The last Leap Day, new hire Urban Meyer saw through the clouds of a 6-7 season at Ohio State that featured five losses to Big Ten foes in 2011. In the four years since, the Buckeyes have lost four games total, including just one in regular-season league play.
Jim Harbaugh was the NFL coach of the year after one season with the San Francisco 49ers on the last Leap Day. Jabrill Peppers had recently completed a high-profile transfer -- of New Jersey high schools.
Connor Cook was coming off a redshirt season at Michigan State. James Franklin, in his first year as a head coach, had just led Vanderbilt to its second bowl appearance in 20 seasons. And at Big Ten newbie Nebraska, Taylor Martinez was readying for a junior season in which he would split all-league honors at quarterback with Braxton Miller.
A lot changes in four years. So how will the landscape appear the next time the calendar flips to Feb. 29? On this Leap Day, we're looking ahead to 2020 -- with a wink of the eye and full understanding that it's difficult enough to predict what will happen next month in college football, let alone four years from now.
Brian Bennett: The postseason expands
The impending arrival of the first eight-team playoff and the new all-Power 5 schedules have Big Ten teams wondering how to alter their spring practice schedules to prepare for the grind.
It always seemed inevitable. After the four-team College Football Playoff continued to rake in gobs of cash and new commissioners took over in the Big Ten and ACC, calls for an even larger playoff bracket finally were heeded. (Of course, that the SEC missed out on the four-team field in 2019 probably also had a lot to do with it). Every Power 5 conference champion will get an automatic bid, along with three wild cards. The opening rounds at campus sites are sure to be spectacular.
Meanwhile, the money and resource gap between Power 5 and Group of 5 schools continued to grow ever wider, forcing a split. For the first time in 2020, the Big Ten will play 10 conference games, and its teams' other two regular-season contests must be played against fellow Power 5 members. The season promises to be a grind, especially for the two teams that have to play 16 games. Can players handle the physical grind? That may have to be re-evaluated on Leap Day 2024.
Dan Murphy: AI invades the game
Player representatives from every Big Ten team descend on Chicago for the third annual Players' Reps meetings. The council formed in 2018 as part of the movement to give student-athletes a bigger voice in college football's decision-making process.
Atop this year's agenda, along with welcoming new commissioner Jim Phillips, is a vote on referee robots. As complaints about officiating escalated, artificial intelligence technology has flourished. The two paths intersected when Pac-12 officials blew a crucial call that cost Stanford a spot in the College Football Playoff. An enraged group of students in Palo Alto developed a computer system that uses a grid of cameras and a pair of Star Wars-esque droids to identify and enforce penalties. They have promised to find a solution to breaking up scuffles and peeling players off of a fumble pile before the season begins if the NCAA gives the Referobots system a trial run.
The players hope to come to a consensus on how they will vote before leaving for scheduled autograph sessions and promotional opportunities. Now that it's legal for players to make money with their image and likeness, the guys want to take advantage while in the Chicago market.
Mitch Sherman: Harbaugh remains one step ahead
The 56-year-old Michigan coach has enjoyed a nice five-year run, winning one Big Ten title to go with one berth in the College Football Playoff. But the big prize has evaded him, and that chase served as his primary motivation in resisting overtures in recent months to take over the struggling Los Angeles Chargers.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh continues to tool the system in college, particularly in the recruiting game, and he has established himself as the top pitchman nationally. Michigan's week-long stay at the IMG Academy in 2016 served as a catalyst for Harbaugh's first No. 1-ranked classes, headlined by linebacker Dylan Moses -- currently shining at the NFL combine -- and defensive end Joshua Kaindoh.
The NCAA closed the door in 2018 on out-of-state practices after Michigan's proposed August 2017 training-camp tour of Ohio cities. But Harbaugh continued to frustrate administrators and rival coaches with his innovative ways. Athletes in the Class of 2021, for instance, are registering for Michigan's new virtual camp series, in which prospects are to be coached over long distances by Michigan staffers, using holograms and body sensory technology. The camps allow for virtual off-campus contacts during restricted periods. And they're technically legal under NCAA rules.