Former five-star ‘Bama RB moves to corner… for now

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A five-star member of Alabama’s 2011 recruiting class, Dee Hart was expected to be the latest in a string of very productive Tide running backs.

In July of 2011, Hart suffered a torn ACL that forced him to miss his true freshman season.  After rehabbing that injury, Hart tore the ACL in the same knee during an October win over Ole Miss last year and, obviously, missed the remainder of the season.  While Hart is returning yet again from injury, he’ll be doing so on the other side of the ball.

The two-time defending national champions opened spring practice Saturday afternoon, and Hart was working in the secondary as a cornerback in a black, no-contact jersey.  Head coach Nick Saban, however, stressed that just because players are working at a different position this spring, Hart included, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the moves will be permanent.

“We’re looking to see if any of those guys can help us, and if this would be a better circumstance for how much they would be able to contribute to our team,” Saban said in explaining a handful of position switches.

The Tide is absolutely loaded at the running back position, with second-leading rusher T.J. Yeldon, one of two UA backs with over 1,000 yards last season, returning as well as four RBs in this year’s recruiting class added to a stable of four- and five-star players at the position.  The combination of that depth and Hart’s recent injury history would make switching to the secondary on a permanent basis sensible on several levels.

Hart, though, isn’t the only player making a secondary move.  Cyrus Jones and Christion Jones, wide receivers in 2012, were working with the defensive backs during the first of 15 spring practice sessions.

“I’ve been encouraged by all those guys. They’re all really athletic,” the coach said of the three skill-position players. “They’ve all played defensive back before, so it’s not like they’re lost. But I don’t think there’s any way that all those guys are going to end up on defense. Maybe one. Maybe two, if they both have roles.”

For the most part, and likely to Saban’s liking, the Tide’s first spring practice of the year was an uneventful one.  Here, though, are a few notes and one quote from the Tide’s return to the practice field.

— A total of nine early enrollees took part in the spring practice: quarterback Cooper Bateman, junior college offensive lineman Leon Brown, quarterback Luke Del Rio, wide receiver Raheem Falkins, running back Derrick Henry, offensive lineman Brandon Hill, tight end O.J. Howard, quarterback Parker McLeod and defensive back Jai Miller.

— Bateman, Del Rio and McLeod, incidentally, were three of the eight quarterbacks — yes, eight — who are currently on the roster and received reps.  In addition to those two as well as starter AJ McCarron and backup Blake SimsAlec MorrisPhillip Ely and walk-on Edward Aldag also received some semblance of work.

— Ely had reportedly been considering a transfer earlier this offseason, so his presence served as somewhat of a mild surprise.  Depending on how things shake out over the next five weeks, though, Ely could still look to move on to a program less congested at the quarterback position.

— From the Anniston Star: “During a couple of drills, McCarron was able to throw to someone he said he wanted to play alongside — his brother, tight end Corey McCarron, a rising sophomore.”

— As noted in UA’s release, secondary coach Greg Brown, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal and wide receivers coach Billy Napier getting their first on-field look at the 2013 Crimson Tide squad.  All of those assistants are in their first months on the job after three of Saban’s assistants left this offseason for better jobs title-wise.

— Wide receiver DeAndrew White (knee), running back Jalston Fowler (knee) and linebacker C.J. Mosley were among those wearing the black, no-contact jersey.  There was no word on the specific nature of Mosley’s injury.  (Writer’s note: Mosley underwent offseason shoulder surgery, hence the no-contact jersey.)

— Quasi-starting linebacker Xzavier Dickson was in the mix along the defensive line.  Again, the move is not necessarily a permanent one.  Dickson started six of the 13 games in which he played at LB last year.

— It was noted by al.com that “WR Kenny Bell doesn’t look like someone who broke his leg four months ago.”

— For those who keep track of this sort of thing, the Tide officially returns six starters on offense and seven on defense.  Starting punter Cody Mandell returns as well.

— Quotable, from Saban via the school’s sports information department:

“The main objective to me for spring practice is to focus on player improvement. Whether it is what a player needs to be able to do, the technique of how he should do it and to have an understanding conceptually of why it is important to do it that way.

