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ACC spring storylines


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.

LSU LB Corey Thompson looking for a sixth season from NCAA

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07:  Kenyan Drake #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes away from Corey Thompson #23 of the LSU Tigers during the third quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Corey Thompson is hoping this season isn’t his last at LSU.

The linebacker sustained an unspecified lower-leg injury during the first few days of summer camp in August.  It was originally thought that Thompson would be back in 6-8 weeks, but interim head coach Ed Orgeron confirmed Tuesday that the fifth-year senior will likely be sidelined for all of 2016.

“I think he’s going to redshirt,” Orgeron said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I think he’s going to redshirt and that decision has been made, just final the other day. I don’t think I’m talking out of hand, but I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

Thompson has what’s seemingly a slam-dunk case for a sixth season of eligibility that would allow him to play in 2017.  In addition to all of 2016, Thompson sat out the entire 2014 season because of injury.

According to Orgeron, Thompson will seek a waiver from the NCAA.

In 2013 and 2015, Thompson started eight of the 19 games in which he played at safety.  He moved to linebacker after the 2015 season, and was penciled in as a starter prior to the injury.

Memphis WR’s car shot up after physical altercation with teammate

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An odd and somewhat disturbing situation is ongoing in Memphis involving two Tiger football players.

According to a police report obtained by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, several gunshots were fired at the vehicle of Tigers wide receiver Jae’Lon Oglesby, who wasn’t in the vehicle at te time but heard the shots from inside his apartment.  The Commercial Appeal writes that Oglesby “noticed bullet holes in two windows and both of the passenger-side doors of his Nissan Altima, as well as bullet damage to the roof of the car.”

Oglesby told police he did not see who fired the shots, but did indicate that he had been involved in what was described as a physical altercation with a teammate, cornerback Kam Prewitt, earlier in the day.

Police are currently investigating the incident, and the university is aware of the situation.

“We are aware of the incident involving two student-athletes on the University of Memphis campus yesterday and are cooperating fully with the investigation,” athletic director Tom Bowen said in a statement. “All student-athletes are subject to the University of Memphis Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, as well as University and athletic department policies.

“In addition, we are monitoring a second situation involving shots fired at a student-athlete’s parked vehicle at an off-campus location. We have offered our full support to the local authorities investigating that incident.”

Following Wednesday’s practice, head coach Mike Norvell stated that “[w]e’re in the evaluation stage of everything that has happened.” Neither Oglesby nor Prewitt were at that practice.

The past two seasons, Oglesby, a sophomore, has caught 25 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown.  Five of those catches and 46 of the yards have come in 2016.  He also has carried the ball eight times for 64 yards.

A redshirt freshman, Prewitt has yet to play a down for the Tigers.  According to the Commercial Appeal he was suspended during summer camp for undisclosed reasons.

WKU’s leading rusher suspended for first half for role in Week 8 brawl

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 21: Anthony Wales #20 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers rushes during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl against the South Florida Bulls at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The fallout from a “complete melee” in Week 8 will bleed into Week 9 for Western Kentucky.

Conference USA announced Tuesday that running back Anthony Wales has been suspended for the first half of WKU’s game this weekend against FAU. Wales was one of myriad players involved in an in-game, on-field brawl last Saturday against Old Dominion.

Every player on each team was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the officiating crew. Additionally, Monarch defensive back Jamshyer McUmber was ejected from the game.

“Conference USA takes sportsmanship and player safety very seriously,” a statement from the league began, “and the conference appreciates the efforts of both coaching staffs and the game officials to restore order following the incident and play the remainder of the game without any additional issues.”

“The league informed us of their decision,” WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said in his statement. “Coach [Jeff] Brohm addressed the situation from our perspective on Saturday and again today. Our focus is on this week’s game at FAU and our goal of winning another conference championship.”

In addition to Wales, ODU safety Christian Bynum has been suspended for the first half of this week’s game against UTEP.  WKU wide receivers Nicholas Norris and Kylen Towner and wide receiver Kesean Strong and defensive back Rob Thompson of ODU were issued public reprimands but were not suspended.

Wales is far and away the Hilltoppers leading rusher, topping the team in rushing yards (739), rushing touchdowns (11) and yards per carry (6.5). The rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth nationally.

Quinton Baker, second on the team with 310 yards, will get the start in place of Wales.

Gus Malzahn says ‘no doubt’ Kerryon Johnson will play vs. Ole Miss

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Kerryon Johnson #21 of the Auburn Tigers dives into the end zone for a touchdown during their game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Kerryon Johnson‘s absence from the field will apparently be a brief one.

The running back sustained a sprained ankle in Auburn’s Week 6 win over Mississippi State, and, coming off a bye, the football program was initially optimistic he’d be available for the Week 8 game against Arkansas.  Instead, he was a game-day decision for the Razorbacks.

While Johnson missed that game, that won’t be the case this Saturday as Gus Malzahn declared his starting back ready to go against Ole Miss.

“He practiced yesterday. He will play, there’s no doubt about that,” the head coach Gus Malzahn said during the weekly SEC teleconference Wednesday. “We’re trying to be smart about it.”

At the time of his injury, Johnson’s 538 yards rushing and six touchdowns were tops among all Tiger backs.  Kamryn Pettway ran for a career-high 192 yards against te Razorbacks, and now leads the team with 697 yards.  Both Johnson and Pettway are part of an offense that ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game (302.9).