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Big Ten spring game wrap-ups

Tyler Ferguson AP

Some news, notes, quotes and other assorted tidbits from the three spring games contested across the Big Ten Saturday afternoon…

MICHIGAN STATE
To say that the Spartans’ quarterbacks struggled somewhat during today’s spring game would be an understatement of mammoth proportions.

MSU quarterbacks combined to go 22 of 53 for 386 yards, two touchdown and two interceptions.  Last year’s starter and presumptive front-runner for the job this season, Andrew Maxwell, completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass.  The strong-armed Connor Cook, who has gained some ground on Maxwell this spring, threw for 217 yards and a scoring toss but also completed less than 40 percent of his passes (10-26).  Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor completed five of six passes — three to his offensive teammates, two to his defensive teammates.

All in all, it was rough outing at a position where the Spartans may have more questions exiting spring than they did entering it.

Head coach Mark Dantonio said that the incumbent would top the depth chart entering summer, but stopped short of anointing him as the season-opening starter.

“I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance.”

For his part, Maxwell feels as if he’s done enough to retain the job.

“I feel like I’ve done everything that I could do to make my case to the coaches to be the guy, and I feel like every day I came out and got better,” the player said. “I took a competitive mindset to every practice, and the ultimate decision is with Coach D.”

— The Spartans’ defense accounted for two touchdowns in the Green team’s 24-17 win over the White squad: a Chris Laneaux 25-yard interception return and a fumble recovery by Kyler Elsworth that was returned 41 yards.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Burbridge caught five passes for 113 yards.

— Former MSU quarterback great Kirk Cousins, now Robert Griffin III‘s backup in Washington, returned to the East Lansing campus as color analyst for the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the game.  Based on Cousins’ comments, it doesn’t appear this will be his last rodeo in the booth.

“I want the football thing to last as long as it possibly can, but at the same time, in the offseason it makes a lot of sense to pursue other opportunities and prepare yourself for whenever football ends,” Cousins said. “And that’s why I’m here today, and it’s just a bonus I get to be back in familiar territory, watching the team that I love.”

— One of the coolest parts of the Spartans’ spring game was their helmets.  Specifically, the stickers on the back of the helmets honoring those who were killed or injured by the bombings at last Monday’s Boston Marathon.  Very classy gesture:

Michigan State Helmets

PENN STATE
If you were an individual looking for some clarity at the quarterback position coming out of the Nittany Lions’ spring game, you are likely somewhat disappointed at this point in time.

Following the game, head coach Bill O’Brien stated very firmly that neither Steven Bench nor Tyler Ferguson (pictured) had grabbed hold of the starting job and the competition would continue into the “voluntary” workouts and on into summer camp.  Both players completed nine of 15 passes, with Bench throwing for 99 yards and Ferguson 90.  Ferguson tossed two touchdown passes to Bench’s one.

As has been the case for most of the spring, the second-year coach was, for the most part, pleased with the duo’s performance.

“I thought they both (Bench and Ferguson) produced,” O’Brien said. “I thought both had some nice throws. Like everybody, coaches and players included, in every game you play, you wish you had some plays back. I’m sure they do too. I thought they both did some decent things out there today.”

In his post-game talk with reporters, O’Brien made it perfectly clear where the competition stands.

“I’d say, no, I’m not any closer as I sit here right now,” the coach said when asked about naming a starter. “Eventually, I’ll have to make a decision.”

O’Brien added that he will now go back and look at all of the spring practice tapes as they work toward naming a starter at the position.

The real competition, though, won’t begin until August; Christian Hackenberg, a five-star 2013 recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in this year’s class, will join the competition this summer, with most expecting the Virginia product to make a very serious run at the starting job as a true freshman.

— In front of 28,000 or so fans who braved the rain and snow and cold, the the Blue team (defense) dropped the White squad (offense), 67-47.  It was the second straight year the defense has “won” the spring game.

