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Impact Transfers: Five Familiar Faces Who Shift College Football’s Balance of Power

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Earlier this week, we highlighted five freshmen to watch in the upcoming college football season. Now, it’s time for the transfers. In recent years, the booming graduate transfer economy has brought the equivalent of free agency to college football (well, minus the “free” part), and many transfers are set to play pivotal roles in 2016.

This list could have been composed solely of quarterbacks, but for the sake of positional diversity, we shared the love with a pair of running backs and — god forbid — a linebacker. Preemptive apologies to devotees of Davis Webb/Dakota Prukop/John O’Korn/Luke Del Rio. (Does Luke Del Rio have a passionate fan base?)

Kenny Hill, QB, TCU (from Texas A&M)

Kenny Trill’s 2014 Heisman Trophy campaign wasn’t long for this world, but, boy, was it ever glorious. In the Aggies’ first game of the post–Johnny Manziel era, Hill passed for a whopping 511 yards with three touchdowns, carrying A&M to a 52–28 rout of South Carolina. However, a combination of lackluster play and off-field issues cost him the starting job by November, and two months later Hill announced his transfer to TCU.

After an allegedly “awesome” year of practices with the Horned Frogs, Hill is competing with Foster Sawyer to take the place of departed QB Trevone Boykin this season. If he wins the job, expectations will be high — TCU opened at no. 7 in the AP poll, second in the Big 12 to only Oklahoma — but we now know better than to anoint him as a Heisman candidate after just one game. That’s especially true given that TCU kicks off its 2016 campaign against FCS South Dakota State, which figures to present Hill with a similar level of competition as Lamar did in 2014.

Trevor Knight, QB, Texas A&M (from Oklahoma)

Every story about Knight is contractually obligated to mention that he once served as a Johnny Football’s stand-in during practice, so here it goes: As Oklahoma prepared to face the Aggies in the 2013 Cotton Bowl, Knight played the part of Manziel on the Sooners’ scout team to dazzling effect. This year, he’ll try to replicate Manziel’s production with the Aggies, having been named A&M’s starter at the conclusion of spring practice. The prospect of Knight performing his improv act in Kevin Sumlin’s up-tempo scheme is tantalizing, and with the coach inching closer to the dreaded hot seat, the pressure will be high for this marriage to work.

Barry Sanders, RB, Oklahoma State (from Stanford)

His name is Barry Sanders, and he plays for Oklahoma State. That alone should be enough to capture your attention this fall. Yes, he’s Barry Sanders’s son (but don’t call him Junior), and with Christian McCaffrey entrenched atop Stanford’s tailback depth chart, the graduate transfer came to his dad’s old stomping grounds to run past Big 12 defenses. At Oklahoma State, Sanders will compete with fellow senior Chris Carson for carries, and 49-year-old man Mike Gundy hasn’t been able to contain his excitement about coaching the son of a legend. (Gundy has presumably spent the past six months watching Sanders’s high school highlight reel, along with everyone else in Stillwater.)

Hardy Nickerson, LB, Illinois (from California)

Continuing with the trend of promising bloodlines, Nickerson’s father played linebacker in the NFL for 16 seasons, and now is the defensive coordinator at Illinois. Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini’s first-year head coach, Lovie Smith, knows a thing or two about quality linebacker play (see: Urlacher, Brian and Briggs, Lance). Nickerson should immediately help shore up Illinois’s fairly porous run defense; he was a three-year starter at Cal who led the defensively challenged Bears with 112 tackles (54 solo) in 2015.

Duke Catalon, RB, Houston (from Texas)

The 2014 four-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, left Austin without playing a down for the Longhorns. So, if nothing else, Catalon should be exceedingly well-rested for the the 2016 season. Along with standout quarterback Greg Ward Jr., Catalon figures to play a big role in year two of coach Tom Herman’s #HTownTakeover, especially since the Cougars lost their top two running backs from the 2015 campaign. Also of note: Catalon is reportedly an avid horseback rider, which is pretty cool (if not totally indicative of success on the gridiron).