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How the entire college football offseason works: Your step-by-step guide to 8 loaded months of nothing

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Here’s your itinerary for the confusing span of time between the title game and the next season.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

January

  • Way-too-early predictions for the next season: Some outlets post these before the previous season even ends. My favorite part: Mash them together into a consensus, and you pretty much get a preview of the polls that come out in August. We spend the whole offseason studying teams, then we rank them about where we had them anyway.
  • Final rankings for the previous season: Yeah, those show up after the next season’s early rankings. No one is in charge of this sport.
  • High school all-star games are wrapping up, meaning final recruiting ratings will show up shortly, overrating your rivals.
  • Thousands of coaches get back from their annual convention, where they spent title game week. Yeah, there’s a convention for coaches.
  • Historically speaking, we’re probably still arguing about which teams deserved to play for the previous season’s title. Each season has a 30-year argument window, after which it can be extended or forgotten.
  • Minimally informed NFL draft blustering begins. Ha ha just kidding. It never stopped.
  • A conference realignment rumor! The first true herald of offseason boredom, usually involving the Big 12.
  • We learn which Power 5 people will join the Playoff committee, replacing the outgoing Power 5 people.
  • Winter workouts: Do you know what players do between the end of the season and the start of spring camp? They exercise really hard. At any point in the year when you wonder what players are up to, just assume they’re exercising really hard. And also:
  • The NFL draft early entry list reveals every LSU player is leaving. Also, everyone hops on high horses re: some early entries probably not getting picked, despite the worst NFL player job paying more money than the best college player job.
  • You’d think draft prospect all-star games would be interesting, but they just serve to fill your news feed with detailed schematics on players’ bodies.
  • By now, we’ve all agreed on the favorites to win the national title and Heisman 11 months or whatever from now. The national champ almost always comes from a list of like 10 schools. The Heisman is not worth thinking about until December.
  • Transactions! Transfers happen all year long, but around here is when they sort of feel like a national thing. More important are the transactions between recruits and their recruiters, with Signing Day approaching. Of course I’m not referring to financial transactions. Those would be against the rules!

February

  • The Super Bowl: College football teams brag about how many alumni they have in the game, and Michigan brags about the winning team’s QB, so yes, this is college football.
  • National Signing Day: Even though we now have an Early Signing Period in December, NSD is still the day that will register for many people as the big recruiting day.
  • Somebody pipes up to say recruiting stars don’t matter because ... because J.J. Watt and Ed Reed and Boise State! This person is delirious.
  • Bill Connelly’s team preview series begins. The country’s best 130-team, 10-conference preview, if we do say so ourselves.
  • The shadiest coaching changes: Coaches leaving for better jobs right after players sign now happens in both December and February, because this sport is very fair to the athlete and concerned with student well-being.
  • Could Alabama/Clemson beat the worst NFL team? Once people start arguing this (usually featuring the Browns), you know you’ve entered deep offseason waters. Worst part: The guy who’s actually mad about the topic, as if he’s encountering it for the first time in his life (yes, this person is a guy).

“... and furthermore, in closing, the NFL team has 53 professional athletes, which is more than Alabama/Clemson has. No one besides me has noticed that, and anyone who’s so much as joked that the score could be within 40 points deserves the embarrassment I’ve just indented into their foreheads with my gift of reason! I thank you, your honor, for giving me 30 additional minutes of argument.”

“Sir, this is an Hardee’s drive-through.”

  • Recruiting camp season begins. Apparel companies have a bunch of regional camps. Basically, players gather to exercise and list their 14 favorite colleges when asked by reporters.

March

  • Alabama or Clemson visits the White House. President Obama hosted Bama so many times, he once joked that his name should be “O-Bama.”
  • The first of Jim Harbaugh’s many viral stunts: “Jim Harbaugh just did the __(adjective)__ __(noun)__ Challenge while hanging out with __(celebrity)__ in __(country)__. Maybe now he won’t finish number __(number)__ in the Big Ten East lmao!”
  • Spring ball begins. Fans make a feeble effort to care.

April

  • Vacations happen somewhere around here. Coaches stop recruiting for maybe 36 hours each (staggered shifts), players dial it down to medium exercise for a day or two, and media members consider going outside.
  • The NFL draft finally f***ing happens. Everyone makes fun of the one woebegone Power 5 team without any picks. But they’ll have the last laugh, because their bad team is now ~experienced~. Meanwhile, every coach claims personal credit for about half of the draft.

