The unveiling of top recruits at training camps across the country this month kicks the hype machine into overdrive. But another class of newcomers, transfers, will create plenty of buzz in their own right. From graduate students to former junior college standouts, a number of players who changed schools are likely to make huge impacts this fall. Here are 12, listed alphabetically, to keep an eye on:
Vernon Adams*, QB
Eastern Washington to Oregon
Adams has already carved up two Pac-12 defenses with an FCS-level supporting cast. In a win at Oregon State in 2013, Adams accounted for 518 total yards and six touchdowns. The next season, he passed for 475 yards and seven touchdowns in a loss to Washington. At Oregon, Adams will compete with junior Jeff Lockie to replace Marcus Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy and led the Ducks to the championship game of the College Football Playoff last season. Adams is a shifty runner who excels at making plays outside of the pocket. He should thrive in Oregon’s up-tempo offense, which brings back standout tailback Royce Freeman and receiver Byron Marshall.
*Adams’ enrollment at Oregon reportedly could be delayed until after the start of training camp because he has yet to complete his coursework at Eastern Washington.
Devonte Fields, OLB
Trinity Valley (Tex.) C.C. to Louisville
Fields was permanently separated from TCU last summer after being charged in connection with a domestic altercation with his ex-girlfriend. (The charge, a misdemeanor, was reportedly dropped this July following his completion of an anger-management program.) As a true freshman for the Horned Frogs in 2012, Fields won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award after recording 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He was credited with 61 tackles and 6.5 sacks over 12 games last season at Trinity Valley. Though Louisville returns only four starters on defense, Fields and senior end Sheldon Rankins, a third–team all-ACC selection in 2014, could form one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the ACC.
Everett Golson, QB
Notre Dame to Florida State
Golson joined the Seminoles this spring following an up-and-down, four-year stint at Notre Dame. After leading the Fighting Irish to the national title game as a redshirt freshman, Golson was suspended in 2013 for “poor academic judgment.” He emerged in ’14 as a Heisman Trophy contender at the beginning of the season before his play declined as Notre Dame slumped to a 7–5 record. Assuming Golson beats out junior Sean Maguire for the starting job and can limit the turnovers that cost Notre Dame down the stretch last season—he had 22 over his final 10 games—he could help the ’Noles avoid slipping on offense after Heisman winner Jameis Winston’s departure to the NFL. With Florida State’s run game suddenly in question due to Dalvin Cook’s suspension, Golson’s ability to quickly pick up coach Jimbo Fisher’s offense becomes even more critical.
Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins, S and CB
Georgia to Louisville
Harvey-Clemons and Wiggins are being combined into one blurb because they hail from the same school and play in the same position group. Harvey-Clemons, a former five-star recruit, chose Louisville in April 2014 after being dismissed from Georgia for a team rules violation. Wiggins transferred from the Bulldogs and said he was seeking a team that would “embrace my personality.” The two Georgia natives are reuniting with former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to help a defense that loses top safeties Gerod Holliman and James Sample as well as cornerbacks Charles Gaines and Terrell Floyd.
Marquavius Lewis, DE
Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C. to South Carolina
Lewis committed to the Gamecocks last July, but speculation arose over whether he would flip to Auburn after he took an official visit there in November. In the end, he stuck with South Carolina, where he’s expected to start right away. The No. 3 juco prospect in the class of 2015, according to Rivals.com, Lewis played two seasons at Hutchinson. He was named the defensive player of the year in the Jayhawk Conference last year after recording 20.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. The 6’3,’’ 264-pounder should jolt a defense that ranked 120th in the nation last season in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate statistic.
Tray Matthews and Blake Countess, S and CB
Georgia and Michigan to Auburn
Countess and Matthews are combined here because they join the same position group at Auburn. Another former Georgia defensive back, Matthews started six games for the Bulldogs as a true freshman in 2013 before being dismissed in June ’14 following a reported classroom disruption. Countess announced his transfer to the Tigers this spring after starting 30 games over three seasons at Michigan and earning all-Big Ten honorable mention in ’14 (and first team in ’13). Both Countess and Matthews should be counted upon this fall after Auburn watched five defensive backs transfer to other schools this off-season.
Mike Mitchell, LB
Ohio State to Texas Tech
After arriving at Ohio State as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the class of 2013, according to Rivals.com, Mitchell sustained an injury in preseason camp and redshirted before transferring because of his father’s health. He sat out last season in compliance with NCAA transfer rules, and took part in workouts at Texas Tech this spring. The Red Raiders will need him to help spark a defense that ranked 104th nationally in Football Outsiders S&P + Ratings last season but is bringing in a new coordinator, David Gibbs. Coach Kliff Kingsbury described Mitchell in April as “probably the most impressive, physically gifted young man on our team,” according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Paris Palmer, OT
Lackawanna (Pa.) C.C. to Penn State
Penn State is searching for a replacement at left tackle for Donovan Smith, who left for the NFL after last season. Palmer, who flipped from South Carolina to the Nittany Lions in December, might be the best candidate. The Plymouth, N.C., native played two seasons at Lackawanna after reportedly injuring his ACL during his senior year of high school. The Penn State coaching staff has indicated it wants the 6’7”, 297-pound Palmer to add weight. If he outperforms redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell and junior Albert Hall in fall camp, Palmer will take on a critical task this season: protecting the blindside of projected first-round NFL pick Christian Hackenberg. That will be crucial to the Nittany Lions’ chances as Hackenberg struggled last fall while Penn State allowed 44 sacks, the most of any Big Ten team.
Jovon Robinson, RB
Georgia Military College to Auburn
Robinson is one of three running backs—along with sophomores Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas—competing for carries following the departures of first-team All-SEC selection Cameron Artis-Payne and senior Corey Grant this offseason. After rushing for 3,198 yards and 43 touchdowns over two years at Georgia Military, Robinson turned heads on the Plains during spring practice with his combination of power, size and pass-catching skills. Even if Thomas and Barber cut into his workload, the 6’0”, 230-pound Robinson should get plenty of opportunities in an offense that has excelled running the ball under coach Gus Malzahn and ranked second in the SEC last season with 607 rushing attempts. Malzahn also has a strong track record of turning juco transfers into offensive stars, including quarterback Nick Marshall and current Tigers wide receiver D’haquille Williams.
Dede Westbrook, WR
Blinn (Tex.) J.C. to Oklahoma
The Sooners will make first-team All-Big 12 selection Sterling Shepard a priority in their passing game. But with new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley installing his version of the Air Raid, there should be plenty of room for other receivers to make plays. After catching 76 passes for 1,487 yards last season, Westbrook performed well during spring workouts at Oklahoma. According to the Tulsa World, Westbrook, who’s listed at 6’1” and 167 pounds, said in April that he was “pretty much a slot guy” during his time at Blinn. He could thrive next to Shepard, who led the Big 12 with 19.02 yards per reception last season and also operated on the inside this spring.