Michigan has taken LSU's place as the wackiest beat in college football
Covering a college football beat is, in some ways, probably no different than a regular 9-to-5 job. Every season and offseason has rhythms and patterns that you can more or less set a watch to. You may not know the outcomes, but you know when certain things are going to happen.
Coaching changes, Signing Day, spring football, etc.
But in the mid-2010s, there was one college football beat where you never had any idea what might happen when you woke up on any given day: LSU.
I would know; I was there.
So was current Sports Illustrated national college football writer Ross Dellenger, who kept a running file of every oddity and legitimate bit of breaking news that beat provided from 2015-17.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: After spending 5 years as a beat writer in Baton Rouge, no college football team produces as much news – good, bad & indifferent – as #LSU.
The last few weeks had me scurrying back to my archives and SWEET MOTHER OF GOD pic.twitter.com/vXorzx375x
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) August 31, 2020
Things were kind of normal from 2018-19, which goes to show you how powerful Joe Burrow is. It’s no wonder the guy who made on-the-field LSU more compelling than off-the-field LSU would be the same person capable of turning the Cincinnati Bengals into a winner.
Since Burrow’s departure, weird stories are back in Baton Rouge. But they are no longer the weirdest. A new champion has arisen in the bizarre headlines game.
Not even a month into this offseason, Michigan has firmly established itself as the epicenter of college football’s most frequent and often bizarre headlines.
Hail to the new Victors of Weird
Just to show you how things are going for Michigan, this piece was already planned before Blake Corum’s custom Chevy Camaro was stolen on Tuesday.
Wasn’t NIL funded, my parents used their hard earned money to bless me with something nice after I graduated high school. God bless whoever stole it🙏🏽 https://t.co/Jt7Da22E8S
— #2⃣BeSavage (@blake_corum) January 24, 2023
One wonders where a thief is going to inconspicuously hide a car with that paint job. Or whether it’s all an epic prank where the car ends up parked at the 50-yard line at Spartan Stadium or Ohio Stadium.
But that’s neither here nor there. The greater point is that no one currently covering Michigan has a clue what is going to happen next, or when. You cannot set a rhythm to this offseason.
A recap of what’s happened going back to the start of the season:
Michigan Stadium’s design quirk — a single tunnel for both teams to enter the field from — spent the better part of a century as nothing more than that. A quirk.
Then it was peanut butter jelly time.
Michigan and Penn State had a near-fracas as both teams headed out of their locker rooms for the second half. It culminated in some jaw-jacking and several Nittany Lions throwing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the Wolverines.
James Franklin afterwards insisted that changes be made to prevent any future incidents. Apparently, he was on to something.
The very next game at the Big House provided the most egregious moment in Michigan-Michigan State history.
A total of 7 Spartans faced criminal charges after jumping a pair of Wolverines in the tunnel after the game. Lost in that shuffle was the fact a Michigan fan reached down and tried to rub Michigan State coach Mel Tucker’s bald head as Tucker headed off the field.
It was that incident that prompted Michigan’s decision last week to remove 45 seats and widen the tunnel. Although you might have missed that headline, because, well…
Something is always swirling around Jim Harbaugh.
For the second consecutive offseason, his name was connected to NFL openings after leading the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff.
A year ago, he interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings, then said he had scratched that itch and it would never happen again. Instead, this year he still had a conversation with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper and a formal interview with the Denver Broncos before finally announcing his return to Michigan.
That announcement was officially made by Michigan president Santa Ono, whom Harbaugh negotiated with rather than athletic director Warde Manuel. By all accounts, the relationship between Harbaugh and Manuel is approaching an untenable state.
But that’s not Harbaugh’s only strained relationship at the moment.
The NCAA is making a rare appearance in Ann Arbor, presumably over hamburgers.
Harbaugh is under NCAA scrutiny for allegedly buying recruits burgers during a no-contact COVID dead period. Obviously, not a capital crime. But Harbaugh is also accused of misleading the NCAA investigators about the matter, which is a much more serious Level I violation.
The NCAA and Michigan were close to making what amounts to a plea bargain. But a Yahoo! Sports report says that is now off the table because Harbaugh won’t sign anything that admits he misled investigators.
Of course, NCAA crimes, especially in an issue this innocuous, pale in comparison to real crimes. Which have also been a part of Michigan’s offseason.
Matt Weiss was among a group of coaches Harbaugh hired from his brother John’s Baltimore Ravens staff in the past couple of years, and each played an instrumental role in getting Michigan back to prominence.
Weiss coached quarterbacks in 2021 before adding co-offensive coordinator duties last year. But there’s no question he was a big key to the development of quarterback JJ McCarthy.
And now he’s gone. Not for another coaching position, but due to criminal charges.
Last week Weiss was fired after being charged with ambiguous “computer access crimes” at Michigan’s football facility.
On Jan. 5, the University of Michigan Police Department noted that “an employee reported fraudulent activity involving someone accessing university email accounts without authorization. Upon further investigation, it was found that a crime may have been committed.”
Fifteen days later, Weiss was fired. And though he clearly expects to be legally exonerated, that doesn’t change the fact Michigan must make a crucial hire out of the blue. Or the fact that Michigan is developing a penchant for making the strangest headlines in college football.
Of course, PT Barnum once insisted that any publicity is better than no publicity. And there’s no taking the Wolverines out of the spotlight this offseason. Somehow, it’s always going to find them.