Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Most Impactful Transfers on Nebraska’s Big Ten Schedule

May 26, 2022

Along with name, image and likeness, the transfer portal and one-time transfer rule has changed college football.

Rosters can now be completely flipped in offseasons. Michigan State demonstrated that in 2021 and Nebraska is currently doing this year. But what about the transfers playing for the Huskers’ conference opponents in 2022? Let’s take a look at all nine Big Ten opponents—plus Oklahoma—and select the incoming transfer that could have the biggest impact.

Northwestern | Ryan Johnson | Defensive line

On March 29, Northwestern announced it added seven transfers. That group included punter Luke Akers (UCLA), linebacker Wendell Davis Jr. (Pittsburgh), defensive linemen Henrik Barndt (Indiana State), Taishan Holmes (UMass) and Ryan Johnson (Stanford), defensive back Jeremiah Lewis (Duke) and offensive lineman Vincent Picozzi (Colorado State).

Simply put, Northwestern was bad on both sides of the ball last season—that much is obvious for a team that finished 3-9. The Wildcats’ offense averaged 16.6 points, last in the Big Ten and 125th in the nation, and its 4.67 yards-per-play average was tied with Brian Ferentz-led Iowa for 120th in the country.

But for a head coach like Pat Fitzgerald, a former linebacker who was a two-time All-American and twice named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, the poor defensive performance had to give him the biggest headache. Northwestern allowed 29 points per game, 12th in the conference and 89th nationally. The run defense especially suffered—it allowed 5.33 yards per rush, 117th in the country. Things weren’t that bad since 2010, when the Wildcats allowed 5.15 yards per rush.

Northwestern’s defense must replace some starters from last year, and we detailed them here. While the Wildcats lose tackling machine Chris Bergin at linebacker, Davis should be in the mix for playing time right away next to returning starter Bryce Gallagher. Northwestern’s defensive backfield brings back starting talent in corners Cameron Mitchell and AJ Hampton, as well as safety Coco Azema, but expect Lewis, the Duke transfer, to see the field as well.

But for the most impactful transfer, let’s look closer to the line of scrimmage. The pick here is Johnson, the defensive lineman from Stanford. Northwestern needs to replace d-linemen Jeremy Meiser (31 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 4 sacks), Trevor Kent (18, 1.5, 1) and Joe Spivak (8 tackles), all of whom saw starts last year.

Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 280-pounder, was brought in help immediately. He’s a veteran of the game as next season will be his sixth in college football. He was mostly a rotational piece at Stanford and played in 32 games. Johnson’s best season was his most recent in 2021, where he played in all 12 games—with four starts—and had 16 tackles with 0.5 for loss.

Bonus Pick: Oklahoma | Dillon Gabriel | Quarterback

Oklahoma is not a conference opponent, but let’s do the Sooners anyway.

Taking the quarterback in this discussion is the boring pick, but it’s the correct one.

While Nebraska-Oklahoma will always catch more than the average amount of eyeballs across the country due to the old rivalry, this year’s game in Lincoln on Sept. 17 has the chance to gain real steam in college football.

The Huskers could—and we should really stress the could part—be 3-0 heading into the contest while the new-look Sooners could be 2-0. Keep an eye on that Oklahoma-Kent State game on Sept. 10, though. Golden Flashes’ head coach Sean Lewis can coach. Might be closer than some think.

Now, back to Gabriel.

A former three-star recruit in the 2019 class out of Mililani, Hawaii, Gabriel picked Central Florida hoping to follow in the footsteps of another native Hawaiian quarterback who did big things with the Golden Knights—McKenzie Milton. Gabriel started three seasons in Orlando, passing for 8,037 yards and 70 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. The offensive coordinator his freshman year was none other than the one he has now in Norman, Jeff Lebby, who spent the previous two years with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss.

In 2019, Lebby’s Central Florida offense averaged 43.4 points per game, fifth-most in the country. He kept the attack balanced, passing for 316.7 yards per game (8th in the country) and 9 yards per attempt (11th) while rushing for 223.7 yards (19th) and 5.2 yards per rush (17th).

