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) 

Effort to schedule Georgia Tech-Georgia State makeup game fails

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Georgia Tech lost a game to Hurricane Irma, a Sept. 16 trip to Central Florida. Georgia State also had a game canceled due to Irma — Saturday’s scheduled game with Memphis, which was axed to makeup the Memphis-UCF game that was supposed to be played Sept. 8.

So if Georgia Tech lost a game, and Georgia State lost a game, and the Atlanta schools stadiums’ sit just 2.2 miles away from each other, wouldn’t it make sense to try to get them together?

The sides tried, but the effort isn’t going to work.

As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Tech and Georgia State officials attempted to find a date that worked for both sides, but one simply is not available.

Georgia Tech attempted to arrange the game for Oct. 7, the Jackets’ original bye week, but Georgia State has a conference game against Coastal Carolina on Oct. 7. Georgia State is off on Nov. 18, but Georgia Tech visits Duke that day. The rare Championship Saturday makeup isn’t even possible (provided Georgia Tech doesn’t win the ACC Coastal) because Georgia State hosts Idaho on Dec. 2, in what is Idaho’s final game as a Sun Belt member.

Incidentally, Georgia Tech and Georgia State have never met on the field despite being two miles apart. Perhaps this episode will spur the Atlanta neighbors to invite the other over to play sometime down the line.

Asked about injury to Shy Tuttle, Butch Jones rants about fake news

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A clear cut sign when a coach is feeling the heat is when he scolds the media for focusing on negative stories instead of sharing the plethora of positive news happening all around the program.

In a purely unrelated note, Butch Jones is 3-1 this season with a tight win over Georgia Tech, a Hail Mary loss to Florida and a way-closer-than-it-should-have-been escape over Massachusetts on Saturday. The Vols host No. 7 Georgia on Saturday, and a loss there will almost certainly doom Tennessee to a 10th straight season without winning the SEC East, including all five seasons of the Jones era.

Jones was asked about an injury to defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, who suffered a broken orbital bone. Asked about a rumor that Tuttle was injured by a teammate, Jones launched into a rant that included chastising the media for “fake news.”

I think it’s safe to say Jones is wound just a little tightly these days.

Broken ankle takes Washington WR Chico McClatcher out

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Washington has been chugging along quite nicely in the early portion of the 2017 college football season, but the Huskies may have to continue through Pac-12 play without a key wide receiver on the field. Chico McClatcher, a junior, could potentially be done for the remainder of the season after breaking his ankle Saturday night against Colorado.

Washington head coach Chris Petersen announced McClatcher will be out for an undetermined amount of time, but the fear is a broken ankle could keep him out for the rest of the season.

In three games this season, McClatcher caught 10 passes for 128 yards. He did not play in a Week 3 game against Fresno State. On Saturday against the Buffs, McClatcher caught four passes for 44 yards in the 37-10 victory in Boulder.

Petersen did note McClatcher can still preserve a year of eligibility by utilizing a possible redshirt to his advantage.

Alabama and Clemson remain top two national title favorites according to Bovada

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Alabama and Clemson appear to be on a collision course for a third straight meeting in the College Football Playoff national championship, and the Crimson Tide and defending national champion Tigers remain the top two favorites to win the national championship this season, according to the latest updated odds from Bovada.

Alabama’s odds have moved to 19/10 after being 2/1 last week. Right behind Alabama is Clemson at 9/2 a week after having 11/2 odds. Despite having one loss on their record already, the Ohio State Buckeyes remain in the thick of the race as well with the third-best national title odds after four weeks of play. Ohio State is listed at 7/1 by Bovada, staying ahead of USC (15/2) and Oklahoma (8/1) despite a head-to-head loss to the Sooners in Columbus in Week 2.

Penn State comes in at 10/1, followed by Michigan at 12/1. Georgia is on the rise as well with 14/1 odds to stay ahead of Washington (16/1). The biggest drop of the week was by Oklahoma State, who fell from 9/1 to 20/1 after a home loss to TCU. The Horned Frogs jumped up from 75/1 to 33/1 this week.

Bovada also updated their Heisman Trophy odds, with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley moving to the top of the board.