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Top storylines heading into the spring

Texas Tech Spring Football AP

While we’re still over six months away from the start of the 2012 season, we’re not wandering through a football-less desert quite yet.

From Feb. 13 (Army first practice) through May 5 (UCLA’s spring game), all 124 Div. 1-A (FBS) football programs will utilize their 15 allotted spring sessions to begin preparations in earnest for the upcoming season.

Below are but a few of the storylines and issues we’ll be following over the next couple of months.

Conference change, it’s a comin’
Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12 to the SEC.  TCU and West Virginia from the Big East to the Big 12.  Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada officially moving to the Mountain West from the WAC.  And four brand-new football programs moving up from Div. 1-AA (FCS) to Div. 1-A (FBS): South Alabama (Sun Belt), Texas State (WAC), UMass (MAC) and UT-San Antonio (WAC).  Hell, there’s even the very real possibility that Temple could be leaving the MAC for the Big East this year as well.

While the moves won’t become officially official until July 1, all of those schools will, in essence, conduct spring practice as members of their new respective conferences.  In particular, a lot of the “new kid on the block” attention will be paid to Missouri and Texas A&M — and new head coach Kevin Sumlin — because, well, it’s the SEC and the six-peat BcS champion conference always has more than its share of eyes upon it.

Sideline upheaval
More than one-fifth (27) of the 124 football program that will play at the Div. 1-A level in 2012 made a change at head coach at some point after the start of the 2011 season. From Penn State and Ohio State in the Big Ten to four new ones in the Pac-12 — the most of any BcS conference; Conference USA will have five new head coaches — to Texas A&M ahead of its move from the Big 12 to the SEC, none of the 11 conferences were spared at least one change at head coach from where its members were at the beginning of last season.

The spring sessions will be, for the most part, the first chance for those coaches and their coaching staffs to really get a good look at and begin the evaluation of the roster. The “real” work won’t begin until September, but laying the foundation of new schemes on both sides of the ball will begin in earnest. What happens during the next couple of months will determine how far ahead/behind/in step with the more entrenched programs lugging experienced staffs into the new year.  All eyes in particular will be on Bill O’Brien, who will not only take over the scandal-stained Nittany Lions program but will also be embarking upon his first season as a Div. 1-A head coach.  Well, all that and replacing a legendary icon who had been the face of Happy Valley for nearly half a century as well.

Needing Moore Luck at quarterback
For the first time in four years at Boise State and three at Stanford, the two top-ten programs won’t have the experience and talent of Kellen Moore and Andrew Luck, respectively, under center.

Who will they have?  Brett Nottingham will enter the spring as the odds-on favorite to replace Luck with the Cardinal, with Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes expected to provide the stiffest competition for the redshirt sophomore.  Outside of Moore, junior-to-be Joe Southwick attempted the most passes (30) for the Broncos last year and was listed as the co-backup along with sophomore-to-be Grant Hedrick.  How those two competitions shake out will go a long, long way in determining whether the two programs can maintain the on-field excellence and build upon the foundations laid by Luck and Moore.

Better this time around?
After winning its first BcS title under Nick Saban in 2009, Alabama “stumbled” through a 10-3 season the following year, with all three losses coming in SEC play. With a second crystal football in three years tucked under its arm, the Tide will attempt to become the first SEC program in the BcS era to repeat as champions. Two problems with going back-to-back, however. One, the Tide will be forced to replace half its starting lineup, including seven on a defense that ranked at or near the top in nearly every major statistical category in 2011 season. And, two, LSU — ya know, the winner of the Tide’s division and loser of the rematch — remains in the SEC West and returns a squad that not only should be at or near the top of the preseason rankings but will be better because of the attrition at the quarterback position.

Fun fact? The Tide has not lost to a non-conference foe since its two-touchdown beatdown at the hands of Utah in the Sugar Bowl following the 2008 regular season.  This year, the Tide will get an immediate test of the rework and revamping begun in the spring as they face likely top-ten foe Michigan in a neutral site game to open the season.

