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) 

Former Michigan WR, Notre Dame DB move on to JUCOs

MORTON GROVE, IL - JANUARY 23: A U-Haul truck sits in front of a U-Haul store January 23, 2003 in Morton Grove, Illinois. Reno, Nevada-based U-Haul Co. is discussing debt restructuring. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
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Two former members of Power Five football programs have decided to slide far down the college football ladder in restarting their respective careers.

According to 247Sports.com, Cole is on the campus of East Mississippi Community College and will play for the JUCO team in 2016.  The report comes nearly four months after it was reported that Cole had decided to transfer from Michigan to Kentucky.

The recruiting website writes that UK “is a school Cole continues to consider.”

Cole was a highly sought after four-star 2015 recruit who was an early enrollee in Jim Harbaugh‘s first UM class.  The No. 74 player nationally on 247Sports.com‘s composite board, Cole was also the No. 1-rated player at any position in the state of Michigan.  He played in two games at receiver with the Wolverines; he’ll move to safety with his new program.

Speaking of defensive backs, former Notre Dame safety Mykelti Williams has also decided to go the JUCO route.  It was confirmed in March of this year that Williams had decided to leave the Irish and transfer elsewhere.

As it turns out, that elsewhere is Iowa Western.

Williams was a three-star member of the Irish’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 29 safety in the country; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Indiana; and the No. 464 player overall according to 247Sports.com. The 5-11, 200-pound defensive back chose Notre Dame over offers from, among others, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin.

He took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

Transferring Utah DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu visits Alabama, too

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu
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Earlier this month, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu made the decision to transfer from Utah. Over the weekend, the defensive lineman paid a visit to Nebraska as he began the process of finding a new college football home.

Earlier this week, Tu’ikolovatu continued that process at the defending national champions.

According to the defensive tackle’s Twitter account, Tu’ikolovatu paid a visit to Alabama on Monday. While the Tide, as always, remains loaded along the line even after losing so much to the NFL draft, they could certainly use someone with the talent — and size — the 6-1, 320-pound Tu’ikolovatu possesses if the player and team find common ground.

Last season with the Utes, Tu’ikolovatu played in all 13 games, starting two of those contests. His four fumble recoveries were tied for the lead in the Pac-12 and second nationally.

All told, Tu’ikolovatu played in 25 games the past two seasons. As a graduate transfer, he’d be eligible to play immediately in 2016 whether he moves on to Alabama, Nebraska or any other FBS program.

The 2016 season will, though, be his final year of eligibility.

Tim Irvin takes to Twitter to announce transfer from Auburn

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Eli Jenkins #7 of the Jacksonville State Gamecocks spins to avoid a tackle by defensive back Tim Irvin #22 of the Auburn Tigers on September 12, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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After just one season on The Plains, Tim Irvin will be plying his football wares elsewhere moving forward.

On his personal Twitter account Tuesday, Irvin, the nephew of former Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys receiving great Michael Irvin, announced that “it will be better for me to pursue my career elsewhere.” The 5-9, 194-pound defensive back gave no reason for his decision.

The Miami, Fla., native was a four-star member of AU’s 2015 recruiting class. 247Sports.com had Irvin rated as the No. 38 player at any position in the state of Florida and the No. 285 player overall in its composite rankings.

As a true freshman last season, Irvin played in 10 games. He started at nickel corner in games in which the Tigers opened in the nickel package.

As for potential landing spots?  It’s being reported that East Carolina, Miami and Texas may be considerations.

Dede Westbrook, Sooners’ leading returning receiver, arrested Monday

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 19: Wide receiver Dede Westbrook #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners pulls down a pass as cornerback Brodrick Umblance #4 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defends September 19, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 52-38.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma has a huge season opener at a neutral field against Houston to kick off 2016 in a couple of months.  Whether their top returning threat in the receiving game is on the field remains to be seen.

According to multiple media outlets, Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook was arrested late Monday morning on a charge of criminal trespassing.  The arrest occurred in Westbrook’s hometown of Cameron, Tex.

No details of what led to the arrest have been released.  An OU spokesperson said in a statement that “[w]e’re aware of it and are addressing internally.”

With Sterling Shepard off to the NFL, Westbrook is OU’s leading returning receiver.

In his first season with the Sooners, Westbrook was second on the Sooners in receptions (46) and receiving yards (743).  His 16.2 yards per catch was tops on the team for those with 20 or more receptions, while his four receiving touchdowns were tied for third.

For that production, Westbrook was named the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year.