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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.

Auburn RB Roc Thomas officially granted release, Jax State bound

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 6: Running back Roc Thomas #9 of the Auburn Tigers runs the ball in for a touchdown as offensive linesman Jordan Diamond #76 of the Auburn Tigers blocks safety Forrest Hightower #12 of the San Jose State Spartans on September 6, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn defeated San Jose State 59-13.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Auburn running back Roc Thomas will transfer, head coach Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday.

“Roc Thomas has asked for his release from Auburn and I have granted his request. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward,” Malzahn said in a statement.

Reports bubbled last week the former five-star running back would head to Jacksonville State, and this all but confirms them.

 A rising junior out of Oxford, Ala., Thomas garnered starts against Georgia and Alabama as a true freshman but finished the 2015 season fourth among Tigers running backs with 43 carries for 261 yards and one touchdown. He also caught 11 passes for 200 yards and a score.

Peyton Barber, first on the club with 237 carries a year ago, left for the NFL, but with spring ball now complete it appears Thomas did not like his chances for wrestling carries away from Jovon Robinson or Kerryon Johnson.

Report: Big 12 expansion, TV network on hold for 2016

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Thirty-five media members are expected to descend upon suburban Dallas this week for the annual gathering of Big 12 presidents and chancellors — more than three times the average number — and not because they’re excited to see whether Baker Mayfield gets another year of eligibility. Expansion is the first word off the lips everywhere from Provo to Storrs with numerous stops in between, but a report Tuesday said all these digital trees slain in devotion to the subject will die in vain.

According to Chip Brown of Horns Digest, the issue has already been decided and the Big 12 will stand pat — both on the membership and television network fronts — for 2016.

Brown writes:

“The bottom line is there is no consensus on any non-Power Five candidates to add, and the league’s primary TV partners – ESPN and Fox – aren’t exactly knocking down doors right now to start a conference network, the sources told HD.”

If the presidents haven’t even broken their proverbial bread yet, how could the issue already be decided? With 10 schools, only three are needed to block any movement, and Texas, TCU and Texas Tech were said to be against expansion heading into the meetings.

It’s also possible this report is a trial balloon of sorts, a shot across the bow at a specific group of people in the meeting room.

The only area change could happen, according to Brown, would be to add a championship game. The conference won the right to hold a title game without expanding during the NCAA Convention in January.

A conference championship game is believed to be worth an extra $2-3 million per year per school in television money.

Nick Saban calls satellite camps “the Wild, Wild West” in lengthy rant

Alabama football coach Nick Saban talks with the media, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
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Nick Saban‘s program will partake in satellite camps this summer.

Nick Saban hates satellite camps.

Alabama and its four national championships have done just fine without satellite camps, so it’s perfectly understandable why its head coach would find no use for them. It’s also understandable on a personal level, as coaches will now spend hundreds of hours more work in preparation of signing the same amount of players.

Saban expanded on those thoughts during the SEC’s spring meetings on Tuesday:

“What’s amazing to me is somebody didn’t stand up and say there’s going to be the unintended consequences of what you all are doing,” Saban said, via SEC Country.

He continued: “Anybody can have a camp now. If they have a prospect, they can have a camp and then you’re expected to go to that camp and then they can use you to promote their camp because Ohio State is coming, Alabama is coming, whoever else is coming. Somebody sponsors a camp, they pay them the money. What do they do with the money? And who makes sure the kid paid to go to the camp? I mean, this is the Wild Wild West at its best. There’s been no specific guidelines relative to how we’re managing and controlling this stuff. It’s happening outside our normal evaluation window, which means we’re taking time away from our players.

“Our players come back to school today. We start working and making sure that our players are doing the right things with our strength and conditioning coaches, our academic people, with the limited number of meetings that we’re allowed to have with them. We’re not going to be there because we’re going to be going someplace else to look at some other guy.”

He continued again: “All you’re doing is allowing all these other people that we spend all of our time at the NCAA saying, you can’t recruit through a third party. You can’t be involved with third-party people and that’s exactly what you’re doing, creating all these third parties that are going to get involved with the prospects and all that. And who gets exposed on that? I go to a camp and I’m talking to some guy I don’t know from Adam’s house cat and he’s representing some kid because he put the camp on, and then I’m in trouble for talking to this guy? And who even knows if the guy paid to go to the camp. Is the NCAA going to do that? I mean, we do that at our camp. We have people responsible. They’re called compliance folks. What kind of compliance people do we have at these camps?”

And he continued again: “I’m not blaming Jim Harbaugh. I’m not saying anything about it. I’m just saying it’s bad for college football. Jim Harbaugh can do anything he wants to do. I’m not saying anything bad about him, if he thinks that’s what’s best. There needs to be somebody who looks out for what’s best for the game, not what’s best for the Big Ten or not what’s best for the SEC or not what’s best for Jim Harbaugh, but what’s best for the college football. The integrity of the game. The coaches, the players and the people that play it. That’s bigger than all of this. That’s what somebody should do. Now, who is doing that? I don’t know because right now since we have the Power 5, everybody is politicking for what they want for their conference. That’s why I said there needs to be a college football commissioner.”

And to think, all that came after Saban didn’t want to talk about satellite camps.

South Carolina LB Skai Moore out for 2016 season

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The SEC is trotting its head coaches in front of the media today during the league’s spring meetings, and among the off-season talking points that will be abandoned when real football starts was a bit of real football news.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp revealed linebacker Skai Moore will miss the entire 2016 season after a herniated disc in his neck failed to heal on its own. Muschamp said Moore aggravated the injury suffered during the 2015 season while in the weight room prepping for spring practice.

“He’ll be fine. This is not a career-threatening situation,” Muschamp said, via The State. “This is a very common procedure for herniated disc. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t heal on its own.”

Muschamp said Moore will redshirt this fall and return as a fifth-year senior in 2017.

“We are disappointed for Skai, but we need to support him right now,” Muschamp said. “He will graduate in the spring. It’s great he gets to come back and graduate and play his senior year.”

Moore led the Gamecocks in tackles each of the past three seasons, rising from 56 to 93 to 111 as a junior. He’ll graduate this spring, and considered going pro after the 2015 season. Which leads one to wonder how likely it is Moore will go two more seasons without getting paid to play football.