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.”

Lane Kiffin reportedly bringing Jim Harbaugh and Tennessee coaches to work FAU summer camp

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The calendar is just about ready to flip over to June and with that date change comes time to kick off plenty of summer camps for high school recruits around the country.

While all eyes will be on major outings such as USC’s annual Rising Stars Camp or Florida’s Friday Night Lights, there may be a smaller school’s camp that will draw just as much attention. The one in question? Well of course it would be Lane Kiffin’s first summer camp at Florida Atlantic.

While the draw of Kiffin alone is enough to elicit some higher than normal interest, the list of coaches tagging along for the Owls’ June 5th camp is even more eyebrow-raising than that of the hosts. Namely that includes Jim Harbaugh (and the rest of the Michigan staff per the Sun-Sentinelalong with a few familiar faces from the Tennessee staff, among others.

Yes, that’s right, Kiffin’s old employer is all set to buddy up with the ex-Vols coach down in Boca according to a report from FAUOwlAccess.com.

Given recent limits put on satellite camps by the NCAA, it certainly makes plenty of sense for schools like Michigan and Tennessee to send their staffs to work camps at places like FAU given the latter’s close proximity to so many top recruits. Likewise, it’s pretty understandable to see Kiffin bring in some even bigger names to his first summer camp in order to draw attention to the program he took over in the offseason.

Still, it should be more than a little interesting for many fans in the Volunteer State to see a few Tennessee coaches working alongside the man many blame for their program’s slide in recent years. It’s been several years (and coaching stops) since Kiffin left Knoxville so perhaps next month we’ll find out if time really does heal all wounds.

To the surprise of nobody though, FAU hasn’t even played a game under their new head coach and the Owls are already making waves and finding plenty of time in the national spotlight.

Florida adds South Alabama to 2020 schedule

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Florida may not be able to beat Alabama, so they’ll do their best to make sure they take care of South Alabama in 2020. The Gators and Jaguars added a future non-conference game to the 2020 schedule, with Florida paying South Alabama a reported $1.2 million for the game in Gainesville.

The two schools will meet for the first time on September 19, 2020 at Florida. The game will be played in Week 3, likely following an SEC game on Florida’s schedule. Florida is scheduled to open the season at home against FCS opponent Eastern Washington and has an opening likely to be filled by a conference game in Week 2 of the schedule. Florida now has just one non-conference scheduling vacancy to fill before 2021, with one spot available in 2019 (Florida opens in Orlando against Miami and has Florida State at the end of the year).

As a member of the SEC, Florida is required to play one power conference opponent each season. Obviously, South Alabama doesn’t satisfy that requirement, but the Gators play ACC rival Florida State on an annual basis so the scheduling requirement is fulfilled any time the Seminoles are tacked on the schedule. Florida will open the 2017 season against Michigan as well.

South Alabama has filled up the bulk of their non-conference slots through the 2022 season with a good dose of power conference opponents. South Alabama will play Ole Miss and Oklahoma State this year, Oklahoma State in 2018, and has future games lined up against Nebraska, Tennessee, and UCLA. South Alabama has just one vacancy to fill before the 2023 season, with one spot in 2021 available.

John Swofford turns down volume on Notre Dame to ACC talk

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If there are any serious conversations behind closed doors between the ACC and Notre Dame about potential football membership, ACC commissioner John Swofford is not showing his cards. In a radio interview Friday morning, Swofford was asked about the rumor the conference and the Fighting Irish have had discussions, to which Swofford avoided any controversy.

Swofford said the ACC and Notre Dame have not had any such discussions about Notre Dame joining the conference in football to complete its membership in the conference, but he also didn’t slam the door shut on the potential option down the line.

Earlier this month the rumor mill got turning in wild fashion after a radio interview saw FOX Sports broadcaster Tim Brando say “conversations have taken place” about the ACC adding Notre Dame as a full member. That comment alone got the gears working on some exaggerated headlines across the Internet, some going so far as to suggest the Irish were on the verge of joining the ACC and abandoning their football independence once and for all. As I suggested at the time, there is absolutely reason to believe Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick has had at least some degree of conversation with the ACC about the possibility, because a good AD would at least test the water on any and all potential scenarios should the time come the university approaches its football program differently.

The latest edition of the Notre Dame to ACC rumors followed the scheduling announcement from the ACC and Notre Dame for future game sin the ACC schedule rotation with the Irish through 2037.

Swofford did drop an interesting, although completely unsurprising, nugget of information as well when he mentioned the ACC would explore adding a 16th team to the fold if Notre Dame could be added in football. That alone will be enough to keep fans of certain programs interested in the ACC’s future, although they will all have to wait for a while in all likelihood, as no changes would be expected until current media rights deals expire and are up for renewal in the next decade.

Chip Kelly’s new ESPN gig could be pit stop back to college sideline

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After being cut from his second NFL job in as many years just after the college football coaching carousel came to a halt, we just knew Chip Kelly couldn’t keep himself away from the college football game this fall.

ESPN announced today Kelly has been hired to be a college football studio analyst with the network for the upcoming season.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting, said in a released statement. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”

Kelly says he is ready for the new job.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in his statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.”

Of course, the obvious thought here is this studio gig with ESPN is a one-year job at the most for Kelly, because his name will be one of the most popular names in the coaching rumor mills the moment something goes wrong at any number of programs this upcoming season. Kelly has been fending off rumors about his expected return to college coaching from the very beginning of his brief run in the NFL, first with the Philadelphia Eagles and then with the San Francisco 49ers. It’s pretty much par for the course for the former Oregon Ducks coach who also fought off NFL rumors for years before finally leaving for the NFL.

The job could be a good fit for Kelly, because he certainly knows his football and has a unique perspective to offer. Kelly could follow a path previously ventured by Rich Rodriguez (Michigan to CBS Sports Network to Arizona) and Urban Meyer (Florida to ESPN to Ohio State).

If there is one person who may be happy to have Kelly on board, it may be Monday Night Football analysts Jon Gruden, who now will hear a co-worker’s name heard in rumor mills more often for the next few months.