Five biggest story lines of the FCS offseason
- Minnesota star WR Bateman to enter draft
- TCU's Patterson sorry for quoted slur
- Pac-12 responds to opt-out players
- Big 12 allows teams 1 nonconference game
- Sun Belt keeps 8-game league schedule
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - Football is a 24/7/365 sport, so people are talking about it even when games aren't being played.
Unfortunately in 2020, the big talk in the offseason revolves around the uncertainty of the upcoming season.
July's arrival usually signals a green light for football, but we've been blinking red for much of the offseason. During that time, here are the five biggest story lines:
5. FCS Endures Worst NFL Draft
For the second straight year, the number of FCS players selected in the NFL Draft were the lowest ever. This year, it was downright awful, dropping to six from 13 in 2019. A huge factor was the canceling of most pro days due to COVID-19, which robbed small-school players of performing in front of scouts. Some good news: The two teams that selected FCS players on the second of the three-day draft thought they were worth trading up for: Southern Illinois strong safety Jeremy Chinn (Carolina Panthers, No. 64 overall in second round) and Dayton tight end Adam Trautman (New Orleans Saints, No. 105 in third round).
Said small-school draft expert Josh Buchanan: "It is still too early, but if we see single-digit FCS draftees in 2021, we know the (NCAA) transfer portal and early entries are the cause."
4. Trey Lance Hype Machine
In an offseason of mostly negative news, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance has been a stellar example of what's great in the FCS. The most outstanding player of the Bison's 2019 national championship game win and the first freshman to receive the Stats Perform Walter Payton Award as the FCS offensive player of the year, he's been touted as a 2021 first-round prospect by numerous NFL draft analysts. Lance will be eligible following his redshirt sophomore year and has the athleticism, strong, accurate arm and football IQ that are in demand at the next level.
Said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.: "I put him around that 15, 16 mark, but he could ascend higher and make it a three-horse race (of quarterbacks with Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields) at the top."
3. MEAC Falling Apart
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference lost Hampton to the Big South Conference in 2018 and Savannah State in a return to Division II last year, but the hits have snowballed this offseason. In February, North Carolina A&T announced a 2021 move to the Big South, which will rob the MEAC of the pre-eminent HBCU power (the Celebration Bowl champion in four of the first five years of that postseason game). In early June, Florida A&M announced a 2021 move to the Southwestern Athletic Conference - the MEAC's rival conference - before Bethune-Cookman did the same later in the month. The MEAC had 11 teams as recently as the 2017 season, but will have six in 2021.
Said Dr. Dennis Thomas, the MEAC commissioner: "I would like to think that we will solidify our standing with the remaining members. I have no doubt in our minds that the MEAC will continue to sustain itself but also get better as a conference."
2. Grad Transfers Galore
The exodus of FCS players to FBS programs through grad transfers has grown to an almost unfathomable level - more than 40 players who will complete their eligibility at the higher level. The list has included players from most FCS conferences, most notably All-Americans such as North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox (LSU), Sacramento State quarterback Kevin Thomson (Washington) and Wofford center Blake Jeresaty (Illinois).
Said Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming on the grad transfer rule, enacted by the NCAA in 2013: "It's now turned a little bit opposite on the FCS because it gives the (FBS schools) opportunities to scout and identify prospects that they would take into their program."
Coronavirus has consumed the globe and changed life as we know it. It's threatening the 2020 college football season, having already canceled most spring practices and shut down campuses. Positive tests are on the rise in a number of states, including with student-athletes returning to campuses for voluntary workouts, and some schools are determining whether to have a full, partial or no season, or shift to the spring. If/when games are played, it may or may not be in front of fans. In short, how to have a season feels elusive.
Said Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and Pioneer Football League: "I think we're going to start the season. I think interruptions are inevitable. And I hope to God we finish the season."
Updated July 1, 2020