In August, we think we have it all figured out. These moves will work, these won’t. This will be a team’s quarterback. This transfer will be the savior.
As usual, college football provided a few surprises through the first month of the season, causing us to look back at some of the offseason moves that made a major difference.
We’re looking at assistant hires, personnel decisions and transfers — what worked and what didn’t through the first month of the season.
These are the gambles or at least the tough decisions that ended up paying major dividends already in 2014.
10 Offseason Moves that Worked in 2014
Lane Kiffin lands at Alabama and starts Blake Sims
Nick Saban’s move to hire the controversial former USC and Tennessee coach to run his offense was greeted with skepticism, but it turned out to be the spark Saban was seeking. Saban says he’s wanted to pass more, and Kiffin has delivered. The Crimson Tide are averaging 10.3 yards per attempt, the best of the Saban era. Meanwhile, an Alabama wide receiver, Amari Cooper, is contending for the Heisman — imagine that thought 10 years ago. Of course, none of this might be possible without the play of the veteran Blake Sims, who never let go of the starting job when Jake Coker arrived from Florida State.
Texas A&M names Jake Spavital playcaller and starts Kenny Hill
A year ago, Kevin Sumlin filled Kliff Kingsbury’s slot on the coaching staff with the youthful Spavital, who shared offensive coordinator duties with Clarence McKinney. Now, Spavital is the sole playcaller in the post-Johnny Manziel era. The Aggies’ offense has shown little drop off. Part of that is Hill winning the quarterback competition over five-star freshman quarterback Kyle Allen. Texas A&M is third in the nation in yards per play at 7.99.
Notre Dame hires Brian VanGorder
Notre Dame is fourth in the nation in scoring defense at 11.5 points allowed per game, and the periphery numbers and the competition suggest the Irish aren’t quite that dominant. Still, this is remarkable given the circumstances. Notre Dame is still without cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams, and the Irish transitioned from Bob Diaco’s 3-4 to VanGorder’s 4-3. After all that, Notre Dame hasn’t allowed more than two touchdowns in game this year.
Shaq Thompson playing offense
In an uneven season so far, Washington’s move to have Shaq Thompson play on both sides of the ball as worked without a hitch. He’s carried nine times for 84 yards with a touchdown, a development that hasn’t stopped him from making an impact on defense. Thompson has three defensive touchdowns this season, giving him three more total touchdowns than one school (SMU) has scored as a team.
Arizona starts Anu Solomon
The Wildcats had four quarterbacks competing for the job at one point, and it’s curious why this was such a hotly contested job. Solomon is arguably the nation’s top freshman quarterback so far, completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
TCU’s new coordinators, same quarterback
TCU’s offense hadn’t been the same since Justin Fuente took the Memphis job. To compete in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs needed a major upgrade and attempted to do that with Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech and Doug Meacham from Houston. Lucky for them, they already had an experienced quarterback who could fit in the system in Trevone Boykin, who had been moved to receiver at one point last season. TCU hasn’t played a Big 12 contender yet, but they’ve topped 70 plays in every game this season after averaging 68.5 per game a year ago.
Miami starts Brad Kaaya
The Hurricanes’ quarterback situation appeared to be in dire straits when fifth-year senior Ryan Williams was lost for the season and BYU transfer Jake Heaps failed to make an impression. Instead of falling apart at quarterback, Miami may have found the QB of the future in the freshman Kaaya. After taking his lumps in an ACC opener on the road against Louisville, Kaaya helped put Miami back in the ACC race with an interception-free win over Duke last week.
Gunner Kiel transfers to Cincinnati
Plenty of transfer quarterbacks have made moves that didn’t work out as some have found themselves riding the bench at a second school. Not so with Gunner Kiel, who finally found a home at Cincinnati. The former Notre Dame quarterback (and Indiana and LSU commitment) has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 1,041 yards with 14 touchdowns and two picks. If Kiel can lead Cincy to an AAC championship, the Bearcats have a good shot at a major bowl game.
Cal hires Art Kaufman
In recent years, Kaufman already led defensive turnarounds at Texas Tech and Cincinnati. Cal needed any answers it could find after firing defensive coordinator Andy Buh after one year. Giving up 105 against Arizona and Colorado isn’t a great look, but the group is better. Cal is allowing 5.27 yards per play after allowing 7.08 a year ago.
Patrick Towles starts at Kentucky
Kentucky could have jumped right into the Drew Barker era but instead opted with its only experienced quarterback in Towles. The result was Kentucky’s first SEC win since Nov. 26, 2011 and a close call with Florida on Sept. 13. Towles’ best game was a 23-for-30 performance against Vanderbilt last week.