A big reason for the defensive win?  The Nittany Lions’ defense accounted for nine sacks, which counted four points apiece in the scoring system utilized by O’Brien.

— Youth was certainly served for the Nittany Lions as the school noted that all six players who ran, caught or threw a touchdown will be a freshman or sophomore this season.  Both of the front-runners for the starting QB job will be sophomores.

— Another of the young ones was running back Akeel Lynch, who led all rushers with 83 yards on his 13 carries.

— “I feel terrible because I love that city,” O’Brien said of the tragic events in Boston this past week. “I grew up 20 minutes north of that city and my brother Tommy is heavily involved in that city and so is my older brother and my dad and my mom so I feel terrible for them. … Boston is a very resilient city and we caught him last night so that was good.”

WISCONSIN
At the end of Gary Andersen‘s first spring as the Badgers’ head coach, and in the midst of a crowded quarterback competition, it was UW’s defense winning most of the plaudits in Madison Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the “unique” scoring systems that are all the rage during spring games, the final score appears to be a high-scoring offensive affair: Cardinal 61, White 47.  The former team consisted of the Badgers’ defense, the latter the offense.

The game wasn’t a true measure of either unit, however, as Andersen lamented afterwards that “[w]e’re basically missing six starters right now on the defensive side that didn’t play a snap today, and four or five on the offensive side.”

Also, the fact that the game was televised on the Big Ten Network led Andersen to keep his team’s cards very close to his vest.

“I will say this: Defense today was very vanilla. Offensively, we were very generic, and defensively, we were very generic,” the former Utah State head coach said. “We did throw the ball, bottom line, and we did catch the ball better than we have all spring, and that was very encouraging.”

— The Cardinal team totaled 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in the game.  As those plays were worth two points apiece, the defense scored 36 of its 61 points off those two types of plays.  They also earned 24 points off of eight three-and-outs.

— As far as the quarterback battle goes, two players, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips, received the vast majority of the reps.  Stave completed 15 of his 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Phillips went 8-of-13 for 82 yards.  The other quarterbacks on the roster, including former Maryland Terrapin Danny O’Brien, attempted just three passes each.

— Running back Melvin Gordon, who will be charged with the task of replacing Montee Ball, ran for a team-high 74 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on the ground.  He also added three catches for 35 yards.

— “Yeah, we’re in a good spot,” Andersen said when asked if his team is where he thought it’d be at the end of the spring.  “You’re never going to get everything you want. You’re never going to have it perfect. We wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that.”

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Jon Gruden on Ohio State’s Urban Meyer: ‘Greatest coaching job of all time’

Jon Gruden

ESPN’s Jon Gruden is often criticized due to his bouts of hyperbole, but his stance on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer may have redefined even his barometer.

What Ohio State accomplished last season was certainly astounding.

After the team lost to the hapless Virginia Tech Hokies 35-21 during the second week of the season, the Buckeyes changed gears and eventually ran roughshod through the Big Ten’s conference schedule and championship game, into the first ever College Football Playoff and grabbed the school’s eight national championship.

“Maybe the best coach in the SEC went to the Big Ten,” Gruden told Colin Cowherd during a radio interview, via CoachingSearch.com. “Urban Meyer did the greatest coaching job of all time. Winning a national championship with his third-string quarterback, I’ve never seen that before. … I’ve always respected him. Won two national titles at Florida.

“What he did at Ohio State, losing a Heisman Trophy candidate and then doing what he did with two different quarterbacks that were backups. Amazing to me.”

All of this came a year earlier than expected. Next year’s Ohio State squad was supposed to be the breakthrough team for Meyer in Columbus. Instead, the program is a year ahead of schedule and will almost certainly enter this coming season as the No. 1 team in the country.

However, none of that makes the most recent National Championship run the greatest in football history. Yes, the Buckeyes were forced to start three different quarterbacks. But all of them were more talented than…say…Craig Krenzel, who led the Buckeyes to the 2002 National Championship.

