If you would have said 10 years ago that there are 15, 10 or even five transfer players who will have massive impacts in the SEC Championship Game race, you'd be called crazy. It simply didn't happen.
This is a different era, though. The passing of the one-time transfer rule, relaxed transfer rules in previous seasons and the ability for players to transfer within the conference without sitting out has essentially ushered in an era of free agency in college football. Now there are several teams who will benefit from said free agency in the 2021 season.
Here's a look at the five most important transfer players in the SEC as the upcoming campaign approaches.
It's no secret that LSU's defense was hot garbage last year. In fact, that might be an insult to hot garbage. It was a flaming tire fire set inside a dumpster full of half-used gasoline canisters. That will change for a wide variety of reasons this season, and ex-Clemson linebacker Mike Jones Jr. is one of those X-factors. He had 26 tackles and two interceptions last year for the Tigers in the ACC, and will likely be inserted in the spot vacated by Jabril Cox for new defensive coordinator Daronte Jones. I think LSU's offense is going to be one of the best in the nation this year, which means that all LSU's defense needs to be adequate in order to contend for the conference title. Jones won't just make it adequate -- he'll make it elite.
The newest of the SEC's transfers is going to be a dangerous weapon in second-year coordinator Todd Monken's offense. Why? Because the only question on the offensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs is the receiving corps. Gilbert, a former five-star LSU prospect, is an established star in that department. He had 35 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns in eight games last season, and will join a corps that already includes 6-foot-7, 260-pound monster tight end Darnell Washington. If Monken sends those two up the seam, there isn't a team in America that can stop it. Their presence will make the job of the wide receivers a lot easier, which is going to be a nice luxury for quarterback JT Daniels.
The Gators couldn't muster up much of a running game last year, but that is going to change in a big way in 2021 thanks to the presence of dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones, who's a much different player than ex-Gators quarterback Kyle Trask. Bowman was the No. 20 overall player and third-ranked running back in the Class of 2020 but didn't see much playing time at Clemson behind star Travis Etienne. While there are experienced running backs in Gainesville like Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, there hasn't been a true No. 1 during any of coach Dan Mullen's three years leading the program.
Kentucky RB Wan'Dale Robinson
The Nebraska transfer has what it takes to be one of the most versatile players in the entire country. He had 580 rushing yards and 914 receiving yards in two years in Lincoln, and is joining a Kentucky offense that has proven over the last several years that it can mold itself into whatever the personnel dictates any given year. Coach Mark Stoops is unlikely to change that even though Eddie Gran was replaced by Liam Coen during the offseason. Robinson, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound Swiss Army Knife, will be a big part of Kentucky's quest to get back into SEC East contention.
To'o To'o was, by far, the highest-profile transfer of the 2021 cycle, but he's still got a job to win. Christian Harris is established at one of the middle linebacker spots, and Jaylen Moody and Shane Lee both have plenty of experience inside as well. Despite that, it's likely that To'o To'o, who had 140 tackles in two seasons with Tennessee, is the odds-on favorite to fill that spot alongside Harris. That's one of the most dangerous defensive one-two punches in all of college football. Lather, rinse, repeat for Alabama's defense. This time, though, it'll be through the transfer portal instead of the established roster.