It seems like eons ago that we were all complaining about how boring Alabama’s national championship victory over LSU was. But even though we’ve collectively been in a college football coma for eight months now, a lot has gone down. Here’s the skinny on the biggest offseason stories around college football.
NCAA Cripples Nittany Lions
In July, the NCAA imposed its harshest sanctions ever against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Regardless of whether you think the penalties levied against the school are fair, everyone can agree that the NCAA sent a very clear message that it will not allow children to be harmed without delivering its harsh brand of justice. Penalties include vacating all Nittany Lion wins since 1998, a four year postseason ban, the loss of 20 scholarships per year, and a staggering $60 million fine. The debate rages on over whether the penalties were too harsh, too light, or whether it was even appropriate for the NCAA to penalize Penn State in the first place. (You can read Garnet Report’s take on the issue here.) But as simply a news story, there was none bigger this offseason. The shockwaves of this decision will be felt around college athletics for years, maybe even decades, to come.
Playoffs? Yep, playoffs, we’re not kidding! On June 26, college football fans got what they’d been wanting for years. Starting during the 2014 season, the much-maligned BCS will cease to exist, and college football’s national champion will be determined through a four-team playoff. It’s a welcome relief for all college football fans, especially those frustrated by the SEC’s dominance in recent years. The conference was won six consecutive BCS championships, including four of the last five from SEC West teams. The trophy hasn’t even left the state of Alabama in three years. This year’s snoozer of a game, a 21-0 Alabama victory over LSU, was the last straw. After two more years of suffering, college football will enter the Promised Land of a playoff, with the four teams set to be selected by a 15-member committee. Is it a perfect system? No. Many people wanted eight or even 16 teams, and any time a committee selects participants there’s bound to be controversy. But it’s a huge improvement over the old system that also keeps the bowl games running and the importance of the regular season intact. That’s a compromise everybody can live with.
Where in the world is Bobby Petrino?
In easily the strangest saga of the 2012 offseason, Bobby Petrino disgraced an entire program and got fired from one of the most lucrative jobs in the country. He was involved in a motorcycle accident on a Sunday afternoon in April, saying that a lady flagged down a passing motorist that took him to a nearby hospital. The series of details that unfolded over the next few days was downright shocking. It turned out that that “lady” he mentioned was the 51-year-old Petrino’s 25-year-old mistress, former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell. They had been engaged in an inappropriate relationship for a significant period of time. Boss Hog had even hired her to a position in the athletics department less than a week before the crash, passing over 158 other applicants in favor of Dorrell. He lied to his athletics director and to the public by saying that he had been alone in the crash. That alone may not have been enough to fire him. And he could have maybe kept his job if he’d just had an affair with Dorrell. But hiring her to work under him directly led to his firing with cause, meaning he didn’t get a penny of the money owed him in his contract’s buyout clause. What a sad, sad fall from grace by one of college football’s most talented coaches.
Back on May 4, Clemson’s superstar wide receiver Sammy Watkins was arrested after being charged with possession of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance. Coach Dabo Swinney, whose carefully cultivated Christian good-guy image mandated that he punish Watkins but whose three months of foot-dragging betrayed his reluctance to do so, finally announced in early August that Watkins would serve a two-game suspension. Rather than hand-pick two games against nonconference patsies in which Watkins wouldn’t be needed, as is the current trend in college football, Swinney made the right, but difficult, decision to suspend him for the first two games of the season. Why is that a big deal? Because the suspension includes Clemson’s neutral-site opener against Auburn, a must-win if the Tigers hope to contend for anything bigger than an ACC title this season. Kudos to Swinney for making the tough choice, even if he waited a few months to do it. And kudos to Watkins for being a stand-up guy, immediately apologizing and taking responsibility for his actions, and accepting Swinney’s decision without any complaints. Seems like everyone here did the right thing and handled the situation with integrity. It’ll be interesting to see if that integrity costs Clemson a chance at a major bowl bid this season.
Conferences Get Wacky
Much ink has been spilled on the merits and pitfalls of conference realignment and the changing landscape of college football. The SEC got into the game last month, as Texas A&M and Missouri officially joined the league. In an effort to preserve traditional rivalries and keep balanced divisions, Missouri will be placed in the SEC East, at least for the time being. Mercifully, the SEC office agreed that an annual Arkansas-Missouri football matchup makes a lot more sense than an Arkansas-South Carolina one, paving the way for the Gamecocks to take on Texas A&M each season starting next year. This decision was based solely on geography, of course, and not a lack of excitement about playing Arkansas or lack of wins against them. How dare you suggest otherwise? Pittsburgh and Syracuse will soon join the ACC, West Virginia and TCU are headed to the Big 12 (which has ten teams and is not to be confused with the 12-team Big Ten), no one seems to know what happened to the proposed 22-team alliance between the Mountain West and Conference USA, and Boise State and San Diego State will soon compete in the aptly named Big East. Hmmm.
Honey Badger Don’t Care
His nickname was famous the world over. He had the most recognizable hair in all of college football. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist as a defensive player. And then he threw it all away. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU’s all-world cornerback, was dismissed from the team on August 10 after a violation of team rules, reported to be a failed drug test. Mathieu had been suspended for a game in 2011 after reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana. Now he’s mulling a transfer to in-state Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse McNeese State, or possibly even sitting out a year and returning to the Tigers in 2013 if the school will allow it. That sound you hear is every team on the Tigers’ schedule breathing a sigh of relief. But you still have to feel bad for this kid. The story is somewhat reminiscent of the Stephen Garcia saga we became so familiar with, except with more talent and less second chances. Even though we all like the fact that the Gamecocks don’t have to face him, you still have to hope he’s able to get his life together and find success both on and off the field.
Isaiah Crowell the Felon
Aaron Murray. The running game. The easiest schedule ever conceived. Ask anyone around SEC country why Georgia was favored to win the East this season over the arguably more talented Gamecocks, and these are the top three reasons you’d get. Now, the Bulldogs only have two of those advantages. Back in June, troubled running back Isaiah Crowell, the top running back recruit in the nation and Georgia’s leading rusher as a freshman in 2011, was arrested on three weapons charges, two of which were felonies. Mark Richt had no choice but to dismiss him later in the day. There are multiple talented running backs on the roster, but Crowell’s departure is still a significant blow to Georgia’s division title hopes.
Subscribe for the Complete Season Preview
This year, Garnet Report is putting together a complete football season preview. It contains over 40 pages of Gamecock content, including…
- An outlook on the important players
- This season’s big games
- Our prediction for this season
To get the free preview PDF, subscribe to Garnet Report’s Sports feed.