25 Deals That Would Happen If College Football Free Agency Existed

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

25 Deals That Would Happen If College Football Free Agency Existed

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    How many other FBS teams wish it were possible to pluck quarterback Keenan Reynolds away from Navy?
    How many other FBS teams wish it were possible to pluck quarterback Keenan Reynolds away from Navy?Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Darn college football and its rules.

    At least a handful of FBS football coaches must feel that way each year when they come across game film or catch highlights of players from other teams, particularly those at lower levels, who somehow managed to get this superstar to play for them.

    Never mind the fact that those standouts were completely up for grabs at some point in the past, yet in most cases the big boys either weren't aware of them or didn't think it was worth their time to offer one of those 85 precious scholarship. Even more frustrating: when said player is from a school's general area, yet some other program "stole" them away.

    There's no doubt some variation of the phrase "I wish I could get him on this team next year" has been uttered countless times by men with multiyear, million-dollar contracts who are looking for that one player that will put their team over the top.

    Alas, transfer rules call for players to sit out a season when switching schools, except in certain situations involving hardship or early graduation.

    But that doesn't mean we can't dream, does it? Of a college football landscape that somehow mimicked pro sports, where free agency encourages the almost constant shuffling of players from one team to the other in search of a great "fit" for both sides?

    If such a world existed, these are some of the moves that would go down prior to the start of the 2014 college football season.

Andrew Carter to South Carolina

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    South Carolina has the unenviable task of having to replace not only Jadeveon Clowney, but also Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton. That's three-fourths of the Gamecocks' defensive line.

    And while Steve Spurrier has some backups and younger players on hand, as well as other newcomers arriving in the summer, the far easier thing would be to pluck one of the best FCS down linemen in the country. Especially when he's languishing at one of those other schools in the Palmetto State.

    Andrew Carter had 11 sacks for South Carolina State as a junior, fifth best in FCS, for a team that went 9-4 and reached the playoffs. At 6'1" and 240 pounds, he's not as beastly as Clowney, but few are.

Shepard Little to Purdue

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    Stephen Haas/Associated Press

    There were a lot of things about Purdue that were really bad in 2013, and rushing offense was near the top. The Boilermakers managed a scant 67 yards per game en route to going 1-11, and 5'9" junior Akeem Hunt was the leading gainer with 464 yards and one touchdown.

    Maybe Purdue should covet Eastern Illinois' Shepard Little, who as a 5'10" sophomore last season ran for 1,551 yards and 15 TDs. That's despite not beginning the season as the Panthers' starter, though he had a 60-yard punt return score in an upset win at San Diego State.

    Little ran for 82 yards in a 43-39 loss at Northern Illinois, a team that whooped Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., 55-24 the following week.

    Eastern Illinois reached the FCS semifinals in 2013, and coach Dino Babers parlayed that success into getting the Bowling Green job. If only Little could do the same.

Vernon Adams and Cooper Kupp to Fresno State

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    James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    Fresno State very nearly was a BCS buster last season thanks to the potent pairing of quarterback Derek Carr (5,082 yards, 50 touchdowns) and receiver Davante Adams (131 receptions, 1,718 yards, 24 TDs).

    Both are gone now, meaning that coach Tim DeRuyter has to try and develop another tandem to keep the Bulldogs rolling along. Or he could just go the free-agency route and grab an existing dynamic duo, like Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams and receiver Cooper Kupp.

    Adams threw for 4,994 yards and 50 TDs as a sophomore last season for the Eagles, who reached the FCS semifinals. And Kupp, just a freshman, had 93 catches for 1,691 yards and 21 scores.

    Adams had 411 passing yards, 107 rushing yards and had six total touchdowns, while Kupp caught two TD passes in EWU's upset win at Oregon State last year. Fresno's season ended with a blowout loss to a Pac-12 school, USC.

    The Bulldogs also open this season with a visit to USC. Wouldn't it be great if they could have Adams and Kupp available for that opener?

Austin Lopez to Alabama

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Ask Alabama fans, and there are only two reasons the Crimson Tide didn't win another national title in 2013: Chris Davis stepped out of bounds on his famous kick-six in the Iron Bowl, and 'Bama didn't have a kicker worth a lick.

    While the claims toward Davis have been proven false, there's no denying Alabama's kicking game was a weakness last year. Cade Foster and Adam Griffith combined to make just 13 of 20 field-goal attempts, with Foster going zero of three against Auburn before the Griffith's last-second try infamously fell short.