In fact, Ohio State was considered a 12-point underdog to an absolutely loaded Miami Hurricanes squad that year. The difference in overall talent level from top to bottom was actually in Ohio State’s favor against the Oregon Ducks in January.

It was a tremendous run by Meyer and his Buckeyes, but this is another case where Gruden remains completely over the top with his comments.

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Dan Mullen signs a contract extension with Mississippi State

Dan Mullen

All of the discussions regarding whether or not Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen will eventually leave Starkville to take another job at a different university should die down now.

After being linked to multiple openings over the past two years, Mullen signed an extension with Mississippi State Thursday through the 2018 season.

“Dan has done a phenomenal job in leading our football team the past six years, and we’re happy to be in a position to reward his efforts while making sure he’ll be able to continue building a championship program for Mississippi State,” Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement.

“Under Dan’s guidance, Bulldog football has achieved a level of consistent success unparalleled in our history, during which time we’ve been ranked No. 1 in the nation and appeared in elite bowl games. We’re proud Dan is our coach.”

HailState.com’s Bob Carskadon provided some of the contract details:

With an average salary of $4.275 million, Mullen becomes the ninth-highest paid coach in college football. He still trails Alabama’s Nick Saban, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and LSU’s Les Miles among SEC coaches, according to USA TODAY Sports.

Mullen shouldn’t be too concerned about where he stands in the SEC pecking order, though. It’s clear the school is committed to retaining its head coach after a 46-31 overall record — including last season’s 10-3 campaign — during his six seasons with the program.

“It’s a privilege to represent our university, our program and our fans here at Mississippi State,” Mullen said. “I appreciate Scott Stricklin and our administration who have given us the tools and resources to be successful and develop Bulldog football into a national brand over the last six years.”

“We spent five weeks ranked No. 1 last season for the first time, but we have only scratched this surface on what we can accomplish here. We have created a winning culture both on and off the field and built a program that has sustained success in the nation’s toughest conference. I’ve always said we are going to win a championship here, and I firmly believe that.”

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Oklahoma State announces official changes to coaching staff

Mike Gundy

Spring practice begins Tuesday for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Before a new season gets underway, the program needed to clean up some loose ends.

The school officially announced the hiring of five new assistant coaches to Mike Gundy’s staff:

Titles weren’t bestowed on former Buffalo Bills tight ends coach Greg Adkins, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo or Montana State offensive line coach Jason McEndoo, but they’re expected to serve in similar roles to their previous stops.

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MSU’s Mark Dantonio believes best players should play, including freshmen

Mark Dantonio

Those within the Big Ten Conference aren’t presenting a united front on the topic of freshman ineligibility.

A week ago, the league was trying to drum up interest among its members to support a potential rule change. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh even came out publicly in support of the possibility.

The league has yet to officially propose any changes but it wants to continue the “national conversation.”

Apparently, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio didn’t get the memo.

Dantonio’s comment clearly isn’t just a chance to appeal to recruits. He doesn’t appear to be an advocate of the rule in any form or fashion.

The coach could have worded his answer differently in order to tow the party line. He didn’t. He stated freshmen should play if they’re good enough after being directly asked about the issue.

If the Big Ten Conference wants the possibility of freshman ineligibility to become more than a national conversation, the league needs to develop support from its coaches.

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Potential starter along Oregon’s O-line calls it a career

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State

Unfortunately, one of the best names in college football retired Thursday.

Andre Yruretagoyena won’t return to the Oregon Ducks football program this year. An exact reason wasn’t provided, but the redshirt senior decided it was time to leave.

Yruretagoyena finally found his way into the Ducks’ starting lineup last year, but it was short-lived as he dealt with a lingering foot injury.

After the amount of injuries Oregon suffered along the offensive line a season ago, Yruretagoyena’s loss hurts the team’s depth at offensive tackle.

Tyler Johnstone is expected to return from a torn ACL he suffered last summer to start at left tackle, while sophomore Tyrell Crosby should prove to be the team’s bookend at right tackle.

