Big East spring storylines

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Unscathed by the first round of conference realignment in 2010, the Big East was by far the most impacted by conference realignment 2.0 this past summer and fall. Now, Big East teams head into spring practice for the final time before dramatic changes alter the look of the conference beginning in 2013.

But there will be one noticeable absence, as West Virginia will be playing in the Big 12 this fall. The Mountaineers have acted as the Big East’s lifeboat since 2005, contributing to three of the conference’s four BCS bowl wins under the “new” Big East lineup.

That new lineup is about to get, well, newer. Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU will all join as either all-sports members or football-only members beginning in 2013. But what does the Big East have in store for the transition year? Can any of the seven remaining members* — or eight if Temple joins immediately — emerge as a Top 25 team and show up to the BCS party like the Mountaineers have done before?

Those answers begin in spring practices. Here’s what to watch.

New coaches, old philosophies
It’s easy to rag on the Big East, but consider the following: since 2006, at least one Big East school per year has gone through a coaching change, and Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh have endured a few. It’s tough, if not downright impossible, to achieve any kind of consistency with that sort of coaching turnover. Pitt and Rutgers are the latest Big East schools to see their coach depart, with Todd Graham going to Arizona State and Greg Schiano testing the NFL waters, respectively. But both programs rebounded with decent, albeit unproven, head coaching hires in Paul Chryst and Kyle Flood. For the Panthers, Chryst will look to re-establish the ground-and-pound identity that went on hiatus under Graham. Expect the Scarlet Knights to maintain similar offensive and defensive philosophies.

Quarterbacks club
With Geno Smith (WVU) and Zach Collaros (Cincy) gone, the Big East lost its two best quarterbacks. Now, the conference is left with a mixed bag of signal callers that are either young (Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Munchie Legaux of Cincinnati come to mind), inconsistent (South Florida’s 10th year senior B.J. Daniels) or TBD (Rutgers, UConn and Pitt).  The quarterback is the most important position in football, and right now, there isn’t much star power at that position in the Big East. Who has a good spring, and more importantly, who carries it over to the fall, will be a storyline to watch.

Drinking the Orange Kool-Aid
Remember when Syracuse was good and the Carrier Dome was one hell of a tough place to play in college football? Remember when Paul Pasqualoni was coaching future NFL stars like Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney? The Orange’s gridiron success seems a distant memory now –their last 10-win season came in 2001 — but believe it or not, Syracuse is still a good brand. It just needs some on-the-field success to match. Doug Marrone looks like he can be the guy to get Syracuse back to glory, but as we saw last season, injuries and suspensions can sour any team’s chances of winning. The key for the Orange will be to stay healthy during the spring and summer months. Do that, and Syracuse has a chance for a Big East championship in 2012.

Can USF hit the Bulls-eye?
As I mentioned above, South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels has had a productive, but up-and-down career in Tampa. That has to change if the Bulls are going to be a legit contender for the Big East title. Thankfully, Daniels will have arguably the deepest and most talented group of receivers to throw to this year, with leading receiver Sterling Griffin returning after missing part of last season with an injury. The Bulls will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator, their third in four years, with Chris Cosh. USF has talent, and they look great every year on paper. It just hasn’t translated into meaningful victories. Yet.

Cincinnati’s offensive production
Collaros is gone and Big East Offensive Player of the Year, running back Isaiah Pead, is off to the NFL. Those two combined for just over two-thirds of the Bearcats’ offense last year. Who steps up in spring practices? Cincy has a young group of running backs, including touted back Jameel Poteat, and coach Butch Jones may go with a rotation at that position, much like WVU did this past year. The Bearcats also return their top two receivers from last season, Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins.

(*note: Syracuse and Pitt will be leaving for the ACC; exactly when is still being determined) 

USC reportedly inks OC Tee Martin to multiyear extension to remain with the Trojans

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USC may look a lot different on offense without quarterback Sam Darnold, leading rusher Ronald Jones and star receiver Deontay Burnett on the field but the man calling the plays will still be around Troy in 2018.

According to both ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the Trojans have signed offensive coordinator Tee Martin to a multiyear extension that will keep him in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future sporting the cardinal and gold.

“I’m just excited to be here at USC, where the future is so bright, and working for somebody the caliber of Clay Helton,” Martin told ESPN. “There were some other opportunities, but you don’t leave USC for a lateral move. I want to help us get to that next level, and everything is in place here to do that.”

