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SEC spring game wrap-ups

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A wrap-up of the seven SEC spring games from Saturday afternoon:

Alabama
In case you missed it, John did a separate wrap-up of Alabama’s turnover-plagued spring game. Just a hunch: Nick Saban‘s not happy.

Arkansas
A record crowd of just over 51,000 fans watched Arkansas’ first spring game under new head coach Bret Bielema.

Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell, the two QBs in the running for the starting job, split a majority of the snaps and, at least statistically, performed similarly. Allen finished 11-of-16 for 158 yards and one touchdown, and Mitchell was 12-of-17 for 138 yards and one touchdown

“I was blown away to see over 51,000 fans support us today,” Bielema said. “It’s a steady process. I like the progress we’ve made. The team responded very positively, with success on both sides of the ball. We’re in a great position and that gets me very excited.”

Auburn
Auburn’s 2013 A-Day will largely be remembered for the final rolling of Toomer’s Corner, but what happened inside Jordan-Hare stadium today grabbed a couple of headlines as well.

Yes, there was a quarterback battle. Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace exchanged turns on both the Blue and Orange team, and it appears that competition will continue into fall camp.

“There was a couple of good things they did, there was a couple of things that are standing behind them, you know, kind of whispering to them a little bit,” Gus Malzahn said. “There’s some good things. It was great for us to evaluate the guys. I wish we could be live, but we only have two guys, scholarship guys, going through spring to evaluate them a little bit better, but it gave us some good information today, especially with them.”

—  Running back Cameron Artis-Payne had one of the standout performances, gaining 117 yards on the ground. “He’s had a good spring . He’s a big, strong guy, he’s a hard worker, he wants to be good, and there’s great competition in the backfield and that’s a good thing going into next year.”

— The real story, and if there was ever an indication of what spring games really mean, was the ejection — yes, ejection —  of cornerback Jonathon Mincy for targeting receiver Dimitri Reese on a hit, leaving Reese shaken up for a moment. The decision was made to reflect the new targeting rule that will take effect this season. Removing a player from a spring game is obviously uncommon, but there’s probably no time like the present to prepare players for what they’ll face from officials this fall. 

“Well, first of all I have to say a 15-yard penalties are unacceptable,” Malzahn said. “We have asked our guys to play hard, we’re trying to get them to play hard but I promise you that will be corrected. That was not good, no doubt. Our guys are trying to play hard, and get big hits but definitely that will be corrected.”

LSU
Before he ever took a meaningful snap for LSU, Zach Mettenberger was considered the missing piece for a Tigers offense in 2011 that struggled moving the ball at times. In his first year as the starter, Mettenberger showed flashes that he could be among the SEC’s better quarterbacks. The senior-to-be showed flashes again during LSU’s spring game today, going 12-19 for 236 yards against the No. 2 defense in one half.

 Other offensive stars included Odell Beckham Jr. with six catches for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Jeremy Hill finished with 102 yards rushing on 13 carries.

— Defensively, Les Miles praised defensive end Danielle Hunter (8 tackles, 2 sacks), defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (5 tackles), linebacker Lamin Barrow (7 tackles) and safety Craig Loston (6 tackles, 1 interception).

“Defense played well. We played one front and one coverage and tackled well and played how they’re supposed to,” Miles said. “Offensively, I think we handled the ball well. We rushed it well. Again, it’s more of the statistics against the second team defense. Still, guys that needed to catch the ball did, and guys that needed to throw it did improve.

“The key statistics today is that we are not coming away with injury. It didn’t appear to me that anyone got hurt, so we go into the summer season with a lot to improve on.”

— Of course, the best part about anything LSU is Miles himself. And The Hatter was gold in the post-game press conference once again.

Mississippi State
Tyler Russell threw for 179 yards and a pair of scores in a solid spring game for Mississippi State. Running back Brandon Holloway led with 128 rushing yards and Jeremey Chappelle had 114 yards receiving. Though spring games mean little to nothing outside of evaluating, the Maroon team’s final 21 points did mean one thing:

“We’ve had a really good spring and it was great to end it with this great crowd here. Good for the Maroon Team to get the win. It’s a big deal to those guys because now they don’t have to come back to the stadium and clean tomorrow,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “The White Team – and any of those fans that were supporting the white team – have to be here at 10 a.m. to clean the stands.”

Yikes.

Missouri
Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season in its inaugural year in the SEC, Missouri faces a crucial 2013 under longtime coach Gary Pinkel. The Tigers’ forgettable 2012 effort wasn’t helped by the fact that quarterback James Franklin was coming off a shoulder injury and wasn’t quite himself. Though Franklin is the proven signal caller, there was some excitement surrounding redshirt freshman Maty Mauk. That excitement will be tempered through the summer months, as Mauk threw a pair of interceptions during a less-than-impressive day.

“It’ll be interesting when that sorts itself out, we’ll have a one, two, three at least going into August for every position, but so much is the work ethic for not only the quarterbacks but for the entire team. There’s so much to get done,” Pinkel said.

— Henry Josey, coming off a severe knee injury in 2011, had just 13 yards on eight carries. Sophomore receiver and former blue-chip recruit Dorial Green-Beckham had three grabs for 49 yards, including a 35-yard reception. In a year where Mizzou is going to need new playmakers to emerge, Green-Beckham may need to have the biggest year of all.

“The speed of the game moving from high school to college is a whole different aspect of the game,” Beckham said. “Coming in you just have to play fast, no matter what, and you have to go out there and show why you came here to play. I’m getting a lot more comfortable as each practice goes by.”

