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) 

Ex-Vandy RB Brian Kimbrow now an ex-MTSU RB, too

Brian Kimbrow
Associated Press
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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Brian Kimbrow? Or maybe there’ll be no third time, period?

That appears to be the case Kimbrow confirmed to Rivals.com earlier this week that he has walked away from the Middle Tennessee State football team. Not only that, but the running back has walked away from the sport, period.

“I just didn’t love football like I used to and wanted to focus on school and my forensics career,” Kimbrow told the recruiting website. “Just burned out for real.”

Kimbrow began his collegiate career at Vanderbilt as a four-star recruit in 2012. He ran for 748 yards and six touchdowns his first two seasons with the Commodores before he was indefinitely suspended early on in the 2014 season for conduct detrimental to the team. A month later, the then-junior was dismissed from the Vandy football program.

Kimbrow joined MTSU as a graduate transfer earlier this year and participated in spring practice with his new Blue Raiders teammates.

James Pierre, three-star 2016 signee, given release from UNC

5 Sep 1998:  General view of the mascot for the North Carolina Tar Heels displayed during the game against the Miami Ohio Redhawks at the Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Redhawks defeated the Tar Heels 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Chris Cova
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Once at 26, North Carolina’s 2016 recruiting class has been pared by one.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, 2016 signee James Pierre has been given a release from the National Letter of Intent he signed with UNC.  The recruiting website reports that Pierre was denied admissions by the university, leading to his full release.

Because he has not attended any classes at UNC, Pierre would be eligible to play immediately at another FBS program.  He’d then have the standard five years to use four seasons of eligibility.

A three-star 2016 recruit, Pierre was rated as the No. 48 safety in the country.  In addition to UNC, Pierre held scholarship offers from, among others, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

RB Denzell Evans opts to transfer from Arkansas

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 7.08.22 PM
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Arkansas lost, at least temporarily, a running back to injury last month.  This month, they’ve lost one permanently, for a whole other reason entirely.

Thursday, Bret Bielema confirmed that Denzell Evans plans to transfer out of his Razorbacks football program.  No specific reason for the parting of ways was given.

The running back will remain enrolled in school until he graduates, then move on to an undetermined location.  As Evans will be a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately if his new college football home plays at the FBS level.

As a bonus for his new program, Evans will actually have two years of eligibility left to use.

The past two seasons after redshirting as a true freshman in 2013, Evans had played in 15 games.  Evans rushed for 84 yards on 13 carries in his Razorbacks career; 48 of those yards and six of the carries came in the fourth quarter of an Oct. 31 win over UT-Martin this past season.

Evans, a three-star 2013 signee, scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the spring game last month.

Report: Joe Paterno knew of Jerry Sandusky abuses as far back as 1976

PATERNO SANDUSKY
Associated Press
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Oh boy.

As an insurance case connected to the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse case continues to wind its way through the legal system, PennLive.com writes, ” a new bombshell” was dropped Thursday.  According to the newspaper website, a court order in the case indicates that deceased former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was aware in 1976 of sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky, the former Paterno right-hand man who was convicted of molesting at least 10 underage males victims during and after his long stint as a Nittany Lions assistant.

It’s further alleged in the order that Paterno did not tell his superiors of the allegations in 1976, nor subsequent allegations a decade later. From the report:

The line in question states that one of Penn State’s insurers has claimed “in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky.”

The order also cites separate references in 1987 and 1988 in which unnamed assistant coaches witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and unidentified children, and a 1988 case that was supposedly referred to Penn State’s athletic director at the time.

“There is no evidence that reports of these incidents ever went further up the chain of command at PSU,” Judge Gary Glazer wrote, in determining that because Penn State’s executive officers weren’t aware of the allegations, he would not bar those claims from insurance coverage.”

Paterno supporters, including his family, have long argued that Paterno did nothing inappropriate and did not cover up for his former coach; Paterno himself admitted, though, in an interview before he was fired in the midst of the scandal in November of 2011, “I wish I had done more.”

Thursday, Paterno’s family once again rushed to the Hall of Famer’s defense in a statement.

Over the past four-and-a-half years Joe Paterno’s conduct has been scrutinized by an endless list of investigators and attorneys.

“Through all of this review there has never been any evidence of inappropriate conduct by Coach Paterno. To the contrary, the evidence clearly shows he shared information with his superiors as appropriate.

“An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts. Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky.

The case in which the 1976 allegation was revealed involves Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association Insurance Co., which is arguing that it’s not responsible for reimbursing Penn State the more than $60 million it has paid out in Sandusky-related damages.

The 72-year-old Sandusky is currently serving 30-60 years after being convicted on 45 counts in a 48-count indictment.