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49ers eyeing bid to host future playoff title game

Pac-12 Championship - Arizona v Oregon Getty Images

The new home of the San Francisco 49ers has already hosted a conference championship game.  Now, it appears the club wants to get to know an even more important postseason game as well.

Citing a source a source with knowledge of the plans, the Associated Press is reporting that the NFL organization is planning to bid on becoming a future host of the College Football Playoff championship game.  The 49ers will be focusing their bid — or bids — on the 2018-2020 games that would be played in newly-built Levi’s Stadium.

Bids for those games must be received by May of this year, with the winning bids expected to be announced at some point this fall.

The 2016 (following the 2015 season) and 2017 (following the 2016 season) national title games have already been awarded to Glendale, Ariz., and Tampa, Fla. The first ever playoff title game was played in Dallas at AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL’s Cowboys.

Levi’s Stadium, which opened in 2014, has hosted a regular-season college game as well as the Pac-12 championship game. It will also serve as the host of that conference’s title tilt the next two years as well as being the site of next year’s Super Bowl.

In addition to that stadium in Santa Clara, officials from New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium — home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets — have also expressed an interest in bidding on CFP title games from 2018-20.  Also, city officials in New Orleans are beginning the process of considering the feasibility of hosting a title game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported this afternoon.  The Superdome, of course, is the home of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.

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Hefty LSU recruiting sanctions may be related to Alabama signee

Matt Womack

First, what we know in this situation: LSU has been slapped with some rather hefty recruiting sanctions.

What we don’t know?  Exactly what recruit led to the sanctions… although the Baton Rouge Advocate has an idea.

According to the Advocate, and citing public records obtained by the newspaper, “LSU is banned from signing early enrollee recruits to financial aid agreements for the next two years, and the program will be stripped of 10 percent of its recruiting evaluation days in 2015.” The latter sanction works out to 21 of 210 days allotted on the recruiting calendar. The penalties stem from a recruit who had originally signed a financial aid agreement with LSU last August, with the intention of enrolling in January, but ultimately signed a National Letter of Intent elsewhere.

The financial aid agreement (FAA) mentioned binds the university to the player, but not the player to the university. That policy was enacted by the NCAA in 2013, and allows high school seniors who intend to enroll early to sign the agreements and, in theory, end their recruitment and allow them to focus on what’s left of their senior years.

Football programs that have recruits sign such agreements are permitted unlimited contact with the prospects, although there are penalties for the program if that player enrolls elsewhere. That appears to be the boat in which LSU finds itself.

The public records obtained by the Advocate do not list the name of the recruit involved. However, all the signs seem to point to one who signed with an SEC West rival.

Matt Womack, an offensive tackle from Mississippi, signed a financial aid agreement with LSU in August intending to enroll at the school in January. Instead, Womack de-committed — as hundreds of prospects do each year — and signed a National Letter of Intent with Alabama in February.

One twist in the plot is that the three-star lineman’s father, David Womack, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in mid-September that “LSU is not using [the FAA to take advantage of the unlimited contact] because if Matt was to change his mind they would have to report it.” Exactly why LSU got slapped, or if said slapping involved another unknown recruit who signed an FAA with LSU but enrolled elsewhere, is unknown.

Four other LSU recruits who signed FAAs with the Tigers ultimately enrolled at the school.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Trevone Boykin to undergo surgery on non-throwing wrist

Trevone Boykin AP

An injury that actually occurred four months ago will impact one of the top quarterbacks in the country a couple of months down the road.

In October of 2014, TCU acknowledged that, after some initial misdirection, Trevone Boykin had indeed sustained an injury to his left (non-throwing) wrist.  Boykin didn’t miss a game because of the snap, but he will miss a portion of spring practice this year as he surgically deals with the issue.

According to David Ubben of FOX Sports Southwest, Boykin will undergo surgery the first week of April to repair what’s being described as a small fracture in the wrist.  The timing of the procedure means that Boykin will miss the final week of spring practice, which for the Horned Frogs begins this weekend.

