Big East spring storylines

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Unscathed by the first round of conference realignment in 2010, the Big East was by far the most impacted by conference realignment 2.0 this past summer and fall. Now, Big East teams head into spring practice for the final time before dramatic changes alter the look of the conference beginning in 2013.

But there will be one noticeable absence, as West Virginia will be playing in the Big 12 this fall. The Mountaineers have acted as the Big East’s lifeboat since 2005, contributing to three of the conference’s four BCS bowl wins under the “new” Big East lineup.

That new lineup is about to get, well, newer. Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU will all join as either all-sports members or football-only members beginning in 2013. But what does the Big East have in store for the transition year? Can any of the seven remaining members* — or eight if Temple joins immediately — emerge as a Top 25 team and show up to the BCS party like the Mountaineers have done before?

Those answers begin in spring practices. Here’s what to watch.

New coaches, old philosophies
It’s easy to rag on the Big East, but consider the following: since 2006, at least one Big East school per year has gone through a coaching change, and Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh have endured a few. It’s tough, if not downright impossible, to achieve any kind of consistency with that sort of coaching turnover. Pitt and Rutgers are the latest Big East schools to see their coach depart, with Todd Graham going to Arizona State and Greg Schiano testing the NFL waters, respectively. But both programs rebounded with decent, albeit unproven, head coaching hires in Paul Chryst and Kyle Flood. For the Panthers, Chryst will look to re-establish the ground-and-pound identity that went on hiatus under Graham. Expect the Scarlet Knights to maintain similar offensive and defensive philosophies.

Quarterbacks club
With Geno Smith (WVU) and Zach Collaros (Cincy) gone, the Big East lost its two best quarterbacks. Now, the conference is left with a mixed bag of signal callers that are either young (Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Munchie Legaux of Cincinnati come to mind), inconsistent (South Florida’s 10th year senior B.J. Daniels) or TBD (Rutgers, UConn and Pitt).  The quarterback is the most important position in football, and right now, there isn’t much star power at that position in the Big East. Who has a good spring, and more importantly, who carries it over to the fall, will be a storyline to watch.

Drinking the Orange Kool-Aid
Remember when Syracuse was good and the Carrier Dome was one hell of a tough place to play in college football? Remember when Paul Pasqualoni was coaching future NFL stars like Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney? The Orange’s gridiron success seems a distant memory now –their last 10-win season came in 2001 — but believe it or not, Syracuse is still a good brand. It just needs some on-the-field success to match. Doug Marrone looks like he can be the guy to get Syracuse back to glory, but as we saw last season, injuries and suspensions can sour any team’s chances of winning. The key for the Orange will be to stay healthy during the spring and summer months. Do that, and Syracuse has a chance for a Big East championship in 2012.

Can USF hit the Bulls-eye?
As I mentioned above, South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels has had a productive, but up-and-down career in Tampa. That has to change if the Bulls are going to be a legit contender for the Big East title. Thankfully, Daniels will have arguably the deepest and most talented group of receivers to throw to this year, with leading receiver Sterling Griffin returning after missing part of last season with an injury. The Bulls will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator, their third in four years, with Chris Cosh. USF has talent, and they look great every year on paper. It just hasn’t translated into meaningful victories. Yet.

Cincinnati’s offensive production
Collaros is gone and Big East Offensive Player of the Year, running back Isaiah Pead, is off to the NFL. Those two combined for just over two-thirds of the Bearcats’ offense last year. Who steps up in spring practices? Cincy has a young group of running backs, including touted back Jameel Poteat, and coach Butch Jones may go with a rotation at that position, much like WVU did this past year. The Bearcats also return their top two receivers from last season, Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins.

(*note: Syracuse and Pitt will be leaving for the ACC; exactly when is still being determined) 

Arizona State AD picks up $350,000 bonus after Sun Devils APR scores are released

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We discussed the release of Academic Progress Rate (APR) data from the NCAA on Thursday and some of the bonuses that college football coaches received for their teams’ performance in the classroom. Well, those coaches should have had Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson as their agent because his APR-related bonus puts all others to shame.

Per The Arizona Republic, Anderson — a former agent, it should be noted — is getting a whopping $348,310 in bonus money as the result of the Sun Devils’ latest APR score. Here’s how the paper breaks it down:

Under terms of a new contract signed last fall that pays $800,000 in base salary, Anderson will receive $348,310 in academic bonuses. That breaks down to $136,000 for football’s 975 (out of 1000) APR score, $120,000 for ASU’s overall APR score and $92,310 for six teams receiving public recognition awards for an APR in the top 10 percent nationally.

