By the week’s end, every college football team steps back on the practice field for training camp. It means the college football offseason, mercifully, is over. So what did you miss?
There’s no doubt the biggest offseason story is currently unfolding, with Ohio State putting coach Urban Meyer on administrative leave while it investigates what Meyer knew about the domestic violence allegations involving former assistant Zach Smith, and when he knew about them. Meyer’s future in Columbus is suddenly very much in doubt.
But before the Buckeye bombshell, top offseason stories included a seismic eligibility rule change, a top-10 draft pick in baseball electing to play one final year in football and even a few “Bring Lane back!” emails on Rocky Top. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, king of the offseason, stayed relatively quiet other than taking his team to Normandy and doing donuts on the Michigan Stadium turf in a Dodge Demon, while warning players about the perils of eating chicken. But others made noise, from North Carolina’s Larry Fedora to Frosty Nebraskans to those UCF folks who can’t stop celebrating.
Here’s a look at 20 things that stood out during the offseason:
A new redshirt rule (and strategic opportunity)
It’s rare when an important rule gets green-lit during a single offseason. Even rarer when the rule gains such widespread praise. After unanimously pushing a change in the redshirt rule at the AFCA Convention in January, coaches delighted in June when the proposal was approved for the 2018 season. Players are now able to play up to four games at any point in a season without losing a year of eligibility. Freshman should benefit most from the rule, but so can players emerging from major injuries. Coaches are delighted to manipulate their roster in different ways, and the strategies from program to program will be fascinating. An added bonus: Bowl games will become more interesting.
Michigan gets its man
Michigan needed a difference-making quarterback for the 2018 season. Thanks to a unique situation, it has one in Shea Patterson. In April, the NCAA granted Patterson’s waiver to gain immediate eligibility at Michigan after transferring from Ole Miss. Patterson initially based his request on the claim that former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had misled him about the potential punishment the Rebels program could receive from the NCAA, which in December received a postseason ban for 2018. But in the end, Patterson gained approval based on his academic production, and Ole Miss didn’t stand in his way. Patterson, who practiced with Michigan this spring, could help the Wolverines navigate a brutal schedule and reach their first Big Ten championship game.
The Jalen-Tua saga rolls on
The most unique quarterback competition in college football remains unresolved. Alabama’s two-year starter Jalen Hurts is still in Tuscaloosa, as is Tua Tagovailoa, who relieved Hurts and rallied the Tide to a national championship in January. Tagovailoa missed most of the spring with hand injuries, while Hurts struggled in the spring game. In May, Tagovailoa returned home to Hawaii and revealed that he would have transferred if he hadn’t played in the title game. Hurts’ father, meanwhile, told Bleacher Report that Jalen will become “the biggest free agent in college football history” if he loses the starting job for good. Hurts has options, and the new redshirt rules gives him another. Nick Saban predictably isn’t tipping his hand, and the team’s quarterback situation will continue to be under the microscope.
Larry Fedora sounds off on CTE, football and America
No one would have pegged an ACC Coastal Division coach whose team went 3-9 last year to be the biggest newsmaker during conference media days. Then, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora said football was “under attack,” doubting the direct link between the game and CTE, and adding that if the game continues to change, it will become unrecognizable and “our country will go down, too.” Fedora’s comments made national news, as he questioned the connection between football and CTE, linked the success of the U.S. military to the number of former football players enlisted, and vigorously defended a sport that he thinks is safer than ever.
Tennessee’s incredible document dump
Tennessee would just as soon forget the embarrassing, messy coaching search of late 2017. But there was the pesky matter of responding to open records requests. The document dump from Knoxville in late March did not disappoint, as Tennessee released hundreds of emails and text-messages, cell phone numbers of prominent college coaches, nasty emails from fans and much, much more. The lack of redaction was stunning, and indulged college football fans with an incredible behind-the-scenes look at what went so wrong on Rocky Top.
Sooners QB: Baseball can come later
Even as Kyler Murray starred for Oklahoma’s baseball team and the MLB draft neared, Sooners football coach Lincoln Riley maintained that Murray would suit up for his team in the fall. Then, the Oakland Athletics drafted Murray ninth overall, which carries a slot value of $4,761,500. But Murray maintained his pledge to Oklahoma football, and he and the A’s agreed that he could play one final college football season before pursuing pro baseball. Murray is the favorite to succeed Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback this fall. He’ll also be picking up his teammates’ dinner tab.
