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.

Jim Harbaugh, on threatening tweets directed at him by former player: ‘it’s a serious matter’

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The man at the center of a storm not of his creation has spoken.

Elysee Mbem-Bosse, or someone with access to his Twitter account, sent out a string of disturbing and threatening tweets Monday night that seemed to be directed at U-M head football coach Jim Harbaugh.  Even as U-M’s athletic director expressed concern for a player who left the football program in mid-November, the University of Michigan Police Department had already confirmed that they had launched an investigation into the social-media threats.

At a coaching clinic in Detroit Thursday night, Harbaugh for the first time (somewhat) addressed the threatening tweets seemingly directed at him by a former player.  From the Detroit News:

It’s a serious matter,” Harbaugh told The Detroit News. “I’m confident our administration and university officials will take the proper steps and are taking the proper steps.”

Harbaugh was asked if he felt threatened by the tweets.

“That’s all I’m going to say about it,” he said.

He issued the same response when asked when he became aware of the tweets.

Mbem-Bosse, who appeared in 12 games at linebacker the past two seasons, has not been arrested or charged as of yet in connection to the social-media threats.  Even in the face of a police investigation, the Twitter account attached to Mbem-Bosse, which he marked private before switching it back to public, has remained defiant and continued to direct unnerving tweets at his now-former head coach.

Nick Saban had ‘very positive meeting’ with Jalen Hurts’ dad

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Not surprisingly, Nick Saban is taking a measured approach to what could potentially be a volatile situation within his football program.

In an interview that was posted Thursday, Averion Hurts, the father of two-year starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, stated that, if his son fails to beat out Tua Tagovailoa for the starting job, he would “be the biggest free agent in college football history.”  The intimation, of course, was that Hurts would transfer if/when he lost the competition.

As it turned out, the Crimson Tide head coach was previously scheduled to meet with the media later on in the day, after the piece had gained some national traction.  Predictably, Saban was asked about the quotes attributed to the elder Hurts.

In answering the queries, Saban stated that he had met with the father this past weekend in what he described as “a very positive meeting.”

In the article in question, Averion Hurts stated that, while “Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team… my job is to do what’s best for Jalen.” Saban’s response? From al.com:

At the end of the day, everybody has career decisions that they have to make. Nobody knows what the outcome of this situation will bring. We don’t want any player not to be able to fill their goals and aspirations in our program here. We don’t want that for any of our players. Jalen’s dad has always been very positive and supportive in every conversation that I had.

So I’m not really concerned with what somebody else chose to write because I’m always sort of use the personal communication that I have with our player, Jalen and his family when necessary. And I have a lot of trust and respect for those folks. And I don’t think there’s an issue or problem from my standpoint.

Hurts has taken the majority of first-team reps this spring as Tagovailoa has been extremely limited because of an injury to his left (throwing hand) that has, thus far, required two different surgeries.  Tagovailoa will not participate in the annual spring game this Saturday, and Saban has refused to give a timeline for a decision on a starter to be made.

Will Greg Schiano attend Rutgers camp with Ohio State coaches?

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The most successful head coach in Rutgers program history could be making his long-awaited return to the program. Sort of. Greg Schiano, now Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, could potentially be one of the members of the Ohio State coaching staff that makes a visit to New Jersey this summer for a football camp run by Rutgers.

The East Coast Elite Football Camp will be held on June 1 for high school juniors and seniors. Ohio State’s coaching staff will be a special guest for the camp, leading many to suspect Schiano will be one of the star attractions for the Rutgers camp.

It is worth noting Rutgers head coach Chris Ash was previously the defensive coordinator for Ohio State before accepting his first head coaching gig with the Scarlet Knights. Schiano was hired by Ohio State to fill the vacancy on the coaching staff as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. With Ash making it his professional mission to build the Rutgers program using the lessons and strategies learned under Meyer at Ohio State, it seems only natural to invite Urban Meyer and his staff to New Jersey to work a football camp. Not only would this be a tremendous selling point for high school juniors and seniors (thus, potential recruits), but the Rutgers staff can benefit from working alongside Ohio State’s coaching staff, which is among the best in the nation.

Schiano turned a dreadful Rutgers program into a competitive program in the Big East over a span of 11 seasons. During that time, Rutgers played in six bowl games, and won five in a row over a six-year span. In 2006, Schiano coached Rutgers to a No. 12 ranking with a record of 11-2. After a 9-4 season in 2011, Schiano accepted the job with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but a two-year stint in the pros was all Schiano would have before eventually returning to the college game after a two-year break.

Keegan-Michael Key to guest coach at Penn State spring game

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Penn State’s spring game on Saturday could be a coaching matchup of James Franklin vs… James Franklin?

Noted Franklin impressionist and Penn State alum Keegan Michael-Key will be attending the Penn State spring game this Saturday. The school also announced on Facebook Michael-Key will be a special guest coach for the game. You can bet the actor will tap his inner Franklin for at least a little bit for some comedy on the sidelines.

Michael-Key has made himself visible around Penn State the past few years with his impressions of Franklin during football meetings and on ESPN’s College GameDay. The similarities between Franklin and Michael-Key are so good that even the head coach of the Nittany Lions has had to tell some people it’s not him they see on TV sometimes.

With any luck, perhaps we’ll get our first glimpse of the newest addition to the Penn State spring roster, Hingle McCringleberry.

Penn State’s spring game is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. this Saturday.