Top storylines heading into the spring

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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.)

Derrius Guice ruled out for LSU’s game vs. Syracuse

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So there you have it.

Late in the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State, Derrius Guice sustained an injury to his left knee.  While Ed Orgeron downplayed the severity of the injury in the ensuing days, he allowed during his turn on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday that his star running back is “very questionable right now” for the Week 4 game against Syracuse.

Later that night, on the head coach’s radio show, the very questionable morphed into completely out.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

With Guice unable to go, Darrel Williams (28-159-4) will likely be next in line to shoulder the brunt of the running-game load.

Mason Rudolph’s younger brother sees freshman season at Clemson come to an injury end

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Mason Rudolph is looking at the rest of the season as an opportunity to continue pushing his way into the Heisman discussion and his team deeper into the College Football Playoff picture.  His younger brother, on the other hand, is looking at rehab.

Wednesday night, Clemson announced that Logan Rudolph will miss the remainder of the 2017 season because of a shoulder injury.  The defensive end sustained the injury during a Tuesday practice, and will undergo surgery at some point in the future to repair the damage.  Rudolph dealt with a shoulder issue late in his high school career, and it’s believed this is related to that.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class, Rudolph was rated as the No. 23 weakside defensive end in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of South Carolina.  After enrolling early and participating in spring practice, the true freshman played in two games as a backup behind starter Austin Bryant.  In that limited action, he was credited with three tackles and one tackle for loss.

Because of how few games he’s played, Rudolph would be eligible for a medical redshirt.  That would allow the lineman to extend his eligibility out through the 2021 season if he so desires.

Getting back to the famous name-drop in the lede, Rudolph’s older brother, of course, is the starting quarterback for No. 6 Oklahoma State.

Iowa struggling to sellout game vs. Penn State

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The Iowa Hawkeyes are about to host a top-four team at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday night, and it seems there is slightly more trouble trying to sell out the game than anticipated. According to Mark Emmert of the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen (and not the NCAA president by the same name), Iowa still had 4,000 tickets for this week’s game against No. 4 Penn State sitting in the box office as of earlier today.

Price concerns for the game coupled with a delay in knowing the kickoff time apparently had some influence on the unexpected ticket availability this close to the game.

Schools are becoming more and more commonly known for having higher-priced tickets for the more marquee games on their home schedule, and Iowa is no exception. Iowa has tiered ticket pricing for their home games, and Penn State being the defending conference champion with a decent traveling fanbase made this week’s matchup an ideal fit for being priced in the higher tier. Later this year, Iowa’s home game against Ohio State will also be priced at $95. $95, for some, is not worth the effort to go to a game and tailgate all day. It may be fine for a good number of fans, but it’s not for everybody.

Having to wait to know what time a game will kickoff can be a nuisance for those football fans who like to plan ahead. And while a primetime game may be great for exposure, it can be a cumbersome chore for some fans who would much rather stay home and not have to deal with a late-night drive home.

So if you are looking to get a ticket to the game this weekend in Iowa City, you may have a good chance to pick up a ticket.

Indiana will wear uniforms honoring the late Terry Hoeppner this weekend

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This weekend when Indiana takes the field, the Hoosiers will be honoring former head coach Terry Hoeppner. To do that on the 10th anniversary of the former coach’s passing, Indiana’s uniforms will have a slight modification to the numbering. Rather than a traditional white block numbering on the front and back, Indiana’s uniform numbers will feature a pattern mimicking Hep’s Rock, which was introduced to the program by the former head coach and remains a fixture within the program.

Hoeppner passed away at the age of 59 in the summer of June 2007. Hoeppner had planned to step away from coaching to focus on a battle with brain cancer that summer, but he fell victim to the disease on June 19, 2007. Though he may have only coached for Indiana for two seasons, his impact on the program was noticeable in helping the program build a foundation. The Hoosiers won four and five games in the two seasons coached by Hoeppner, but the 2007 team carried on his mission to “Play 13” by advancing to the Insight Bowl (now known as the Cactus Bowl). Members of the 2007 bowl team (Indiana lost to Oklahoma State in that bowl game) will be in Bloomington to celebrate the life of Hoeppner, who remains an inspiration for the program to this day.