Defensive coordinators get paid
It was a very good offseason to be an elite defensive coordinator. In January, LSU’s Dave Aranda landed a four-year, $10 million contract to remain at the school after Texas A&M had pursued him. Texas A&M ended up with Mike Elko, who left Notre Dame for a three-year deal that averages $1.8 million annually. Other defensive coordinators like Washington’s Jimmy Lake, Florida’s Todd Grantham and Ohio State’s Greg Schiano landed enhanced seven-figure contracts, while Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard — after completing his first season as coordinator — received a sizable raise to nearly $1 million. The DC bonanza continued last month as Clemson’s Brent Venables received the largest total compensation contract for a college assistant, $11.6 million over five years.
Joe Burrow leads graduate transfer troupe
Graduate transfers are an annual offseason storyline, and this year featured a sizable haul, including several quarterbacks. Joe Burrow, who competed for Ohio State’s top job this spring, transferred to LSU. Other QBs on the move include Wilton Speight (Michigan to UCLA), Brandon Dawkins (Arizona to Indiana), Keller Chryst (Stanford to Tennessee), Brady White (Arizona State to Memphis), Dru Brown (Hawaii to Oklahoma State) and Gardner Minshew (East Carolina to Alabama to Washington State). Potential impact graduate transfers also include running back Tre Watson (Cal to Texas), linebacker Jawuan Johnson (Northern Illinois to TCU), cornerback Nick Harvey (Texas A&M to South Carolina), wide receiver Tabari Hines (Wake Forest to Oregon) and defensive lineman Jay Hayes (Notre Dame to Georgia).
Arizona State’s NFL pivot under Herm Edwards
Arizona State made more than a head-coaching change when it hired Herm Edwards in December. Championed by athletic director Ray Anderson, ASU adopted an NFL-style model for its football program with a general manager structure, sport and administrative divisions, and a distinct recruiting operation. Edwards, returning to college football after 28 years, reinforced the new reality in the spring by threatening to “cut” underperforming scholarship players. Edwards later said he isn’t running off players and that other teams do the same thing while using less-pointed language. Either way, it’s clear ASU football is beginning a fascinating new chapter.
Bryce Love chooses class over media day
The Pac-12 condensed its media kickoff event into one day, but the league’s biggest star didn’t come to Hollywood. Stanford running back Bryce Love, the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, elected to remain on campus, attend classes and do Skype interviews. Love, who is majoring in human biology and has plans to be a doctor, had already used his excused absence for the term. Love’s decision drew both praise and criticism, given Stanford’s recent history for producing Heisman bridesmaids, but the media attention he received for not coming to media day might have outweighed the bump he would have gotten from being there.
Water adventures in the SEC
The SEC owned the national championship stage last season. The league isn’t so dominant on the water. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, who skillfully helped the Bulldogs reach the title game as a freshman, suffered two water-related mishaps this offseason. In May, he had a fishing lure lodge in his leg, requiring a hospital trip. In July, he broke his left (non-throwing) hand in a boating accident. Fortunately, neither injury proved to be serious and Fromm will be ready for the season. Alabama coach Nick Saban also had trouble on the water. Saban took some players out on his brand-new boat, only to stall out on a lake. But he was adamant that he didn’t run out of gas, blaming it on a faulty fuel pump.
UCF’s national championship celebration doesn’t stop
UCF won. It doesn’t matter what Alabama or anyone else says at this point. The national championship campaign UCF launched after the Peach Bowl has been a huge success, mainly because no seems willing to let it die. Alabama players scoffed at UCF’s championship celebration in January, and last month at SEC media days, Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris told reporters, “I felt disrespected, that it took away from what we did, but I got over that real quick.” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco continued the push at his league’s media days, congratulating UCF “on the national championship that they have a right to claim.”
