ACC, SEC reap benefits from transfers moving between leagues

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The plan wasn’t for Georgia Tech to lose top running back Jahmyr Gibbs as a transfer to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference. Yet the Atlantic Coast Conference school has found its share of help from the SEC, too, in the form of seven transfers.

It’s a common theme for schools in those leagues amid freer movement through the transfer portal: players shifting from one power conference to the other, often to stay close to home and within an overlapping Southern footprint.

“I think it is kind of a natural move,” said Virginia receiver Keytaon Thompson, who has played two seasons for the ACC’s Cavaliers after spending three seasons at Mississippi State in the SEC.

Gibbs offers a high-profile example for the upcoming season in his move from the Yellow Jackets to the Crimson Tide after ranking third in the Bowl Subdivision ranks by averaging better than 150 all-purpose yards per game.

He’s one of seven players to do so this year among 247sports’ Top 150 ranking of transfers for the upcoming season. That list includes:

Alabama receiver Tyler Harrell (from Louisville), Louisville running back Tiyon Evans (from Tennessee), Ole Miss defensive end Jared Ivey (from Georgia Tech), Miami running back Henry Parrish Jr. (from Ole Miss) and Kentucky receiver Tayvion Robinson (from Virginia Tech).

The movement has been fruitful for both leagues.

Last year’s Associated Press all-ACC football honors included SEC transfers in Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson II (from Georgia) as defensive player of the year and North Carolina running back Ty Chandler (from Tennessee) as a second-team pick. On the SEC side, Georgia defensive back Derion Kendrick was a second-team selection after transferring from Clemson.

Florida State defensive back Jammie Robinson started his career at South Carolina in the SEC. He said he didn’t really see major differences in competition between the leagues after earning AP all-ACC second-team honors last year.

SEC teams “are going to ground and pound and run the ball down your throat,” Robinson said during the ACC’s preseason media days in Charlotte, North Carolina. “In the ACC it’s kind of different. They’re going to more spread and more (run-pass options) and stuff like that. When I got to the ACC, that’s how I was trying to better my man coverage skills.”

More broadly though, the leagues offer logical landing spots for players seeking to move closer to home.

That was a factor for quarterback Hendon Hooker as he left Virginia Tech after the 2020 season marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the Greensboro, North Carolina, native opted for another neighboring-state program in Tennessee – an example of why second-year Volunteers coach Josh Heupel called that regional footprint “extremely critical to us at all times.”

“I definitely had some options to go a little further away from home,” Hooker said during the SEC’s preseason media days in Atlanta. “Me being the family man I am, I would want my family to be at every game. So being four hours away from home is a blessing.”

Fourth-year Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins has an up-close view of the interleague movement from Atlanta in territory both leagues claim as their own.

While losing Gibbs and Ivey, the Yellow Jackets added defensive back Ahmari Harvey (Auburn) and offensive lineman Pierce Quick (Alabama) as midyear enrollees. In addition, Kentucky offensive lineman R.J. Adams and Auburn defensive back Eric Reed Jr. have joined the program.

“There’s a (base) about five, five-and-a-half-hour radius of your campus that you focus on in recruiting,” Collins said. “I think the same thing happens in the transfer portal as well, but then you expand that because they might have gone at a distance and now they want to come back home for whatever reason. I don’t think that’s too uncommon.”

It also goes back to those years-ago recruiting battles for North Carolina coach Mack Brown. The leagues have four overlapping states in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky. That creates plenty of battles for high school recruits as both leagues mine that fertile territory, and those ties linger when a player decides later to transfer.

“What I’m seeing more is (coaches) are really looking at guys they lose in recruiting, that they think they could’ve gotten because they were very interested,” Brown said. “And then when they leave their other school because they’re unhappy, they’re going to come back home.”

And no one seems to expect the moves to slow anytime soon.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.