As for a rehab timeline, Ubben writes that Boykin is “expected to return in about five weeks and will be 100 percent in time for voluntary summer workouts.”

Boykin is coming off a season in which he was widely regarded as the most improved quarterback in the country.  He’ll also enter the 2015 season as one of a handful of Heisman favorites.

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Scheduling additions won’t quiet Baylor’s critics

Close up of red velvet cupcakes with frosting on counter

Don’t expect this to quiet the critics of Baylor’s scheduling habits.  In fact, if anything, it’ll likely do nothing but increase the volume of the howling.  And laughing and/or chuckling, as the case may be.

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Baylor and Louisiana Tech have scheduled a future three-game series.  The 2020 and 2022 games will be in Waco, while the 2021 game will be played in Ruston.  Additionally, McMurphy’s ESPN colleague, Jake Trotter, tweets that BU will face FCS-level Abilene Christian in 2018.

As it stands now, Baylor has just one non-conference series scheduled against a Power Five program: Duke in 2017 and 2018.  Aside from that, it’s a cornucopia of lower-level creampuffs as far as the eye can see.

Four of the next five years, BU has an FCS team on its schedule: Lamar (2015), Northwestern State (2016), Liberty (2017) and Incarnate Word (2019).  The other teams on the Bears’ future schedules through 2022 include those from the AAC (SMU, 2015 & 2016) and Conference USA (Rice, 2015, 2016 & 2019; UT-San Antonio, 2018; La Tech, 2020-22).

Part of the reason Baylor was shut out of the first College Football Playoff was its strength of schedule, or lack thereof.  If such a scenario plays out in the future, the Bears can look to ongoing — and some would say stubborn — scheduling decisions such as the ones revealed today as a reason why.

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NHL commish ‘intrigued’ by Beaver Stadium hockey game

Beaver Stadium

Depending on how things go in the future, The Big House may not be the sole province of professional hockey games played on a college campus.

In the past it’s been rumored that the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, Beaver Stadium, could be in line to host an outdoor NHL regular season game.  The level of chatter in that vein has increased a bit of late, so much so that it prompted the question of an NHL game in Happy Valley being asked of the man in charge of the sport in North America.

While not even remotely ruling it out, Gary Bettman acknowledged that it’s not something that’s imminent, either.

“There’s been talk about it,” the commissioner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Wednesday. “I’m intrigued by the possibility. But it’s not anywhere close to fruition.”

In January of 2014, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor hosted the annual Winter Classic, which that year featured the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, although it did fall short of its goal of setting the outdoor hockey attendance record. That record, incidentally, still resides in the Big House, which saw 113,411 fans witness Michigan beating Michigan State in a college hockey game.

There have also been rumors that Notre Dame could host a hockey game at either the professional or collegiate levels, although that speculation hasn’t gained much steam over the past couple of years.

(Photo credit: Penn State athletics)

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PHOTOS: SnowVol fight at Neyland Stadium

Neyland Snow

Sign No. 1,783 that we’re diving deeper into the offseason?  This post.

With snow and wintry weather blanketing areas of the South, people in that part of the country are being forced to deal with the kind of precipitation seldom seen at any time of the year.  Parts of Alabama have seen 10 inches of snow; much of Georgia, including Atlanta, are under a winter storm warning that could see up to eight inches of snow in some areas; and temperatures in general are upwards of 30 degrees colder than normal for this time of the year, leaving frozen water pipes and general mayhem on many a roadway.

Some, though, have flipped a potential negative into a positive.

Students at the University of Tennessee, for the second year in a row, are just one example as some of them “found their way” onto the field at Neyland Stadium late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning for an impromptu snowball fight.  The snowy romp on the football turf ended, Wes Rucker of 247Sports.com reported, when “the cops came.”

On a completely unrelated note, the 2015 college football season kicks off in exactly 189 days.