Husker hysteria as Scott Frost comes home
No coaching hire generated more excitement and optimism than Scott Frost’s return to Nebraska. The former Huskers quarterback has skillfully navigated his homecoming, telling Nebraska fans exactly what they want to hear about the program’s path back to glory. Nebraska sold out its spring game, the Frost-tees are rolling off the shelves and the Huskers are gaining the type of national publicity they enjoyed throughout the 1990s. Frost completed the offseason with a dazzling performance at Big Ten media day, saying, “The program used to reflect the people of the state,” He said. “Nebraska’s best asset is its people. [It] has unbelievable people that are hard-working, blue-collar people that are going to care about each other. That’s what we’re trying to get back to in our program.”
Oklahoma State AD pokes Gundy’s recruiting
A period of sustained peace between Oklahoma State’s athletic triumvirate — megabooster T. Boone Pickens, football coach Mike Gundy and athletic director Mike Holder — was briefly interrupted in June when Holder told the Pistols Firing podcast that Gundy should aim higher in recruiting. “I’d want to finish higher in those recruiting rankings than we consistently do,” Holder said. “I think that ultimately puts a ceiling on what you’re able to achieve.” Gundy responded in perfect fashion — then again, he could have simply screamed, “That ain’t true!” — and later said Holder apologized to him. “I knew what he was trying to say,” Gundy said last month at Big 12 media days. “He just didn’t do a good job of getting the information out there.”
Kickoff rule, headset rule and more!
Kickoff returns are being de-emphasized in an effort to make football safer, and this season college teams will be able to call fair catches inside the 25-yard line for touchbacks. Any fair catch signaled inside a team’s 25-yard line will result in the ensuing drive starting at the 25. Also, in response to booming staff sizes at major programs, the NCAA is limiting teams to 20 headsets or communication devices on game days — 15 for coaches, four for players and one for non-coaching activities, such as charting plays. Other changes including the prohibition of offensive blocks below the waist more than five yards downfield, and some bizarre uniform requirements, including requiring kneepads to cover a player’s entire knee and go underneath a pant and sock.
Clemson’s defensive line is back in a big way
Dabo Swinney brought defensive lineman Christian Wilkins to the 2017 ACC kickoff because he, like everyone, expected Wilkins to be in the NFL the following summer. Well, Wilkins is still a Tiger, spending the spring working as a substitute teacher. Also back is defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell, who joined Swinney last month at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. Wilkins, Ferrell and Austin Bryant all passed up the NFL draft and, along with Dexter Lawrence, will form the most decorated defensive line in recent college football history. All four Tigers made the preseason All-ACC team, with Ferrell, Wilkins and Lawrence getting the most votes of any defenders.
Northwestern docks spaceship along Lake Michigan
Power 5 programs open swanky facilities all the time, but Northwestern’s Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletic Center is unique, and so is the reaction to its unveiling this summer. Perched along the shores of Lake Michigan with incredible views from its indoor practice field, Northwestern’s $270 million palace drew rave reviews from national media. It didn’t hurt Northwestern’s effort to lure quarterback transfer Hunter Johnson from Clemson, celebrated for its own football facility. Although more of these facilities are coming soon, Northwestern’s seems to be a game changer.
Oregon State sends recruiting materials to Hawaii players
Oregon State has nine Hawaii natives on its roster and several staff members with ties to the Rainbow Warrior program. So it seemed a bit fishy when several Hawaii players received recruiting packets from Oregon State, including invitations to attend the Beavers’ spring game. Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich declined the invitations in a brilliantly sarcastic tweet, complete with #leakydam. Oregon State received a secondary violation after self-reporting what it calls an “inadvertent mistake,” and will be prohibited from recruiting any of the Hawaii players who received the mailings should they choose to transfer.
Texas A&M makes championship expectations clear
You could argue that Texas A&M’s hiring of Jimbo Fisher was the most honest and unambiguous college coaching move in recent years. A school without a national championship since 1939 but boasting endless financial resources paid Fisher $75 million to leave Florida State. If the expectations weren’t clear enough, chancellor John Sharp in February presented Fisher with a national championship plaque, using dashes for the final two digits of the triumphant future season. “This is about dealing with pressure,” Fisher said last month at SEC media days. “I thought it was kind of nice. I liked it. [Sharp] had the same commitment that we did. … Hoping we can fill that in quickly.”