Butch Jones

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) 

Reports: Jake Spavital headed to Cal as offensive coordinator

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 09:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies chats with his quarterback coach Jake Spavital before the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Kyle Field on November 9, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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It appears Jake Spavital won’t be out of a job for long.

A month and some change after “mutually parting ways” with Texas A&M, Spavital has reportedly found a new home out west. FootballScoop (where I also work) and Fox Sports reported Friday Spavital had found a new home at California, and on Wednesday Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman added that Spavital will receive a two-year deal in Berkeley.

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes and his new offensive coordinator have never worked together previously, but each hails from the same school of thought. Dykes rose the ranks while working under Mike Leach at both Kentucky and Texas Tech and under Mike Stoops at Arizona, while Spavital spent the past few years working for former Leach assistant Dana Holgorsen at Houston, Oklahoma State and West Virginia and with former Bob Stoops assistant Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M.

Spavital earned just north of $486,000 in 2015 according to the USA Today salary database while the man he replaces, new Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, made $510,000.

Cal finished the 2015 season ranked seventh nationally in yards per play and 17th in scoring, but Spavital will be tasked with re-tooling the attack without future 1st-round pick Jared Goff at quarterback.

SEC commish Greg Sankey insists move to block Michigan spring break trip not a competitive one

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13:  Greg Sankey the new commissioner of the SEC talks to the media before the quaterfinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday his move to block Michigan’s spring break practices at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., wasn’t what you thought it was.

Speaking to AL.com, Sankey said:

“That’s the national issue and if I’m the only that is going to speak about it, so be it. But it is one piece of this conversation that we don’t need to further. In addition, we need to understand that it’s really clear when people do things — push the boundaries — others follow and I think it is all in our collective best interests to say out-of-season sports using, in this case, spring break for practice purposes, is not appropriate.

He added: “What’s unfortunate is people try to reduce this to simply a competitive issue, which it is not.”

To which the nation collectively rolls its eyes.

We’ll have to wonder whether or not Sankey would have proposed the same legislation had Jim Harbaugh moved Michigan’s practices to, say, Carson, Calif., but the guess here is he would not. And if the maize-and-blue made their southward trek during a school week, it’s hard to believe Sankey would have sat idly by and let it happen.

No, Sankey would have done what was best for his constituents, while Harbaugh does the best for his.

So while Harbaugh offered his side of the story on Twitter earlier Wednesday….

… Sankey said he would not respond 140 characters at a time. Which is both a smart move (for him) and a shame (for the rest of us) at the same time.

“I’m not going to reduce what is an important conversation to some childhood use of Twitter,” he said. “This is an important issue.”

Delshawn McClellon transferring from Utes for final season

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 20:  Wide receiver Delshawn McClellon #10 of the Utah Utes catches a touchdown pass in the end zone against safety Trent Matthews #16 of the Colorado State Rams during the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 20, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Another day, another senior deciding to use his final season of eligibility elsewhere.

The latest to do as much is Delshawn McClellon, who took to Instagram Tuesday to confirm that he has decided to leave Utah and finish his collegiate career at an undetermined locale. While the wide receiver gave no reason in the post for his decision, it’s likely based in part at seeking a better opportunity for more playing time.

McClellon will be leaving the Utes as a graduate, meaning he could play immediately in 2016 if another FBS school is his next stop.

You have been good to me Utah, met some real people and created great memories over the past four years. Couldn’t be more thankful for them helping me out with my situation years back. Crazy to think I’ll be suiting up with someone else next season but, I got to do what’s best for me.

“You have been good to me Utah, met some real people and created great memories over the past four years,” the receiver wrote on the social media website. “Couldn’t be more thankful for them helping me out with my situation years back. Crazy to think I’ll be suiting up with someone else next season but, I got to do what’s best for me.”

McClellon, who’s listed in his official bio as Utah’s fastest player (4.37 40), played in 31 games the last three years after redshirting as a true freshman.  The California native finishes his Utes career with eight receptions for 110 yards.

USC AD Pat Haden taken to hospital after medical emergency

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Athletic director Pat Haden of the USC Trojans looks on during the game against the UCLA Bruins at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 50-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Health issues played a significant role in Pat Haden‘s decision earlier this month to step down as USC’s athletic director later this year.  Similar issues, unfortunately, have arisen yet again.

According to multiple media outlets, Haden sustained some type of medical event outside of Heritage Hall this morning and was treated by paramedics called to the scene.  He was ultimately transported to a local hospital, but is reportedly doing better physically after feeling lightheaded and being forced to sit to prevent a collapse.

In October of last year, Haden experienced a similar episode prior to USC’s game against Notre Dame.  That prompted the athletic director to step down from his position on the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Haden has served in his capacity at his alma mater since 2010.  He’s scheduled to officially step down from his post June 30 of this year.