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.

Smith leads Texas Tech past Leach’s Bulldogs in Liberty Bowl

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Donovan Smith threw for 252 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score, and Texas Tech beat Mississippi State 34-7 in the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday night.

Tahj Brooks rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown and SaRodorick Thompson ran for 80 yards and a score for the Red Raiders (7-6), who finished with a winning record for the first time since 2015. They were appearing in their first bowl game since 2017.

Mississippi State (7-6) fell short in coach Mike Leach‘s first game against a former program of his. Leach, who went 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09, failed to become the first Bulldogs coach to end each of his first two seasons with a bowl victory. Mississippi State was playing in its 12th straight bowl game.

Red Raiders interim coach Sonny Cumbie, a former player at Texas Tech under Leach, ended his five-game run with a 2-3 record. Cumbie, who is departing to become Louisiana Tech’s coach, took over for Matt Wells in October.

“It’s a sense of relief and accomplishment,” Cumbie said. “In these bowl games, the most excited team that shows up is the one that comes out on top. That’s what this team did.”

Texas Tech rushed for 260 yards against a Bulldogs defense that came in allowing 101 yards per game on the ground.

“Their defensive front is very good,” Cumbie said. “We felt with some of our run schemes and some of our motions, we would be able to hit some creases. And our running backs broke some tackles. They were a good opponent, but I did feel we’d have the ability to run the football.”

Leach’s prolific offense never could get rolling against the Red Raiders and the resulting lopsided loss dropped the Southeastern Conference to 0-4 in the postseason. The Bulldogs were held scoreless in the second half and finished with 344 yards, 105 below their average. Mississippi State was without three offensive linemen, including All-SEC left tackle Charles Cross, a projected top 10 pick in the NFL draft.

“I didn’t think we were consistent,” Leach said. “We didn’t out of the blocks or get into any kind of rhythm. They deserve credit for preparing the way they did and playing the way they did.”

Texas Tech put the game out of reach with two third-quarter touchdowns. Smith scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 95-yard drive, the Red Raiders’ second-longest of the season. Smith, who was named the game’s MVP, completed passes of 39 and 52 yards during the drive. He added a 14-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Sparkman with 2 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Thompson scored his touchdown on a 1-yard run midway through the final quarter for a 34-7 lead.

Texas Tech established the run at the outset, gaining 145 yards in the first quarter and using its physical play to take a 10-0 lead. The Red Raiders moved 75 yards – all on the ground – on the game’s opening possession, scoring on a 19-yard run by Brooks.

“I felt that ignited us,” Smith said. “We knew we had to come out and score.”

Texas Tech added a 31-yard field goal by Jonathan Garibay later in the quarter.

Mississippi State answered on its next series with Will Rogers converting on third-and-11 on the Red Raiders 38 to extend the drive. Rogers evaded a strong rush before finding Jo'Quavious Marks for 18 yards to the 20. Two plays later, Rogers fired a 17-yard scoring pass to Rara Thomas.

The Red Raiders took advantage of a Bulldogs miscue in the closing seconds of the half to go up 13-7. Mississippi State punt returner Austin Williams muffed a Texas Tech punt inside the Bulldogs 20-yard line and Jake Bishop recovered at the 14 with 31 seconds remaining. Garibay added a 26-yard field goal with 13 seconds left.

Mississippi State was held to 126 yards in the first half. Rogers, averaging 372 yards passing per game, managed 103 yards on 10-of-17 passing in the half and finished with 290.

DOWN BUT NOT (OPTING) OUT

Leach said his team was struck with COVID-19 issues shortly after arriving in Memphis last weekend, but he never considered pulling the Bulldogs out of the game. After his postgame news conference, Leach estimated as many as 10 or 11 players were affected. He said once the team got to Memphis, he committed to playing the game as long as there were enough players available.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Texas Tech defensive lineman Tyree Wilson earned the game’s most outstanding defensive player award on the strength of back-to-back tackles for loss. With the Red Raiders leading 20-7 midway through the third quarter, Wilson sacked Rogers on successive plays – an 11-yard loss on third down from the Tech 20 and a 9-yard loss on fourth down from the 31. Tech took over on downs and scored to go ahead 27-7.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State will enter 2022 with significant contributors returning. The Bulldogs had freshmen and sophomores score 35 of their 47 regular-season touchdowns. Rogers, a sophomore this year, will be back after setting the school’s single-season passing record.

