’o To’o, a two-year starter and defensive leader for the Volunteers, joins a group of linebackers that was already among the nation’s best. He was among the defectors after the firing of Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt for cause when an internal investigation uncovered NCAA violations.
The presumed front-runner in the SEC East, Georgia also hit the transfer jackpot.
The Bulldogs appeared to fill a need with two defensive back transfers — Derion Kendrick (Clemson) and Tykee Smith (West Virginia). But the big name was Gilbert, a former five-star prospect who caught 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns as an LSU freshman.
Gilbert, who initially settled on Florida as his destination, could help make up for the loss of wide receiver George Pickens to a knee injury in the spring.
“I think he’s going to be an All-Pro tight end, All-American, has a chance to be a first round draft choice,” said Ed Orgeron, LSU’s coach.
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels said Tuesday he was asked about Gilbert more than anyone else.
“I keep saying the same things: There are players that have great talent and like football and then there’s guys like Arik who have great talent and love football,” Daniels said.
The Bulldogs lost six players in the secondary, including a couple of transfers. They filled some of the void through the transfer portal. Smith started 17 games over the last two seasons at West Virginia and was a third-team AP All-America in 2020.
Kendrick was a first-team All-ACC pick for Clemson last season.
“We’re at a deficit just from scholarship numbers, not to mention experience,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Those two guys bring an immense amount of experience.”
Auburn landed onetime LSU starting quarterback T.J. Finley, ex-Georgia wide receiver Demetris Robertson and former West Virginia defensive back Dreshun Miller.
Kentucky tried to beef up a passing game that has lagged behind the rest of the league. Former Nebraska wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson returned to his home state. The Wildcats lost some key players, including former starting quarterback Terry Wilson (New Mexico).
“He’s a difference maker,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of Robinson. “He’s a guy that was electric this spring and you could feel his presence on the field.”
The Wildcats also added Penn State transfer quarterback Will Levis, former Ole Miss linebacker Jacquez Jones and most recently offensive lineman Dare Rosenthal from LSU.
New Tennessee coach Josh Heupel inherited a roster in transition. Tailback Eric Gray, defensive back Key Lawrence and left tackle Wanya Morris all went to Oklahoma. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, a 32-game starter who lost his job last season, left for Washington State. The Vols added former Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker and ex-Michigan passer Joe Milton among others.
Heupel, who added eight players since spring practices, said the transfer portal was “a double-edged sword” for the Vols.
“By the time I got there in late January, there were a large number of kids in the transfer portal,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve been able to add really quality individuals inside our program.”
Daniels, who transferred to Georgia from USC before last season, likes the portal.
“You get a lot of great players in the transfer portal that come and compete and are great people, I don’t see why you wouldn’t take advantage of it,” Daniels said.