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) 

One-time Wisconsin commit Marvin Robinson lands at Kentucky

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 29: The Wildcat mascot for the Kentucky Wildcats works up the crowd against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Commonwealth Stadium on September 29, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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Marvin Robinson was never able to make it to the Big Ten to start his collegiate career, but now it appears he’ll get that opportunity in the SEC.

On Kentucky’s official online roster, Robinson is now listed as a wide receiver for the Wildcats.  According to John Hale of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Robinson, at least initially, will be a walk-on on Mark Stoops‘ squad.

Robinson had been a verbal commitment to Wisconsin and was set to sign with the Badgers in February of 2015.  However, the Fort Lauderdale product failed to qualify academically at UW.

The 6-4, 175-pounder sat out the 2015 season, so he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2016.  Whether seeing the field actually comes to fruition remains to be seen as the Wildcats return five wide receivers who caught at least 10 passes in 2015, including the top four on the team in receptions and receiving yards — Dorian Baker (55-608), Garrett Johnson (46-694), Jeff Badet (29-430) and Blake Bone (20-210).  Ryan Timmons (12-114) is the fifth, with those five also accounting for nine of the team’s 10 touchdown receptions on the season.

Robinson was a three-star 2015 prospect who was rated as the No. 146 receiver in the country.

‘No timetable’ for Wisconsin LB T.J. Edwards’ return from foot injury

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  ArDarius Stewart #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is tackled by T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin will need all hands on deck if they hope to contain LSU’s Leonard Fournette in the 2016 opener at Lambeau field.  Unfortunately for the Badgers, a key hand may be unavailable.

A report emerged late last week that T.J. Edwards would be sidelined indefinitely because of a foot injury.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote that “Edwards was seen wearing a walking boot this week and a source confirmed the redshirt sophomore is out” for the foreseeable future.

During the Big Ten Media Days Tuesday, head coach Paul Chryst somewhat addressed the linebacker’s status.

The Badgers open summer camp August 8. The opener against the Tigers is scheduled for Sept. 3.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Edwards started all 13 games.

Mitch Leidner shares gruesome post-surgery foot photo

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 7:  Joshua Perry #37 of the Ohio State Buckeyes hits quarterback Mitch Leidner #7 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers just as Leidner releases the ball forcing him to throw an interception in the second quarter at Ohio Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. The interception was returned for a touchdown for the Buckeyes.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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If you’re the squeamish type, you might want to do your best to avoid the picture that appears in this post.

Mitch Leidner has been dealing with foot issues since the 2014 season, specifically ligaments that he’s torn on multiple occasions.  Following Minnesota’s win over Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl this past December, the quarterback underwent surgery to repair the ligaments in his left foot but returned in time for spring practice.

Leidner was one of the Gophers’ player representatives at the Big Ten Media Days Tuesday, and decided he’d share a post-operation picture of his surgically-repaired foot.  Again, if your squeamish, look away.

As if the photo doesn’t paint this picture, head coach Tracy Claeys acknowledged that the starter was worse off health-wise than the football program let on last year.

“We hid his injuries pretty good a year ago,” Claeys said according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “He was banged up pretty good. The foot injury he had was tough and really limited him.”

Now, though, Leidner proclaims himself, “[p]hysically, I’m in the best shape of my life, by far.” The fifth-year senior, projected by some to be a first-round quarterback prospect in the 2017 NFL draft, added that he feels “like I’m throwing the ball better than I ever have before.”

VIDEO: Body cam footage shows Iowa football player’s encounter with police

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs past Faith Ekakitie #56 and Cole Fisher #36 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2016 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The story of an Iowa football player, Pokemon Go and Iowa City police now has some visuals to go along with the oral narrative.

Over the weekend, officers in that police department were searching for a suspect in a bank robbery. Hawkeyes defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie (pictured, No. 56) just happened to be in a park in that area and seemingly matched the description of the suspect — black man in black clothing wearing something on his head — prompting the officers to approach the lineman. When Ekakitie failed to respond to the officers’ commands, because he was wearing headphones, weapons were drawn.

According to Ekakitie in his Facebook accounting of the incident, he had “four gun barrels staring me in the face” at that point.

Because of the national attention the incident has received, the ICPD on Tuesday released two body cam videos that shows exactly how the encounter between their officers and Ekakitie went down.

“I think it’s critical we get the information out so people can actually see the events as they actually occurred in real time,” says ICPD Sgt. Scott Gaarde in regards to releasing the videos.

In his social media missive, Ekakitie thanked the police officers involved for how they handled the situation.

“I would like to thank the Iowa City Police department for handling a situation very professionally,” the lineman wrote. “I would also urge people to be more aware of their surroundings because clearly I wasn’t.

“Lastly, I would urge us all to unlearn some of the prejudices that we have learned about each other and now plague our minds and our society.  I am convinced that in the same way that we learned these prejudices, we can also unlearn them.”