Alabama's Richardson and Shelley celebrate after they defeated LSU in the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in New Orleans

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.

Vandy swiping San Diego State assistant Osia Lewis

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Rocky Long of the San Diego State Aztecs stands near the bench area in the second half of  the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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For the first time this offseason, Rocky Long will be forced to fill a hole on his San Diego State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Vanderbilt had hired Osia Lewis away from SDSU. Thursday, school officials confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lewis will indeed be leaving the Aztecs for a job with the Commodores.

Lewis had spent the past five seasons coaching the defensive line with the Aztecs; it’s expected he’ll have similar duties with the Commodores. What’s not expected is for Lewis to have the specific title of line coach as Derek Mason had previously announced the hiring of Oklahoma’s C.J. Ah You for that job.

Not only had Lewis spent the past five seasons with Long at SDSU, but he was also on Long’s staff at New Mexico for five years (2003-07) as well. During Lewis’ time at SDSU, at least one defensive lineman per season earned All-Mountain West honors, the Union-Tribune noted.

Bret Bielema looks to Kansas for Arkansas’ new RBs coach

Samford v Arkansas
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A week after losing his running backs coach to the NFL for the second straight year, Bret Bielema has looked to the Big 12 for yet another replacement.

Arkansas confirmed in a press release Friday night that Reggie Mitchell will replace Jemal Singleton as the Razorbacks’ running backs coach.  Singleton left last weekend for the same job with the Indianapolis Colts.

Mitchell spent the past six season in the same job at Kansas.  The past two seasons, he held the title of recruiting coordinator.

From 1997-2009, Mitchell was an assistant with Big Ten programs, with stops that included Minnesota (1997-98), Michigan State (1999-2004) and Illinois (2005-09).

“I got to know Reggie during my time in the Big Ten and he was known as a dominant recruiter,” said Bielema, “Over his career he’s recruited and developed elite running backs and athletes that had great college careers and advanced to the NFL. I’m excited about the opportunity to have Coach Mitchell join our staff.”

Stanford confirms hiring of Oklahoma D-line coach Diron Reynolds

Stanford coach David Shaw prepares to lead his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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Stanford has officially poached Bob Stoops‘ Oklahoma coaching staff.

Following up on reports from earlier in the week, the Cardinal confirmed in a press release Friday that Diron Reynolds has been added as David Shaw‘s defensive line coach.  The move is a return home of sorts for Reynolds as he served as an assistant defensive line coach for the Cardinal in 2014 before spending one season with the Sooners in 2015.

Reynolds replaces Randy Hart, who announced his retirement three days ago after spending six years at the school.

“We are very excited to have Diron return to Stanford,” said Shaw in a statement. “Not only did he work well with Coach Hart a year ago, he is well-versed in our scheme and brings a unique blend of college and NFL experience.”

In addition to his time at Stanford and Oklahoma, Reynolds served as an assistant line coach with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings from 2007-13. Prior to that, he worked with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-06.

Reynolds’ first job at the collegiate level came at his alma mater, Wake Forest, in 1999-2000. He was the defensive tackles coach at Indiana before moving on to a decade-long stint in the NFL.

Done Knott: Iowa State LB ends injury-plagued career

IOWA CITY, IA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Running back Damon Bullock #5 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dives in front of linebacker Luke Knott #21, of the Iowa State Cyclones, in the first quarter, on September 13, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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Never fully healthy since an initial injury, Luke Knott has decided to hang up his cleats and get on with his post-football life.

Iowa State announced in a press release Friday that Knott will forego his final season of eligibility in the sport because of lingering hip issues.  The linebacker first hurt the joint in 2013, which forced him to undergo his first surgery.  A year later, he was forced to undergo another medical procedure.  In April of last year, he suffered a setback in his battle with the ongoing hip issues.

Despite the surgeries and setbacks, Knott managed to play in all 24 games the past two seasons, starting eight of those contests.  Knott started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 before the initial injury sidelined him after six games.

In 2014, he was third on the team in tackles despite never being 100-percent healthy.

Below is a statement from Knott, followed by one from first-year head coach Matt Campbell:

Obviously, I thought about this a lot. Two years ago when I had my first hip surgery, my first thought was, ‘I’m a 19-year-old kid and I am having hip surgery?’ I made the decision to take it head on, go through rehabilitation and keep playing football. Then I had hip surgery again a year later. That was the first time I thought that football may not be in the best interest for me. I didn’t want to give up football because I didn’t want to walk away from my teammates. I barely made it through last season. You can tell when you watch the film. This is an exciting time for Iowa State and I wanted to be a part something special next year. However, going through the initial workouts, I just didn’t have it in my hip. It’s time start a different career. I have to start thinking long term. I want to be able to run around with my kids, and something like that puts it in perspective. I want to thank Coach Campbell and his staff. They were really understanding and helped ease my mind. They knew my history. This coaching staff knows what they are doing. I told Coach Campbell that the hardest thing for me was to walk away now when I feel we are on the cusp of something great. I already have a job lined up in Kansas City after graduation. Coach Campbell told us to use college football to get a degree and a career, and I felt that I have done that. I want to thank all of my coaches, my teammates and the fans. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time as a Cyclone.”

“I don’t know if anybody loves Iowa State football more than Luke Knott. Luke obviously comes from a great family and a great tradition at Iowa State. You just want to put your arms around a kid like Luke, because here is a guy who was straining and doing everything in his power to play, but his body wouldn’t allow him to play anymore. The thing that I appreciate more than anything is that he has already been a part of the culture change here. He was doing a tremendous job leading our program. I hope Luke stays around us. He’s a special young man and he’s already left a great legacy here at Iowa State because of his commitment to be the best.