SEC spring storylines

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Six straight BCS championships later, the SEC is undeniably the king’s conference of college football. There’s just one problem: the SEC’s vice grip on the BCS championship is going to end.

(Eventually)

Captain obvious, I know, but it’s just not wise to be picking against the SEC these days — especially the SEC West, which is home to the last three national champs and could very well make a run for its fourth in 2012. Alabama, Arkansas and LSU will all be in the limelight again as Top 10 teams.

Where the SEC needs some help is the overall depth of the conference, specifically in the East division. When traditional powers are good, the perception of the conference rises, and no team needs to elevate their game like Tennessee. The Vols are in a horrible slump and if Derek Dooley doesn’t turn it around soon, the heat beneath his coaching seat will be rising fast.

But there’s a lot to look forward to this spring in the SEC, including the new additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. Here’s what we’re watching:

The newbies 
Duh. The latest round of conference realignment started at the end of last summer when Texas A&M “resurrected its courtship” with the SEC, which resulted in the Aggies and Missouri joining as the conference’s 13th and 14th members. But now it’s about to get real. Can the former Big 12 members succeed in the SEC? It’ll be a tougher road for A&M right away; the Aggies are breaking in a new coach in Kevin Sumlin and replacing some key starters in what will undoubtedly be the toughest division — again — in college football. Missouri is a foreigner, a Midwest school going to places like Columbia and Gainesville. As spring practices commence, folks in SEC country are going to have a lot of interest in how Mizzou and A&M look.

Memo to the SEC East: let’s be a little more competitive, okay?
The SEC East posted a 6-13 record against the West last season, with half of those wins coming from East division champ Georgia. Granted, the West was top-heavy, housing three of the best five or six teams in college football and the bottom of the East was atrocious. But the last time the SEC East did anything significant was Florida’s 2008-09 BCS championship run. It’s uncertain if the East will improve this year, but it has the potential. Georgia and South Carolina will, again, be getting the preseason pub, but Florida, Vanderbilt — yes, the Commodores — and Missouri can all be considered in that next tier mix. Of course, everybody comes out of spring feeling pretty optimistic, but we’ll be watching to see if any team actually looks like they can challenge the West for the SEC crown — as tough as that may be to gauge.

Arkansas “offensive” O-line 
The Razorbacks managed to net just under 1,800 yards on the ground last season without Knile Davis, who sat out 2011 because of an ankle injury. Not bad for a group run by committee through an offensive line that had its fair share of struggles. Also, the fact that quarterback Tyler Wilson isn’t currently in iron lung after the shots he took last season is a feat within itself. If Arkansas is going to stay par for the course with their offensive production, they need Wilson to stay healthy, which means the O-line has to do a better job of protecting him while providing plenty of holes for the returning Davis. O-line improvement is a must for the Hogs this spring.

Copied and pasted from last year: Alabama, LSU favorites again 
Anyone ready for round two? Or, I guess, round three, maybe four? Months after meeting in the BCS championship game, all eyes will be on the defending national champion, Alabama, and the team that beat the Tide during the regular season but eventually lost when it matter most, LSU. Both lose a ton of talent to the NFL, especially on defense, but there always seems to be plenty of able and willing replacements to step in to starting roles. The quarterback situation for the Tide and Tigers is interesting, too. AJ McCarron showed remarkable improvement in the BCS championship and may be more than a “game manager” for Bama in 2012, and Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger appears to be the favorite to lead LSU out of its quarterback slump.

Doo(ley) or Die time in Knoxville?
It’s sort of wild to think that Derek Dooley could be out after three years at Tennessee if he doesn’t turn it around and fast, but that seems to be the feeling as the Vols enter spring practice. After a decent inaugural year for Dooley that included a Music City bowl appearance, things took a turn for the worse last season when Tennessee went 5-7, finished last in the SEC East and lost to Kentucky. Woof. The Vols are filled with young talent, not to mention plenty of new coaches, but things haven’t completely come together yet. It’s a shame, too. Dooley’s a likeable (and quotable) coach, but mercy isn’t exactly at the front of everyone’s minds in Knoxville. Plus, there’s a new athletic director in town… who didn’t hire Dooley. It’s time to impress.