While Martin was expected to get into the mix at his alma mater of Tennessee when that job opened up this offseason, nothing serious ever happened with the former Vols quarterback who won the first ever BCS national championship some 20 years ago. He did however interview to become the Oakland Raiders head coach several weeks ago despite the team hiring Jon Gruden in the richest coaching deal in the sport’s history.

Martin has been with the program since 2012 when he was hired by Lane Kiffin. This will be his third season at USC as offensive coordinator, where he also serves as one of the team’s top recruiters. The Trojans are coming off a Pac-12 title last year that saw their offense average 484.1 yards per game and rank 13th in total offense among the FBS ranks.

Texas becomes first $200 million athletic department after record-setting 2017

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One of the lasting impacts of former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds was a now infamous quote when he quipped that the Longhorns were not just keeping  up with the Joneses, UT was the Joneses of college athletics. While some may take offense to that characterization, there’s no denying it when you look at the program’s bank account.

USA Today obtained Texas’ financial report to the NCAA for the 2017 fiscal year and not surprisingly the 40 Acres reeled in the most money (and spent it) in the country. Just how much did the cash cows bring in? Well, the Longhorns became the first department to cross the $200 million threshold in both operating revenue and operating expenses and setting a new benchmark in the process.

The report stated that UT brought in nearly $215 million in annual operating revenue last year and had total operating expenses of $207 million, big increases from 2016 when the school had “only” $188 million in revenue. Despite all that cash, the department actually had a deficit in 2017 though. While you may be incredulous at that fact given the figures involved, turns out the reason is because the athletic department made a $10.3 million transfer to the university proper that put them in the red instead of the black.

Technically, Big 12 rival Oklahoma State reported $241 million in revenue back in 2006 to be the first to cross the $200 million barrier but that was mostly the result of accounting practices that involved what USA Today describes as nearly $165 million in gifts from booster T. Boone Pickens for facility upgrades at the school.

Some other interesting figures from the report via the paper:

  • Ticket revenue was up $11.6 million to a total of $72.5 million, a figure that is more than any other school by nearly eight figures.
  • $42.4 million of the revenue was attributed to football (up from $37.4 million in 2016).
  • Severance pay at the school increased $5.7 million to a total of $9.2 million. $7.1 million of that latter figure was the result of Charlie Strong being fired by the school and his and his staff’s associated buyouts.

Pretty impressive to see all that burnt orange turn into green last year. Now just imagine how quick that cash register will be ringing if Tom Herman can guide the football team to a season that finishes better than 7-6.

Staffer-attacking Alabama LB one of four FBS players to officially transfer to FCS Tennessee State

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One of the more infamous figures from this year’s national championship game has officially found a new home.

Earlier this week, it was reported that linebacker Mekhi Brown, who drew a personal foul for punching a Georgia player in the title game shortly before going after a ‘Bama staffer on the sidelines, would be transferring to Tennessee State. Friday, the FCS school confirmed that Brown is one of four transfers from FBS programs who have been added to its football roster.

Prior to his departure, Brown had appeared in 12 games in 2017 as a redshirt sophomore for the Crimson Tide.

The other three FBS transfers added are linebacker Christion Abercrombie (Illinois), quarterback Demry Croft (Minnesota) and defensive back John Robinson IV (UConn).  As TSU is an FCS program, all four players will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

Brown’s nationally-televised outburst notwithstanding, Croft is actually the most noteworthy of the additions.  In his last year with the Gophers, Croft started the last six games of the regular season.  Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his Gophers career, though, was posting a negative quarterback rating in a mid-November loss to Northwestern two weeks before he decided to transfer.

Croft will have two seasons of eligibility left.

Abercrombie, who has three years of eligibility, played in 11 games in 2017 for the Fighting Illini.  Robinson played in five games last season for the Huskies, and he too has three seasons of eligibility at his disposal.

After leaving Miami, Darrion Owens lands at Houston

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Nearly three weeks after leaving Miami, Darrion Owens has found himself a new college football home.

Friday, Houston confirmed that it was officially added Owens to second-year head coach Major Applewhite‘s roster.  As the linebacker joins the Cougars as a graduate transfer from The U, he can immediately bolster UH’s defense in 2018.

This coming season marks the Florida native’s final season of eligibility.

Owens joined the Hurricanes as a three-star 2014 recruit.  247Sports.com had him rated as the No. 30 outside linebacker in the country.

After playing in 12 games as a true freshman, Owens opened 2015 as a starter but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 2.  The past two seasons, Owens played in 25 games. In 13 games in 2017, he was credited with 35 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

In announcing Owens’ transfer from The U, head coach Mark Richt stated that, after the two had talked, “he informed me that he feels his best opportunity to get the most playing time would be at another school.”