Ohio State Introduces Urban Meyer

Big Ten spring storylines

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Thanks in large part to the biggest “free-agent signing” in college last year, Wisconsin staked its claim to a win in the first-ever Big Ten championship game.  With Russell Wilson one-and-done in Madison, however, the conference generally and the Leaders (chuckle) division specifically are up for grabs yet again.

The only certainty for the 2012 race to Indianapolis?  Ohio State won’t be involved, thanks to its well-publicized NCAA issues.

The story of the conference headed into the spring is, of course, a pair of newcomers.  Bill O’Brien takes over a Penn State football program tainted by the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal, while Urban Meyer returns to his home-state Buckeyes after hitting the pause button on his coaching career following the 2010 season.

Below are a handful of Big Ten storylines we’ll pay at least some attention to this spring:

Leg up in the Legends?
While Michigan State claimed the division’s spot in the first Big Ten title game, it will likely be its in-state rival that will carry the frontrunner tag heading into the upcoming season.  And why not?  All Brady Hoke did in his first year at Michigan was lead the Wolverines to the most wins (11) since 2006, taking an immense first step in erasing the stench left behind by the RichRod regime.  Beginning in the spring, though, Hoke must find and identify new playmakers at the wide receiver position.  Additionally, Denard Robinson must find a way to reduce his turnovers, although a second year in the same system could very well alleviate that issue on its own.  Fortunately — and by “fortunately” I mean “get down and thank the Good Lord Greg Robinson is not around” — the defense is in the very capable hands of Greg Mattison and, even with some attrition in the trenches, should be a strength of the 2012 edition of the Wolverines.

Monumental change in Happy Valley
For the first time since Lyndon Baines Johnson was sitting in Oval Office, a head coach not named Joe Paterno will direct the Nittany Lions football program through spring drills.  Charged with the task of replacing a coaching legend is Bill O’Brien, who will not only be taking over a program rocked by scandal over the past several months, but will be a head coach for the first time at any level of football.  With O’Brien at the helm, one will actually watch the Nittany Lions field a (gasp!) modern style of offense, replete with passing and excitement and the like.  While keeping some continuity on the defensive side of the ball by retaining Larry Johnson Sr. cannot be understated, all eyes in the spring will be on the number of footballs piercing the Happy Valley air.  Just who will be doing the majority of the flinging remains to be seen; Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden will once again battle for the starting job, with Paul Jones possibly getting himself into the mix as well.  While that crucial battle will begin in the spring, it likely won’t be finished until deep into summer camp.

(Insert “Urban development/renewal” pun here)
Penn State’s not the only Big Ten school preparing to cannonball into 21st century offensive football.  Urban Meyer will bring his version of the spread offense to the Buckeyes, implementing the new system after bringing an SEC mindset to the recruiting game.  Unlike the Nittany Lions, however, there is no question who will be the new offense’s triggerman as true sophomore-to-be Braxton Miller has all of the tools to flourish under the tutelage of Meyer and his offensive coaching staff.  Certainly there are other questions that need answered — filling holes on the offensive line chief among them — and there’s no postseason to play for, but the foundation laid by Meyer & Company this spring will certainly benefit the program in 2013 and beyond.  Provided another sabbatical is not in the offing, of course.

Uncertainty under center
Just because Wisconsin and Michigan State met in the first Big Ten title doesn’t make them the favorites for a return engagement in the second.  A big reason why?  Replacing the talent and experience lost at the quarterback position.  The Badgers, of course, will be looking for a replacement for Russell Wilson, and could very well turn its attention to the East Coast yet again for a QB solution; UW is reportedly one of the handful of schools Danny O’Brien is considering as he transfers from Maryland.  The Spartans, on the other hand, will definitely look from within for a replacement for Kirk Cousins, who started the past three seasons and was widely considered MSU’s heart and soul.  Barring an unexpected development, Andrew Maxwell,  a four-star member of the Spartans’ 2009 recruiting class, is Cousins’ heir apparent.  Whether he’s ready for his new, more visible role remains to be seen.

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen wins Nagurski Trophy

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Jonathan Allen #93 of the Alabama Crimson Tide sacks Trevor Knight #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies  at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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One of the most dominant defensive players in the country has gotten his just due. I’m thinking it might not be the last.

Very late Monday night, the Football Writers Association of America announced that Alabama’s Jonathan Allen has been named as the 2016 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, given annually to the best defensive player in the country.  The defensive end was one of five finalists for the award, players that included a teammate, linebacker Reuben Foster, as well as Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins.

Seven times the last eight years, a Crimson Tide player has been a finalist for the award.  This is the first time a player from that school has taken home the trophy.

“I’m honestly speechless right now. I never in a million years thought I would even be up for this award, yet win it,” Allen said. “I’ve got to thank all the guys back at Alabama, God, my parents, my girlfriend, everyone who’s had a part in shaping me and making me who I am. This is just a tremendous award.”