    Recruiting kickers seems to be the hardest thing to do in college football, since kicking in high school is often such a non-factor. Rather than spend a bunch of Fridays searching for a reliable prep with a strong leg, Nick Saban could just call on San Jose State's Austin Lopez.

    Lopez made 22 of 27 kicks in 2013, after going a perfect 17 of 17 in 2012. He was good on both tries in San Jose's biggest game last year, an upset of unbeaten Fresno State, drilling kicks from 45 and 39 yards in the game's final 18 minutes.

    Sure, the Mountain West is no SEC in terms of pressure, but it's still better than what Alabama had last year.

Corey Davis to Michigan State

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    Michigan State used a dominant defense and a slow-to-improve offense to win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl last season, a breakout year that puts a ton of expectations on what the Spartans should do in 2014.

    The defense should still be strong, and both quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford return, but maybe the one thing MSU needs is a true go-to receiver.

    One of those directional Michigan schools just happens to have one with plenty of eligibility left.

    Corey Davis was probably the only thing that looked good last year for Western Michigan, which went 1-11. The 6'2" freshman led the Broncos with 67 catches for 941 yards and six touchdowns, including an eight-reception, 96-yard, one-score effort in WMU's season-opening loss at MSU.

    Davis showed Spartan Stadium what he could do in someone else's uniform and without much help around him. Imagine what he could do with Cook throwing it his way.

Titus Davis to Michigan

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    John L. Russell/Associated Press

    Speaking of big-time Great Lakes State programs in desperate need of weapons, Michigan had an incredibly inconsistent offense in 2013. The Wolverines could score 40-plus in three straight games, then manage just 23 points in the next two outings.

    Making matters worse, Michigan's only reliable wideout, Jeremy Gallon, was a senior. That means after tight end Devin Funchess, Michigan has no returning receivers with more than 20 catches or 235 yards.

    That's where Central Michigan's Titus Davis comes in. The 6'2" junior had 1,109 yards and eight TDs for the Chippewas last season, and though he only had two catches for 28 yards when CMU opened with a loss at Michigan, he had six 100-yard receiving games.

    New Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had some great receivers to work with at Alabama. He'd sure love it if someone of that quality could be brought in for this season.

Carlos Wiggins to USC

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    Eric Draper/Associated Press

    USC managed to overcome injuries, scholarship limitations and a midseason coach firing to win 10 games. But one place the Trojans struggled all season was on kickoff returns.

    USC averaged 14.42 yards per return in 2013, the worst average in FBS. Without the field-position boost that comes with a good return, USC put extra pressure on its offense to put together long scoring drives, which contributed to scoring issues early in the season.

    It's unknown what new coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff have planned to fix the return game, but here's one solution: Grab Carlos Wiggins away from New Mexico.

    As a sophomore, Wiggins averaged 29.6 yards on 44 returns. His 1,303 return yards were 200-plus ahead of the next guy in FBS, and he was the only player in the country to bring back three kicks for touchdowns.

    Wiggins was beloved in Albuquerque, N.M. Think how he'd fare in Los Angeles.

Lorenzo Doss to LSU

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    LSU had one of the better pass defenses in the country last season, allowing under 200 yards per game and only 15 touchdowns in 12 games. But the 11 interceptions the Tigers pulled in was more toward the middle of the pack.

    If Les Miles considers this lack of picks to be an issue worth addressing, an option worth pursuing is trying to acquire Lorenzo Doss from nearby Tulane.

    Doss had seven interceptions as a sophomore in 2013, tied for second most in FBS. He was rated as a 3-star recruit by 247 Sports in 2012 out of New Orleans, but LSU didn't give him a sniff. His only offers from major programs were Kansas State and Minnesota, but he chose to stay in town and help resurrect the Green Wave's program.

    Now that Tulane has gotten back to a bowl game and is moving into a new stadium and a new league, maybe it's time for Doss to make the jump to another challenge. Namely, helping LSU's secondary become that much better.

Ryan Switzer to Georgia

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Outside of injuries, there wasn't much wrong with Georgia's offense in 2013. The defense was a different story, but the hope is the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt as coordinator will address that area quickly.

    Then there's the punt return game, which last year managed a scant 73 yards on 25 returns. That average of 2.92 was second worst in FBS, only behind 1-11 California.

