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.)

BYU wearing special patch in honor of LaVell Edwards

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BYU got the summer media day fun started on Friday with their football media day. BYU tends to pull out all the stops on its media day with coach and player interviews, alumni returning, and a handful of announcements about the future of the program. In addition to news about their relationship with ESPN, BYU also announced the football team will be sporting a patch this season in honor of the late LaVell Edwards.

In addition to players wearing the patch on their jerseys, BYU coaches will also wear the patch on their sleeves.

Edwards passed away in December at the age of 86. The BYU coaching legend spent 29 seasons on the sidelines in Provo and accumulated 257 wins along the way. Among those was a national championship season in 1984, which remains the most recent national championship to be claimed by a program not currently in a power conference. Edwards took 22 BYU teams to a bowl game.

Now if we can just keep getting BYU to stick to that lighter shade of blue as their main home uniform, we’ll be in great shape.

Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks found guilty of rape

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Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was convicted by a jury on Friday for rape of a female Vanderbilt student. Following 15 hours of jury deliberations, the verdict of guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery was in.

”He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, said after the verdict. ”We have some really good issues to raise.”

Part of Banks’ defense was built on succumbing to peer pressure, suggesting he feared he may be beaten up by teammates if he did not participate in the scandalous activity. The jury, having reviewed videos and photos from the incident, some of which were shot by Banks, determined that was not a viable defense.

”Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said in closing arguments, according to the Associated Press. ”But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.”’

Banks will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison. One count of aggravated rape has a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Other former Vanderbilt players had previously been convicted for their roles in the 2013 rape. Cory Batey was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to 15-25 years in prison in April 2016. Brandon Vandenbeurg was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.