Even before any offseason acquisitions were made through the transfer portal this year, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley already had a team capable of contending for the national championship. The Sooners used an eight-game winning streak to finish 9-2 last season, which also included a 55-20 blowout of Florida in the Cotton Bowl. However, the Sooners' hopes of winning the program’s first national title since 2000 received a boost with Riley’s work in the portal. Oklahoma was one of the big winners in this area, as the program added a dynamic running back in Eric Gray, a big-time threat on the outside in Mike Woods, and a potential starter at left tackle in Wanya Morris. Also, safety Key Lawrence is likely to be an important cog in the secondary this fall.
Navigating college football’s transfer portal is now a crucial part of the offseason for every head coach and program. Not only is keeping the roster intact and preventing a wave of departures one element of this, but coaches also can use the transfer portal as a way to quickly restock the roster or find instant help at a position of need. While time and more data will alter how the transfer portal shapes college football, there’s little doubt player movement is going to have an impact on the 2021 season.
Most preseason predictions seem to settle on five teams – Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson – as the favorites to hoist the national title in 2021. Led by quarterback Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma’s high-powered offense won’t lack for points this fall. And with the additions through the portal, the Sooners are overflowing with options at the skill positions. An improved defense also bolsters the case for Oklahoma to win it all.
Why are the additions through the transfer portal so critical to Oklahoma? Here are seven key pickups and the potential impact these players could make on the team in 2021:
RB Eric Gray (from Tennessee)
Kennedy Brooks returns after opting out of the 2020 season, but there’s a strong case for Gray to be the top option in the backfield this fall. The Memphis native paced the Tennessee offense with 772 rushing yards and four scores and added 30 receptions for 254 yards last season. Gray also ran for 539 yards as a freshman in 2019. Whether it’s Brooks or Gray toting the rock, Oklahoma is poised to possess one of the Big 12’s top rushing offenses once again. But if Gray’s spring game and Tennessee performance are an indicator of what’s to come, the junior could be an elite back for Riley to deploy in ’21.
WR Mike Woods (from Arkansas)
Woods transferred from Arkansas to Oklahoma in late April, so fall practice will be his first chance to work with Spencer Rattler. However, Woods likely won't need much time to get up to speed. After all, he averaged 19.3 yards per catch for the Razorbacks in 2020 and caught 65 passes over the past two seasons. Woods also ranked second among SEC receivers with four receptions of 50-plus yards last season. Even with Marvin Mims, Theo Wease and incoming freshman Mario Williams in place, Woods’ arrival only adds another big-play threat for Rattler to use this fall – and bolsters Oklahoma’s case to easily rank as one of the top receiving corps in the nation.
OL Wanya Morris (from Tennessee)
The list of concerns for Oklahoma’s offense is very small. However, solidifying an offensive line that lost center Creed Humphrey and tackle Adrian Ealy tops the offseason priority list. Of course, the overall concern level should be minimal when assistant Bill Bedenbaugh is clearly one of the top line coaches in the nation. But it may take a few games for this unit to mesh and for the players to fall into the right spots. Morris ranked as a five-star prospect in the 2019 signing class and played 1,041 snaps over the last two years. The Georgia native showed marked improvement from his freshman season and gave up just two sacks as a sophomore last year. Morris is likely to claim one of the starting spots at tackle and should thrive under Bedenbaugh’s watch in ’21.
S Key Lawrence (from Tennessee)
The overall talent level and performance of Oklahoma’s secondary is trending up, but defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has a few holes to fill after the departure of Tre Brown, Brendan Radley-Hiles and Tre Norwood this offseason. Lawrence – the No. 81 prospect in the 2020 class – should play a key role as a starter or key depth option in the secondary for 2021. The Tennessee transfer recorded eight tackles and a pass breakup in limited snaps last year, but there’s plenty of talent for Grinch to develop over the next couple of seasons.
Three Other Transfers to Watch
QB Micah Bowens (from Penn State)
Spencer Rattler and freshman Caleb Williams will top the depth chart at quarterback. However, preserving Williams’ redshirt is crucial, so if Rattler is out for a couple of games, Bowens could see extended time. He’s also a valuable addition as a No. 3 signal-caller after Chandler Morris transferred to TCU.
RB Tre Bradford (from LSU)
Oklahoma needed to bolster its backfield depth after T.J. Pledger transferred to Utah and Seth McGowan was dismissed from the team. Bradford was a June pickup via the portal after rushing for 58 yards as a true freshman at LSU in 2020. He’s likely to slide into the backfield behind Eric Gray, Kennedy Brooks and Marcus Major for carries.
OL Robert Congel (from Arizona)
Congel played 919 snaps during three seasons at Texas A&M (2017) and Arizona (2019-20). He’s likely to earn a spot on the two-deep as a backup on the interior.