May

  • By now, everyone’s decided what the official argument topic of the offseason is. Maybe it’s satellite camps, transfer rules, player compensation, whatever Nick Saban’s mad about, or — this one is always so random — whether Notre Dame should be forced to join a conference. All that’s left is to recite the usual pros and cons about the lucky issue.
  • Nick Saban is caught dancing or something. Everyone acts like they’ve never seen it before.
  • Teams start revealing uniform changes at some point. The horrors of Adidas can strike at any moment.
  • Summer workouts: Noteworthy not because a 280-pound player jumps all the way out of a pool, but because several of them do. Stuff like this happens (this example is Nick Chubb squatting 600 pounds):
  • Nation remembers Paul Finebaum exists. Oh weird, he’s making a group of Southerners feel good about themselves by making fun of another group of Southerners and/or the Big Ten.
  • BOOSTER’S LUNCHEON SEASON. This is the one time all year when coaches just get out there and say whatever. If you see a coach quoted as talking some really flagrant trash about a rival and wonder why there’s no audio, it probably came from a BOOSTER’S LUNCHEON.
  • Preview magazines come out. College football fans really like magazines. Idk.
  • Conference spring meetings: I’ve covered college football professionally for nearly a decade and have yet to pay attention to these.
  • Conferences reveal how much money their schools are making off TV and whatever. It’s either a lot or a little, and you should let it determine your self-worth.
  • Conference trash talk flare-up: The preceding item means the constant simmer reaches a boil.
  • High school football season begins. It doesn’t actually begin this early, except it feels like it does.

June

  • Bowl game announces new sponsor that cannot possibly be real. Six months later, while watching a game kick off on ESPN:

“Wait, the Drop Top Wizop East Atlanta Bowl Presented By The East Atlanta Santa is ... real??”

  • Seven-on-seven football is briefly noticed. That looks fun!
  • A player wonders out loud why colleges only pay their athlete-employees in store credit, meaning two weeks of media members quoting Facebook comments at each other.
  • Player arrested for driving a scooter in a non-scooter zone. Each mid-summer, a player will be arrested for shoplifting a goldfish, and that’s not a euphemism.
  • Everyone remembers Vince Wilfork’s high school tape. No real reason needed.
  • The Manning Passing Academy, whatever that is, results in one random QB getting gassed up beyond recognition.
  • One Tuesday night, all of college football Twitter ends up watching the Kick Six at once, live-tweeting it as if it’s happening.
  • A coach apologizes for a women’s football clinic that veered wildly problematic. Also, we’re now six months from a newly hired coach telling a room of giggling men, “I can recruit. See my wife? Stand up, honey.”
  • Stanford wins the Director’s Cup, the award for the athletic department with the best all-sports performance. The Cardinal won this even back when they were bad at football.
  • The Opening: The biggest to-do of all those recruiting camps. Everyone goes to Oregon to exercise and list their 11 favorite colleges when asked by reporters.

July

  • Long-discussed conference changes actually happen. July 1 is the first day of the NCAA’s new academic year, so teams officially change levels and join new conferences, reminding everyone to continue arguing about these topics.
  • The year’s trick shots video theme has been established! Long snapper stunts? Bottle flipping? Anything aquatic?
  • Everyone misses the video game. EA Sports’ NCAA Football would’ve come out, if not for the NCAA’s rules against compensating players. Everyone mistakenly blames Ed O’Bannon.
  • Bored fans release school hype rap video, ensuring endless shame.
  • Someone thinks about the Pac-12!
  • The new Last Chance U is out, granting a six-hour break from arguments.
  • Watch list season: All those position awards that come out in December? For some reason, they publish preseason lists of dozens of players who might win.
  • Conference media days: Each conference tries to make an exciting TV show out of reporters interviewing coaches who are trying to make a boring TV show.
  • You get in a physical fight with a stranger over Miami’s BCS Championship pass interference call.
  • Head coach fired outta nowhere!! I’ve been told by people around here who cover other sports that nobody gets as excited about anything as college football fans get about the first whiff of a coach being investigated for embezzlement or what have you.
  • Hot seat lists! The people have tasted blood and now yearn for more. Let me tell you something: College football fans love the hell out of coaches getting booted right on their asses. This sport worships power, except when we’re tantalized with firings.
  • Watching the 2006 Rose Bowl for the third time so far this offseason, huh? Howdy!

August

  • Some NCAA investigation finally wraps up after 17 years.
  1. No one remembers what happened.
  2. Everyone agrees the school got off light.
  • NFL discussers have locked in their casually racist opinions on each college QB. All contrary evidence from each player’s next 12 to 15 games will be hand-waved.
  • Fall camp begins. Twenty or so teams don’t know which quarterbacks they’ll start. It doesn’t matter, because both will play, then be replaced by the freshman, and in Week 9, one of them will finally emerge, but then he’ll get hurt.
  • Preseason polls come out. They are all shockingly biased, despite being pretty much the same as the way-too-early rankings from seven months earlier. They also don’t matter. No, they don’t.
  • We learn which metropolitan parking lot GameDay will broadcast from to open the season. The Arlington Walmart is my favorite college town!
  • Final offseason rituals, highlighted by the YouTube binge: I watch this about 47 times every August:
  • Tailgate spot staked out since like Aug. 10, regardless of when Opening Day is.
  • Everyone gets confused about when Opening Day is. Is it the first Thursday night, or is it the first Saturday? No. It was last Saturday, when a game happened in Australia, some FCS stuff took place, and all of Hawaii’s opponents met up to discuss Hawaii. You missed it entirely. It’s a very organized sport.

September to January

  • Season happens.
  • Alabama/Clemson wins.
  • Repeat.