This college football offseason has been wild. Since Alabama won the National Championship, headlines over conference expansion and the role of agents have been on the forefront.
One headline might have been a little under the radar unless you lived in Oregon or Mississippi or you were a fan of these respective teams. This story involves one of the starting quarterbacks of the 2010 Rose Bowl.
The long strange trip of Jeremiah Masoli continues after the Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels invited the troubled quarterback a chance to walk-on this season. Masoli threw for 2,147 yards, and rushed for 668 yards with 28 combined touchdowns as he helped lead the Oregon Ducks to a Pac-10 title.
After the Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, Masoli had several run-ins with the law. The first was over a theft at a fraternity house that led to him pleading guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor second-degree burglary.
Originally, Masoli had been charged with felony burglary charges, and after his plea agreement, he was suspended for the 2010-11 season by Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. Masoli would be able to practice but not play this season.
Shortly after his suspension, Masoli was once again in the headlines after he was charged in a traffic stop of driving without a license and possession of marijuana.
The new charges forced Kelly to dismiss Masoli from the team.
Masoli went from Heisman contender to a quarterback with no team. While Masoli was researching his options, things were not goin smoothly for Houston Nutt and Ole Miss.
The Rebels failed to meet expectations heading into the 2009-10 season, mainly because quarterback Jevan Snead underperformed. Ole Miss was expected to challenge for an SEC West title, but ended up third in the division with a 9-4 record.
Snead bolted from Ole Miss to go undrafted by the NFL after starting out a Heisman contender last season. This left the Rebels with Nathan Stanley as the only quarterback on the roster with playing experience in Nutt’s offense.
Things became more troubled for Ole Miss when heralded freshman Raymond Cotton was released from his scholarship to reportedly play for South Alabama. This left the Rebels with only junior college transfer Randall Mackey as the only quarterback with college experience.
The quarterback problems at Ole Miss gave a place for Masoli to land after being released by Oregon. Masoli will walk-on to the Rebels program after being admitted to a graduate program not offered at Oregon, reports are it will be the parks and recreation management program.
Do not count Masoli out as the starter at Ole Miss. The quarterback was once the fifth string quarterback before becoming the starter.
The backlash from Masoli joining Ole Miss will be limited because of where the quarterback is landing. Coming to Mississippi will not have the same impact as Masoli going to a national title contender.
Still that has not stopped media and fans from commenting on Ole Miss giving Masoli a second chance. It is easy to find a bad guy in this story if you are looking for one.
Maybe you want to point fingers at Houston Nutt. The coach once gave a job to a high school coach while at Arkansas to land quarterback Mitch Mustain.
The coach and quarterback lasted only one season with the Razorbacks before Nutt was fired and Mustain transferred to USC.
Mustian has been buried on the bench with the Trojans, while Nutt landed on his feet at Arkansas conference rival Ole Miss. Nutt also gave a second chance last year to former Florida Gator Jamar Hornsby.
Hornsby was released by the Gators after he used the credit card of a Florida student who had died in a car crash. The move blew up in Nutt’s face after Hornsby was indicted on a felony assault charge.
Fans and media who dislike Nutt will point to Masoli as another move by Nutt to win at all costs. Most of these detractors fail to point out that nearly every college football coach takes chances on players with character issues in hopes of winning.
Nutt is not the first coach to be bitten in the rear by giving a player a second chance and he will not be the last coach either. To single out Nutt as the lone offender of this type of behavior is laughable.
Even the great Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne gave Lawrence Phillips chance after chance to win a national title. The Miami Hurricanes took chances on players with character issues and it was fine while the team was winning.
Also, Nutt is not the first coach to give players' second chances. Players are given second chances nearly every year on different teams.
Look at Ryan Perrilloux who was given a second chance at Jacksonville State after being kicked off the LSU football team. Masoli and Nutt are not the exception, but the rule in college football.
If Nutt is not the bad guy, then most will say it has to be Masoli. Are we really going to point to a player who has graduated and entering a graduate program as the bad guy in this story?
Masoli is working within the system the NCAA has setup and has not broken any rules (that anyone knows of) to play for Ole Miss this season. The quarterback has even been regarded as being in the wrong place at the wrong time by some in the media.
Does that excuse Masoli for his mistakes? No.
Are the transgressions by Masoli the worst any college football player has done to get a second chance?
One thing is for sure, we will find out if Masoli was just hanging with a bad element in Eugene, Oregon or if he is a trouble maker himself. The difference between Oxford, Mississippi and Eugene, Oregon is like night and day.
Oxford is a small town in basically nowhere Mississippi without a lot to do with free time. If Masoli found trouble in Eugene with his free time, what will he find in Oxford with even less to do?
This stint at Ole Miss will tell what kind of person Masoli is. If he finds trouble with the Rebels off the field it will seem that he goes looking for trouble and not that trouble seems to find him.
So who is the bad guy in this story? It has to be the fans and the media.
Ole Miss and many college football programs have an image issue. It starts with the terrible ideas to replace their mascot, to bringing in players with character issues.
The win at all costs world of college football has made every coach bend the rules and take chances on players. Look at two programs in the same state as Ole Miss.
Mississippi State overlooked character issues under Jackie Sherrill while they were winning in the 1990s. The program was in shambles by the time Sherrill left and made more headlines for what was going on off the field than on it.
At Southern Mississippi, Jeff Bower had 13 straight winning seasons but could not win enough games for Eagles fans. This forced Bower to take chances on players with shady pasts that still did not translate into more wins and ended Bower’s tenure at USM.
Back to MSU and Sylvester Croom who could not meet fans' high expectations after making it to a bowl game. Croom’s team got every bounce of the ball in a magical season that led to the bowl berth.
A season later Croom was out as the Bulldogs head coach on a team that was not ready to win each and every year.
The unrealistic expectations were bound to doom Bower and Croom.
Programs like Ole Miss, USM, and MSU need to take a long look in the mirror and realize what they are. These programs are not Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, USC, etc... and so forth.
These are middle of the conference programs that once in a while when the stars align, a magical season takes place. Fans and media expect eight to ten wins each and every year and that is not realistic for every program.
You are what you are. Ole Miss and programs like them should embrace what they are.
The Rebels should be proud of their mascot and their place in the South Eastern Conference. Until these programs are willing to give coaches more than three years to build a program before they blow it, be happy to be middle of the road in the SEC.
David Cutcliffe was let go at Ole Miss after losing Eli Manning, the number one pick in the 2004 draft, to the NFL draft.
After one losing season, Cutcliffe was let go, but no matter what Ole Miss fans think, their former coach has slowly built a program at Duke, a college with tougher admission standards than Mississippi University.
Ole Miss has to learn that Johnny Vaught is not walking through the door and that it is not 1947-1970, Vaught’s time at Ole Miss. It is 2010; the Rebels and Mississippi are not the attractive place for players to go.
Nutt and Masoli will be killed by fans and media if this experiment blows up. But it is fans, media, and boosters who have made this system what it is.
After making college football a win at all costs system, fans and the media feel free to get on their high horses when their team does not win. If their team does win, both seem to forget the steps coaches and players take to win.
One thing is for sure, Ole Miss fans will defend Nutt and Masoli as long as they are happy. But before Rebel fans jump to defend their coach remember this:
Last season Tennessee fans blasted anyone who bad-mouthed Lane Kiffin. Now, Kiffin cannot even go near the state without getting blasted himself by the same fans.
Don’t defend Nutt and Masoli now Ole Miss fans if you are going to turn on them later.