Get those seats warmed, fellas
It’s never too early for some hot seat talk, is it?  Based on the offseason he’s had — nearly a dozen transfers and the Danny O’Brien fiasco — and coming off an abysmal two-win first season at Maryland, Randy Edsall should sit at or near the top of any list of coaches on the hot seat.  Given the significant amount of attrition on both the roster and the coaching staff — he will have new offensive and defensive coordinators — this spring will likely resemble his first with the Terps, sort of a feeling-out process all over again with the added bonus of vultures circling over the two-win carcass.  Edsall simply needs a solid spring to lead to vast improvement in 2012 or he could very well find himself on the outside of the program looking in 2013.

Other coaches who need a strong spring to translate into an immediate turnaround in 2012 include Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, Boston College’s Frank Spaziani, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, UCF’s George O’Leary and Cal’s Jeff Tedford.

(Still to come: individual storylines for the six BcS conferences — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.)

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9 Responses to “Top storylines heading into the spring”
  1. ridingwithnohandlebars says: Feb 27, 2012 8:12 AM

    With the way Edsall’s contract is set up, it is doubtful he would be fired even if he fails to win a single game this year.

  2. woebegong says: Feb 27, 2012 8:23 AM

    It seems odd to read an article that refers to hot seat coaches and not see my coach, Mark Richt of Georgia not prominently mentioned as one of the candidates. People were so ready to get rid of him, if you believed the publications, but in actuality, the vast majority of fans in Georgia want him and have wanted him to stay right where he is at. Men of integrity and moral values are few and far in between in the college football coaches fraternity, and UGA has one of the best in that department. I am ashamed to admit it, but the majority of the coaches in the SEC, are win at all cost coaches, and it all boils down to the money. UGA brings in a ton of money each ear with it’s football program, but they do it the right way. Some how or another, the NCAA has got to get back to letting amateur athletics be just that and a lot less, of the minor leagues for the NFL. These players need to be able to have some fun, while they are in college, and not live under the tons of pressure they now live under.

  3. dcroz says: Feb 27, 2012 8:37 AM

    Correction: If Alabama were to repeat as national champion in 2012, it would be the FIRST team in the BCS era to do so. Florida’s two titles were in 2006 and 2008, with LSU winning in between.

  4. dcroz says: Feb 27, 2012 8:46 AM

    As for comparisons to 2010, ‘Bama is in a similar situation as it was then, returning much of its offense while replacing a majority of its defensive starters. The lack of experience on defense did hurt the Tide that year, but I always thought ‘Bama’s biggest flaw was a sense of entitlement and complacency that quite often creeps in to teams that win it all and are favored to repeat. It seemed that they figured if they could get past Florida in the fifth game of the season that year that everything else would be smooth sailing, and that just got reinforced when the Tide beat the Gators handily in Tuscaloosa. The next week was the bucket of cold water in Columbia as South Carolina played a near-perfect game in getting the upset. As the game neared the end but was still winable, players that should have been leading their team to rally on the sidelines were standing or sitting around, doing nothing. They seemed to be more in disbelief that they were mortal as a squad than exercising the leadership abilities the rest of the team looked to them for.

    One difference I see, though, is that ‘Bama team had an SEC ring to go along with the national championship one. Even though we celebrate the BCS title, there still seems to be a bit of a hollow spot without the conference title, too. Also, as JT pointed out, the Tide is not only not the overwhelming favorite to win it all again this year as it was in ’10, it’s not even the favorite to win the conference or even division, as LSU is picked by a majority of prognosticators once again. Perhaps this will be the motivation the Tide needs not to rest on its laurels and play every game with the passion it deserves.

  5. polegojim says: Feb 27, 2012 9:21 AM

    Hoke has done very well in the preliminary rebuilding of the team he was dealt, but needs much more from ‘Hoke’ recruits going forward.
    Saban is an excellent coach and has been working diligently on this transition season.

    I’m hyped about the Cowboy Classic, but to win, Michigan must be much better in passing and a true running attack… that doesn’t feature Shoelace. Defense needs a nasty streak.