Lebby’s offenses have always been fast-tempo attacks that force opponents to defend all 53 1/3 yards, it’s what he learned coaching under Art Briles at Baylor. In 2019, Central Florida ranked 126th in the country in time of possession, averaging 26 minutes, 6 seconds. Ole Miss averaged 27:51 (105th) in 2020 and 27:18 (122nd) in 2021. Lebby wants to play fast.

Gabriel, a 6-foot, 205-pounder, isn’t a statue in the pocket—he rushed for 372 yards and eight touchdowns at Central Florida—so there could be a quarterback-run element in Lebby’s offense.

On paper, Gabriel seems like a perfect fit for a Lebby spread offense. We’ll see what it actually looks like when the season begins.

Indiana | Connor Bazelak | Quarterback

Here we are with another quarterback.

The competition to be Indiana’s starting quarterback will go into fall camp, and it’s likely between Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak and Jack Tuttle. If there’s to be a guess, Bazelak will be out with the No. 1 offense when the Hoosiers open the season at home against Illinois on Sept. 2, a Friday night.

In three seasons at Missouri, Bazelak threw for 5,084 yards and 23 touchdowns. He completed 66.4% of his passes, but the scary part is the interceptions—he threw 17 of them as a Tiger. Nonetheless, he still impressed as a redshirt freshman in 2020—though that was the COVID-19 year, so do with that what you want—and earned himself Co-Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC.

In his fourth year at Indiana in 2021, Tuttle completed 51.7% of his passes (45-of-87) and threw more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (2). It was a bad year all-around for the Hoosier quarterbacks, a position that had zero consistency and suffered injuries. Four different quarterbacks played. Last year’s opening-day starter, Michael Penix Jr., transferred to Washington.

On top of the quarterback situation, Indiana’s offense will have a new offensive coordinator in Walt Bell. Bell spent the past three seasons as head coach of Massachusetts, where he went just 2-23. In 2019, his first season with the Minutemen, Bell’s offense averaged 19.8 points. UMass only played four games in the 2020 season due to COVID. Last season, his offense struggled to score points again, averaging 16.3.

Indiana did bring in more skill talent after last year’s dreadful 2-10 season that saw the Hoosiers go winless in the Big Ten slate. Here’s a quick look at two of them:

  • WR Emery Simmons (30 catches, 516 yards, 3 touchdowns in three seasons at North Carolina)
  • RB Shaun Shivers (201 carries, 1,020 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns in four seasons at Auburn)

Indiana also added help in the defensive line in JH Tevis, who racked up 59 tackles and three sacks in three seasons at California.

Rutgers | Taj Harris | Receiver

In terms of who’s returning in Rutgers’ receiving room, the numbers look good. Five of the top six receivers from last year are back, though the Scarlet Knights’ passing offense didn’t really scare anyone last year as it averaged 171.5 yards per game and 5.7 yards per pass, 125th in the nation.

Bo Melton caught a team-high 55 passes for 618 yards and three touchdowns last year, but he’s trying to make the Seattle Seahawks roster right now. That means Rutgers needs a new No. 1 receiver, and Taj Harris could be that guy.

The 6-1, 185-pounder spent four seasons at Syracuse, where he caught 151 passes for 2,028 yards and 10 touchdowns. He entered his 2021 campaign on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. A local product from Beverly, New Jersey, which is just an hour drive from where he’ll be playing in Piscataway, Harris could be the big-play threat Rutgers needs.

First things first, though, the team needs to settle on a quarterback. Who’s going to win the job—former Central Florida and Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral, who threw for 1,823 yards with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last year, or one of the young guys in Gavin Wimsatt and Evan Simon?

The safe bet is Vedral.

Purdue | Tyrone Tracy | Receiver

Following the news that receiver Milton Wright is academically ineligible for the 2022 season, it just seems right that we need to pick a receiver here. Tyrone Tracy, the former Iowa Hawkeye, is the selection.

Wright, a 6-3, 195-pounder who had 57 catches for 732 yards and seven touchdowns last year, was expected to be a massive part to the Boilermakers’ passing attack in 2022 and the next star receiver in Jeff Brohm’s passing attack. Not anymore. Tracy is now set to get a ton of passes thrown his way, which is exactly what he wanted when transferring to West Lafayette after spending four seasons at Iowa.

