Around a decade ago, if somebody put the words “transfer portal” together in a sentence, you’d have probably assumed they were talking about Nic Cage’s latest terrible movie about traveling in time to save Benjamin Franklin from being eaten by a dinosaur (this is actually the plot of the next “Fast and Furious” movie) because that’s just how dumb those words sound when put together. Now, those words have become one of the most important aspects of running a college football program.
We’re seeing more and more players enter their name into the portal and changing schools every year. It’s a development that has spawned plenty of debates about what’s good or bad for the game, but no matter how you feel about it, the fact is that transfers have a major impact on teams every season — both from a perspective of players lost and players brought in.
So it only makes sense to look for the transfers who are likely to have the biggest impacts on their new teams in 2021, and today I’m here to tell you about five players now calling the Big Ten home who should become household names throughout the Midwest this fall.
Hilinksi is the latest addition Northwestern has made at the QB spot since moving on from 15-year (it might’ve been fewer) starter Clayton Thorson. The Wildcats are hoping Hilinski will have a bigger impact than Hunter Johnson did when he joined from Clemson. A former four-star recruit from California, Hilinski comes to Northwestern from South Carolina. He played in 13 games with the Gamecocks over the last two seasons, completing 58.3% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Michigan State finished 13th in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game last season, and its 2.68 yards per carry wasn’t only the worst in the conference but ranked 124th nationally. So it’s no shock to see that the Spartans went looking for upgrades this offseason, and they’re hoping Walker will be one. Walker rushed for 579 yards and 13 touchdowns with Wake Forest last season and leaves Winston-Salem with 1,158 yards rushing and 17 total touchdowns.
Williams was rated as a top-50 player in the 2017 class by 247Sports, but his career at Florida State never met the expectations. In three seasons — Matthews opted out of the 2020 season — he caught 84 passes for 809 yards with five touchdowns while contributing as a returner on special teams. Now that he’s in Bloomington, the Hoosiers are hoping Matthews can fill the void left by Whop Philyor. Philyor caught 54 passes for 495 yards and three touchdowns in eight games last season, and Matthews is slotted to take his place in the lineup alongside Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall.
I could make the argument that the biggest transfer in Lincoln is Wan’Dale Robinson transferring to Kentucky, but as for players coming in, Toure could help Huskers fans get over the loss of Robinson quickly. Toure is a big target at 6-foot-3 and comes to Nebraska from Montana in the FCS, where he caught 87 passes last season for a school-record 1,495 receiving yards. He’s expected to work out of the slot and could easily finish the season as Nebraska’s leading receiver.
This one flew a bit under the radar because Ebiketie isn’t a skill-position player on offense, and they tend to get most of the attention. Still, Ebiketie is a known commodity to any offensive linemen who had to deal with him in the AAC. The defensive end was named second-team All-AAC last year after finishing with 42 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles with Temple. Now he makes the trip west to Penn State, where the Nittany Lions are hoping he can add to a pass rush that lost a couple of crucial parts in Odafe Oweh and Shaka Toney.