“In the spring you don’t have game plans. You don’t have to change what you are doing and it is an opportunity for everyone to know our offense, our defense and our special teams – and to understand what is expected of them. I think it is also a time that a player needs to learn how to practice.”

UNC and Minnesota line up future home-and-home deal

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While one football series between an ACC and Big Ten team may be hard to come by, North Carolina and Minnesota have put together a future home-and-home scheduling agreement to look forward to. The Tar Heels and Gophers will meet for the first time on the football field in 2023 and follow up with a second game in 2024, the schools announced on Wednesday.

North Carolina will host Minnesota on Sept. 16, 2023. The two schools will then open the 2024 season at Minnesota, either on August 31, 2024 or for a Thursday opener on August 29, 2024.

The ACC and Big Ten each require their members to play one game against another power conference opponent each season. North Carolina already satisfied that requirement in 2024 with a season-opener against South Carolina scheduled to be played in Charlotte, NC, but the 2024 game fulfills the power conference scheduling requirement for the Tar Heels. The home-and-home series will also satisfy Minnesota’s obligation to the Big Ten scheduling policy for both seasons (Minnesota is getting an exemption for 2018 and 2019 due to previous scheduling arrangements being in place prior to the Big Ten’s stance on strength of schedule in non-conference play.

Pitt leaves renewal of football series in Penn State’s hands

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Ever since the in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt came to a temporary end in 2001, it has been a struggle to get the two schools back on the field for any stretch of time. With the third in a four-game series upcoming this fall, Pitt is hoping to find a way to continue playing the Nittany Lions on future schedules, but the offer is now apparently in Penn State’s hands awaiting a response.

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters Wednesday she has proposed a four-year series beginning in 2026 to her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, but Penn State has not responded to the offer.

“We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much,” Lyke said, according to Trib Live. “We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game.”

The four-game series currently ongoing between the Panthers and Nittany Lions comes to a close after their meeting in the 2019 season in Happy Valley. According to FBSchedules.com, Penn State will not have another opening for a non-conference game until 2021. That is also the first season Pitt will have scheduling availability for non-conference matchups. Both schools already have power conference opponents lined up through 2025 as well, perhaps eliminating the desire to add another power conference opponent to the schedule.

Both Penn State and Pitt have scheduling requirements for non-conference play from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, to include at least one game against another power conference opponent. It seems like a natural solution for Penn State and Pitt to agree to a long-term scheduling commitment to satisfy their respective conferences’ scheduling requirements, but the old issue has always come down to the financial incentive of a game. With Penn State playing in a larger stadium, it would be losing out on potential revenue that could be gained by an extra home game when possible. And playing road games at Pittsburgh only helps another program in the state by filling the seats more than any other home game on Pitt’s schedules in just about any season (Notre Dame and West Virginia would be other candidates to help Pitt fill Heinz Field).

It took so long just to get the two schools together for a two-year series, which was later expanded to a four-year arrangement. Don’t count on this in-state rivalry being renewed for quite some time after the 2019 season.

QB Blake Barnett reportedly transferring from Arizona State

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Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.

Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.

A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.

“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”

As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.

Transferring BYU QB Kody Wilstead finds new home at Kansas JUCO

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With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Kody Wilstead opted to leave the Cougars in mid-March.  A little over a month later, Wilstead has found a new home, albeit a little further down on the college football ladder.

According to the Deseret News, Wilstead has signed to play at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.  As Coffeyville is a junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

It’s expected that Wilstead will spend at least one season at the JUCO level before looking at making a move back up to the FBS.

Wilstead, a three-star 2015 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season after serving an LDS mission the previous two years.

After Wilstead’s departure, the seven remaining Cougar signal-callers are, in alphabetical order, Stacy ConnerJoe CritchlowHayden GriffittsBeau HogeTanner MangumBaylor Romney and Zach Wilson. Mangum, last year’s starter, is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in November of last year but remains on track to return for the start of summer camp in August.