Biggest Winners and Losers from College Football Offseason
You've almost made it, college football fans. Just a couple of weeks left before the 2014 season is finally here.
While it will never compare to the action and excitement of a season of Saturdays, the offseason has been far from boring. The seven months between Florida State's thrilling win over Auburn in the national championship game—officially ending the BCS era while ushering in the age of the College Football Playoff—has given us quite a bit of news to tide us over.
As is usually the case, the news wasn't always good. The offseason was as full of losers as it was winners, whether it be players, coaches, teams or collegiate governing bodies that didn't have things go their way.
Here's our look at the most notable winners and losers from 2014's offseason.
Winner: Bo Pelini
If there was an award given for "best offseason image makeover," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini would win in such a landslide we'd need to name the honor after him.
Following another Pelini-like season (Nebraska has gone 9-4 or 10-4 in each of his six years in Lincoln), the coach known for his gruff and grumpy on-field demeanor used social media, self-mockery and candid real talk to completely redo his public image during the offseason.
The feline theme continued into spring ball, when Pelini arrived on the field at Memorial Stadium for the end-of-season scrimmage with said cat and even re-enacted a scene from The Lion King by holding the fluffy kitty up in the air like he was presenting Simba to the masses.
Pelini also won Big Ten's media days, offering that his cat came to Chicago with him and was enjoying the trip to the Windy City. Sporting News' Troy Machir said such quips have helped reshape Pelini's off-field image and "turned him into a rather odd yet funny person away from the gridiron."
While he's a long way from reaching Steve Spurrier's level of trolling and humor, Pelini certainly was a winner this offseason.
Loser: Devonte Fields
It looks like we'll have to wait another year to see just how good TCU defensive end Devonte Fields could be, and odds are it won't be in college.
After missing most of the 2013 season with a foot injury, the former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year was expected to come back with a bang this fall. He was voted by conference media as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, but just days later he was suspended by TCU in the wake of misdemeanor assault charges.
The 6'4", 250-pound Fields, who had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss in 2012 as a freshman, later announced plans to transfer to FCS program Stephen F. Austin. Transferring to that level would normally have made Fields eligible to play right away, but the circumstances of his suspension makes him ineligible in 2014 at any school.
Fields' official status is that he's "separated" from TCU, which, from a football standpoint, means one of the more talented defensive players in the country probably won't see the field this year. And as the No. 13 player on CBSSports.com's big board among 2015 draft-eligible players, Fields may never play college football again.
Winner: Jake Heaps
It's not exactly going from the outhouse to the penthouse, but Jake Heaps has certainly found himself in a better situation than the one he left two months ago at Kansas.
The senior quarterback, who started nine games for the Jayhawks last season but lost his job to Montell Cozart, transferred to Miami (Fla.) in June and as a graduate student was eligible immediately.
He was expected to battle with Kevin Olsen and three other young passers for the starting quarterback job this fall, but with Olsen reportedly suspended, according to the Miami Herald and Miami's WQAM Radio (via Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com) for the Sept. 1 season opener at Louisville, it clears the way for Heaps to start at a third FBS program.
Heaps began his career at BYU, starting 16 games in two seasons, including 10 as a true freshman in 2010. He was listed by Rivals.com as the top-rated pro-style passer in the 2010 recruiting class. Heaps has 5,182 passing yards for his career, with 32 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
Miami's quarterback situation has been in a seemingly perpetual state of flux since 2013 ended. Stephen Morris graduated, and Ryan Williams was expected to be his replacement, but then he tore his ACL in spring ball and likely won't be back until later in the season.
Loser: Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield's decision to leave Texas Tech after the 2013 season wasn't the most significant transfer to occur this past year, but it did take on a greater level of interest when the quarterback chose to shift to another school in the Big 12 and head to Oklahoma.
Mayfield, who started seven games as a freshman for the Red Raiders but announced his decision to leave prior to the season-ending Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, enrolled at Oklahoma as a walk-on and was a star during spring practice.
And while he wasn't expected to beat out Trevor Knight for the Sooners' starting job, the team was hoping his waiver to be eligible in 2014 would get approved and enable the team to have quarterback depth with Blake Bell moving to tight end.
That didn't happen, though. Texas Tech blocked Mayfield's transfer to Oklahoma, despite him being a walk-on with the Red Raiders, and while the school has applied to the NCAA for a waiver to play in 2014, Mayfield's family has hired attorney Jim Darnell (who represented Johnny Manziel last year during his autograph scandal) to handle his case for a possible legal battle.
Winner: Lane Kiffin
While coaching turnover is very common in college football, most of the movement involves coaches choosing to leave one job for another one. When one gets fired, especially as a head coach, the options for employment elsewhere aren't as prevalent, according to a story earlier this month by FoxSports.com's David Ubben.
And while Lane Kiffin didn't manage to get another job running a program after he was fired from USC last September, he landed in as good of a situation (if not better) than anywhere else.
Kiffin, hired by Nick Saban during the offseason to be Alabama's offensive coordinator, is in charge of one of the best collection of athletes, talents and high-prized recruits in the country. And as an assistant under Saban, he can focus more on working with players than dealing with the outside responsibilities that head coaches are responsible for.
Yes, Kiffin is involved with the Crimson Tide's most important preseason decision—who will replace AJ McCarron at quarterback—but the fallout from or reaction to that competition is more Saban's problem to deal with. In the grand scheme of things, it sure beats the alternatives of running another program and having to face all of the questions (instead of just some of them) of being unemployed.
