10 Events to Get College Football Fans Through the Offseason

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2016

10 Events to Get College Football Fans Through the Offseason

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    SEC media days is just one of the mileposts that can get fans through the offseason.
    SEC media days is just one of the mileposts that can get fans through the offseason.Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

    College football is a wonderful sport. It’s full of incredible rivalries, talented players, passionate fans and picturesque, stunning autumn scenes that inspire flowery prose and keep fans coming back year after year, generation after generation.

    Trouble is, there’s a lot more of the year without college football games than there is with college football games. The season stretches from early September to early January thanks to the College Football Playoff, but it’s still shorter than either college basketball or college baseball. That means college football fans have a lot of time to fill in the cold, dark offseason and think about their teams and the season ahead.

    How do fans fill the time? It’s not easy, but we have some suggestions. Here are 10 events that can help get fans through the college football offseason.

College Football Award Watch Lists

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    Identifying candidates for college football awards is a great part of summer.
    Identifying candidates for college football awards is a great part of summer.John Raoux/Associated Press

    One of the surest signs that the season is near is the arrival of college football award watch lists. From the Biletnikoff to the Walter Camp Award, the game is full of individual awards that honor nearly every position on the field, from the nation’s top quarterbacks to its best punter.

    Sure, the watch lists are a bit too comprehensive sometimes (if you’re not on a watch list at your particular position, you might have reason for concern), but they spark interest and conversation about college gridiron stars in the dead of summer.

    Players are added and subtracted from watch lists as the season rolls on, but their arrival is a sign that college football is on its way back, and that’s nothing but a positive.

College Football Preview Magazines

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    Your favorite newsstand will be overrun with college football preview magazines in mid-summer.
    Your favorite newsstand will be overrun with college football preview magazines in mid-summer.Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    Each June, they call to fans from the magazine section at Barnes and Noble, Walmart or your favorite grocery store. They are college football preview magazines. Whether you prefer Phil Steele, Athlon Sports, Lindy’s or others, there’s no question that those glossy publications hold significant appeal for fans.

    For $7-10, you get an update on how your team stacks up in its conference and nationally, with preview capsules, a projected two-deep and schedule analysis. It’s a chance to catch up on the regional and national scenes and get a feel for what lies ahead.

    Are these magazines perfect? No. Their deadlines coincide with the end of spring football, and plenty can change in the summer months. They’re not always accurate, but they’re an important milepost in what can be an endless slog to autumn.

College Football Media Days

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban's appearances at SEC media days become a feeding frenzy for autograph hunters.
    Alabama head coach Nick Saban's appearances at SEC media days become a feeding frenzy for autograph hunters.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

    If there is one sure signpost that college football is just around the corner, it’s the annual media days that each league puts together. Each July, reporters descend on a central location determined by each league to gather notes and quotes from each head coach and two to three predetermined players.

    The SEC holds the biggest spectacle, with its SEC media days stretching over four days at a hotel in Hoover, Alabama, just south of Birmingham, with over 1,000 reporters asking any question you can think of, from inane to inspired, to league coaches and players.

    Other leagues, like the ACC, take a more relaxed approach by holding their media gatherings at golf resorts. Regardless of the league, however, it’s an opportunity for players and coaches to promote themselves and their programs and remind fans that football will be back in their lives in short order.

Elite 11

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    Jacob Eason hopes to be the latest Elite 11 alum to excel in college football.
    Jacob Eason hopes to be the latest Elite 11 alum to excel in college football.Credit: 247Sports

    If you’re someone in the quarterback world, chances are you’ve attended an Elite 11 competition. Elite 11 is designed to select the nation’s top rising senior quarterback, and it has a great track record. Ten of the past 11 quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy attended an Elite 11 competition, and 34 of the top 44 passers in the NFL in 2015 did the same.

    The Elite 11 finals, set for June 3-5 in Los Angeles, feature advanced instruction in a competitive atmosphere that includes on-field drills, throwing routes, classroom and off-field development. You can bet the best of the best will be there, and if your program needs a quarterback (or has an elite quarterback committed), it’s certainly worth paying attention to.

Jim Harbaugh's Twitter Feed

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    Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is never at a loss for ways to draw attention to himself and his program.
    Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is never at a loss for ways to draw attention to himself and his program.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    A year ago, Jim Harbaugh was the darling of the college football offseason. Every move he made leading up to his first season as Michigan’s head coach gained attention. Offbeat or meaningful, it didn’t matter. It was news. You know what? Harbaugh lived up to the hype. He turned a 5-7 team into a 10-win squad that finished the season with a Citrus Bowl rout of Florida.