The 6-1, 205-pound Tracy had a great 2019 campaign in Iowa City—he caught 36 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns. But in the two seasons after that, he had a combined 29 receptions for 260 yards and two scores. He’s going to get the targets he’s been searching for.

If Purdue’s receiving corps was all well and good, another potential pick for this exercise would be corner Reese Taylor, who is now playing for his former rival after spending four seasons with Indiana. Reese should start for the Boilermakers—he’s a veteran who racked up 74 tackles and two interceptions in his career at Bloomington.

Illinois | Tommy DeVito | Quarterback

Illinois’ offense might have a bit of juice to it after the commitment of quarterback Tommy DeVito from Syracuse and the hire of offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.

Lunney came from Texas-San Antonio, where his spread offense in 2021 averaged 36.9 points per game, second in the Conference USA and tied for No. 11 nationally. He’s good friends with head coach Bret Bielema, so the hire makes sense. Lunney and the Roadrunners even beat Illinois on the road last season.

DeVito is a veteran quarterback and a good athlete at 6-2 and 210 pounds. The Fighting Illini’s offense will look much different than it did last year with the immobile Artur Sitkowski.

DeVito comes to Champaign after having spent four seasons at Syracuse, where he passed for 3,866 yards and 28 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. DeVito can be an effective runner as he totaled 235 yards on the ground and three scores in the past three years with the Orange.

Minnesota | Shannon “Beanie” Bishop | Defensive Back

Many will look at who the Golden Gophers lost in their offensive backfield, and that’s fair. Young and talented running backs Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas transferred to Oregon and Kansas, respectively.

But those losses don’t sting as much when you remember star running back Mohamed Ibrahim, though coming off a torn Achilles, is back for another season. So are Trey Potts and Bryce Williams, two backups who combined to rush for 738 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Minnesota should still be fine at running back.

But today we’re looking at who Minnesota has brought in, and the one who catches your eye is Shannon “Beanie” Bishop, a defensive back. The 5-10, 185-pounder was a first-team All-Conference USA selection after recording 42 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups last year at Western Kentucky.

Bishop played four seasons and in 36 career games for the Hilltoppers. He recorded 76 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and broke up 12 passes.

Michigan | Olusegun “Victor” Oluwatimi | Center

Jim Harbaugh got one of the best centers in college football to transfer to Michigan.

The Wolverines needed to find a replacement at center following the departure of last year’s starter, Andrew Vastardis. Enter the 6-3, 310-pound Olusegun “Victor” Oluwatimi, who was a second-team All-American and a Rimington Award finalist in 2021 at Virginia.

Oluwatimi started 35 games in his career for the Cavaliers. It’s been quite the rise for the former Air Force Falcon—that’s where he started his career in 2017, but he didn’t see the field. Now he’s going to be starting for one of the top programs in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin | Jay Shaw | Corner

There hasn’t been too much action at Wisconsin with incoming transfers, but the Badgers did find a couple veteran corners in Jay Shaw and Cedrick Dort Jr.

If we had to pick one, it’d be Shaw, a 5-11, 190-pound former UCLA Bruin who played in 43 games—and started 16—while earning second-team All-Pac 12 honors last year. In four seasons with the Bruins, Shaw had 87 tackles and six interceptions, three of which came in 2021.

The 5-11, 182-pound Dort played in a whopping 44 games with 25 starts at Kentucky, where he had 51 tackles. If he stays healthy, Dort should see the field at corner for defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, especially after starting corners Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams have moved on from the program.

Iowa | Steven Stilianos | Tight end

Iowa doesn’t appear to be that interested in taking transfers. According to 247Sports, the Hawkeyes have just one incoming transfer—Steven Stilianos.

Stilianos comes to Iowa City from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania where he was a two-time first-team All-Patriot League selection. The 6-5, 250-pounder played in just four games in 2021 and finished with 21 receptions for 130 yards. In four seasons, he hauled in 65 passes for 534 yards and five touchdowns.

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