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May 10, 2007

Buchanan: Top offseason storylines

PHOTO GALLERY: Top Offseason Storylines


We are still months away from college football season.

Spring practices are over, and some important questions have been answered.

That said, there have been an abundance of stories to keep the mind occupied as we wait for autumn.

If the 2007 season proves half as eventful as the offseason, it will definitely be worth the wait.

We'll look forward to the practices in August that will signal the coming season. But until then, let's consider 25 of the more interesting stories of the offseason.

They are in no particular order, and many are of the off-the-field variety:

1. April foolishness

Six Penn State football players safety Anthony Scirrotto, cornerback Justin King, linebacker Jerome Hayes, defensive tackle Christopher Baker, cornerback Lydell Sargeant and linebacker Tyrell Sales were arrested after barging into an off-campus apartment and being involved in an April 1 melee that sent two men to the hospital.

The fight stemmed from a street altercation with three inhabitants of the apartment, one of which reportedly punched Scirrotto's girlfriend.

Charges were eventually dropped against King, Hayes, Sargeant and Sales. Scirrotto and Baker still face charges.

2. The intramural teams should be real good

During a mid-February press conference, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins revealed he'd received an anonymous letter from a parent complaining that players did not receive enough of a break in the summer.

That prompted Hawkins to begin a classic rant in which he bellowed: "IT'S DIVISON I FOOTBALL. IT'S THE BIG 12. IT AIN'T INTRAMURALS. GO PLAY INTRAMURALS, BROTHER."

That unsigned letter may have explained at least to some degree why Colorado finished 2-10 in 2006.

3. Wanted: A punter

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach does things a little differently. While some coaches claim they never read the papers, Leach advertises in them.

Graduation, injuries and ineligibility left the Red Raiders without a punter this spring, so Leach placed an ad in the Daily Toreador Tech's student newspaper offering a chance to try out for the team.

The response was overwhelming. Leach said his voice mail was full. He found some guys to get through the spring, but won't carry any on the roster this fall.

4. Isn't Stanford the school that loves trees?

Among the reasons Cal coach Jeff Tedford signed a long-term contract after the 2004 season was a promise to expand the football stadium and construct a sports facility.

But in late January environmentalists protested the impending construction by planting themselves in a grove of oak trees that would be cut. The protesters camped out in limbs and next to trunks for a month. Some reportedly even protested nude.

Furthermore, the city of Berkeley and some environmental organizations filed lawsuits to stop developers from cutting the trees for the expansion, which would eliminate "Tightwad Hill," an overlook which offers a view of the game without purchasing a ticket.

A restraining order was issued to delay construction.

5. Nutt(s) in Arkansas

The offseason has been harder on Arkansas coach Houston Nutt than any of the nine seasons he's been on the sideline in Fayetteville.

Reports surfaced that Teresa Prewett, a Nutt family friend and prominent Arkansas booster, sent a scathing e-mail to quarterback Mitch Mustain. The quarterback has since transferred to Southern California. Nutt seemed to put out that fire by banning the booster from the sideline.

Later, there were accusations that Nutt was involved in an extramarital affair with television reporter Donna Bragg. Nutt and his wife both denied the accusations.

Then, Arkansas resident John David Terry fired a lawsuit against the university saying it failed to properly investigate the e-mail scandal.

All this occurred after the Razorbacks completed a 10-4 season and won the SEC's Western Division. Imagine the fallout had the Razorbacks finished 9-5.

6. Fortunately, they didn't hire Schnellenberger

Tim and Hannah Witt of Hartselle, Ala., are such devoted Alabama fans that when their newborn son arrived in March they named him Saban, for Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

Saban the infant, not the coach weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

The couple already had a son named Tyde.

Not to be outdone, a Columbus, Ohio, couple named their first son Tressel Hayes Huffines for Buckeye coaches Jim Tressel and Woody Hayes.

Birth records show that since 2003 at least six Ohio couples have named children Tressel.

7. The company line

Just three months after he was hired by new Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, Jim Turner resigned as the Eagles offensive line coach during spring football practice.

Turner, a former BC team captain, cited philosophical difference in the direction of the program for his resignation.

There were reports that the line was having trouble learning the zone-blocking scheme Jagodzinski uses.