    The Bulldogs could look to convert one of their backup wide receivers or defensive backs into a return specialist, or they could do what top-tier professional teams do when they have a need to fill: Grab someone else's star.

    And the best choice would be North Carolina's Ryan Switzer, who set an FBS record with five punt return touchdowns last year as a freshman. The speedy Switzer's last return score, in a bowl win over Cincinnati, went for 13 more yards than Georgia amassed on returns all season.

    Being able to have a guy who can break one for a score isn't essential for every team, but it's sure a nice luxury to have.

Tyler Matakevich to Rutgers

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Rutgers is making a major leap with its athletic program, moving from the American to the Big Ten for 2014. Such an upgrade is going to require improved players in order for the Scarlet Knights to be successful, especially in football.

    Such an overhaul will take time and likely several recruiting classes. So in the meantime, maybe the Knights should grab an under-the-radar guy who seems to have a Big Ten style of playing.

    Temple's Tyler Matakevich fits that bill. As a sophomore last year he recorded 136 tackles, including an FBS-best 105 solo takedowns, so he's got a knack for finding the ball-carrier.

    At 6'1" and 230 pounds, Matakevich might be on the small end for a Big Ten linebacker, but sometimes big things come in small packages. And Rutgers could use a special delivery right now.

Qushaun Lee to Arkansas

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    G ANDREWS/Associated Press

    Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has taken some heat this offseason for his thoughts on fast-paced offenses. And while safety concerns are the public reason for this opinion, there could be other explanations.

    Namely, the Razorbacks don't have the kind of defensive players to handle stopping an uptempo attack.

    Maybe Bielema should take a look at his state's other FBS program, Arkansas State, where junior Qushaun Lee earned first-team all-Sun Belt honors last year while logging 134 tackles against a schedule chocked full of spread offenses.

    At 5'11" and 225 pounds, Lee might not have SEC size, but he's got a nose for the ball and at the very least could provide Arkansas with the kind of depth needed to avoid wearing down against the likes of Auburn and Texas Tech. Those happen to be two of the Razorbacks' first three opponents this year.

Brandon Doughty to Kentucky

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Kentucky has a solid 4-star quarterback prospect as part of its stellar 2014 recruiting class, and Drew Barker is also enrolled and participating in spring drills. He's got a good chance to take the starting job away from Maxwell Smith or Jalen Whitlow, the two guys who split the gig last year.

    Coach Mark Stoops will go with the guy who gives the Wildcats the best chance to compete in the ultra-tough SEC. But it would be much easier if he could just go out and get a quick-fix free agent to bridge the gap.

    Stoops has seen just the guy to fit that role: Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty, who threw for 271 yards in leading the Hilltoppers to a 35-26 win over Kentucky in Stoops' coaching debut last August.

    Doughty was coached by Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm, both noted quarterback gurus. That kind of pedigree would make Doughty a great choice to start at a more high-profile program, like Kentucky, if only something could be done about that one-year waiting period for most transfers.

Martin Ifedi to Texas A&M

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Kevin Sumlin's tenure at Texas A&M has been high on offensive highlights, but also far too many defensive lowlights for a big-time program. Recruiting inroads on that side of the ball should help the Aggies improve their ability to stop (or at least slow down) opponents, but such improvement will take time when you're dealing with young people.

    Sumlin could speed up the process a bit with an outside acquisition, someone who's toiling in relative anonymity at a dead-end program. Someone like Memphis defensive lineman Martin Ifedi.

    As a junior last year the 6'3", 265-pound Ifedi had 11.5 sacks and provided solid inside pressure for a Tigers defense that was above average and helped keep many of their losses from getting out of hand.

    Texas A&M had just 21 sacks last year, for 85 yards. Ifedi's sacks knocked opponents back 62 yards.

    Fans love offense. But they sure appreciate a great defensive play every now and then.

Matt Johnson to Pittsburgh

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage had a very uneven senior year, having some really good games but also a bunch of duds. His sendoff was one of those less-than-impressive efforts, throwing for just 124 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.

    Now Paul Chryst has to find a new quarterback, and while he's got some options on the roster and in the newest recruiting class, an better avenue would be to go out and get someone he unsuccessfully schemed to stop last December: Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson.

    Johnson is a Pennsylvania native who hoped to play for Pittsburgh, but according to ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna his height (6'0") scared the Panthers and other major programs away.

