College Football Teams Having the Best and Worst Offseasons so Far
The eight months that separate one college football season from the next are just as important as the four when the games are actually played.
While some squads use the offseason to build momentum with a string of positive incidents, others are faced with a long line of challenges that produce more questions than answers.
What remains to be seen is how the long months off the field will affect the final scores in September, October, November and December.
Best: Michigan State
Fresh off its Big Ten title and first Rose Bowl win since 1988, Michigan State has extended its Era of Good Feelings into the offseason.
When the dust settled, the class of 2014 was ranked No. 22 by Rivals—the best haul since the Spartans signed the No. 17-ranked class in 2009.
After streaking to an improbable 12-win campaign in 2013, Missouri needed this offseason to retool a squad that lost lots of talent.
With nine returning starters, the Tigers have the fewest coming back in the SEC and are in the bottom 10 of the FBS.
If this weren’t enough, Missouri dismissed top wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the only of the Tigers’ top three receivers set to return from a year ago.
The net effect is that only four starters return on an offense that ranked No. 13 nationally in scoring last season.
The Sooners finished their 2013 campaign with consecutive wins over No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 3 Alabama, putting an exclamation point on an 11-2 season and a No. 6 ranking in the final AP Poll.
It’s important to remember that coming into last season Oklahoma ranked No. 98 in the nation in returning starters, which means that the Sooners rose well above their circumstances.
...We had our best winter that we can remember as far as fewest misses and the energy and the way the players pushed each other...What I feel like is there has been improvement, players that haven’t had a ton of experience have more now. We’ll build on it. There such a long time from now to September that they still have a lot of opportunity to improve and for growth here in the summer and two-a-days.
Despite Georgia alumnus Bubba Watson’s win in the Masters last Sunday, the Bulldogs’ football offseason hasn’t necessarily been a tip toe through the tulips.
To start with, in February Mark Richt dismissed starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons for “multiple violations of team rules.” Harvey-Clemons—who intends to transfer to Louisville, according to ESPN.com—contributed 38 tackles, one interception, a fumble recovery and 5.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2014.
Next up, there was the arrest of four players in March, including starting safety Tray Matthews, who registered 23 tackles and an interception last season as a freshman.
Though Georgia is set to return nearly its entire defense this fall, the unexpected attrition will make the job of improving a secondary that ranked No. 59 versus the pass last season even more difficult.
The Bulldogs gave up 227 yards per game through the air, a low point in the Richt era.
And doesn't the team have to replace superstar quarterback Teddy Bridgewater?
Though all those things are true, Louisville is still sitting pretty this offseason in a big way.
First up, the Cardinals hired Bobby Petrino, who in nine seasons as a college coach, at three different schools, has only failed to post a winning record once.
Next, while they did lose Bridgewater, they are bringing back eight starters on offense and five to a defense that finished last season ranked No. 2 in scoring.
Best of all, Louisville fled the sinking ship that is the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) and joined the ACC in 2014.
This means if Petrino can repeat his earlier successes, the Cardinals will have a shot at the first College Football Playoff.
Though the historic ruling that classified Northwestern football players as employees may mark a turning point in college athletics in the long term, it is not good for Wildcats football in the short term.
While an audience far wider than the college football nation debates the validity and implications of the ruling, the focus on football is jeopardized.
There is no doubt that it’s an important, far-reaching issue, but what of the Wildcats’ bid to improve on their disappointing 5-7 finish in 2013?
What of the 17 returning starters, sixth-most coming back in the nation, in a wide-open Big Ten that has been reformatted into new divisions?
Best: Texas Tech
After dropping the last five games of 2013 in disappointing fashion, it seemed like the best that Red Raiders fans could hope for was to survive the bowl game against No. 16 Arizona State without getting pounded.
This made the 37-23 win over the Sun Devils all the better and something to savor for the offseason.
With second-year head coach and The Bachelor hopeful Kliff Kingsbury at the helm, suddenly anything seems possible in Lubbock, Texas.
These good tidings were reinforced by the record 19,500 faithful who attended Tech’s spring game and big wins on the recruiting trail.
That’s almost as crazy as Texas Tech winning the Big 12.
Clemson has the daunting task of replacing quarterback Tajh Boyd, the No. 6-rated passer in the FBS last season.
Coming into spring practice, the race to replace Boyd came down to redshirt sophomore Chad Kelly, senior Cole Stoudt and freshman Deshaun Watson.
According to Ed McGranahan of The State, after 15 spring practices, head coach Dabo Swinney said the battle was too close to call and he would extend it through the summer and into fall practice.
But everything changed on Monday after the spring game, when the team dismissed Kelly for conduct detrimental to the program.
Since then, Swinney has indicated that he will name Stoudt the starter.
Though Stoudt may have gotten the job anyway, having Kelly in the mix meant that Clemson had more options, especially since all three candidates have limited or no experience in big-time college football.
Best: Notre Dame
Can a quarterback controversy at a major program ever be a good thing?
Well, it is when a team lost its hand-picked starter last season to an academic issue and settled instead for the guy (Tommy Rees) whom everyone was relieved to see benched after he threw 14 interceptions in 2011.
So, while it's great news that Everett Golson is back in the lineup for Notre Dame, it’s even better news that redshirt freshman Malik Zaire is keeping things interesting for the starting quarterback spot.
It bodes well in the short term in case of an injury and also makes the future look bright for a program that is seeking stability under center.