Dabo Swinney, the Transfer Portal and the Evolution of College Football

The transfer portal. One of the most debated topics amongst the Clemson fan base.

Dabo Swinney has made no bones about the fact that he would much rather recruit and develop high school players, rather than look to the portal. And at Clemson, that probably should generally be the case.

The program is built on a unique culture. One that emphasizes family, and a “bloom where you’re planted” mantra. Making a habit out of turning to the portal flies in the face of everything that culture is built on.

BUT….. Swinney has also maintained on more than one occasion that he is open to using the portal if there is an unexpected loss, or possibly to fill an immediate need. Coming out of the spring, Swinney had to be aware of the fact that his team did have a glaring need. At center.

ESPN analyst David Pollack touched on this very subject on GameDay this morning when discussing Clemson’s offensive woes this season, which a great deal of can be traced directly to issues along the offensive line.

“Dabo Swinney, when you look at him, he’s very much against the transfer portal,” Pollack said. “He talks about culture; building culture. They’ve had 20 kids lost in the transfer portal and signed zero kids in the transfer portal. He’ll have to evolve in that aspect.”

Pollack, in theory has a point. But make no mistake, Swinney will eventually look to the portal. It’s inevitable. There are just too many players transferring out in today’s game. Having said that, the Tigers have to be very careful in how they use it.

They are not going to start turning to the portal just to upgrade talent at a position. Start doing that and Clemson loses what has made it so unique and what attracts to many players to the school in the first place.

However, looking to the portal when your team has an immediate need, that’s a whole different conversation. Clemson needed a center this season. Freshman Ryan Linthicum was not going to be ready, that was known in the spring.

Moving Matt Bockhorst from guard to center means a true freshman is starting. It also means Bockhorst has to learn a new position.

Clemson was already coming into the season with a new starter at RT in Walker Parks, and while he got his feet wet during his freshman season, he played less than 200 snaps.

If this team could have found a center in the portal, this season might be playing out a little differently, and that is where Pollack made his most valid point.

“If they had that on the offensive line right now it would have changed their team completely this season,” Pollack said. “I expect that would be a big change in the future with Dabo.”

However, while Swinney will eventually take a player out of the portal, he’s not going to sacrifice the culture inside the program that he’s spent more than a decade building. It will be for a specific need or to address a specific loss. Not just because there MIGHT be a more talented player available.

It’s also worth noting that there is no way of knowing if that specific player was even available, and that no one knows for sure that the coaches didn’t explore the options that were out there.

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