    Now that Pitt is in need of a quarterback, though, maybe it will give Johnson a second glance. His 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore last season are a good place to start.

Michael Mudoh to Oklahoma State

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Oklahoma State's defense was pretty good in 2013, but the Cowboys lost many of those stars and now need to rebuild.

    OK State has some strong defensive recruits coming in to help replenish the forces, but that group could really stand to have a veteran presence on hand to help drive along their development. There are some of those on the roster, but there's also one not too far from Stillwater, Okla., in the form of Tulsa cornerback Michael Mudoh.

    Mudoh's sophomore year saw him tally 133 tackles, and his 11.1-per-game average was tied for fourth best nationally. That kind of production was a necessity, because the Golden Hurricane's front seven was not very good.

    He wouldn't need to be that involved in tackling with OK State, but it's good to know he'd be able to hold his own in the secondary.

Jay Ajayi to Washington

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    After years of overtures from numerous major programs, Chris Petersen finally pulled the trigger and left Boise State to take the Washington job.

    If only Petersen could have brought along one of his best returning Broncos, someone who would fill a major need with his new team.

    Jay Ajayi ran for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last season as a sophomore, numbers not too far behind what Washington had from Bishop Sankey. Sankey left for the NFL early, so Petersen will be picking his new tailback from the Huskies' remaining backs.

    Ajayi ran for 93 yards in Boise's season-opening loss at Washington last year, so he's already managed to show his stuff in Husky Stadium. Imagine how he'd fare there over the course of seven games in Seattle.

DeVante Parker to Texas

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    DeVante Parker is one of the few holdovers from the Charlie Strong regime at Louisville, as Teddy Bridgewater and many of the defensive stars are pursuing NFL careers. Parker could have left early but chose to stick around for his senior season, and he'll no doubt fare well under the guidance of offensive-minded new coach Bobby Petrino.

    He'd probably look pretty good in burnt orange too.

    Strong has a lot of talent to work with in his new gig at Texas, but there's something to be said about familiarity. The 6'3" Parker pulled in 28 touchdowns over three seasons and could probably put up big numbers as a senior in Austin. Texas.

    The Longhorns could use another receiver too. It's the kind of win-win for both sides that happens all the time in pro sports thanks to the wonder of free agency.

Munchie Legaux to Tennessee

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    When Butch Jones left Cincinnati for Tennessee after the 2012 regular season ended, he brought with him a bunch of coaches that he felt would work well in his turnaround plan for the Volunteers.

    If he could have brought along any one Bearcats player, it might have been Munchie Legaux.

    The 6'5", 200-pound Legaux was a solid dual-threat quarterback for Cincinnati who accounted for 17 total touchdowns as a part-time starter in 2012. He was well on his way to a far better season as the Bearcats' full-time starter last year before suffering a major knee injury in early September.

    Given an extra year of eligibility, Legaux may end up being Cincinnati's starter yet again this fall. Considering how much of a struggle Tennessee had at quarterback in Jones' first year in Knoxville, he'd probably have a darn good chance to start for the Volunteers too.

Devante Davis to SMU

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

    Devante Davis was one piece of a three-pronged offensive attack that led UNLV to its first bowl appearance in more than a decade, but now he's the only one left.

    The Runnin' Rebels might be facing a rebuilding year in 2014, something that might be hard for a senior-to-be with 148 receptions, more than 2,100 yards and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

    The easier thing for a player on the tail end of his (college) career would be to look elsewhere, to some place where he could make a contribution to a team with a better chance to win. It would be a nice way to go out.

    SMU happens to be one of those teams that can always use another talented and tall (6'3") receiver, and the Mustangs did lose two of their better wideouts from last season.

    And as fate would have it, Davis is from Galena Park, Texas, a suburb of Houston that's only a few hours from SMU's Dallas campus.

Keenan Reynolds to Georgia Tech

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    Matt Strasen/Associated Press

    Keenan Reynolds has two more years of college football before he'll serve his country in the United States Navy, part of the deal for athletes and non-athletes who attend a service academy.

    While we're not saying someone as talented as Reynolds shouldn't have to honor such a commitment, but as good as he looked in 2013 it would sure be nice to see him show off his talents with a more high-profile football program.

    Former Navy coach Paul Johnson probably wouldn't hesitate to bring Reynolds on at Georgia Tech, especially after Vad Lee transferred from the program in January and left the Yellow Jackets without an experienced started to run the triple option that both Navy and Tech operate.

