Texas Tech football: Red Raiders’ best additions of the portal era

Texas Tech football: Red Raiders’ best additions of the portal era
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Sep 2, 2023; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head football coach Joey McGuire arrives before game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The landscape of college athletics has been forever transformed, for better or worse, by the ease of movement provided by the transfer portal.  That’s because, since 2021, athletes have been granted the ability to transfer schools one time without penalty rather than having to sit out a year after a transfer as was previously the policy.  That opened the door for schools across the nation to freely and openly court athletes from other schools and every program, including Texas Tech, has majored in that practice over the past few years.

Even before 2021, though, player movement between schools was on the rise as the NCAA seemed to relax its mysterious standards on granting immediate eligibility waivers to players who changed schools.

Thus, defining the “portal era” is not easy.  However, it is safe to say that the past five years have been when the portal has become the college sports version of a free-agency frenzy similar to what fans have seen from the NBA or Major League Baseball.

For the sake of this discussion, that’s the window we will use when we talk about the “portal era” and it fits because that is when the Red Raiders began the Matt Wells era of the program.  While that’s a time period that almost no one is going to look favorably upon given Wells’ underwhelming performance, when discussing the transfer portal, it’s a great place to begin because Wells was the first Red Raider head coach to jump into the transfer pool with both feet.

Whether or not he did so wisely is up for debate.  Wells appeared to be so obsessed with winning instantly that his philosophy was to fill as many holes with transfers as he could.

That strategy was fine except that he struggled mightily when it came to high school recruiting.  Therefore, he and his staff always seemed to be chasing their collective tails in the portal by bringing in stop-gap solutions rather than long-term answers.  It was a plan that didn’t work and it ultimately was a huge reason Wells was canned before even finishing his third season at Tech.

Joey McGuire has continued to work the transfer portal, as any good coach must these days, but it isn’t his primary focus.  Rather, the former high school football coach has prioritized the recruitment of high school talent as the main way he is going to build this program.

In short, Wells knew that he didn’t have the support of the fan base, and the only way he was going to get it was to win instantly.  McGuire, on the other hand, has been accepted by his constituency and that’s allowing him to play the long game when it comes to developing younger players as the pillars of the program.

Of course, there will be a time limit for McGuire if his program-building efforts don’t soon start to yield results better than just being three games over .500 in two seasons, which is what he currently is as Texas Tech head coach.

McGuire also understands that Tech is a tough job and as such, hitting home runs in the portal will be an important aspect of getting the Red Raiders turned around.  That’s proven by the fact that this weekend, he and his coaching staff are hosting a number of recruits for the 2024 class with almost all of them being players in the portal (though some are high-profile JUCO recruits or players from lower-division programs).

During the McGuire era, Tech has signed 21 transfers in two recruiting classes.  That’s an average of 10.5 per year.  In his three signing classes, Wells brought in 28 players from the portal, an average of 9.3 per year.

What’s interesting, though, is that McGuire felt the need to sign 14 in his first class (2022), an indication of the state of things he inherited from his predecessor.  However, in his most recent signing class, McGuire brought in only seven transfers compared to 26 high school signees.

What’s up for debate has been the effectiveness of Tech’s transfers.  Since 2019, there have been 50 players transfer to Tech but only about 30 have gone on to be significant contributors or starters.

Still, the portal additions aren’t going to stop any time soon.  Tech will likely bring in at least 10 transfers this offseason to fill holes on both sides of the ball.

Therefore, it is worth looking back on some of the most impactful transfers the program has added in the “portal era” to see just how important this avenue of player acquisition is.  So let’s take a look at the five top transfers Tech has landed since 2019.  And we will start with the only offensive player on this list.

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In that 10-game season, he saw action in all nine Big 12 games.  Racking up 63 tackles, he registered a team-leading 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

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That year, Schooler would earn honorable-mention all-conference accolades for his work.  That was impressive given how late into the offseason his transfer occurred.

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2021 saw Schooler close out one of the most productive NCAA careers in history.  Starting all 13 games, he was credited with 106 tackles (7.5 for loss), two sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception, and ten QB pressures.

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For his collegiate career, Schooler would make 481 tackles with 58.5 going for loss.  However, there is one play that stands out from the crowd.

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In 2020’s 24-23 Red Raider victory over Baylor in Lubbock, Schooler had the play of the game.  His bone-jarring hit on Baylor QB Charlie Brewer at the goal line saved the Red Raiders from giving up a touchdown.  That play would prove to be pivotal in that win and it garnered national attention on social media.

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Few good things came out of the COVID-19 pandemic but Collin Schooler’s arrival at Texas Tech was one of them.  He was as productive as any player the Red Raiders have featured in the past decade and he left many positive memories for Tech fans.  It’s just too bad we didn’t get to see his full career play out in Lubbock.

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Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive end Tyree Wilson poses on the red carpet at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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No. 1: It is hard to believe that Tyree Wilson walked on at Texas Tech

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Former 4-star recruits don’t usually walk on to programs.  Neither do future NFL first-round picks.  However, that’s what Tyree Wilson did with the Red Raiders prior to the 2020 season.

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After spending two years at Texas A&M, Wilson saw the light and came to Lubbock but because of roster numbers and the mid-August timing of his transfer, he had to play as a walk-on during his first season at Tech.  It was the greatest recruiting job of Matt Wells’ brief and unsuccessful run as Texas Tech head coach to get a player of Wilson’s caliber to play as a walk-on.

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After being an honorable-mention all-conference defensive end in 2021, Wilson blossomed in 2022 to earn First-Team All-American honors.  In only 10 games, he made 61 tackles including 14.0 for a loss and 7.0 sacks.

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In the 2023 NFL Draft, Wilson went to the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 7 overall.  That was the highest a Red Raider defensive player has ever been drafted.

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The reality is that Wilson’s career at Tech highlights how the transfer portal can even the playing field in college football.  A school the caliber of Texas Tech isn’t going to be landing multiple recruits of Wilson’s talent on a yearly basis.  Even Joey McGuire with all of his recruiting wins would be lucky to land defensive ends like Wilson in each class.

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However, when Wilson was looking for a new home, he was open to hearing from Tech and ultimately, he decided to come to Lubbock to finish his NCAA career.  Remember, though, that Wilson wasn’t a star when he arrived.

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Rather, he was a project who had yet to even scratch the surface of what he would eventually become. Fortunately, he did realize his immense potential while at Tech and he goes down as this program’s greatest portal victory to date.

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