It’s been an interesting offseason in college football thus far, with something new seemingly coming across the wire every other day. We’re in the Spring Game season right now. Going into this weekend approximately 65% of the 126 FBS teams putting on a game or its equivalent have been played. Pittsburgh and Texas A&M will not play one this year. Of the remaining 44 teams, only three teams who played in a BCS bowl last season are left (Alabama, Auburn, and Michigan State). Alabama (1pm CST ESPNU) and BCS runner-up Auburn (2pm CST ESPN) will play this Saturday and will likely battle for the top spot in terms of Spring Game attendance. Penn State currently leads in that category with just over 72,000 (a testament of the excitement the James Franklin has brought to State College), but Auburn and Alabama each beat that last year (83,401 and 78,315 respectively). Being a resident of Alabama, I am certain that they will rank first and second once again this year — but it’s a coin flip as to in what order. The passion for college football in this state is … unmeasurable.
On the other end of the attendance spectrum, Buckeyes’ quarterback Braxton Miller called out Michigan for their putrid turnout of just over 15,000 (in the third largest stadium in the world) after the Buckeyes drew approximately four times that many fans. Way to go, Braxton!
Let’s get into some of the offseason highlights:
1. Michael Sam announces he’s gay. Firstly, sexual orientation of public figures is none of my business. However, in the world of sports, particularly male sports, it’s not a topic that is discussed freely especially for those who aren’t heterosexual. My favorite part of this whole thing was that the media allowed Sam to make the announcement rather than “break” the story despite several media members knowing about it a couple of days beforehand. Also, the idea that he’ll be a distraction in the locker room once he becomes the first openly gay NFL player was debunked by Missouri winning the SEC East in just their second season and Sam winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year given that Sam announced this to his team last August. He may be a distraction in terms of the media, but so will Johnny Manziel. Just as Jason Collins’ (NBA Player currently on the Nets’ roster) and Connor Mertens’ (current Willamette University kicker) announcement likely helped Sam make his announcement, his announcement likely led to Mitch Eby (current Chapman University DE) announcing he’s bisexual and Derrick Gordon (UMass) becoming the first active Division I basketball player to announce he’s gay. None of these announcements could have been easy.
2. 2014 Signing Class. The rankings were about as should have been expected, with Alabama having the number one class according to ESPN (my Buckeyes’ class ranked seventh). The two things that surprised me a little bit was Tennessee grabbing the fifth-ranked class and Ole Miss falling all the way down to 17 after the phenomenal 2013 class they had. What I found funny about this year’s class were a few of the names that were signed. Purdue signed offensive tackle Bearooz Yacoobi out of Dearborn, Michigan. I’ve never heard of that first name or last name before, but I love them both! My favorite name of the class, though, was signed by the Eastern Michigan Eagles. They signed a 6’4” defensive end named Lion King. Yes, you read that right. His name was originally Lion King Conaway, but he legally changed it to Lion King. The Eagles play Florida this season in a game that I hope is televised because it will be interesting to count how many “hakuna matata” and “simba” jokes will be told. Then there was the story of a kid who signed three Letters of Intent. D.J. Law signed an LOI with Utah, Ole Miss, and East Mississippi Community College. There was confusion on all sides and eventually Ole Miss released him from their LOI leaving him free to sign with Utah or EMCC; he ended up becoming a Ute.
3. To change a rule or not to change a rule. The offseason exploded early on with the rule proposal that wouldn’t allow the offense to snap the ball within the first ten seconds of the play clock. Nick Saban and Bret Bielema were big proponents of such a rule with the very thin veil of player safety concerns draped over that support. This rule was eventually “tabled” until next year presumably because this was a “safety only” rule change year in the NCAA and there is no available evidence that hurry-up offenses cause more injuries. I guarantee it will come up again next offseason, however. I’m do not support such a rule, but I know it’s not going away anytime soon. Not much longer after that rule was tabled, the NCAA amended the current targeting rule. Last year’s rule allowed for a targeting call to be reviewed by the officials to determine if an ejection was warranted. Even if they ruled an ejection wasn’t warranted, the 15-yard penalty was upheld. The change this year is that if after review, if it is ruled that it wasn’t targeting, the 15-yard penalty will not stand. The part that is often overlooked, however, that if there were another call (e.g. unnecessary roughness) made, that 15-yard penalty would still stand. Additionally, the ejection rules are still the same. This past week the NCAA Rules Oversight Committee did approve a new rule concerning quarterback safety, however. The rule states that no defensive player who is rushing unabated can forcibly hit a quarterback who is in a “passing posture” at or below the knee (he cannot initiate a roll or lunge that does so either). I believe the key word here is “unabated”. If he is blocked, pushed, or tripped into the quarterback and hits him at or below the knee, this rule wouldn’t apply. Additionally, if the quarterback is no longer in a “passing posture” this rule wouldn’t apply.
