And they're off...
The NCAA transfer portal opened Monday for the 2022-23 cycle, creating a release-the-hounds moment in which more than 700 Football Bowl Subdivision players submitted their names to nearly triple the previous single-day high. Five Tennessee players had entered the portal as of Tuesday afternoon -- receivers Jimmy Calloway and Jimmy Holiday, tight end Miles Campbell, and running backs Len'Neth Whitehead and Justin Williams-Thomas -- which placed Josh Heupel's Volunteers at the lesser-impacted end of the Southeastern Conference spectrum.
Florida and Texas A&M each had 15 departures into the portal as of Tuesday afternoon, with Arkansas and Alabama next in line with 13 and 12, respectively. The only SEC schools with fewer than Tennessee's five were South Carolina with three, LSU with two and league champion Georgia without any.
Heupel inherited a program in January 2021 that was enduring more than 30 portal exits, but the current low number coupled with a class of 2023 commitments ranked 11th by 247Sports.com reflect further proof of the stability he has provided to one of the most volatile programs nationally of the past decade.
"Two years ago, we talked about what we were going to do," Heupel said. "They can now see what the culture is. They can feel it. They see the connection inside the building, and they understand what our coaching staff is all about.
"They understand that this program is on solid ground and that it's only going to continue to get better."
Tennessee obtained its top two quarterbacks this season, SEC offensive player of the year Hendon Hooker and current starter Joe Milton III, via the transfer portal and went that route to compile the likes of receiver Bru McCoy, left tackle Gerald Mincey, defensive tackle Da'Jon Terry, linebacker Juwan Mitchell, safety Wesley Walker and kicker Chase McGrath as well.
The portal departures the Vols have sustained so far are certainly understandable, given that Calloway and Holiday combined for just eight receptions in Tennessee's 10-2 regular season and with the potential of Whitehead and Williams-Thomas having to move forward on a depth chart topped by Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson.
Receiver and tight end could be two portal positions of need for Tennessee, with receiver Cedric Tillman and tight ends Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren having gone through senior day festivities before the 66-24 thrashing of Missouri inside Neyland Stadium on Nov. 12. Receiver Jalin Hyatt is only a junior, but could be headed to the NFL draft given his monstrously productive season.
One receiver target is Rara Thomas, who led Mississippi State this season with 626 yards on 44 catches and reached the end zone seven times.
"After a lot of prayer and self-reflection, I have decided to enter my name into the transfer portal with two years of eligibility," the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Eufala, Alabama, posted last Friday on Twitter.
On Monday night, Thomas posted that he had received scholarship offers from Auburn, UCF, Ole Miss, Utah, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Georgia.
Jaheim Bell, who played this season at South Carolina, is a promising tight end who is now in the portal. The 6-3, 232-pounder from Lake City, Florida, had 231 receiving yards for the Gamecocks and rushed for 261 yards as an emergency running back when MarShawn Lloyd was injured.
While Thomas and Bell are certain to find new homes elsewhere, many who have entered the portal will not.
During the NCAA's inaugural portal cycle in 2018-19, there were 1,729 FBS players who entered and 878 who wound up at other FBS destinations for a 50.8% transfer rate. In the 2021-22 cycle, however, a whopping 3,085 entered but only 866 transferred for a 28.1% clip.
Quarterbacks are currently in abundance in the portal, including Clemson's DJ Uiagaelei, N.C. State's Devin Leary, Georgia Tech's Jeff Sims, Wisconsin's Graham Mertz, Pittsburgh's Kedon Slovis, Notre Dame's Drew Pyne, Texas A&M's Haynes King, West Virginia's JT Daniels, Ole Miss' Luke Altmyer and Arkansas' Malik Hornsby. Slovis, Mertz and Uiagalelei have significant starting experience, and the career of Daniels will consist of two seasons at USC, two at Georgia, one at West Virginia and one somewhere else.
HYATT AND HYATT
Hyatt used his determination and talents to become one of this season's three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver.
He has used his talents and his last name to land a unique name, image and likeness (NIL) deal.
World of Hyatt in Chicago announced Tuesday that it has agreed to an NIL deal with the 6-foot, 180-pounder from Irmo, South Carolina, who has amassed 67 receptions for 1,267 yards (18.8 yards per catch) and 15 touchdowns this year. Hyatt's 15 touchdowns are tied for first nationally and set a single-season program record.
As part of the agreement, World of Hyatt will provide gift cards to help each of Hyatt's teammates' families with hotel rooms for the upcoming Orange Bowl against Clemson. World of Hyatt will also help Hyatt "celebrate a record-breaking season by providing him the opportunity to visit Hyatt properties once the season wraps."
RILEY WINS BROYLES
The SEC produced two quality candidates for the Broyles Award with Vols offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, named this past weekend as South Florida's new head coach, and Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Yet the Broyles winner as college football's top assistant coach Tuesday was TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com.