Biggest College Football Stories You Likely Missed During March Madness

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2018

Biggest College Football Stories You Likely Missed During March Madness

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    New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt
    New Tennessee head coach Jeremy PruittCalvin Mattheis/Associated Press

    March Madness is an immersive, monthlong experience that can require sports lovers' full devotion, especially when your favorite team is involved.

    There are so many games on television that it's easy to put college football on the back burner, especially in those final few weeks when baseball flips to the regular season, golf gears up its schedule ahead of the Masters and the Stanley Cup Playoffs start.

    If you were too busy following your offseason hoops favorite or got caught up in Loyola of Chicago fever with the lovable Sister Jean, the historic UMBC upset of Virginia or the ridiculous runs of Michigan and Villanova, we've got your college football headlines from the past month covered.

    Back on March 5, Houston's Ed Oliver declared that 2018 would be his final year in college football, and that may be the last thing you heard.

    But so much has happened since then. From national championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa's injury to Tennessee's wild and wacky document dump, from the shenanigans that surrounded the football coaching search to C.J. Fuller's arrest, it's been a stormy March.

    Let's take a look at the top headlines you may have missed while you were marathon-binging college basketball.

Alabama's Quarterback Battle Delayed by Tua Tagovailoa's Broken Finger

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    Alabama QBs Jalen Hurts (left) and Tua Tagovailoa
    Alabama QBs Jalen Hurts (left) and Tua TagovailoaAssociated Press

    With all the hype and hubbub around Alabama's quarterback battle this spring, everybody was excited to hear about the friendly rivalry between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts.

    That never transpired.

    In the first real scrimmage action of the spring, Tagovailoa—the hero of the national championship game who threw the game-winning touchdown toss—broke a finger on his throwing hand, an injury that required surgery.

    Tagovailoa's father, Galu, told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello that his son collided with a teammate in a "freak accident." The broken index finger hasn't kept Tagovailoa off the field. He's already back and working through some drills.

    Does the injury complicate matters in the quarterback race? Does it give Hurts a leg up when the popular opinion is that Tagovailoa is the more talented of the two?

    Alabama coach Nick Saban has been through these questions before, and he's not relenting. As a matter of fact, he got a little defensive in typical Saban form.

    "I don't really have anything to say," Saban told reporters. "I know y'all want me to make something up that really isn't there so you can make a big deal out of it, but it's competition like there is at every other position."

    This is the highest-profile position competition at the defending national champion program that happens to be one of the biggest brands in college sports right now. It's a big deal. We'll have to wait to see how it affects the Crimson Tide.

Calvin Anderson Chooses Texas

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    Former Rice OT Calvin Anderson
    Former Rice OT Calvin AndersonTim Warner/Getty Images

    It's not every year you can get a difference-making upperclassman to bolster your football program. But that's what happened when Texas coach Tom Herman followed up his star-studded recruiting class with another massive addition.

    Rice graduate transfer offensive tackle Calvin Anderson elected to return to his hometown of Austin and play his final year with the Longhorns.

    That's a massive coup for Herman, who is building an exciting product in Austin, and it looks like Texas could take a major step forward in 2018. Yes, the Horns will be young, but they'll be extremely talented. Now, the winner of the Sam Ehlinger-Shane Buechele quarterback battle should feel a little safer.

    Texas' offensive line struggled last year when NFL-bound left tackle Connor Williams missed time due to injury. It will get a lot of help from Anderson, a 6'5", 300-pound lineman who was a late bloomer after getting just one FBS offer coming out of Westlake High School, as noted by Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News.

    Herman signed five offensive linemen, including JUCO transfer Mikey Grandy. The Longhorns need to build for the future while also replacing a star like Williams in 2018.

    "The commitment also gives new Texas offensive coach/co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand a bell cow to build around," Carlton wrote. "Texas never quite recovered from the injury to Williams early in the season."

    Anderson's commitment makes Texas better right away.

Auburn Receivers Dropping Like Flies

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    Auburn WR Will Hastings
    Auburn WR Will HastingsAssociated Press

    Alabama's quarterback injury may have made national headlines, but Tagovailoa will return soon. The hated rival Auburn Tigers across the state haven't been as lucky with their injury news.

    Coach Gus Malzahn has built a stable of depth at wide receiver, but that will be tested in the 2018 season after a pair of contributors tore their ACLs this spring. It has been a costly session for the Tigers and quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who lost two valuable targets.

    Rising senior Will Hastings, who emerged as a key piece of the offense after originally walking on at Auburn as a kicker, racked up 26 catches for 525 yards and four touchdowns last year. Junior Eli Stove had 29 catches for 265 yards and added 315 rushing yards and a pair of scores.

    At this point, it's hard to imagine either will be ready for the season, and both could conceivably redshirt. It's a big blow to the Tigers, who could enter Stidham's final season with a more pass-friendly offense.

    All isn't lost. Speedy Ryan Davis is still healthy and available, as are Darius Slayton and Nate Craig-Myers, but who else can emerge as a playmaker? It's hard for any team to lose two key cogs to its offense and not feel it.

    Malzahn is known for building his offenses around his best players, but it's safe to say the playbook may change without Hastings and Stove.

    There is a glimmer of good news for the Tigers, as Malzahn expects Stove to play in '18, according to AL.com's James Crepea.

    The Tigers sure can use him.

Michigan Buys Out Virginia Tech Series

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    Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh
    Michigan head coach Jim HarbaughAssociated Press

    Arkansas State is a much easier opponent than Virginia Tech—no offense to the Red Wolves.