4. Coaching Carousel spun out of control. I’ve been watching college football for nearly thirty years and I can’t remember a time when the head coaches of so many prominent programs changed in one offseason. Consider that four teams in the final AP rankings have new coaches (Louisville, USC, Vanderbilt, and Washington). Additionally, historically successful programs like Penn State, Texas, and Boise State also have new coaches. The most shocking (and hilarious) coaching change this offseason was Alabama hiring Lane Kiffin as its new offensive coordinator. While I have gone on record as saying it’s an excellent hire on Nick Saban’s part, living in the part of the country I do, I couldn’t help but be entertained by it. He once coached Alabama’s rival Tennessee in a game which I dub “The Armpit Bowl”. Terrence Cody blocking two field goals with his armpit saved Alabama’s 2009 championship aspirations. Kiffin is not liked in this part of the country, and that’s putting it mildly. That is partly because of his brash personality and partly because a lot of people didn’t like the manner in which he left the Volunteers. The second most shocked I was in terms of coaching changes, was that Ed Orgeron did not get a gig anywhere. After his turnaround of USC’s season last year, I was sure a program would give him a head-coaching job. He may take the year off and be an analyst somewhere, but he’ll be back in coaching soon enough (although, to be fair, I said the same about Houston Nutt).
5. Players are spinning quite a bit too. Whether it’s due to graduating, early entry into the NFL draft, transfers (JUCO or otherwise), or player dismissal, there is always a lot of player movement in the offseason. Quarterbacks usually dominate these kinds of moves, at least in the public eye, and it’s easy to see why. Approximately 25 FBS quarterbacks have transferred or announced plans to do so (Texas A&M’s Matt Joeckel just joined that group this week). Tyler Ferguson transferring to Louisville to play for Bobby Petrino seems significant as does Max Wittek transferring from USC, as they are both eligible to play right away. Wittek hasn’t announced his destination yet, but I think he’d be silly not to go to Texas now that David Ash is out. The biggest QB transfer, however, has to be FSU’s Jacob Coker transferring to Alabama. Like Ferguson and Wittek, Coker is eligible to play right away (however, he is still finishing his Spring semester in Tallahassee). He battled Jameis Winston through fall practice for the starting job last season, but Famous Jameis eventually won out. I am still of the opinion (as I have been for the last three years) that Cooper Bateman is the next quarterback for the Crimson Tide, but if Coker comes in and dominates, one couldn’t blame Saban for going with him. Dorial Green-Beckham, star wide receiver for Missouri, was dismissed last week after yet another off-the-field incident. This one involved his alleged physical mistreatment of his girlfriend and her friend. No charges were filed, but Coach Gary Pinkel was clearly tired of the constant trouble DGB was getting into and felt it there was a necessary change of scenery for both he and the team. I expect him to transfer to an FCS program this season and then enter the 2015 NFL draft. If I were him, I’d transfer to Southeastern Louisiana University. The Lions already have five FBS transfers who will play for them this year including two from LSU and one each from Tulane, Southern Miss, and Louisiana-Lafayette. They were 11-3 and went to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, adding all this talent can only help their chances.
Note: Baseball honored Jackie Robinson this week for his historical breaking of baseball’s color barrier. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention a little something about him that rarely gets mentioned (even in “42”). Robinson was one of just four black players on the 1939 UCLA football team. In those times, there weren’t very many prominent programs that were integrated at all and for the Bruins to have four black players on their team was unheard of back then.