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.

Dismissed Georgia Tech RB Dedrick Mills headed to 2016 JUCO champ

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Less than a week after his unexpected and abrupt departure from Georgia Tech, Dedrick Mills has found himself a new college football home.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mills has enrolled Garden City Community College in Kansas.  As his next stop, which won the 2016 junior college national championship, plays below the FBS level, the running back will be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

Very late last week, Tech announced that Mills had been dismissed from the program for an unspecified violation of athletic department rules.

Last season, Mills’ 771 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns led all Tech ball carriers., with 169 of those yards coming in the bowl win over Kentucky.  Mills put up all of those numbers as a true freshman despite being suspended on two different occasions for a total of three games.

More than likely, Mills will spend one season at the JUCO level before moving back to the FBS.  Whatever team grabs him at that time would be getting a talented player who would still have two years of eligibility remaining.

Bowling Green starting corner will miss at least opener, possibly entire 2017 season

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At the moment, the injury news for Jamari Bozeman is bad.  Depending on how things play out over the next several weeks, it could be bad.

According to the Toledo Blade, Bozeman will definitely miss the 2017 opener against Michigan State because of what’s described as an upper-leg injury.  Additionally, the Blade reports that the defensive back will probably miss the entire non-conference schedule, which, in addition to MSU, includes the home opener against FCS South Dakota Sept. 9 followed by road trips to Northwestern and Middle Tennessee the next two weeks.

Somewhat ominously, the newspaper writes that, beyond that, “his status for the rest of the season is uncertain.”

A 12-game starter for the Falcons at safety last season, Bozeman led the team in interceptions with three.  He was named third-team All-MAC after last season.

The good news is that Bozeman, a true sophomore this year, has yet to use his redshirt and would get this season of eligibility back if the injury is severe enough to sideline him for the entire 2017 campaign.

Danny Etling holds off true freshman, named LSU’s starting QB

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Myles Brennan is, more than likely, the future at the quarterback position for LSU.  In the here and now, however, the precocious true freshman will have to bide his time — at least for now.

After a significant, and maybe unexpected, push from the true freshman Brennan, Danny Etling Tuesday was officially named as the Tigers’ starting quarterback in a battle that Ed Orgeron described as “very close.”  Etling, a transfer from Purdue, came into the competition as the incumbent, starting the last 10 games of the 2016 season after taking over the job from Brandon Harris.

“We believe in Danny. We hope he has a great year,” the head coach said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In his first season at LSU, Etling completed 160-of-269 passes (59.5%) for 2,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.  In his 10 starts, the Tigers went 7-3 in a season that saw them finish 8-4.

Brennan was a four-star 2017 signee, rated as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the country.

Etling’s first start in his second season with the team will come Sept. 2 against BYU in the neutral-site opener.

UTSA-Texas State series rebranded H-E-B I-35 Showdown

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For those not familiar with HEB Grocery Company, it’s a grocery giant founded in Kerrville, Texas, in 1905 by a man named Florence Butt. H-E-B now owns nearly 400 stores stretching across south and central Texas and central Mexico. H-E-B essentially owns the San Antonio area and leases back to its million-plus residents, so it makes sense that when UTSA and Texas State wanted to brand their rivalry, they turned to H-E-B.

Starting this season, the UTSA-Texas State series will now be known as the H-E-B I-35 Showdown

Cue the AD boilerplate!

“We’re thrilled that H-E-B has become the title sponsor for the I-35 rivalry football games between UTSA and Texas State,” UTSA Associate Vice President/Director of Athletics Lynn Hickey said. “No matter the sport, both fan bases always show up in strong support when the Roadrunners and the Bobcats get together on the playing fields. This newly-branded name for the football games this season and next will only add to the rich history between the two schools.”
 
“It is great to have H-E-B supporting the I-35 football series between Texas State and UTSA,” Texas State Director of Athletics Larry Teis said. “H-E-B has a great relationship with the state of Texas and both universities. We have continued to play UTSA in other sports and the rivalry is strong for our student-athletes and fans.”

The two schools are natural gridiron rivals. They sit just 50 miles apart — connected by Interstate 35, of course — and compete for athletes and regular students alike. The Roadrunners and Bobcats have been Olympics sports rivals for years, primarily as members of the Southland Conference. Each football program is (obviously) in FBS now and have met only once, a 38-31 UTSA win in 2012, since the Roadrunners’ program launched in 2011.

The series will resume Sept. 23 in San Marcos, with Texas State making a return visit to San Antonio on Sept. 22, 2018.