Ohio State Introduces Urban Meyer

Big Ten spring storylines


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.

QB Thomas Sirk probable for Duke vs. Wake

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  C.J. Robbins #90 of the Northwestern Wildcats tackles Thomas Sirk #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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In the midst of a four-game losing streak, it appears Duke will have its starting quarterback at its disposable in the final regular season attempt to end the skein –if that’s the direction the coaching staff wants to go, of course.

On Duke’s official injury report, Thomas Sirk is listed as probable for the Wake Forest game with an unspecified upper-body injury.  Sirk sustained the injury in the Week 10 loss to North Carolina and didn’t play in the loss to Pitt the following weekend.

He returned last Saturday for the loss to Virginia.

Not only is Sirk the Blue Devils’ leading passer, but he also leads the team in rushing with 593 yards on the ground.  Sirk is one of four Power Five quarterbacks who leads their team in rushing and passing, joining Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Oregon State’s Seth Collins.

Even as it has looked like Sirk will be healthy enough to go this weekend, head coach David Cutcliffe has declined to name a starter.  Parker Boehme is Sirk’s backup and started the Week 11 loss to Pitt.  In his first collegiate start, the sophomore completed 23-of-42 passes for 248 yards and an interception.

Wintry weather could have an impact on Bedlam

AMES, IA - OCTOBER 26: Head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys signals a play from the sidelines during the second half of play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Ames, Iowa. The Oklahoma State Cowboys defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 58-27. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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One of the most important games on the holiday docket this weekend is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, with the Sooners looking to maintain their No. 3 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings and the Cowboys looking to get back into the playoff mix following their first loss of the season.

As it’s late November, though, Mother Nature may be looking to have a say in the outcome.

With Bedlam scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. ET in Stillwater on Saturday, the weather forecast bears watching. “There is 40-percent chance for precipitation Saturday night and a low temperature around 30 degrees with the potential for rain or freezing rain,” the Oklahoman‘s Kyle Fredrickson wrote, citing National Weather Service data.

In the old days when playing surfaces were mainly grass, wet weather wreaked havoc on field. With the advent of advanced fake turf, that concern has been somewhat mitigated. At least, that’s what OSU’s offensive boss is telling himself.

“I think you have to have contingency plans based on the weather,” coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “But nowadays, you’re playing on the turf so it can’t be that bad. Back in the day when we were playing on grass, it would affect you because there would be mud on the ball and you would only use two balls in the game.”

OU, OSU and Baylor all currently have one Big 12 loss, with the latter having two regular season games remaining while Bedlam is the last for the in-state rivals. The Sooners would be declared the conference champion with a win this weekend — they would’ve beaten both the Bears and Cowboys — while the Bears stake their claim as the league champ with wins in the last two games (TCU, Texas) combined with a Sooners loss. Because of its loss to the Bears last weekend, the Cowboys can be Big 12 champs only if they beat the Sooners and the Bears lose at least one of their last two.

If OU can win Bedlam and hold the crown of Big 12 champ, they’ll have to wait another week to see if the playoff committee will keep them in the top four or, as was the case with TCU last year, they get bumped out in favor of teams that played in and won conference championship games while they sat at home.

Injury issues continue to plague Gators’ defensive line

during the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.
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Looking to put an embarrassing overtime win over two-win FAU in the rearview mirror, Florida is look at some significant defensive line issues heading into its annual in-state showdown with Florida State.

First and foremost on the injury report is Jon Bullard, who is listed as doubtful for Saturday night’s game against the Seminoles.  Bullard, who has been dealing with an arm issue the past couple of weeks, suffered a knee injury on the first possession of the FAU game.  While the defensive tackle returned to that game, he’s been limited in practice this week leading to his doubtful designation.

Bullard’s 13.5 tackles for loss are tops on the team and fourth in the SEC.  He has started 33 games during his Gator career, including a streak of 23 straight.

In addition to Bullard’s injury issue, defensive ends Alex McCalister (foot) and defensive tackle Taven Bryan (ankle) are also listed as doubtful as well. McCalister currently leads the Gators in sacks with 6.5, one more than Bullard’s 5.5.

But wait, there’s more: three other defensive linemen are listed as questionable — Joey Ivie (knee), Jordan Sherit (hamstring) and Thomas Holley (hip).

Chris Petersen gets two-year extension from Washington

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 26: Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen celebrates a goal line stand against the California Golden Bears during the first half of a college football game at Husky Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. California went on to win 30-24. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Chris Petersen
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Still needing another win to secure bowl eligibility, Chris Petersen has been rewarded by his Washington bosses for the work he’s done with the Huskies thus far.

First reported by SI.com‘s Pete Thamel and subsequently confirmed by ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad, Petersen has signed a two-year contract extension with UW.  The new deal would keep Petersen with the Huskies through the 2020 season.

Thamel adds that Petersen will earn $4 million in the extension years of 2019 and 2020; in 2015, Petersen earned $3.4 million.  Petersen had already been scheduled to earn $4 million in 2018 under the terms of his original five-year deal.

Following an eight-year tenure at Boise State in which the Broncos won 88 percent of their games, Petersen left to take over the Huskies for the 2014 season after Steve Sarkisian exited for the USC job.  In his first season, Petersen went 8-5 and ended the year with a Cactus Bowl loss.  This season, the Huskies are 5-6 and need a win over No. 20 Washington State this weekend to extend their bowl streak to six straight seasons.

In Petersen’s first seven seasons as a head coach, he went 84-8; in his last three seasons, he’s gone a combined 21-16 — 8-4 in his last season in Boise, 13-12 in his first two years at UW.

UPDATED 12:04 p.m. ET: Within a minute of this being posted, UW sent out a press release confirming that Petersen has indeed agreed to a contract extension.

“Coach Petersen has demonstrated tremendous integrity and is building a program that Husky fans can be proud of, both on and off the field,” athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “This extension is well-deserved and we hope Coach Petersen is a Husky for a long time to come.”