ACC spring storylines

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Fair or not, the lasting image of the ACC’s 2011 season is the 70 points hung on conference champion Clemson by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

The good news for the conference is there’s plenty of talent to get beyond that image.  As noted by ESPN.com ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a wealth of experienced and talented quarterbacks will return in 2012, including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas.

Of course, there are many questions entering the spring for members of the ACC.  Can Clemson stop Clemsoning itself and put together a won-loss record that matches its talent level?  Can the Hokies reascend to its traditional spot atop the conference?  Or, will a surprise team — London calling? — shakeup the top of league?

The answers to those questions and many, many more won’t be answered for several months, but we can take a look into some of the storylines that will be woven into the ACC’s spring story.

Tigers need to get defensive
Arguably the biggest move for Clemson this offseason was one that didn’t happen, with head coach Dabo Swinney and the athletic department’s bank account being able to beat back a significant push by Ohio State for the services of offensive coordinator Chad Morris.  The biggest move that did come to fruition?  Replacing defensive coordinator Kevin Steele with Oklahoma’s Brent Venables.  After the 70-point bowl debacle, parting ways with Steele was inevitable and necessary outside of the bowl debacle; the Tigers finished 81st in points allowed and 71st in total yards per game in 2011.  Venables’ defense will begin its implementation during the spring.  While the fruits of change won’t be realized until September — at the earliest — there may not have been a more significant change in the conference, one that needs to work if Clemson wants to become more than a bit player on the national scene.

Water wet, sky blue, FSU’s back
Like flowers blooming or getting gouged by the tax man, trumpeting Florida State’s return to relevance on the national stage has become an annual rite of spring.  The Seminoles were preseason sweethearts last year — some dolt had them as high as No. 2 before the start of the 2011 season — but stumbled its way to an 8-4 record in the regular season that included losses to Wake Forest and Virginia.  It’s undeniable that, on paper, the talent is there with top-ten recruiting classes each of the past four years and 15 starters returning from last year’s squad.  Perhaps the biggest question mark for FSU entering the spring?  The offensive line, a group sorely lacking in experience and a unit that must begin to find some clarity in these upcoming offseason sessions.

Edsall, Edsel, whatever… it’s still a lemon
It seems that the embarrassing offseason at Maryland has overshadowed somewhat the abysmal on-field product during Randy Edsall‘s first season with the Terps.  And what an abysmal mess it was.  After opening the Edsall era — a loose term, for obvious reasons — with a win over Miami, the Terps proceeded to win just one of its next 11 games to cap a 10-loss season.  And things didn’t get much better after that two-win debacle; a change at coordinator on both sides of the ball and the transfer of erstwhile starting quarterback Danny O’Brien along with both starting offensive tackles and several other key contributors makes this second spring wrought with more uncertainty than the first one.  Changing offensive and defensive schemes, several quality players fleeing what looks, smells and feels like a sinking ship?  Not exactly what Edsall and his program needs coming into a season that has must-have turnaround written all over it, regardless of how staunch his boss’ support is at this time.

Everything’s Hokie-dory in Blacksburg
Lather, rinse, repeat, right?  Well, maybe.  Here’s the known for the Hokies entering the spring: they will be really good on defense, returning nine starters from a Bud Foster-led squad that finished in the Top Ten nationally last year.  On offense, there’s Thomas and… well… a lot of question marks.  Starting running back David Wilson and his 1,709 yards needs replaced.  As does his backup.  As do the Hokies’ two leading receivers, with the departed Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin accounting for nearly half (121) of the Hokies’ 243 receptions.  How to replace that offensive production — over 3,700 yards among the four out of nearly 5,800 yards of total offense in 2011 — will be the Hokies’ top priority this spring and go a long way in determining how far Tech can go this season.  Then again, given the fact that Frank Beamer & Company play the plug-and-succeed game as well as anyone in the country — eight consecutive 10-win-plus seasons, 13 in his 21 seasons in Blacksburg — anything less than another division/conference crown would be more than a mild surprise even with the offensive attrition.

ACC working on London time?
Virginia doesn’t have the talent that conference foes Clemson or Virginia Tech or Florida State or Miami can throw out on any given Saturday, but it does have something those perennial ACC contenders don’t: arguably the best football coach in the conference.  Mike London — and the underrated coaching staff he’s assembled — has the Cavaliers on the verge of a borderline miracle — making the Hoos a have year-in and year-out.  Last year was a glimpse into what the future may hold for the Cavs as a loss in the regular-season finale to in-state rival Tech was the only thing keeping them from the Coastal’s spot in the conference title game.  If the Hoos are hoping for a repeat or better in 2012, however, London must do something about a defense that will be forced to replace six starters from last year’s team.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.