Allen’s statistical resume is encapsulated by the FWAA:

Allen is second on the Crimson Tide’s career sack list with 26.5 and has nine sacks for 72 yards in losses this season. He has 15 quarterback hurries, has broken up two passes, and blocked a kick. He has scored touchdowns on two fumble recoveries – a 75-yard return against Ole Miss and a 30-yard return against Texas A&M.

His worthiness, video-wise, can be summed up thusly:

Ole Miss WR Damore’ea Stringfellow jumping early to NFL

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Damore'ea Stringfellow #3 of the Mississippi Rebels makes a one handed catch in the fourth quarter as he gets behind Nick Harvey #1 of the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on November 12, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Not surprisingly, one of the most physically-gifted wide receivers in the country is making himself available to the next level.

Ole Miss confirmed Monday that Damore'ea Stringfellow has decided to forego his senior season and will enter the 2017 NFL draft. The receiver had long been expected to make the leap; the official announcement served to confirm the obvious.

“I cannot begin to express to Rebel Nation what an honor and privilege these last three years have been putting on the Ole Miss jersey each Saturday,” Stringfellow said in a statement. “The fans’ endless support, both on and off the field, has allowed me to grow and develop into the athlete and man that I am today.

“In that light, after much reflection and prayer, it pleases and saddens me to announce that I have decided to forgo my senior year and declare for the 2017 NFL Draft to pursue my dream of playing on Sundays. I would like to thank my family, coaches, professors and most of all the fans that have given me the love, courage and much needed prayer to go out and make Oxford proud. I truly would not have this amazing opportunity without you.”

After a May of 2014 departure from his original collegiate home, Washington, that revolved around an off-field legal incident, Stringfellow had initially stated he would be transferring to Nebraska.  Less than a month later, though, the receiver landed at Ole Miss.

The past two seasons, after he sat out the 2014 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, the 6-2, 219-pound Stringfellow caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I am grateful to Damore’ea for his commitment to our program,” said Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze. “He has a tremendous opportunity, and we are excited for him to enter the next phase of his life. We look forward to seeing another Rebel receiver in the NFL.”

Lamar Jackson, OU tandem headline list of five Heisman finalists

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The Heisman Trophy finalists were announced in a made-for-awkward-television moment during ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown on sight from MetLife Stadium. The Heisman trust revealed a list of five finalists including: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

Described my some (read: yours truly) as Allen Iverson in cleats, Jackson’s slippery explosiveness led to 4,928 yards of total offense and a nation-leading 51 touchdowns responsible for. He is regarded as the overwhelming favorite to win the stiffarm trophy.

Mayfield has thrown for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His 197.75 quarterback rating is on pace to break the FBS single-season record, and he pilots an offense that ranks third nationally in scoring and yards per play. Mayfield’s efforts helped Oklahoma win its second straight Big 12 title and complete the first 9-0 run in the league’s 6-year round-robin era.

Peppers is the swiss army knife of a threat for the Wolverines. He ranks second on Michigan’s elite defense in tackles and tackles for loss while also returning punts and kicks and serving as a running back on offense.

Watson has led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and College Football Playoff appearances while firing 37 touchdown passes and throwing for 3,914 yards on the year.

Mayfield’s top target, Westbrook recorded 74 receptions for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year. Westbrook’s inclusion makes Oklahoma the first team to send teammates to New York since Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush did the same for USC in 2005. They’re just the fifth set of teammates to do so overall (Leinart and Bush did so twice.)

That’s also the last time the SEC did not place a player in the top five vote-getters.

The Heisman Trophy ceremony will be held Saturday night in New York.

Army breaking out WWII-themed uniforms for Navy game

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 12:  The Army Black Knights sing their alma mater near their fan section after the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Lincoln Financial Field on December 12, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Navy Midshipmen defeated the Army Black Knights 21-17.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Army will carry with it a 14-game losing streak against Navy when it takes the M&T Bank Stadium field on Saturday. But the Black Knights will do so in some some great uniforms.

The academy on Monday unveiled the special uniforms they’ll wear against Navy that honor the accomplishments of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II.

Known as the All-Americans, the 82nd Airborne was “[h]ighly trained and highly disciplined, the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne were asked to spearhead the invasions of Italy, Normandy, and Holland. With little to no reinforcements or relief in the most adverse conditions, their physical and mental toughness was pushed to the limits. Their unwavering brotherhood and intense dedication to success, ultimately led to mission accomplishment.”

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While Navy has won 14 straight and 15 of the past 16, four of the fast five games have been decided by six points or less, including last season’s 21-17 decision.

Knowing the recent history of this game, expect a response from Navy at some point this week.