Transfer portal, NFL Draft scramble bowl teams’ rosters

Every bowl team from North Carolina has been hit by defections

East Carolina center Avery Jones transfered to Illinois, dealing the Pirates a blow before their appearance in the Birmingham Bowl later this month. (Jeff Dean / AP Photo)

Two years ago, the North Carolina Tar Heels went to the Orange Bowl. At least most of them did.

Four key players for UNC — including both running backs, a star receiver and a starting linebacker — skipped the bowl game, prestigious as it was, to prepare for the NFL Draft. The logic behind the move was “Why risk hundreds of thousands of dollars in NFL money by playing for free?”

Fortunately, the NCAA changed its rules and allow players to be reimbursed for their name, image and likeness. That means that they can make money while still in college.

With that problem solved, we can now look forward to the best players from the college teams in the state representing their schools at bowl games! And with that feel-good news out of the way, let’s move on to the next sports story.

Wait, I’m being told that the problem may not be entirely solved. As it turns out, if you give people a little bit of money, it doesn’t make them less likely to try to get more. Who knew?

The NIL rules, combined with a loosening of regulations involving the transfer portal, have turned college sports into the Wild West, with essentially a free agent market and bidding on players occurring nearly out in the open. So now, the greener pastures aren’t just in the NFL but in schools around the nation, and that makes many players even less likely to suit up for a bowl game this postseason.

UNC coach Mack Brown, who lost the 2021 Orange Bowl without his four top players, has been outspoken this year about the situation.

“One of the real issues we’ve got in college football, I feel, is people that are tampering with guys on your team and paying them money to leave,” he said. “And it’s an issue that needs to get stopped.”

Brown relayed a conversation he had with one of his players:

“I sat down to lunch with one of our starters the other day and I said, ‘Are you getting calls?’ He said, ‘Oh, Coach, I’ve got 15 places I could go.’ … And I said, ‘Are they offering you money?’ He said, ‘Yes. One hundred percent.’”

Quarterback Drake Maye, the ACC player of the year and a top-10 finisher in the Heisman voting, certainly received plenty of offers, but he announced that he’s sticking around in Chapel Hill for another season. Many of his teammates have made other choices, however, as Carolina is one of the area bowl teams hardest hit by postseason attrition.

A dozen Tar Heels entered the transfer portal after the regular season, including three-quarters of the starting secondary — Storm Duck, Tony Grimes and Cam’Ron Kelly. They combined for 126 tackles, four interceptions and 16 pass breakups this season. Linebacker RaRa Dillworth, defensive back DaeDae Hollins, pass rusher Chris Collins and backup quarterback Jacolby Criswell also entered the portal. Defensive linemen Jahlil Taylor and Keeshawn Silver, who saw limited action, also departed.

In a throwback to the quartet of Tar Heels that skipped the Orange Bowl, wide receiver Josh Downs, the team’s best offensive player other than Maye, announced he was skipping the bowl game to prepare for the draft.

UNC also lost offensive coordinator Phil Longo, who took a job on Wisconsin’s staff.

Of course, the knife cuts both ways as their Holiday Bowl opponent, Oregon, will be without its offensive coordinator, as well as linebacker Justin Flow and receiver Dont’e Thornton (portal) and corner Christian Gonzalez (opt-out for draft).

The Tar Heels weren’t alone in feeling the pain of pre-bowl defections, however. All five bowl teams in North Carolina are feeling the effects. Quarterback Devin Leary, the ACC preseason player of the year, tops a list of five NC State players in the transfer portal, including defensive end Josh Harris, receiver Jasiah Provillon and edge rusher Claude Larkins.

Coach Dave Doeren also announced that receiver Devin Carter would be skipping the bowl to prepare for the draft, although Carter said his mind wasn’t made up yet. The team will also be without offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who left for the Coastal Carolina coaching job.

Maryland, State’s opponent in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl has seen two receivers and a corner opt-out and a linebacker transfer.

Duke, headed to the Military Bowl, was likely the least impacted of the local teams. Three Blue Devils entered the portal — corner Tony Davis, linebacker Rocky Shelton and receiver Darrell Harding. Opponent UCF has seen its top receiver, top linebacker and a defensive back transfer.

Wake Forest will be a few players short when it plays Missouri in the Gasparilla Bowl. Running back Christian Turner is transferring. So is backup Quinton Cooley, but at the moment, he plans on playing in the bowl game. Defensive back Gavin Holmes is also in the portal. A host of other reserve players are also transferring. Missouri will be short its top receiver, Dominic Lovett (transfer) and two defensive linemen and a safety who are opting out.

East Carolina got hit hard as it heads to the Birmingham Bowl. Starting center Avery Jones has already transferred to Illinois. Safety Shawn Dourseau is also in the portal. Linebacker Xavier Smith is also missing the game due to “outside circumstances” and tight end Ryan Jones is opting out to prepare for the draft.

The Pirates’ opponent, Coastal Carolina, will have an interim coach for the game, and four starters have entered the portal.