Loser: Dorial Green-Beckham
As the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2012, the sky was the limit for wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. The most prized recruit Missouri had ever landed, he was given every chance to succeed during his first two years with the Tigers, and he put up pretty solid numbers as a freshman and sophomore to where the expectations for his junior year were huge.
But Green-Beckham also ran into too many off-the-field problems, capped by his alleged involvement in a robbery during which he was accused of pushing a woman down some stairs. Though no charges were filed against him, the incident led to Green-Beckham getting suspended and ultimately dismissed from Mizzou in April.
The 6'6", 225-pound junior eventually ended up at Oklahoma, transferring there in July in a surprise move by the high-profile program.
As Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman wrote, the signing came while the school was still conducting an investigation into sexual misconduct accusations against Oklahoma linebacker Frank Shannon, so to take in a player with major baggage at the same time "OU leadership had to wonder about the wisdom of bringing on Green-Beckham."
Green-Beckham and Oklahoma plan to appeal to the NCAA to have the receiver eligible in 2014, instead of having to sit out a year. If he were to be allowed to play this fall, it would be a huge win for both player and team, though Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World wrote that the chances of that happening are akin to a long-shot bet.
Last season was a magical one for UNLV, which, for the first time since 2000, the long-struggling football program qualified for a bowl game after going 7-5. And though the Runnin' Rebels were blown out by North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the future looked bright, and coach Bobby Hauck was rewarded with a new three-year contract.
Then UNLV experienced a roller coaster of an offseason, and none of it had to do with players, coaches or on-field activity.
Instead, it was an academic issue, as the football team's APR score came in too low in April and resulted in a postseason and bowl ban for 2014. And then two months later the ban was lifted, thanks to updated information provided by UNLV to the NCAA that got the football team's score up to the 930 threshold it needed to avoid penalty.
While banned, UNLV seniors were able to transfer to other FBS schools and be eligible right away, but only two players left the program. Hauck told Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that "that mental toughness and commitment to this school and each other says a lot about the people we have here, and I think is going to serve us well on the field."
Just because the Rebels are eligible doesn't mean they're a lock to go bowling again, though. UNLV graduated its quarterback, running back and several starters in the defensive front seven, though it does bring back exciting wide receiver Devante Davis and an experienced offensive line. The Rebels face seven teams, including five on the road, that played in a bowl in 2013.
From the broadest sense, BYU and Notre Dame's football programs are very similar because they're both independent. Because of this, they're free from the demands and limitations of a specific conference, and they can not only schedule whoever and however they want, but they can also collect all of the money that comes from TV rights and other revenue sources.
But other than a strong religious influence, that's where the schools' comparisons end. Because while Notre Dame's independence is not getting in the way of potential national success, for BYU it might be just the reason the Cougars are getting labeled as a second-tier program by some power conferences.
During the spring, both the ACC and SEC made the distinction that BYU isn't worthy of being considered a "power" opponent when it comes to football scheduling.
Both leagues are looking to beef up their nonconference schedule strength, with the SEC requiring all of its schools to play at lease one team from a power conference each year. An NCAA mandate, effective 2017, requires football teams in power conferences to face at least one nonconference power foe or Notre Dame.
BYU played at Virginia of the ACC last season and hosts the Cavaliers this season. The Cougars also visit Texas and California in 2014 and have future games against Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, UCLA and other power opponents. Whether those foes consider BYU to be of high quality, though, is uncertain.
Winner: Charlie Strong
Charlie Strong didn't mince words when he was introduced as Texas' football coach in January. At his first press conference, he preached a series of core values—honesty, treating women with respect, no drugs, no stealing, no guns—that would be the backbone of his transition of the Longhorns' program from the Mack Brown era to his regime.
And Strong hasn't backed down from this approach, as can be seen by an offseason that's featured a spate of suspensions and dismissals to players who broke rules. All told, seven players have been removed from the team and three more have been suspended, according to Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News.
"There's a lot of pride within this program," Strong told Carlton. "We're going to bring this pride back."
The loss or unavailability of so many players may lead to a very uneven first season for the Longhorns under Strong, but it was already going to be a tough season with a schedule that features eight games against teams that went bowling in 2013, including BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma in the first seven weeks of competition.
Regardless of what happens on the field this fall, though, Strong has asserted himself firmly and admirably in taking over the storied program. He's won the offseason, and as a result he should win during many regular seasons in the future.
The average college football fan doesn't want to concern himself with off-the-field issues, especially if it's not specifically related to a star player or coach. But this offseason featured two of the most significant news events in the sport's history, both of which could have a major impact on the game's future.
And both came to a head on the same day, Friday, Aug. 8.
That's when a federal judge ruled that the NCAA violated anti-trust laws by having policies that "unreasonably restrain trade in the market for certain educational and athletic opportunities offered by NCAA Division I schools" (via Lee Romney of the Los Angeles Times).
It was also the same day that the NCAA approved a measure that would give Division I's five power conferences an unprecedented level of autonomy when it comes to setting their own rules.
In simpler terms, the NCAA faces the loss of a lot of unilateral power and the ability to generate revenue from the names, likeness and images of student-athletes without having to potentially share in those profits.
Neither situation is completely set in stone, however. NCAA president Mark Emmert announced Sunday the governing body would appeal U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's ruling in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, according to Michael Marot of The Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports), and the timetable for such an appeal could be lengthy.
And on the autonomy front, the vote by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors is able to be vetoed if enough schools put together a dissenting position, and the power conferences have to submit proposed legislation by Oct. 1 to keep the process moving forward.
Whatever comes from these news items, though, one thing is certain: The long-in-place structure of the NCAA, in terms of how it operates and oversees all collegiate athletics, will be a thing of the past.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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