College football in 2010: Off-field issues

The past year in college football likely will be remembered as much for what happened off the field involving conference movement and agent shenanigans as for the offensive explosions that happened on the field, most notably those involving Oregon and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton – who was a big part of the off-field news, as well.

Here’s a look back at the 10 biggest storylines in college football in 2010.

10. Mark Dantonio’s heart attack: A few hours after a gutsy fake field goal in overtime gave Michigan State a victory over Notre Dame on Sept. 18, Dantonio, 54, suffered a heart attack. Doctors found a blocked artery near his heart and inserted a stent. He spent a few days in the hospital and missed the Spartans’ Sept. 25 game against FCS member Northern Colorado. Dantonio planned to return to the sideline Oct. 2 against Wisconsin, but a blood clot was found in his leg and he missed that game, too. He finally returned Oct. 9 – against archrival Michigan. Michigan State finished 11-1 in the regular season and meets Alabama in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day.

9. Boise State and TCU make BCS runs: Boise State went into the season ranked third in The Associated Press poll and fifth in the coaches’ poll; TCU was sixth and seventh, respectively. Those relatively high preseason rankings meant both would stay in the BCS title game mix if they won out. And for a while, it looked as if each had a shot at the title game. They kept winning while most others fell by the wayside. Indeed, there was even talk in early November about the possibility of Boise meeting TCU for the national title. But it wasn’t meant to be. Boise State lost at Nevada in overtime on Nov. 26 to fall out of the title mix; indeed, the Broncos fell out of the BCS mix and will end the season in the Dec. 22 Las Vegas Bowl. TCU finished third in the final BCS standings, but the Horned Frogs received a nice consolation prize – a berth in the Rose Bowl.

Mark Dantonio recovered from a heart attack to lead Michigan State to an 11-1 record.
(Al Goldis / AP)

8. Three-way tie in the Big Ten: The final season of the 11-team Big Ten was a memorable one, as Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin each went 7-1 in league play and 11-1 overall. Michigan State beat Wisconsin, which beat Ohio State. But Michigan State – which lost to Iowa – and Ohio State didn’t play, meaning the league’s automatic berth in the BCS would come down to a tiebreaker. The fifth tiebreaker in the event of a three-team tie is the BCS standings, and because Wisconsin was the highest-placed team of the three in the BCS standings, the Badgers garnered the league’s Rose Bowl bid. That left Michigan State and Ohio State as potential BCS at-large picks, and the Sugar Bowl picked Ohio State, which relegated the Spartans to the Capital One Bowl.

7. Eric LeGrand is paralyzed: LeGrand, a junior reserve defensive tackle for Rutgers from Avenel, N.J., suffered a spinal-cord injury while making a tackle in the Scarlet Knights’ victory over Army on Oct. 16 and was left paralyzed from the neck down. The tackle came in the fourth quarter on an Army kickoff return. Last week, it was reported that LeGrand had some feeling in his hands, but experts in the field warned that while that was encouraging news, by no means was it a sign that LeGrand was on his way to a full recovery. Unfortunately, LeGrand’s injury was just one of a few tragedies to hit college football this season. Mississippi State sophomore DE Nick Bell, 20, from Bessemer, Ala., died Nov. 2 from cancer. Bell had played in the first four games this season before being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer. He died about a month later. And Notre Dame videographer Declan Sullivan, 20, died while filming practice Oct. 27. Sullivan was in a tower that toppled over during a period of high winds.

6. Oregon’s offense: When a team opens the season by scoring 72 points in its first game, it garners a lot of attention. That’s what happened with Oregon – and the attention never really waned. The Ducks’ fast-paced attack scored at least 42 points in each of the first nine games and put up at least 52 points six times in that span. After a 15-point outing against California on Nov. 13, all sorts of stories asked, “What’s wrong with the Ducks?” But the Ducks rebounded to score 85 combined points in their final two regular-season games and head to the BCS national championship game ranked first in the nation in scoring offense (49.3 points per game), second in total offense (537.5 yards per game) and fourth in rushing offense (303.8 yards per game). They’re doing this with a new starting quarterback, sophomore Darron Thomas. He was expected to be the third-teamer, but coach Chip Kelly booted returning starter Jeremiah Masoli during the offseason, and Thomas beat out fifth-year senior Nate Costa for the starting job in the final week of practice leading up to the opener. Thomas has thrown for 2,518 yards and 28 touchdowns and has rushed for 492 yards and five scores. He threw at least two TD passes in nine games and at least three in five games. Running back LaMichael James, meanwhile, has rushed for 1,682 yards and 21 TDs despite missing the season opener because of a suspension; he finished third in the Heisman voting.