(Photo credit: Andy Jeffers)

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Ineligible Baylor walk-on: ‘Bottom line is I broke the rules’

Silas Nacita

Now we have a little further clarity to a situation that blew-up Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier that day, Baylor walk-on Silas Nacita tweeted that he had been declared ineligible by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits in the form of housing “instead of choosing to be homeless” as he put it.  Those benefits, which he said he received from what was described as a “close family friend,” led to a statement from BU in which it acknowledged rules violations committed by Nacita and essentially ended the football team’s involvement with the player moving forward.

It also led to a significant public backlash against an already-despised NCAA, although that entity subsequently revealed that it “did not declare Silas Nacita ineligible and Baylor has not requested a waiver for him.”

In another social media posting Thursday morning, Nacita (again) accepted responsibility for his actions while at the same time clarifying the relationship with the individuals who provided him with what turned out to be impermissible.

Nacita clarifying the distinction between “friend” and “close family friend” is relevant when it comes to current NCAA bylaws. In the simplest terms, accepting benefits from the former is impermissible, while accepting the same thing from the latter is permissible.  Additionally, the fact that Nacita is a walk-on instead of a scholarship player has no bearing on this specific situation.

That said, it’s a sad state of affairs when a kid who is at least partially paying his own way through school has to publicly apologize for accepting a place to live, or accepting money for a place to live, from people he considers friends in some form or fashion. It’s just yet another example of how twisted and warped the current state of collegiate athletics in general and the NCAA membership specifically truly is.

It’s amazing, though, that the NCAA can find the time to parse levels of friendships while at the same time overseeing a membership that spends significant time stuffing millions of dollars into its collective coffers, dollars made off the backs of the very student-athletes it keeps under its thumb.  Quite a feat.

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LB Alton Meeks transferring from Cyclones

Iowa State v Iowa

On offseason of roster attrition continues for Iowa State, with a former defensive starter the latest to leave the football program.

In a Twitter conversation with Cincinnati offensive lineman Billy West, Alton Meeks acknowledged that he has decided to transfer away from the Cyclones. No reason was given for the linebacker’s decision.

The school subsequently confirmed the departure to the Ames Tribune.

Meeks, a three-star member of ISU’s 2013 recruiting class, started two games he played as a redshirt freshman in 2014, including the season opener. He subsequently lost his starting job and played in 11 games at middle linebacker.

Meeks’ departure brings to nine the number of Cyclones who have either been dismissed, left voluntarily or transferred since January. That nonet includes the projected starter at running back, one of ISU’s top returning receivers and a starting defensive back.

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Two TCU starters to miss spring ball after shoulder surgery

TCU at Baylor

It’s that time of year again. Spring ball is about to get (or already) cranking on a number of campuses, which means head coaches across the land offer status updates on their club for the first time since the end of the 2014 season. This time around it’s TCU head coach Gary Patterson. The Frogs open spring practices this week, and the head Frog revealed Wednesday that two returning starters will miss the action.

Vaitai started all 13 games as a junior in 2014.

Tuaua was a part-time starter and posted 30 tackles with five sacks, eight tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a team-leading three fumble recoveries.

Patterson also this Ghandi-like gem in response to TCU’s College Football Playoff snub.

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Nevada adds UCLA graduate transfer

Kevin McReynolds

Nevada added UCLA lineman Kevin McReynolds to its roster as a graduate transfer, the program announced Wednesday.

A former four-star out of Silver Spring, Md., McReynolds garnered Outstanding Defensive Scout Team Player as a redshirt in 2011 and moved to the offensive line under a new coaching staff in 2012, seeing action in 13 games. He did not see the field in 2013 and contributed as a special teams player in 2014.

Though it will have been four seasons since his last action there by the time this fall rolls around, Nevada is treating McReynolds as a defensive lineman.

“We’re looking forward to having a veteran like Kevin join our defensive front,” head coach Brian Polian said. “Kevin is a quality young man who has experience playing Pac-12 football and we’re excited to have him join our program and continue his education at Nevada.”

(Photo credit: UCLA athletics)

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