Report: North Texas adds FCS running back transfer

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North Texas is adding running back Loren Easly to the roster, according to a message posted to his Twitter account Saturday.

Easly spent the past two seasons at Stephen F. Austin, a member of the FCS Southland Conference. A Houston native, he appeared in 20 games over two seasons as a Lumberjack, carrying 213 times for 1,256 yards with 11 touchdowns while adding 17 catches for 139 yards.

Denton Record-Chronicle reporter Brett Vito confirmed the transfer on his Twitter account.

As an interdivisional transfer, Easly will be able to play immediately with two seasons of eligibility remaining.

He would join a backfield led by rising senior Jeffrey Wilson, who paced the Mean Green with 936 yards and 14 touchdowns on 169 carries in 2016.

Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger signs extension, vows to fix football

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Kansas athletics director Sheahon Zenger has signed an extension to remain on the job through the 2020-21 academic year, the school announced Sunday.

Zenger has been on the job since 2011, meaning the new deal will take him past the decade mark in Lawrence.

“Since Sheahon’s arrival in Jan. 2011, Kansas Athletics has enjoyed success on and off the field,” Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement. “I am confident that under Sheahon’s leadership Athletics will experience even more success in the coming years.”

Zenger did not hire Bill Self, but he did hire Charlie Weis, which cost KU more than $5.6 million in buyout money after he was fired for going 6-22 leading the Jayhawks from 2012-14.

David Beaty was since hired to run the program, who has infused an outlook brighter than his 2-22 record would suggest.

Zenger said the new contract will allow him to fix football. Via the Kansas City Star:

Under Zenger’s watch, KU has most notably added numerous construction projects, including Rock Chalk Park and the DeBruce Center, which houses the original rules of basketball. He has spoken previously about completing those ventures to “clear the deck” financially so focus could be placed on football and Memorial Stadium renovations — two things he now says are “really the top priorities for me in the next four years.”

“We want it to be a place that people just love to come to,” Zenger said of Memorial Stadium. “We have such history there. I think it’s the greatest setting in the nation for college football. We just need to get it to the point where it’s a place that’s just revered.”

The extension includes a raise from a base salary of $619,000 to $700,000.

Alleged victim of Tennessee WR Josh Smith threatens $3 million civil suit

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Earlier this month, Tennessee wide receiver Josh Smith was charged with domestic assault following an incident at an off-campus house with his roommate. Now, the roommate is seeking damages of $875,000. If that sum is not paid, then the alleged victim may bring a $3 million civil suit to the court.

According to Jimmy Hyams of WNML, Kennedy Foster suffered a broken nose, broken teeth and damage to his eyes and right ear in the incident earlier this month that led to the charges filed against Smith. Foster sent a settlement demand letter to the attorney representing Smith.

“I’m not accusing him (Foster) of extortion, but that’s what it looks like,’’ Smith’s attorney, Keith Stewart said according to Hyams. “Given my understanding that Mr. Foster’s attempts to press charges against Malcolm Stokes were unsuccessful, it seems his motives are clear.’’

“I think when the truth comes out, Josh will be exonerated,” Stewart said of his client.

The deadline for paying the settlement demand is set for May 30 (tomorrow) by 5:00 p.m. and is to be delivered in the form of a cashier’s check along with a letter of apology for the incident. If the Smith family does not pay the requested sum, the legal team for Foster will move forward with a $1.5 million lawsuit seeking compensatory damages and a $1.5 million lawsuit for punitive damages. How either will hold up in court remains to be seen.

How some college football teams are recognizing Memorial Day on Twitter

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It’s not Memorial Day until the social media teams at college football programs start pumping out branded Memorial Day messages on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. As expected, teams and conferences are busy at pumping out the social media content for their followers today. Here is a sampling of what has been seen so far.

If you have not already done so, please take a few minutes to read John’s annual Memorial Day post.