5. “Agent-gate”: Hey, anything that gets Alabama coach Nick Saban to use the word “pimps” has to be newsworthy. As fans in July began to count off the number of days until the season began, talk of agents and potential suspensions started to dominate the landscape. Current players at Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were alleged to have had dealings with agents, which led to Saban at SEC media days famously saying, “The agents that do this, and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?” The brouhaha led to Saban calling a summit meeting of sorts with some other big-name college coaches, along with representatives of the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Everyone involved agrees that unscrupulous agents are a problem, but there still is no set plan with how to deal with them. Meanwhile, North Carolina defensive line coach John Blake resigned Sept. 5, one day after the Tar Heels’ opener, for his association with an agent. Seven Tar Heels eventually were suspended for all or part of the season for their actions with agents, including stars Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin and Greg Little. And for their dealings with agents, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended for four games, Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus was suspended for two games, and South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders was dismissed from the team.

4. Texas’ struggles: Texas began 2010 preparing to play Alabama in the national championship game; the Longhorns are going to end the year sitting quietly at home. In a staggering one-season turnaround, the Longhorns went from playing for the national title in 2009 to missing out entirely on the postseason in 2010. They are the first team in the BCS era to go from playing for the national title one season to missing out on a bowl bid the next. Texas (5-7) was done in this season by its offense; the Longhorns had trouble running the ball and struggled to score. They also turned the ball over at an alarming rate, committing 30 turnovers. Coach Mack Brown must revamp his staff. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis “resigned” and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp – the coach-in-waiting – left for Florida. Brown also will have to replace at least two position coaches.

Cam Newton ran away from the field to win the Heisman. Still, the NCAA probe continues.
(Craig Ruttle / AP)

3. Urban Meyer resigns: He was on our list last year, too, for his 24-hour “resignation” from Florida. This time, though, Meyer, 46, is gone for real, after six seasons and two national titles with the Gators. His final game with the Gators is the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Penn State. Meyer is 64-15 – a winning percentage of .810 – with the Gators, and he led them to the national title in 2006 (beating Ohio State) and ’08 (beating Oklahoma). The Gators also finished 13-1 in ’09, beating Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. His version of the spread option offense enjoyed great success in the SEC, and he coached a Heisman winner in Tim Tebow. Meyer’s replacement, Will Muschamp, takes over a team used to winning and stocked with talent; the Gators certainly weren’t used to winning when Meyer took over for Ron Zook in 2005. Meyer went 16-2 against Florida’s biggest rivals: Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee. While at Utah, Meyer coached the first non-Big Six team to reach the BCS as well as a No. 1 NFL draft pick (quarterback Alex Smith).

2. Cam Newton: Newton arrived at Auburn in January as a highly touted junior college signee. Eleven months later, he’s the most celebrated college football player in the nation and getting ready for the national title game against Oregon. He has had a phenomenal season, becoming just the third quarterback in NCAA FBS history with at least 20 TD runs and 20 TD passes in the same season. He has rushed for 1,409 yards and 20 TDs, and he has passed for another 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns. His presence also has been the difference between a 13-0 season and a spot in the national title game and an 8-4/9-3 season and a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl for the Tigers. But it hasn’t all been good news. In early November, news broke that Newton’s dad, Cecil Newton Sr., allegedly shopped his son to the highest bidder out of junior college. An intermediary for Newton Sr. reportedly told persons associated with the Mississippi State athletic department late last year that it would take $180,000 to get Cam to sign with the Bulldogs. It later was revealed that Mississippi State reported the situation to the SEC office, and after the SEC received more documentation from the school, it informed Auburn in July that there was a possibility of improper recruitment of Cam because of his father. On Nov. 29, the NCAA ruled that a “violation of amateurism rules occurred,” and Newton was ruled ineligible by Auburn the next day. On Dec. 1, the NCAA ruled that, with the information available at that time, Newton was eligible to play for Auburn. Newton went on to lead Auburn to the SEC championship and won the Heisman by a large margin. Still, the NCAA probe continues.

1. Conference realignment: Once talk surfaced about the Big Ten expanding, all sorts of “nuclear winter” scenarios were thrown around, including the demise of the Big 12. When all was said and done, however, there wasn’t that much movement. Still, college athletics have undergone a radical transformation, and no one thinks it’s over. The Big Ten added Nebraska from the Big 12. The Pac-10 now is the Pac-12 after adding Colorado from the Big 12 and Utah from the Mountain West. The Big East now stretches to Texas with the arrival of TCU. Utah’s archrival, BYU, didn’t want to be left behind in the Mountain West, so it decided to become a football independent and move the rest of its programs to the West Coast Conference. The Western Athletic Conference, meanwhile, was gutted, as Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada are moving to the Mountain West. Hawaii also is moving its football team from the WAC to the Mountain West, while the rest of its programs head to the Big West Conference. The WAC added Texas State and Texas-San Antonio; Texas State currently plays in the FCS ranks, while UTSA doesn’t even begin play until next fall.

Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010