Tennessee
A crowd of 61,076, the second-largest ever for a Tennessee spring game, came out to the first Orange and White game under new coach Butch Jones. In game where the final score was 95-71 due to an abnormal scoring system, defense actually made the biggest impression. The Orange team (defense) held the White team (offense) to just one touchdown, a 58-yarder from Justin Worley to Cody Blanc; the only other touchdown Saturday came on a 62-yard interception return courtesy of walk-on defensive back Max Arnold.

“I’m very encouraged by what I see, but obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the next couple of months,” Jones said afterward. “I’m encouraged with our leadership. I can feel this football team getting closer and closer together. But we have to get a lot better over the summer months.”

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Cost of attendance not having negative recruiting impact on Group of Five (yet)

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs for a first down against Temple during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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The outlook on the impact cost of attendance has on non-power conference institutions may not be known for another year or so, but after one recruiting cycle since the power conferences were granted autonomy powers, cost of attendance stipends have not been seen to be a major difference in the game as one might have thought originally.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at the issue and how Group of Five schools have fared. The initial findings suggest Group of Five programs are not struggling nearly as much as once suspected when it comes to cost of attendance stipends, although it is something that not every program has jumped into providing just yet. And yes, the topic of stipends does pop up on the recruiting trail, which suggests the Group of Five programs that can provide a little extra money as part of a player’s enrollment do figure to have some sort of advantage. However, stipends do not appear to be a game changer on a massive enough scale.

From Underdog Dynasty;

Another fear from last season was that smaller athletic departments couldn’t afford it. Those may have been overblown as well. My Google search turned up news of South Dakota State phasing in COA stipends for all student-athletes, something North Dakota and North Dakota State already have done.

All three are FCS schools. If they can afford the stipends, albeit funding 63 football scholarships rather than 85, G5 schools should as well. Even the Sun Belt distributes more than $1 million per school in College Football Playoff payouts.

Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, just landed a recruiting class that would make a good number of power conference programs jealous, although the Cougars were the only Group of Five program to finish ranked in the top 50 in the final team rankings compiled by Rivals (BYU finished No. 48). Boise State, UCF and Temple fell in the upper half of the FBS mix as well.

Just as one year of the College Football Playoff system did not provide enough empirical evidence to suggest the Big 12 should expand to 12 just to get a conference championship game, one year of cost of attendance stipends is not nearly enough to suggest it has a devastating or minimal impact on the recruiting game in college football. This is just something that will have to be watched for a few more years in order to gather more evidence to evaluate.

Former Wolverine Brian Cole transferring to Kentucky

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops watches from the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Stoops has recruited some high-level talent since coming to Lexington three years ago and the Wildcats have taken substantial steps forward. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
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Maybe it’s the new uniforms. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever the reason, former Michigan wide receiver and defensive back Brian Cole is heading to Kentucky.

Cole was a four-star recruit in Michigan’s Class of 2015. The second-ranked player from the state of Michigan was a significant addition to the Wolverines by then first-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, which helps make his decision to leave for another program now a bit interesting to note considering the momentum seemingly being generated in Ann Arbor. He was released from his scholarship in Michigan in January.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Cole will be forced to sit out the 2016 season and will be eligible to return to the playing field again in 2017. The good news for Cole is he will still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Cole appeared in two games for the Wolverines in 2015, but he spent most of the season held back by injury issues. His addition to the Kentucky roster is a big win for head coach Mark Stoops, who has developed a little bit of a habit for adding some talented transfers to his program in Lexington.

Michigan and Notre Dame could be rekindling their football series

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 1994, file photo, Notre Dame's Derrick Mayes (1) pulls in a touchdown catch in front of Michigan's Chuck Winters (35) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Mayes may have grabbed this spectacular catch for a score, but Michigan's Remy Hamilton kicked four field goals, including a 42-yarder with 2 seconds left, to give the Wolverines a 26-24  victory. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)
AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File
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The bitter divorce between Michigan and Notre Dame on the football field could soon be forgiven. There are hints and clues the series could be heading to a revival.

Michigan athletics director Jim Hackett started lighting the fire for the rivalry series renewal discussion last week when he mentioned during a radio interview the two schools have opened communication on the subject.

“I will tell you this, the relationship is good, and it started with [Jim Harbaugh] and coach [Brian Kelly] working together on a desire to play together,” Hackett said. “But (there’s) nothing firm yet.”

In 2013, when the two schools were beginning to play what was to be their final game son the existing contract, Kelly downplayed the rivalry with Michigan by noting it has not been one of the best rivalries in Notre Dame’s history. In his defense, he is right. In fact, Notre Dame has a more storied history with Michigan State, not to mention USC or Navy.

“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.

“For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game. But in the Notre Dame history books, this game has (been) played, but obviously there have been some years where it hasn’t been played for a number of years.”

Kelly did later go on to say he was optimistic the series with Michigan would return in the future. Harbaugh was quick to follow up on the idea of playing Notre Dame again. Now we just sit and wait to see when that may become a possibility.

Scheduling for both Michigan and Notre Dame have become a bit more complex in more recent years than it used to be. Notre Dame is part of an ACC scheduling rotation that guarantees a certain number of power conference opponents from the ACC each season and the Irish continue rivalry game son an annual basis with USC, Stanford and Navy. Michigan is moving to a nine-game Big Ten schedule with the requirement to play at least one power conference opponent in its non-conference slate each season. The Wolverines already have that requirement met through the 2027 season but have shown a willingness to schedule two power conference opponents in a season, which is the case in 2020 and 2021 (games vs. Washington and Virginia Tech in alternating home-and-home deals).