$350k! For comparison’s sake, USA Today notes that Florida State AD Stan Wilcox picked up $17,000 in APR bonuses. That bonus for Anderson was nearly as much as New Mexico State’s Doug Martin was paid in total salary.

No matter what you think about the whole paying of college athletes or the NCAA system at large, it seems pretty clear by some of the figures in coaches and athletic directors salaries that there is plenty of money to go around.

LSU QB Myles Brennan’s dad downplays transfer of Joe Burrow, not worried about depth chart

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LSU’s quarterback race heated up after spring practice thanks to the transfer of former Ohio State signal-caller Joe Borrow but the incumbent at the position does not appear to be worried about him coming in and taking the starting job.

Well, at least that quarterback’s dad isn’t worried. Owen Brennan, father of sophomore QB Myles Brennan, spoke to The Sun Herald about the situation in Baton Rouge and it certainly doesn’t seem like the latter is planning on transferring himself and seems quite confident in becoming the starter for the opener against Miami.

“Here’s what I think: I think Joe Burrow has three years and 15 pounds on Myles. That’s it,” the elder Brennan said. “I don’t think he has a huge upper hand.

“I think (Myles is) in a very, very good position to compete for the starting job. I really do… That’s just my opinion. If I thought the opposite, if they were bringing in Tom Brady or something, I’d say, ‘hey, Myles, look …’ But I don’t see him in that position.”

The younger Brennan saw action in six games last season and is the only player on the roster to have thrown a pass for the Tigers, throwing one touchdown against a pair of interceptions. Redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse also made some noise in the spring to where coaches thought the race was fairly even and would push into fall camp. That’s certainly the case now with Burrow joining the team this summer.

It’s not surprising to hear a dad is confident in his son’s abilities and thinks he’ll become the starter but the real question on everybody’s mind over the next few months is what Ed Orgeron thinks about the race in what is becoming a very big season for him at LSU.

Punters are transfers too: Northwestern picks up grad transfer punter Jake Collins from WKU

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Punters are transfers too and Northwestern just picked one up.

The Bowling Green Daily News is reporting that Western Kentucky punter Jake Collins was given his release from the school and will be a graduate transfer to Northwestern. He is listed as a redshirt freshman and will be immediately eligible.

Collins has been the Hilltoppers punter the last three years and averaged 40.2 yards per punt last season. If you’re scratching your head hearing the name or school and wondering where you remember him from, Collins went viral for perhaps the worst fake punt in the history of fake punts when WKU played Florida International:

Collins will likely wind up replacing Hunter Niswander with the Wildcats after he graduated. His departure does leave WKU without a punter listed on their roster though some changes and walk-ons might wind up filling the spot for the 2018 season.

Clemson preseason depth chart lists Kelly Bryant as top QB, Trevor Lawrence as backup

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While some coaches fight tooth and nail to release any information about their program like who might be starting a game (cough, Jim Harbaugh, cough), that is not exactly how Clemson’s Dabo Swinney runs his shop. Case in point came Wednesday when the team released a “preseason” depth chart that featured few surprises but plenty of talent as the Tigers likely begin the year in the top four of just about everybody’s early polls.

Of course, the one storyline most people will focus on is the quarterback position for the team. Senior Kelly Bryant is listed as the starter as expected following spring practice but it is notable that there’s now a clear pecking order behind him as he fights off five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence, who was the clear No. 2 at the position following the transfer of Hunter Johnson. There seems to be some distance between Lawrence and fellow (redshirt) freshman Chase Brice, which means just about everybody will be wondering if No. 2 at the spot will eventually take over if Bryant gets off to a slow start in 2018 after some struggles in Clemson’s postseason run.

Elsewhere, there were a handful of positions that raised an eyebrow, including running back Travis Etienne jumping over last year’s starter at the position in Tavien Feaster. Adam Choice will also see plenty of time as that’s yet another deep spot for the team. Also notable is Kendall Joseph sliding over to take the starting job at middle linebacker in place of the guy who manned the same spot last season in Tre Lamar.

The school also notes that they have 17 returning starters (including both specialists), including their fearsome defensive line that “is the first in NCAA history to have four returning players who have been a first or second-team All-American previously.” Needless to say, Clemson will once again be the heavy favorite to win the ACC and make yet another trip to the national championship game.