Jagodzinski then hired Texas Tech offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.

8. Thanks for the tip

South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe was arrested while working as a bartender at a sports bar near campus.

Grothe was cited for serving two beers to an 18-year-old who was working with officers from the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

USF coach Jim Leavitt said he was unaware Grothe was working there.

The arrest was of secondary importance, though. The Bull Ring Sports Bar is frequented by USF fans and boosters, who might be a little more generous in tipping a bartender that's also a quarterback.

Grothe reportedly quit the job, but it might be a matter of time before the NCAA bans athletes from working as bartenders, waiters, bell hops, taxi drivers or any other job that receives tips.

9. Maybe she should register at K-Mart

Boise State tailback Ian Johnson made national news when he proposed to his girlfriend, cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, immediately after the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma.

However, the NCAA stepped in and mandated that wedding gifts cannot be too expensive and no boosters can be invited.

To ensure they don't break any NCAA rules, the couple isn't revealing the venue of their July 28 wedding.

That is, if it really is on July 28.

10. That would be an adjective

Public speaking is nothing new to college football coaches, but LSU's Les Miles broke new ground when he dropped a very bad word at the Bayou Bash recruiting party in February.

Miles told an estimated audience of 5,000 - which included women and children: "We're looking forward to playing Florida. We're looking forward to playing Auburn. But we have a new rival in (expletive) Alabama."

Although he reportedly received a standing ovation, Miles later apologized for his choice of words.

Just for the record, LSU plays Florida on Oct. 6, plays Auburn on Oct. 20 and plays (expletive) Alabama on Nov. 3.

11. But did he hit the target?

Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller was cited for disturbing the peace for yelling profanities at a woman who took a parking spot he was waiting for in a campus parking garage.

Keller also reportedly threw a plastic cup at her car.

Charges against Keller were eventually dropped.

12. Time will tell

New Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh made big news and perhaps a significant enemy when he told a reporter that Pete Carroll was a short-timer at USC.

"He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it (from) inside the staff," Harbaugh said.

Carroll reacted as expected.

"If he's going to make statements like that, he ought to get his information right. And if he has any questions about it, he should call me," Carroll said.

USC plays host to Stanford on Oct. 6. Take the Trojans and give the points no matter the line.

13. Isn't that like watching a game of solitaire?

Any doubts about the importance of Alabama football to Crimson Tide fans were removed when more than 92,000 attended the A-Day spring game.

But perhaps even more impressive was the fact that 75,301 attended Ohio State's spring game. The difference was Alabama's spring game offered free admission. Ohio State fans had to pay $5 to attend.

14. It looked like it hurted

Four-year-old Caden Thomas needed 30 stitches to close a gash in his head after Colorado State receiver George Hill crashed into him at the Rams' spring game.

The collision forced Caden to hit his forehead against a padded wall just beyond the end zone.

Afterward Caden, who appeared on 'The Today Show' among others, said: "It kind of hurted."

Caden's father Mike said Hill's quick hands kept the accident from being worse.

"George did a great job because we watched (the tape) frame by frame, and there's subtle things that George did that dampened the blow - by bringing his head back at the last moment, getting his left arm wrapped around Caden at the right moment," Mike Thomas said.

Hill, by the way, has a 2-year-old daughter.

15. Out on an island

Hawaii athletic director Herman Frazier admitted he miscalculated while compiling the Warriors' 2007 schedule and is still trying to add two more games.

The problems began for Hawaii, which can schedule 13 games, when Michigan State pulled out of a game.

Then discussions with Michigan and Southern California fell through. Frazier admitted he erred when failing to schedule road games against Texas A&M, North Carolina State, Texas Tech or Louisville, but he was hoping for another home game.

He also wanted to schedule an opponent from a BCS conference to enhance the Warriors chances to going to a prominent bowl game.

Instead, Hawaii has only added Division I-AA Charleston Southern.

Many high-profile teams have declined to face Hawaii citing difficult travel issues. You wonder if the prospect of facing quarterback Colt Brennan and one of the nation's best offenses is a factor, too.

16. We're No. 1 47 years later

In April, the University of Washington doubled the number of its football national championships when it announced it would claim the 1960 national championship.