Texas Tech starts 2022 under new management. Former Baylor associate head coach Joey McGuire takes over after five seasons with the Bears and 14 as a high school coach at Cedar Hill in Texas, where he won three state titles.

No. 8 Mississippi beats Mississippi State 31-21 in Egg Bowl

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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STARKVILLE, Miss. – Snoop Conner ran for two touchdowns and No. 8 Mississippi scored 21 straight points to beat Mississippi State 31-21 on Thursday night in a windy, rainy and cold Egg Bowl.

“What a cool night. What a cool win. We’re happy and relieved,” Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said. “It wasn’t easy. But our players found a way to win and that’s what matters. We’re at 10 wins and that sounds really cool.”

Matt Corral ran for a touchdown and passed for 229 yards to help Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) overcome an early 6-3 deficit for a 24-6 lead early in the fourth quarter. Corral was 25 of 33 with an interception.

“I was with this team when we were 5-5 and we had losing records. It was in us. We just needed people to bring it out of us,” Corral said. “We bonded together and we’re stronger. And it shows.”

The Rebels had 388 yards of total offense, with Connor scoring twice on 1-yard runs during the decisive outburst. He rushed for 60 yards on 16 carries.

Dontario Drummond had 13 receptions for 133 yards, and Jerrion Ealy scored on a 15-yard run to make it 31-13 lead with 5:35 left.

Mississippi State’s Will Rogers was 38 of 58 for 336 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jaden Walley in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs (7-5, 4-4) added an 11-yard touchdown run by Jo'Quavious Marks with 2:27 remaining, but could not pull within single digits.

“The stat sheet looks pretty good,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said. “We played hard. But they made more key plays and that’s the difference.”

The Bulldogs had 420 yards of total offense, primarily in the final period in the belated rally, but had trouble translating yards into points.

Makai Polk had 10 receptions for 98 yards and added a two-point conversion. Nolan McCord had field goals of 34 and 29 yards.

PIVOTAL SERIES

Trailing 10-6 in the second period, Mississippi State missed an opportunity to take the lead before halftime, dropping three potential touchdown passes. Lideatrick Griffin and Jo’Quavious Marks could not hold on to accurate tosses from Rogers inside the red zone, followed by a missed field goal attempt. The empty scoring drive loomed large as Ole Miss built a 24-6 cushion early in the fourth quarter.

“Let me say it right now. Ole Miss has a defense,” Corral said. “That’s something we couldn’t say in the past. But they’ve carried us during these last five weeks, made some breaks and they showed that this is a team thing.”

THE TAKEAWAYS

Mississippi: Winning a high-risk, high-reward match, was capped by the usual bragging rights. The Rebels won a school-record 10 regular-season games and wrapped up second place in the SEC West race. A New Year’s Six appearance appears likely, accompanied by a Top 10 ranking. Corral, already declared for the NFL draft, remains a dark horse in the Heisman Trophy chase.

“It’s not about me, it’s about us,” Corral said.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs exceeded expectations in Leach’s second season, beating No. 14 Texas A&M, No. 24 North Carolina State and winning four of the last six starts. Rogers passed for 300-plus yards for the 10th time this season as Mississippi State trends upward toward postseason play.

“I think we improved more than any team in the conference and we steadily improved each week,” Leach said. “We beat some ranked teams and lost to a few, too. But we left a lot of meat on the bone in our opportunities.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

No. 8 Ole Miss is in position to move up to a season-high spot pending the results of weekend rivalries.

UP NEXT

Mississippi: Awaits a bowl bid, most likely a New Year’s Six appearance. “We don’t care where we’re going because they’re all great,” Corral said. “The main thing is we are still playing”

Mississippi State: Awaits a bowl bid.