Sampling the offseason buzz
Welcome to the post-signing-day, pre-spring-practice lull. Some coaches quietly disappeared over the past few days. Others are on campus before dawn to run winter conditioning drills, which serve as a reminder to players that the end of bowl season doesn't mean they get time off until the start of spring ball.
For the rest of us, it's a time to gossip and catch our collective breath. Here's a sampling of the low buzz that's out there these days:
• The NCAA Football Rules Committee spent the first day of its annual meeting Tuesday discussing the increase in the number of helmets that came flying off heads last season. There is unlikely to be a rule change, in part because there is no data, just the anecdotally supported feeling that helmets aren't as secure as they should be. Snug helmets, made snug by chin straps snapped and pulled tight, likely will be a "point of emphasis" for officiating crews this season.
Otherwise, don't expect a lot of changes. The committee operates on a two-year cycle, and this is the off year. Rules approved last year will be in effect this fall, including the much-discussed adjustment to the celebration penalty. If the celebration begins during the play, the penalty will be assessed from the spot of the foul; i.e., the points will be taken off the board. It's going to happen early this season, and that poor player will be the poster child for the rest of the sport.
• UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is going into his fourth season at his alma mater with seasons of 4-8, 7-6 and 4-8. He's pushed both of his coordinators out the door. He still doesn't have a defensive coordinator after leaving Seattle Seahawks assistant Rocky Seto at the altar. The good news is the Bruins do have young talent, if they can keep it healthy, and dumped Kansas State, Oregon and Washington off their schedule in exchange for San Jose State and the new Pac-12 kids, Utah and Colorado.
• Speaking of which, former Bruins offensive coordinator Norm Chow left Westwood and will help shepherd his alma mater Utah into its new league. Chow spent 27 years coaching at BYU before he left in 1999. Utah will be his fifth stop -- following NC State, USC, the Tennessee Titans and UCLA -- in 12 seasons. Either Chow has been incredibly unlucky in recent years or he's looking for something he can't find.
• Good column the other day by Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News on Alabama coach Nick Saban's cagey, Belichick-like answers concerning oversigning and how the Crimson Tide allegedly manipulate the 85-scholarship limit. Whatever Saban thinks he is gaining by withholding the numbers, he's drawing undue attention to the way that Alabama operates. My guess is pretty soon his competitors will propose NCAA legislation to force a more open accounting of how schools meet the scholarship limitation.
• New Michigan coach Brady Hoke praised his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, for doing "a great job" in the Detroit News this week. That means he disagrees with most of his new constituency. Seriously, it is impressive how the Michigan fans have united behind Hoke. But the biggest gap between the success that Wolverines fans want and reality remains how well Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges can adapt to what Denard Robinson can do. And that is the task. They have to adapt to him. He's all the experience they have at quarterback.
• It could be that Oklahoma junior quarterback Landry Jones just decided on his own to start tweeting (@LandryJones12). Or it could be that the 2011 Heisman campaign just began. Either way, Jones went well over 1,000 followers Tuesday, the day he opened the account.
• Auburn released its 2011 schedule Tuesday night. The Tigers swap Kentucky for Florida and have a nonconference road trip to Clemson. Last season, three ranked SEC teams came to Jordan-Hare Stadium. This fall, Auburn must play at South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia, all of which are expected to contend for a slot in Atlanta on Championship Saturday. In other words, Auburn's magical season is officially over.
• It happens every year. A team finishes strong and is rated highly in the early Top 25 for the next season. It spends all year enjoying the spotlight and the raised expectations. In some cases, the team doesn't understand that it has to climb the mountain all over again. In some cases, the team that returns has lost too many leaders.
So who will suffer an early fall early in the fall? Florida State, ranked higher (No. 3) than the number of losses it suffered last year (10-4)? Stanford (No. 7), expected to repeat its best season (12-1) in 70 years? Notre Dame (No. 14), burdened again with high expectations just because it won its last four games?
• Big East expansion update -- the league is in a holding pattern until original member Villanova decides whether to exercise its open invitation to move up from FCS. The school is expected to make a decision no later than its trustees meeting in April. Central Florida is the next leading candidate. There has been considerable talk that South Florida is working against adding UCF to the league. Whether or not USF is that shortsighted, it won't matter. USF has but one vote and the rest of the league will do what's best for the league.
• Have you had about all the offseason you can stand? Good. A week from today, spring practice begins at Duke.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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