Offseason storylines (cont.)
6. (Another) new era in Chestnut Hill
Boston College has quietly maintained one of the most consistent programs in the country this decade, winning at least eight games in nine of the past 10 seasons and playing in the past two ACC championship games. AD Gene DeFilippo's extremely unusual, albeit admirable decision to part ways with successful coach Jeff Jagodzinski last month for pursuing an NFL job came with the potential risk of destroying the stability that program has been enjoying.
The Eagles head into the spring with some degree of continuity, seeing as new head coach Frank Spaziani had been their defensive coordinator the past 10 seasons. (Spaziani promoted linebackers coach Bill McGovern to replace him as coordinator.) But BC also lost renowned offensive coordinator Steve Logan in the changeover (he was replaced by Gary Tranquill) as well as offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. and tight ends coach Don Yanowsky. It's a lot of upheaval for a program that hadn't anticipated any when last season ended.
7. The return of Jake Locker
Washington's often dazzling sophomore quarterback -- the "Tim Tebow of the West," as he's been dubbed -- saw his 2008 season come to an end after just four games due to a broken thumb. He then watched from the sideline as the Huskies imploded and coach Tyrone Willingham lost his job. Washington was fairly competitive with Locker in the lineup, coming within a blocked extra point of taking BYU to overtime, but proceeded to lose seven of its last eight by 20 points or more and finish 0-12.
Locker has said he will be good to go in time for spring practices, which couldn't come at a better time for first-year coach Steve Sarkisian. Locker sat on the advisory committee that helped select the former USC offensive coordinator as coach, and the relationship between the two men figures to be instrumental in Sarkisian's daunting rebuilding efforts. Any team coming off an 0-12 season is clearly hurting for talent, but it certainly helps to have a potential All-Pac-10 quarterback.
8. West Virginia begins life without Pat White
Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart drew mixed reviews during his first season, in which West Virginia lost two of its first three games and finished the regular season 8-4, but both he and White went out with a bang in a thrilling Meineke Car Care Bowl win over North Carolina. But now comes the truly daunting part of the job for the oft-perceived overmatched Stewart: Winning without the ultra-dynamic White, the greatest player in school history and MVP of last month's Senior Bowl.
The good news is, the Mountaineers won't be handing the reins to a true newbie. Rising senior Jarrett Brown has relieved White on several occasions and performed admirably, but he's not the same threat to break a 60-yard touchdown run anytime he leaves the pocket. At times last season, it seemed West Virginia's offense was stuck somewhere between Rich Rodriguez's old spread-option and Stewart's attempt at a more complete passing game. Coordinator Jeff Mullen will likely spend much of the spring concocting the offense's evolution.
9. UCF's never-ending soap opera
In the past year, two Knights players collapsed during workouts and that one of them, Ereck Plancher, died. Plancher's death touched off a firestorm of controversy surrounding UCF's program, in particular the grueling intensity of coach George O'Leary's drills. Plancher's parents have sued the school, and former teammate James Jamison recounted the fatal workout to ESPN, describing how O'Leary allegedly taunted Plancher throughout and "ran a player to death."
So far, O'Leary -- whose 10-year contract includes a $5 million buyout -- has maintained the school's support, but he's hardly out of the woods. In December, the school hired attorney Michael Glazier to conduct an independent investigation into the program's training practices. Many believe Glazier -- who primarily works with schools under NCAA investigation -- was really brought in to find a defensible cause for firing O'Leary without having to pay his buyout. His findings should be revealed soon.
10. Spring meetings
Every year, in April and May, coaches, athletic directors and respective conference presidents jet to some resort getaway for several days of meetings to conduct annual housecleaning matters. This year, several leagues will have pressing football matters to discuss. SEC commissioner Mike Slive will undoubtedly address the recent recruiting-related infighting among league coaches, and presumably the Big 12 will revisit its controversial division tiebreaker.
BCS officials also hold their annual meetings in late April, this year in Pasadena. Don't expect any major developments, as ESPN's acquisition last fall nailed down the next four-year contract. One subject that will come up: Potential access to the Rose Bowl for non-BCS schools. The Granddaddy is the one bowl with two conference partners, making it nearly impossible for a Utah or Boise State to land there, but some sort of change to the at-large selection process is anticipated.
Editor's note: Stewart Mandel is taking a sabbatical from SI.com to work on other projects. He will return in early July.