The transfer portal could be magic as part of UCLA’s recruiting efforts
Like someone who prefers lots of cream in his coffee, Chip Kelly is leaving room for what he might be able to add on top of his recruiting class.
The UCLA football coach likes to say there’s no waiver wire in college football, but the expected smorgasbord of talent available through the transfer portal in the wake of a likely rules change allowing transfers immediate eligibility will be enticing in the months to come.
The math bears out the potential impact on the Bruins’ roster. Even if UCLA is able to close the deal with a handful of high school prospects it continues to pursue before the early signing period starts Wednesday, the team is still expected to have at least five or six slots available for transfers.
“They’re not going to want to reach with kids when they think they can get a better guy in the portal,” said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “You’re going to have your top guys and if you miss on those guys, rather than going to a second-tier guy, let’s just wait and get a guy in the portal who maybe got caught up in a situation — maybe a depth-chart thing, maybe a homesick thing, maybe he just fits us really well — and I think that’s what a lot of schools, including UCLA, will do, to kind of ride out those last four or five spots.”
The Bruins are hopeful of a strong finishing push with their recruiting class after recently flipping defensive end A.J. Campbell from his nonbinding verbal commitment to Vanderbilt and defensive end Christian Burkhalter from his commitment to Oregon.
UCLA’s decision whether to accept a bowl invitation this season, if the Bruins qualify, hinges on several factors.
They also remain in the running for Jaxson Dart, a highly coveted quarterback who is widely thought to be leaning toward picking USC, as well as defensive back-receiver Devin Kirkwood, running back Deshun Murrell, defensive end Arden Walker, safety Josh Moore and two other players committed to major college programs that they’re hoping to flip, according to someone close to the situation not authorized to disclose the team’s recruiting efforts publicly.
Kirkwood and Murrell recently reopened their recruitment after having been committed to UCLA but said they would still consider the Bruins; Murrell is expected to announce his college choice on Friday.
UCLA heads into the home stretch of the early recruiting period with only 12 players committed, resulting in rankings that might not accurately reflect its final haul. The Bruins’ class is ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 Conference and No. 69 nationally by 247Sports, numbers that could skyrocket if things go well in the coming days.
“We’ll see Wednesday,” Kelly said this week when asked how his class was shaping up. “You know, there’s a lot of balls in the air; it’s a different recruiting environment with COVID-19 and kids not being able to take visits. We’ve got two more days of recruiting here and we’ll visit on it after the signing day comes through.”
Tracking the high school football players from the 2021 recruiting class who are officially signing with USC or UCLA as the early signing period opens.
The strength of the Bruins’ class as currently constructed comes at wide receiver and along the offensive and defensive lines. D.J. Justice, a standout from Mission Hills Bishop Alemany High who is the son of former Major League Baseball All-Star David Justice, will be joined by fellow receivers Keontez Lewis of East St. Louis High and Ezavier Staples of Long Beach Millikan in addition to Kam Brown, a transfer from Texas A&M who started four games for the Aggies this season.
Campbell and Burkhalter could help solidify the Bruins’ more disruptive defensive line. Thomas Cole, a star offensive tackle from San Luis Obispo, is one of four players committed on the offensive line who could contribute.
The Bruins remain on the market for at least one running back and have options if Murrell elects for Penn State, his other finalist. They continue to pursue San Diego Morse High’s Byron Cardwell, who is expected to pick his college during the February signing period, as well as a current college running back whom the Bruins believe might enter the transfer portal.
UCLA (3-3) could be on the verge of its first winning season in large part because of the impact of its transfers. Among others, nickelback Qwuantrezz Knight has helped revitalize the defense, guard Paul Grattan Jr. has been part of a sturdy offensive line and running back Brittain Brown has forged a formidable tandem alongside Demetric Felton Jr.
UCLA will try to turn the page from their heartbreaking loss to USC to focus on a Stanford team that has turned it around.
Knight became an unofficial recruiting ambassador earlier this month when the official UCLA football Twitter feed showed him courting other transfers as part of his celebrating a victory over Arizona State.
“Hey, you want to be great?” Knight says in the video as he walks off the field. “Come here.”
Asked about his pitch on Tuesday, Knight said he felt embraced by his new football home after previous stops at Maryland and Kent State.
“Just love being here with these guys, man,” Knight said. “I’m sure everyone else will too.”
The kickoff of UCLA’s game against Stanford on Saturday at the Rose Bowl has been moved up by one hour, to 4 p.m. The game will now be televised by ESPN.
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