- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Once upon a time (and not too long ago), the summer was quiet when it came to college football.
Coaches hit the beaches, players returned home and there was very little news from the end of spring practice until the start of preseason camp.
That summer reprieve has been devoured by a 24-hour news cycle as the game has turned into a 365-day sport.
The past six months were an offseason that anyone connected to college football -- coaches, players, administrators and fans -- won't soon forget.
Here's a rewind of college football's big offseason stories, in descending order of importance:
1. Expanding horizons
The Big Ten threw the offseason into a frenzy with its ambitions of expansion and nearly set off a domino effect that threatened to change the college football landscape forever.
Responding to the Big Ten's overtures, new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott produced one of the most anxious moments in college football history as his conference seemed on the verge of expanding to 16 teams -- adding Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. The Aggies even considered breaking off on their own to join the SEC.
If Scott had succeeded with his ambitious realignment goals, the Big Ten certainly would have followed suit, and the ACC and SEC might not have been far behind. The future of the sport might have included four 16-team super conferences, leaving everyone else in the dust.
Texas ultimately decided its interests were better served by staying put, and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe kept his 14-year-old league intact, minus Colorado and Nebraska. The Cornhuskers' departure to the Big Ten was the first realignment domino to fall, a move that came after Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced the Irish would remain independent in football.
The acquisition of Nebraska for the 2011 season will give the Big Ten 12 teams. The league will split into two divisions and will host its first football championship game in December 2011 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Big Ten football will finally be relevant after Thanksgiving Day.
In the end, Scott settled for Colorado and Utah as the Pac-10's offseason acquisitions. They lack the tradition and success of Oklahoma and Texas, but seem to be nice choices geographically.
On June 11, the Mountain West announced it would add Boise State, which has dominated the WAC for nearly a decade, in 2011.
Under coach Chris Petersen, the Broncos have become one of the sport's elite programs, compiling a 49-4 record and winning two BCS bowl games in the past four seasons. The Broncos were left out of the BCS title game after finishing undefeated in 2006 and '09 because of, more than anything else, their questionable schedule strength.
Boise State's path to a BCS bowl game will be more difficult playing in the MWC, but the Broncos also will get more credit for winning their conference games.
2. NCAA slams USC with probation
During a four-year investigation into Southern California's football program, many college football fans wondered whether the NCAA would have the guts to severely penalize one of its marquee programs for alleged rules violations.
On June 10, the NCAA's message was loud and clear: The Trojans were placed on four years' probation, including a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. Most of the alleged rules violations involved 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, whose family allegedly accepted improper benefits from sports marketing agents.
As a result of the NCAA's findings, USC returned Bush's Heisman Trophy and removed all images of him from its facilities. If USC loses its appeal, the Trojans also might be stripped of their 2004 BCS title because Bush was ineligible while playing in the Trojans' 55-19 victory over Oklahoma.
USC athletics director Mike Garrett also was kicked to the curb, and the school replaced him with former football player and Rhodes scholar Pat Haden.
3. Pete Carroll leaves for NFL
On Jan. 11, Carroll bolted USC for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, six months before the NCAA hammered the Trojans with some of the most severe penalties in recent history.
The NCAA probation severely sullied Carroll's legacy at USC. As the Trojans' coach, his teams captured at least a share of two BCS titles and won five BCS bowl games. Without Carroll running the show, there seems to be a shift in power in the Pac-10. Now that the Trojans are headed to NCAA probation, their dynasty seems to be over.
USC didn't wait long to hire Carroll's replacement, luring Lane Kiffin after only one season at Tennessee. Kiffin's departure led to a near riot in Knoxville, where students marched in protest and shouted his name in vain. The Volunteers hired Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley as their new coach three days after Kiffin left.
4. NCAA opens investigation into "agent-gate"
Shortly after the dust from realignment finally settled, the NCAA began asking questions about several players' trips to South Florida for agent-related parties.