    The Michigan Wolverines obviously feel the same. They recently bought out their home-and-home series with the Hokies in 2020 and 2021 and replaced them with the Red Wolves. They'll pay Tech $375,000 to escape the scheduled series.

    To be fair, the Big Ten plays a rugged schedule with nine conference games; only the Big 12 and Pac-12 also play that many. Also, the Wolverines already play Washington those years, so they understandably wanted to face an opponent that may be a little easier on the final tally.

    The Hokies also have Penn State on the schedule in 2020, so this may not be a bad idea for them either.

    Of course, college football fans like to beat their chests and cry foul when something like this happens, so social media was rife with derogatory comments about Michigan's decision. You can almost see the 140-word creative ways to say "they're scared" now.

    Regardless of the social media backlash, this makes a lot of sense. After all, Jim Harbaugh hasn't exactly been dominant in the Big Ten during his tenure, and with the Wolverines already set to play the Huskies, every schedule needs a break or two.

    The Hokies wouldn't be that, especially considering quarterback Josh Jackson would be an upperclassman during the scheduled games. Arkansas State is a better matchup considering the minefield slate the Wolverines must navigate.

    But it is a bummer for college football fans.

    We'll have to wait until another time to see the Wolverines and Hokies meet.

Tennessee's Wacky Coaching Search Document Dump

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    Former Tennessee athletic director John Currie
    Former Tennessee athletic director John CurrieAssociated Press

    Tennessee's coaching search had it all.

    Fan revolt following the leak that the Vols were hiring Greg Schiano. A flurry of "thanks but no thanks" flirtations. An athletic director in John Currie who went off the grid as administrators had no idea who he was interviewing. Currie's ultimate ouster. Replacing him with Phillip Fulmer, who ultimately hired Jeremy Pruitt.

    If you followed that soap opera search, you had to shake your head at the incompetence of the former administration. It had everything from manipulative boosters to meddling state legislators.

    On March 23, the university released thousands of pages of emails, texts and other documents after a Freedom of Information Act request from the media. That led to a deluge of stories that exposed the ridiculousness of the search.

    From Currie's blaming a Wi-Fi outage for a lack of communication with bosses and boosters (per the Associated Press) to lobbying for the job by coaches like Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson to Washington State coach Mike Leach's extreme interest, there were twists and turns few knew.

    The documents released and stories that followed (like this one from GoVols247's Grant Ramey and the high-level look from ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg) shed light on things like fan backlash to Schiano, Currie's apparent request to a reporter to help sway public opinion and details on the coaching search post-Schiano.

    The dysfunction revealed with the curtain pulled back is deep and shocking. Will the Vols be better with legendary coach Fulmer at the helm of the athletic department and Pruitt to oversee the football program? That remains to be seen.

    It would be hard to run things any worse than Currie, chancellor Beverly Davenport and the boosters did during that search.

Butch Jones Taking His Bricks to Bama

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    Butch Jones (left) and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick at Alabama's pro day
    Butch Jones (left) and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick at Alabama's pro dayBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Speaking of Tennessee dysfunction, one of the foremost authors that sent this Rocky Top spiral in motion was former coach Butch Jones, who was fired 10 games into a historically awful 4-8 season in 2017.

    Tennessee still owed Jones an $8.26 million buyout when it fired him November 12, a total that will be paid in monthly installments through February 28, 2021. But Jones resurfaced recently in the strangest of places: Tuscaloosa.

    He's the newest offensive analyst under Nick Saban, a position the national champion coach referred to as an "intern" spot. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel's Blake Toppmeyer, Jones will make a measly $35,000 at his new gig.

    Of course, he doesn't need the money with that massive Tennessee buyout he's enjoying. But oh, how the mighty have fallen. And where Jones fell is interesting as well, going from Knoxville to UT's biggest rival, the defending national champions.

    Maybe Jones is the latest in the long line of Saban's rehabilitation and reclamation projects among coaches. Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin have benefited from stops in Tuscaloosa, and the Alabama championship factory just keeps going.

    Considering Jones hasn't spent much time as a coordinator, and considering all the missteps he made building a program at UT, he has things still to learn before he can resurface at a major position at a high-profile school.

    So he'll learn under Saban, and you probably won't hear any more about him for the next year or two. But the internet had fun with this news as well as the pictures of Jones talking to Patriots coach Bill Belichick at Alabama's pro day.

Top Transfer C.J. Fuller Arrested

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    Former Clemson RB C.J. Fuller
    Former Clemson RB C.J. FullerAssociated Press

    Clemson graduate transfer C.J. Fuller was among a trio of former ACC footballers arrested on charges of armed robbery and possession of a weapon during commission of a crime.

    Fuller and Jadar Johnson were former Tigers; along with former Duke defensive lineman Quaven Ferguson, they "are accused of robbing someone at gunpoint after allegedly forcing their way into the person's apartment in downtown Clemson," according to Rittenberg.

    That's going to muddy the waters for Fuller when it comes to choosing a new school.

    The talented running back's playing time diminished when Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne emerged for the Tigers, and it appeared Fuller would have a lot of options when it came to finishing his career elsewhere.

    He could've landed at a place that needed running back depth like Notre Dame or Penn State.

    But Fuller has a lot of extra baggage now, and it's unclear if anybody will take a chance on him with this on his record. It's disappointing for a player who still had a lot of opportunities and was going to get a fresh start.

    His future is up in the air.

           

    Unless otherwise noted, stats are courtesy of Sports Reference and CFBStats.com, and recruiting data is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.