Column | Evaluating the best transfer portal fits for Pitt football

By David Scott, Staff Writer

Christmas came early for college football fans. The transfer portal is open and collegiate athletes are already joining new teams. Thousands of players entered the portal this offseason — here are some players I think would fit best at Pitt.

Phil Jurkovec, Quarterback, Boston College

Yes, Phil Jurkovec already committed to play for Pitt in 2023, but the reunion with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. made too much sense. With Kedon Slovis entering the transfer portal, the Panthers need a veteran replacement to lead the team, and Jurkovec fits the bill. 

Playing high school football at nearby Pine-Richland, Jurkovec boasted a four-star rating going into college. He has mobility in and out of the pocket, something Pitt missed this year. He’s a tough player who is always willing to put his body on the line for his team. That does come back to bite him sometimes, however, as he has struggled with injuries over the last two years.

The biggest draw about Jurkovec is that in 2020, his best season, Cignetti was his offensive coordinator. In that season he passed for 2,558 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns. Cignetti serving as Pitt’s current coordinator likely played a part in Jurkovec’s decision. His transfer to Pitt feels like the climax of Jurkovec’s story. When he chose to sign with Notre Dame instead of Pitt out of high school, the Panthers turned to Kenny Pickett. Now Jurkovec is in to fill his shoes. Can he find the same success?

Dante Cephas, Wide Receiver, Kent State

Junior wide receiver Dante Cephas is a high priority target for Pitt and nearly every other Power Five school. In the last two years, he has 1,984 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Cephas is a Pittsburgh native, playing his high school ball at Penn Hills, and Pitt is pushing hard to bring the talented receiver home.

Pitt has competition for the highly touted receiver, though. It has extended an offer to the receiver, but so have Georgia, Notre Dame, Penn State and other powerful schools.

Ali Jennings, Wide Receiver, Old Dominion

If Pitt can’t haul in Cephas, it should get heavily involved with rising senior Ali Jennings. After starting his career at West Virginia, Jennings transferred to Old Dominion where he found success. The wide receiver is going into his senior year coming off of two very productive seasons. In the last two years Jennings hauled in 2,025 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.

Pitt has extended an offer to Jennings but has competition to secure his commitment. He’s already picked up offers from Kansas and Washington State and will likely receive more.

Kobe Pace, Running Back, Clemson

With junior running back Israel Abanikanda likely leaving for the NFL, the Panthers are losing a lot of production in their backfield. Sophomore running back Rodney Hammond is more than capable of taking over as the starter, but Pitt should try to bring in someone who can back him up.

Junior running back Kobe Pace from Clemson is a great option. He had a productive 2021, rushing for 641 yards and six touchdowns and adding 131 receiving yards. However, this season Will Shipley took over the starting job and Pace only produced 77 yards and three touchdowns. Despite not seeing much of the field, he clearly has the talent for the position and will help fill the hole if Abanikanda leaves.

Jake Renfro, Center, Cincinnati

Pitt is losing both of their starting centers after this season, leaving a huge hole at a crucial position. Junior center Jake Renfro can come in to provide a veteran presence and start at the position. He suffered a knee injury, knocking him out for the entire 2022 season. But after having time to recover, securing his commitment will provide Pitt with some extra security on the offensive line.

Donovan McMillon, Safety, Florida

Donovan McMillon is one of many Florida players who entered the transfer portal already. He hasn’t seen much starting time at his position but did make an appearance in all 12 of the Gators’ games in 2022. McMillon has a physically impressive frame and good athleticism in coverage. He played a considerable role on Florida’s special teams units. McMillon totaled 30 tackles and one tackle for loss in his two years with the Gators.