The NCAA's ongoing investigation seems to be focused on a handful of schools: Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Two potential NFL first-round picks -- Crimson Tide defensive end Marcell Dareus and Tar Heels defensive tackle Marvin Austin -- have been questioned by NCAA investigators about trips to South Florida.
The NCAA also notified Georgia officials that they wanted to speak with star receiver A.J. Green, who says he has never visited Miami.
5. NCAA alleges rules violations during Rich Rodriguez's tenure (at two schools)
On Feb. 23, Michigan officials announced that they had received an NCAA letter of inquiry that accused the Wolverines' football program of five major rules violations. On Aug. 5, West Virginia announced that it had received an NCAA letter of inquiry accusing the Mountaineers of basically the same violations.
Who's the common link? Rodriguez, who coached at West Virginia from 2001 to '07 and at Michigan the past two seasons.
Most of the charges at both schools involve in- and out-of-season practice time and the number of coaches providing on-field instruction. In both cases, the NCAA accused Rodriguez of failing to "promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program." The Wolverines will appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions in Seattle on Aug. 14.
An NCAA investigation was the last thing Rodriguez needed. After compiling an 8-16 record in his first two seasons, Rich Rod probably will have to win big in 2010 to keep his job with the Wolverines.
6. Oregon dismisses Jeremiah Masoli
With Masoli returning at quarterback, the Ducks were expected to be the favorites in the Pac-10. Masoli was considered a potential Heisman Trophy candidate after throwing for 2,147 yards with 15 touchdowns and running for 668 yards and 13 scores in 2009.
But in March, Ducks coach Chip Kelly suspended Masoli for the entire 2010 season after he pleaded guilty of burglary for his role in the theft of laptops and a guitar from a fraternity house. On June 9, Masoli was dismissed from the team, two days after police cited him for marijuana possession and traffic infractions.
Last week, Masoli transferred to Ole Miss, where he'll walk on to the football team and enter a graduate program.
7. Leavitt fired by South Florida
South Florida fired coach Jim Leavitt on Jan. 8 after a school investigation concluded he had grabbed one of his players by the throat, slapped him in the face and then lied about it.
Leavitt's firing ended a two-month period of college football coaches behaving badly. Popular Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was fired after allegedly mistreating a player who had suffered a concussion, and Kansas' Mark Mangino was forced out for, among other things, verbally abusing his players.
South Florida hired East Carolina's Skip Holtz to replace Leavitt. Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville replaced Leach, and Buffalo's Turner Gill took the Kansas job.
8. Herzlich returns to Boston College
After undergoing months of chemotherapy and radiation to treat Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, linebacker Mark Herzlich returned to Boston College and participated in spring practice.
Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, missed all of last season after doctors discovered a tumor in his left leg in May 2009. Doctors inserted a titanium rod in Herzlich's leg to stabilize it, and they initially told him he would never run or play football again.
But Herzlich is beating the odds against cancer and intends to play for the Eagles this season.
9. Tennessee Titans sue Kiffin
Now it's official: No one in Tennessee likes Kiffin, the former Volunteers coach, including USC alumni. On July 26, the Titans sued Kiffin for "maliciously" luring away assistant running backs coach Kennedy Pola a few weeks before training camp was scheduled to start.
Pola was hired as the Trojans' new running backs coach and offensive coordinator.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who played football at USC, said Kiffin never called him asking for permission to talk with Pola, whose contract stipulated he had to have written permission to discuss a potential job with anyone.
10. Running back Bryce Brown leaves Tennessee
Brown, who was the prized jewel of Kiffin's only recruiting class at Tennessee, left the team on the first day of spring practice in March.
Brown, who was rated the No. 2 running back prospect in the country in his senior season at East High School in Wichita, Kan., left the team for good this past week. Brown, who ran for 460 yards with three touchdowns last season, wants to transfer to Kansas State.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book will be available in bookstores Aug. 24 and can be preordered here. You can contact Mark at email@example.com.
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