Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Glance At Big Ten West Transfers: Purdue’s Instant-Impact Additions, New QB1 At Illinois

December 24, 2021

There’s no question that the transfer portal has changed college football. Instead of focusing on and filling recruiting classes with high school athletes who tend to take time developing until they’re ready to contribute, programs across the nation are instead opting for the quick fix of immediate-impact experienced transfers who don’t have to sit a year anymore after transferring.

With the portal being such a huge piece to the puzzle in today’s college football, how is it impacting Nebraska and other Big Ten teams? Let’s take a quick look around the conference to see who, or what, stands out, starting with the Huskers’ division.

Nebraska looks to fix problems, fill roles

Nebraska added what head coach Scott Frost hopes to be five impact players from the transfer portal and one signee from the junior college ranks in safety DeShon Singleton. Singleton wasn’t the only defensive back transfer into the program as another is corner Tommi Hill, a former four-star recruit who spent his true freshman season at Arizona State.

After a poor season on special teams in 2021, the Huskers were expected to go heavy on the search for specialist help, and that’s exactly what they did. Nebraska picked up the FCS Punter of the Year in Brian Buschini from Montana, as well as place kicker Timmy Bleekrode from FCS Furman.

Nebraska needs help fixing what turned out to be a bad offensive line, too, and added transfer Kevin Williams Jr., a 6-foot-5 330-pound lineman who can play guard or tackle. The Omaha native was a multi-year starter at FCS Northern Colorado, where he started eight games in 2018 and nine in 2019.

Nebraska’s receiver room got an addition as well in Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, who has speed to burn and spent last season with New Mexico State, where he caught 37 passes for 578 yards and four touchdowns. Before his time in Las Cruces, he was a 1,000-yard receiver as a freshman at Saddleback College.

The Huskers’ search for an experienced quarterback continues.

Purdue loses studs, but adds instant-impact players

The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2003 when Joe Tiller was roaming the sidelines at West Lafayette. While they’re losing two stars of the program to the NFL Draft—first-team All-Big Ten edge rusher George Karlaftis and receiver David Bell—they did get good news in the quarterback department and transfer portal.

Aidan O’Connell is returning for his sixth season at Purdue. The second-team all-conference quarterback passed for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2021. O’Connell’s return will make head coach Jeff Brohm feel better about his quarterback situation, though he’ll need to find a replacement for Jack Plummer, who entered his name in the portal. Plummer has started off and on during his career at Purdue and has thrown for over 3,000 yards with 26 touchdowns.

According to 247Sports, Purdue has three transfers and all three should see immediate playing time and contribute, including offensive lineman Sione Finau, running back Christopher Brooks and wideout Tyrone Tracy Jr. The Boilermakers’ defense also picked up an option at corner in Tee Denson, who comes to Purdue from Kansas State, where he had 15 tackles and one interception in two seasons of mostly backup action.

Finau comes to Purdue from Florida International, where he was a member of the C-USA All-Freshman Team in 2019. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder should fit right into Brohm’s pass-heavy offense protecting O’Connell.

Brooks comes to West Lafayette from the Pac-12 and California, where he rushed for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns in his four-year career in Berkeley. Brooks is a big back at 6-1, 235 pounds and is in the mold of former Purdue bruiser Zander Horvath, who has moved on from the program. The Cal transfer has shown that he can be an asset in the pass game, too, as he caught 50 passes for 345 yards and seven touchdowns in his career with the Bears.

Tracy spent four seasons at Iowa and caught 66 passes for 871 yards and five touchdowns. Now he’ll be joining a pass-first offense with a seasoned veteran at quarterback, something he didn’t have at Iowa City.

Bret Bielema finds experienced dual-threat quarterback

Bielema and his Fighting Illini might have the most interesting pickup of the west division teams in quarterback Tommy DeVito, who is coming to Illinois after spending four seasons in the ACC at Syracuse.

DeVito is a 6-2, 215-pound dual-threat quarterback who passed for 3,866 yards and 28 touchdowns against 12 interceptions while with the Orangemen. The former four-star recruit will have one year of eligibility left and joins a quarterback room in Champaign that loses starter Brandon Peters. Art Sitkowski, the Illini backup and former Rutgers transfer, likely won’t be ready for spring ball as he recovers from a season-ending arm and shoulder injury he suffered against Penn State.

DeVito could be QB1 at Illinois.

Did Northwestern find Bryce Gallagher’s sidekick?

Northwestern’s defense struggled mightily in 2021 allowing 29 points per game, 12th in the Big Ten. It’ll take more than one portal addition to turn things around quickly for the Wildcats, but they got a good start with the addition of linebacker Wendell Davis, who comes to the Illini from Pitt, where he spent four seasons.

Davis, a 6-2, 240-pounder, recorded 37 total tackles and two sacks during his time with the Panthers. With starting linebacker Bryce Gallagher expected to step into the role that the now-departed Chris Bergin held—Bergin was second in the nation in tackles with 141 while Gallagher had 89—the addition of Davis could make a good 1-2 punch at ‘backer for a Northwestern team that looks to regroup in 2022.

Wiley, Annexstad saying goodbye to Minnesota 

Minnesota had 11 players in the portal and is bringing in two in transfer corners Ryan Stapp from FCS Abilene Christian and Beanie Bishop from Western Kentucky. Stapp, a 6-foot, 170-pounder, racked up 44 tackles and one interception this past season. Bishop spent four seasons at Western Kentucky and racked up 74 tackles. This past season, Bishop had 42 stops and three interceptions.

As for who the Gophers are losing, running back Cam Wiley is looking for a new opportunity in the portal. In three seasons at Minnesota, the 6-2, 210-pounder has rushed for 215 yards and one touchdown. He’s also caught five passes for 26 yards.

Zack Annexstad is also looking for a new home. The quarterback has battled injuries during his time at Minnesota but at one time showed promise. In 2018 he started for the Gophers and threw for 1,277 yards and nine touchdowns against seven picks.

Annexstad started seven career games and has a 3-4 record. He’s also believed to be the second walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season opener. The first? That’s believed to be Baker Mayfield, who started his first game at Texas Tech in 2013 after walking on.

Wisconsin sees former four-star running back commit to another Big Ten team

The Badgers had 10 players in the transfer portal, including corner Donte Burton. Burton spent the past four seasons in Madison and had 22 tackles and one interception.

Kayden Lyles has had an interesting career. He’s played in 29 games at Wisconsin with 15 starts (four at center, four at left guard and seven at defensive end). He’s already found a new team in Florida State.

Another former Badger, running back Jalen Berger, has also found a new home, and it’s within the Big Ten. Berger committed to Michigan State in late November. Berger, a former four-star prospect, spent two seasons at Wisconsin and rushed for 389 yards and three touchdowns.

The emergence of Badgers’ freshman running back Braelon Allen may have had something to do with not only Berger’s leaving, but two other running backs on the roster as well in Loyal Crawford and Antwan Roberts. Both Crawford and Roberts remain uncommitted, according to 247Sports.

Not much action at Iowa—yet

According to 247Sports, five Hawkeyes entered their names in the portal, with Tracy being the only one who has found a new program. As far as additions, there doesn’t appear to be any yet for Kirk Ferentz’s program. Will we see movement following the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky?

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