    So it only makes sense that Harbaugh doubled down with his attention-getting ways this offseason. He slept over at recruits’ homes and watched Netflix. He took the Wolverines to Florida for a week’s worth of spring practice. He subtweeted Tennessee head coach Butch Jones on his Twitter account.

    With an open practice that drew 5,000 Michigan fans to IMG Academy, it was a wild atmosphere. But according to ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson, Harbaugh embraces the crazy:

    As a youngster, I remember the circus coming to town. I remember looking forward to it, saving my pennies up and dollars up because the circus was coming to town. And every circus that I ever went to, I always left feeling really great about it, and it was a lot of fun. That's the way I feel about this. It was much anticipated, and it was a heck of a lot of fun.

    And it’s only March. What will Harbaugh do next? We don’t know, but we know he isn’t done making waves this summer. Follow Harbaugh’s Twitter account and find out at the same time everyone else does.

March Madness

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    The NCAA tournament is a centerpiece of spring sports.
    The NCAA tournament is a centerpiece of spring sports.David J. Phillip/Associated Press/Associated Press

    OK, so it’s not football. But there’s no denying that the NCAA tournament is one of the biggest events on the sports calendar. While it took years of BCS madness for college football to finally break down and build a four-team tournament to decide its title, college basketball has had a huge, monthlong tournament for the past 31 years (64 teams beginning in 1985).

    It’s now a 68-team field that stretches over three weeks, with the winner needing (at least) six victories to secure an NCAA title. It’s far more democratic than college football, with the little guys from the likes of the Horizon League, the Western Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference beginning with the same opportunity to win as the likes of Kansas, Michigan State, Duke and North Carolina.

    Take the opening Thursday and Friday off work. Fill out a bracket and challenge your friends. Get lost in March Madness, and forget about college football’s offseason, at least for a little while.

NFL Draft

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    During the NFL draft, your favorite college players find new homes.
    During the NFL draft, your favorite college players find new homes.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The NFL casts a shadow over college football, and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Players are eligible to enter the NFL draft three years after they graduate from high school, which creates intense speculation and interest heading into the draft declaration deadline in mid-January.

    The NFL Scouting Combine and pro days keep the interest stoked through spring; the draft has become a cottage industry in itself. This year, it will all culminate April 28-30 with the NFL draft. It’s exciting for college fans to tune in and find out their favorite players’ new professional homes. With the constant highlights played following each pick, it’s a chance for college fans to get another taste of their game in late spring.

Spring Football

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    Spring football games are a great way for fans to satisfy their football hungers.
    Spring football games are a great way for fans to satisfy their football hungers.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Spring football practices are roaring to life across the nation, with each FBS team taking advantage of 15 practices culminating, for most teams, with an open scrimmage or spring game in mid-to-late April. This is the closest thing we’ll get to real football until preseason practices begin in August.

    Coaches open up their depth charts and find replacements for holes created by graduation and NFL draft departures. Early-enrollee freshmen find their ways with their new teammates. In some cases, new coaches and coordinators find what their inherited players are all about. Spring games are largely bland, but they can provide a window into what lies ahead in fall.

    If the regular season is butter, spring is I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. It’s close to the real thing, and it’s as close as we’re going to get for a while.

Summer Camps

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    Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and other college coaches know the most important part of recruiting is getting a prospect on campus.
    Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and other college coaches know the most important part of recruiting is getting a prospect on campus.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

    The lifeblood of college football is recruiting, and the key to recruiting is one-on-one time. While prospects can make unofficial (unpaid) and official (expenses paid) visits to college campuses, one of the best ways to connect with college coaches is at summer camps.

    While programs cannot pay for prospects to attend these camps (where they can sometimes mix with lesser-caliber athletes who do pay for the privilege), they’re a great opportunity for coaches to evaluate talented players up-close, on their own turf.

    Scholarship offers and commitments regularly occur at these camps. When your favorite team holds one, it's more than worth keeping an eye on, because news regarding recruiting will most likely occur.

The Opening

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    Nike has an outsized presence in college football, spending millions upon millions of dollars to outfit a number of top teams. The athletic giant begins its influence well before players step foot on a collegiate campus, however. One of the clearest ways it does so is through events like The Opening.

    Held annually at Nike’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters, The Opening brings together 166 of the nation’s top high school players, who are selected through film study and/or evaluation at one of Nike’s regional events.

    This year, The Opening is set for July 5-10. It features ESPNU television coverage, and attendees will receive instruction from NFL stars while competing in seven-on-seven tournaments and lineman challenges. In addition, high school football’s top athlete is crowned. Players compete against the best, and many also use the spotlight to announce collegiate commitments. If you’re a recruiting fan or just want a little football in mid-summer, this is your ticket.