Sports Journalism Blog

By Andrew Thomison | @Andrew_Thomison

Sports Capital Journalism Program

HOUSTON – In its short but influential history, the transfer portal has become college football’s version of free agency in the National Football League. The process allows for college football programs to recruit talented players that can join their new teams immediately, in an effort to earn a shot at college football’s ultimate prize, a national championship.

While some programs have overhauled their rosters, the Washington Huskies’ strategic use of the transfer portal has led, in part, to exactly that.

Washington’s most notable transfer is quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who came to the Huskies after spending his first four seasons with Indiana University, where current Washington coach Kalen DeBoer was offensive coordinator.

“I feel like it’s impacted me a lot,” Penix said of his transfer to Washington and being able to remain in the same offensive scheme for the last five seasons. “I’ve seen so many different looks with all the plays that we have. I kind of have a feel for the game to where most of the time I know where I’m throwing before I even snap the ball.”

Unlike several other teams, Washington hasn’t used the transfer portal nearly as often, with only ten players transferring for the 2023 season. But it’s that strategy which, combined with an existing roster constructed of other talented players, has aided the Huskies’ ascension and a 14-win season in 2023.

Prior to this season, 17 offensive players at Washington combined for 145 starts with the Huskies, and 17 defensive players had started a total of 156 games.

During a press conference Sunday with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, DeBoer complemented his players on their level of passion, specifically mentioning that they “wanted to make a difference beyond the field as well.

“Well, I think, fortunately, we had a lot of the players in our program already that understood and were passionate about being great football players,” DeBoer said.

It’s been quite a turnaround for DeBoer’s Huskies, who will have the chance at capturing the program’s third national championship and the first since 1991, when they shared the honor with the Miami Hurricanes.

DeBoer recognized that the quality of the players he has worked with is a testament to the previous coaches and staff who evaluated much of the talent Washington has on its roster.

“Just a lot of credit to even some of the coaches that came before me that brought in great men, and have been fortunate, along with our staff, to be able to work on building better men,” DeBoer said. “That’s one of our slogans we have in our program.”

Cornerback Jabbar Muhammad, who transferred from Oklahoma State prior to the 2023 season, spoke about Washington’s recruiting process and what ultimately led to his decision to choose Washington over other programs.

“When I got there, we had good communication, and they told me what they were about,” Muhammad said. “They told me about the pieces that were coming back. I just fell in love with it.”

Since transferring, Muhammad has been excellent for Washington’s defense, leading the Huskies in interceptions with three to go along with 39 solo tackles and 13 pass deflections this season.

“It was kind of like a match made in Heaven,” Muhammad said. “They welcomed me in with open arms, and we started getting work in.”

Edge rusher Zach Durfee, another player who transferred to Washington, had similar reasons that sold him on wanting to play for the Huskies.

“If I had to pick one thing, I would say the people,” Durfee said. “When you’re looking for a new place, that can be kind of scary. Just people I can trust and knowing it’s a great culture, that’s the main thing.”

Washington’s perfect record has made it clear that its strategy helped play a major role in turning the program around and allowing the Huskies to come within one game of a storybook ending to their remarkable season.