    I’m confident we’ll see more improvement, but will it be enough? GO BLUE

    After watching the title game, I’m not nearly as confident in LSU as everyone else. They played painfully below expectations. Still shaking my head.

  6. southernpatriots says: Feb 27, 2012 9:25 AM

    Good article examining Alabama’s look toward another championship. There are other teams which always will try to derail that trek, but the line that sort of expresses the major opposition: “…LSU — ya know, the winner of the Tide’s division and loser of the rematch — remains in the SEC West and returns a squad that not only should be at or near the top of the preseason rankings but will be better because of the attrition at the quarterback position.”

    JT, the best line you had was the final phrase “but will be better because of the attrition at the quarterback position.” Thank God…finally! Most LSU fans who are knowledgeable about the team, really hope for some changes on the offensive staff as well. The problems weren’t all due to JJ or Lee, nor all to Crowton. There needs to be some additional attrition in at least some of the offensive staff positions.

    There will be more access for the fans to the team this spring and we look forward to a great spring game. We are hopeful major offensive changes will be seen at that time.

    There are many other interesting teams we will be watching in 2012: USC, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and others. This should be an entertaining year for many conferences, with new additions for many and new fan support.

    This year, hopefully if health permits, may we be able to travel more and attend more games in the SEC and out of conference.

  7. florida727 says: Feb 27, 2012 1:04 PM

    I have to agree with “woebegong”. I’m a Florida fan, but I will ALWAYS root for Mark Richt (maybe except for that game he plays in Jacksonville every year, but hey, whatever :) ). He does do it right, never gets credit for it, and usually has a successful year at UGA almost regardless of how that success is measured. I hope the guy stays there as long as he wants to. If Florida’s not going to win another national title anytime soon, I hope Georgia does. It’ll be great for their fans, and it’ll shut up all the Richt haters. He’s a terrific coach, and an even better man. He’s a man of great character.

  8. southernpatriots says: Feb 27, 2012 2:29 PM

    florida727 and woebegong:

    Besides having a brother-in-law who is a renowned Georgia Bulldog player from a generation or more ago, I have many friends who remain among the Georgia faithful. All who have personal contact with Coach Richt speak so highly of him in every aspect.

    The LSU members of the family have had the upper hand the past decade or so, but Georgia is due one. Not far from it in the SEC championship game of last season. What Richt does that fans don’t even normally know about, every day, is quite a lesson in character and heart. I would not reveal all I know because I know he doesn’t do it for publicity and I would not want to embarrass him, but numerous children with CF, MD, and other diseases he has gone out of his way to send them Bulldog memorabilia, visit them, and encourage them.

    Several years ago, members of his staff on his instructions, communicated with us about our annual Christmas outreach and donated numerous items for the children. A really good man. His character was a source of ridicule for many when he wasn’t winning the games they though the Bulldogs should win. Some wanted to change coaches (sounds like some rabid sports talk show idiots in Baton Rouge and a few fans who were influenced by them just a few years ago about a certain coach for LSU). College coaching ranks are often fickle, but I join you in hoping he is at Georgia for as long as he wants to be.

    Future SEC alignment and schedules are to be determined by the meeting this spring and following in Birmingham. Some proposals are absurd and appear to completely ignore traditional rivalries. My family and I hope saner and sounder heads prevail, and that Slive keeps all focused on the big picture and protects the historical rivalries. Most fans we know want those rivalries protected, if they seldom win the game, because as we know, things do have a tendency to balance out eventually.

  9. Pac12Ute says: Feb 28, 2012 6:29 AM

    This article caused me to look at the SEC OOC schedule… once again I’m disappointed to see so few challenging games. I realize the whole “We own the BCS title” argument, but they need to step up the competition. It would go a long way towards proving they are the best conference if they played against the best from other conferences. It would also make for some epic battles between powerhouse teams. I realize the game is dictated by the money (see bowl invites) but the fans deserve better than FCS and non-AQ games for 3 of the 4 OOC games for almost every team.

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