    Reynolds rushed for 31 touchdowns last year, including seven in one game, and while his passing chances have been limited he has tossed 17 TDs against just four interceptions in two years.

    Since the concept of free agency is entirely fiction, nothing says it can't also allow for a future naval officer to complete his college career somewhere else before returning to the Navy.

Anthony Boone to Florida

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    Jamie Martin/Associated Press

    The emergence of Anthony Boone was one of the key ingredients to Duke's breakout season, which included the program's first 10-win season and a trip to the ACC Championship Game.

    The junior threw for 2,260 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games, capped by a 427-yard, three-TD effort in the Blue Devils' bowl game against Texas A&M. He wasn't a full-time starter, either, splitting snaps with change-of-pace quarterback Brandon Connette in a rotation that worked great for Duke.

    Florida used multiple quarterbacks in 2013 too, but that was more because of ineffectiveness and injuries. And those three passers only managed 2,037 yards and 11 TDs for a Gators team that was woeful on offense.

    Coach Will Muschamp hired Duke coordinator Kurt Roper to run the Gators offense for 2014. If only Roper's first move in his new role would have been to orchestrate the acquisition of Boone from Duke as well.

Shane Carden to West Virginia

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    West Virginia used three different quarterbacks last season, and none were particularly effective. One of them isn't enrolled in school currently, and another is injured, throwing the position into a state of flux for the Mountaineers.

    Meanwhile, Shane Carden is preparing to lead East Carolina on its move to the American Athletic Conference, where the senior should once again put up big numbers. The kind of numbers Dana Holgorsen would love to have from a passer.

    Carden threw for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. West Virginia's three quarterbacks had a combined 3,145 yards and 16 TDs.

    As much of an improvement the AAC is over Conference USA, it's no Big 12. Leaving East Carolina for West Virginia would definitely be an upgrade for Carden, as well as the Mountaineers.

Rakeem Cato to Miami (Fla.)

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Miami's 2013 season ended in a very disappointing manner, and not just because of the 36-9 loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. There was also the fact the loss came against quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native who decided not to stay home to play college ball.

    The Hurricanes can't possibly hold on to every highly regarded passer in South Florida, and in the world of free agency they might even be able to bring them back to town.

    Rakeem Cato was a standout at Miami's Central High School, but as a 3-star recruit in 2011 he was only offered by Florida International and Marshall. He opted to go to Huntington, W.V., and the Thundering Herd have thrived in his three years as starter.

    Miami needs a quarterback with Stephen Morris gone, and bringing Cato in for his senior year would work both as a homecoming for the local guy and a great boost to the Hurricanes offense.

Chuckie Keeton to Texas

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Now-retired Texas coach Mack Brown took a hit to his reputation toward the end of his career, the result of the Longhorns missing out on a number of in-state quarterbacks who went on to be stars elsewhere.

    Charlie Strong would be wise to avoid a similar renown, and his signing of 4-star dual-threat passer Jerrod Heard is a great start.

    Another way Strong could help his cause, at least while future passing stars are recruited or developed, is to bring home a guy who flourished in one of the most unlikely of places.

    Chuckie Keeton didn't get serious interest from any of the major programs in Texas when he came out of Houston, ending up at Utah State instead. He had an amazing 2012 season and was on his way to another great year in 2013 before suffering torn knee ligaments.

    He's expected back by June and should take his job back at USU. Or he could opt for a loftier gig as Strong's first Longhorns passer.

Jameis Winston to Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    With three-year starter A.J. McCarron no longer at his disposal, Alabama coach Nick Saban decided his group of untested quarterbacks wasn't going to pass muster so he went out and grabbed a graduate transfer from Florida State.

    But what if, instead of Jacob Coker, they managed to secure the services of the Seminoles' other quarterback. You know, the one with the Heisman trophy, arguably the best freshman passing season in FBS history and who happened to go to high school in Alabama?

    Jameis Winston was offered by Alabama and did visit the school in December 2011. But that was three months after he'd committed to Florida State, and the Crimson Tide weren't able to change his mind.

    In the world of free agency, though, minds get changed a lot easier.

    In pro sports, it's a common occurrence for a player who wins a title to jump ship from that team in search of a new challenge (not to mention a much bigger contract). For Winston, having the chance to win back-to-back titles with two different programs would be a heck of a challenge to try and undertake, if only such a thing was possible in college football.