The defunct Helms Foundation, which was one of 17 organizations to name a national champion for 1960, selected the 10-1 Huskies as the best team in the land. It was the only organization to pick Washington.

Minnesota is typically viewed as the 1960 national champion, having finished first in both the Associated Press and United Press International final polls.

But Washington has a case. The Huskies defeated Minnesota 17-7 in the Rose Bowl that season.

17. From running backs to limping backs

It was bad enough that Syracuse ranked 97th in rushing offense during 2006, but the Orange actually had worse luck running this spring.

Delone Carter, who led Syracuse with 713 rushing yards last season, sustained a hip injury in spring practice that required surgery and will force him out of the 2007 season.

To complicate matters, Curtis Brinkley - who rushed for 571 yards last year - suffered a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

18. Davis undergoes chemotherapy treatments

While undergoing a routine dental exam, North Carolina coach Butch Davis had a cancerous growth removed from his gum.

Tests revealed it to be non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and there was no other cancerous tissue in his body. However, Davis underwent chemotherapy as a precaution.

19. We have ways of making you talk

Alabama coach Nick Saban started tongues wagging because his would not.

Saban apparently agreed to an interview with a national writer, who then traveled to Tuscaloosa. But once there, Saban shunned him and was then harshly criticized.

Saban, who also angered the Alabama media by closing a scrimmage, offered an apology and consented to the interview. Later, he told the media he enjoyed working with them.

20. He's not that bad, after all

Saban became a frequent caller to Enterprise (Ala.) High School football coach Kevin Collins after the school sustained extensive damage from a tornado March 1.

"He was one of the first people that called me after it hit," Collins said. "He told me his prayers are with us and to let him know if there's anything he could do to help us."

Enterprise was left without a field, locker rooms and much of its equipment. With his $4 million annual salary, Saban could provide significant help, but the NCAA would likely frown on that.

So he just offered concern and encouragement.

"He's checked on me frequently and I've been touched by that," Collins said. "A man in his situation, not really knowing anybody in the area but still reaching out to us out of genuine concern, it's meant a lot to me."

21. Toledo player accused of fixing games

Toledo senior running back Harvey "Scooter" McDougle was charged with recruiting Rockets football and basketball players to fix games on behalf of a local gambler.

A criminal complaint said one player was offered $10,000 to sit out a football game and other players received cash and other gifts to shave points in games.

Bribery charges against McDougle were later dropped, although the U.S. attorney's office said the investigation would continue.

22. Turning the other cheek

South Carolina lineman Justin Sorensen did the right thing, but it still turned out wrong.

The 6-foot-7, 323-pound Sorensen missed some practice time this spring with head injuries suffered during a St. Patrick's Day party.

Sorensen tried to walk away from an altercation in a Columbia restaurant, but as he turned around he was hit in the back of the head with a beer bottle.

23. Carr isn't playing

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr suspended three players from spring practice, including receiver Adrian Arrington, tight end Carson Butler and defensive lineman Eugene Germany.

He refused to comment further, saying only that their return in the fall was "possible but not probable."

24. Outlined against a blue, gray April sky?

Demetrius Jones, Jimmy Clausen, Zach Frazer and Evan Sharpley might be Notre Dame's most intriguing foursome since the Horsemen of 1924.

Which one would emerge as the Irish quarterback? That has been the subject of speculation for months.

But Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis wouldn't give any indication of which might have an edge this spring. Each quarterback spent one week with the first team offense during the month of spring football.

Weis indicated he'd settle on a No. 1 and No. 2 quarterback, perhaps later this month.

25. The insignificance of football

On April 16, a gunman senselessly murdered 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.

The nation grieved and offered much support and prayer for the victims, their families and the Virginia Tech community.

The Virginia Tech spring football game, which was scheduled for the following Saturday, was canceled. Football, which is so popular in Blacksburg, never seemed so insignificant.

The Hokies will open their 2007 season against East Carolina, but travel to face LSU on Sept. 8 in a game that will match two communities who have recently dealt with tragedy. In 2005, LSU's season was altered and the people of Louisiana were affected by the damage of Hurricane Katrina.

PHOTO GALLERY: Top Offseason Storylines


Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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