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) 

Georgia raising money to build Devon Gales a home

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It’s been close to a year and a half since Southern football player Devon Gales fractured his C6 vertebrae when covering a kick at Georgia. While the two sides will forever be linked, Georgia has gone above and beyond its duties to help improve his life.

In addition to regularly visiting him in the hospital and paying for his parents’ travel to Georgia, the Bulldogs will now raise funds to build him a house.

Gales received an NCAA Sportsmanship Award at the Bulldogs’ basketball game on Saturday, and it was announced that the UGAAA will launch a “Drive to Build a Dawg House” for Gales and his family.

“Anybody can just their prayer for you and send you on your way, but they didn’t. They took me as one of their kids, not just as another player, but as one of their children,” Gales said.

To contibute, text (707) 204-1707 to donate $5 toward the fund.

Mike Gundy says Sugar Bowl loss to Ole Miss wasn’t on a “level playing field”

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Mike Gundy originally blamed himself for Oklahoma State’s 48-20 loss to Ole Miss at the Sugar Bowl that closed the 2015 season.

Speaking at the AFCA Convention in Nashville last month, I heard Gundy explain to thousands of fellow coaches he felt he overtrained his Cowboys in preparation to play the physically imposing Rebels. The end result backfired. As I wrote for FootballScoop:

As Oklahoma State prepared to face No. 12 Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, Gundy pushed his players harder than usual in December practices. “They’re going to knock us off the ball and it’s not going to look pretty,” he remembers thinking. That strategy backfired on him, though, as the Rebels pounded Gundy’s team 48-20. Oklahoma State was out-rushed 207-63 and averaged only 6.7 yards per pass attempt to Ole Miss’s 9.9. “We weren’t physical and we were slow,” Gundy said.

But now Gundy thinks something else may have contributed to that 28-point spanking.

As he explained to the Tulsa World‘s Bill Haisten, Gundy said he couldn’t help but think of the Sugar Bowl when he learned of the NCAA’s charges against Ole Miss.

“The first thing I thought about was (OSU’s recent experience with the NCAA),” Gundy said, “and the second thing was the Sugar Bowl and my players and what they went through.”

He continued: “We’ll never know what we could have done in the Sugar Bowl if it was a level playing field. That is the truth. I’m not sure we would have won the Sugar Bowl, but we’ll never know.”

 

Kim Mulkey offers defense of Baylor amid sex assault scandal by encouraging assault

DENVER, CO - APRIL 03:  Head coach Kim Mulkey of the Baylor Bears reacts as she coaches in the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the National Final game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at Pepsi Center on April 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Though she isn’t the most visible coach on Baylor’s campus, women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey is certainly the most accomplished. In her 17th season on campus, Mulkey has led the Lady Bears to two national championships, three Final Fours, eight Big 12 championships and a run of six consecutive Sweet 16 visits.

She has mostly remained silent through the school’s ongoing sexual assault scandal, but spoke up Saturday night after an 86-48 thrashing of Texas Tech that saw Baylor clinch its seventh consecutive conference championship and Mulkey secure her 500th win in Waco.

“If somebody’s around you and they ever say, ‘I will never send my daughter to Baylor,’ you knock them right in the face,” Mulkey said.

As you’ll see in the video below, the green and gold crowd greeted that line with applause.

“Because these kids are on this campus. I work here. My daughter went to school here. And it’s the damn best school in America.”

“I’m tired of hearing it,” Mulkey explained of the comments in the post-game press conference. “I’m tired of people talking on it on a national scale that don’t know what they’re talking about. If they didn’t sit in those meetings and they weren’t a part of the investigation you’re repeating things that you’ve heard. It’s over. It’s done. It’s a great institution, and I would send my daughter here, and I’d pay for anybody else’s daughter to come here. I work here every day. I’m in the know, and I’m tired of hearing it… The problems we have at Baylor are no different as any other school in America. Period. Move on. Find another story to write.”

As a reminder, a lawsuit alleges 52 rapes were committed by Baylor football players under head coach Art Briles.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.