Top storylines heading into the spring

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While we’re still over six months away from the start of the 2012 season, we’re not wandering through a football-less desert quite yet.

From Feb. 13 (Army first practice) through May 5 (UCLA’s spring game), all 124 Div. 1-A (FBS) football programs will utilize their 15 allotted spring sessions to begin preparations in earnest for the upcoming season.

Below are but a few of the storylines and issues we’ll be following over the next couple of months.

Conference change, it’s a comin’
Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12 to the SEC.  TCU and West Virginia from the Big East to the Big 12.  Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada officially moving to the Mountain West from the WAC.  And four brand-new football programs moving up from Div. 1-AA (FCS) to Div. 1-A (FBS): South Alabama (Sun Belt), Texas State (WAC), UMass (MAC) and UT-San Antonio (WAC).  Hell, there’s even the very real possibility that Temple could be leaving the MAC for the Big East this year as well.

While the moves won’t become officially official until July 1, all of those schools will, in essence, conduct spring practice as members of their new respective conferences.  In particular, a lot of the “new kid on the block” attention will be paid to Missouri and Texas A&M — and new head coach Kevin Sumlin — because, well, it’s the SEC and the six-peat BcS champion conference always has more than its share of eyes upon it.

Sideline upheaval
More than one-fifth (27) of the 124 football program that will play at the Div. 1-A level in 2012 made a change at head coach at some point after the start of the 2011 season. From Penn State and Ohio State in the Big Ten to four new ones in the Pac-12 — the most of any BcS conference; Conference USA will have five new head coaches — to Texas A&M ahead of its move from the Big 12 to the SEC, none of the 11 conferences were spared at least one change at head coach from where its members were at the beginning of last season.

The spring sessions will be, for the most part, the first chance for those coaches and their coaching staffs to really get a good look at and begin the evaluation of the roster. The “real” work won’t begin until September, but laying the foundation of new schemes on both sides of the ball will begin in earnest. What happens during the next couple of months will determine how far ahead/behind/in step with the more entrenched programs lugging experienced staffs into the new year.  All eyes in particular will be on Bill O’Brien, who will not only take over the scandal-stained Nittany Lions program but will also be embarking upon his first season as a Div. 1-A head coach.  Well, all that and replacing a legendary icon who had been the face of Happy Valley for nearly half a century as well.

Needing Moore Luck at quarterback
For the first time in four years at Boise State and three at Stanford, the two top-ten programs won’t have the experience and talent of Kellen Moore and Andrew Luck, respectively, under center.

Who will they have?  Brett Nottingham will enter the spring as the odds-on favorite to replace Luck with the Cardinal, with Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes expected to provide the stiffest competition for the redshirt sophomore.  Outside of Moore, junior-to-be Joe Southwick attempted the most passes (30) for the Broncos last year and was listed as the co-backup along with sophomore-to-be Grant Hedrick.  How those two competitions shake out will go a long, long way in determining whether the two programs can maintain the on-field excellence and build upon the foundations laid by Luck and Moore.

Better this time around?
After winning its first BcS title under Nick Saban in 2009, Alabama “stumbled” through a 10-3 season the following year, with all three losses coming in SEC play. With a second crystal football in three years tucked under its arm, the Tide will attempt to become the first SEC program in the BcS era to repeat as champions. Two problems with going back-to-back, however. One, the Tide will be forced to replace half its starting lineup, including seven on a defense that ranked at or near the top in nearly every major statistical category in 2011 season. And, two, LSU — ya know, the winner of the Tide’s division and loser of the rematch — remains in the SEC West and returns a squad that not only should be at or near the top of the preseason rankings but will be better because of the attrition at the quarterback position.

Fun fact? The Tide has not lost to a non-conference foe since its two-touchdown beatdown at the hands of Utah in the Sugar Bowl following the 2008 regular season.  This year, the Tide will get an immediate test of the rework and revamping begun in the spring as they face likely top-ten foe Michigan in a neutral site game to open the season.

Get those seats warmed, fellas
It’s never too early for some hot seat talk, is it?  Based on the offseason he’s had — nearly a dozen transfers and the Danny O’Brien fiasco — and coming off an abysmal two-win first season at Maryland, Randy Edsall should sit at or near the top of any list of coaches on the hot seat.  Given the significant amount of attrition on both the roster and the coaching staff — he will have new offensive and defensive coordinators — this spring will likely resemble his first with the Terps, sort of a feeling-out process all over again with the added bonus of vultures circling over the two-win carcass.  Edsall simply needs a solid spring to lead to vast improvement in 2012 or he could very well find himself on the outside of the program looking in 2013.

Other coaches who need a strong spring to translate into an immediate turnaround in 2012 include Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, Boston College’s Frank Spaziani, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, UCF’s George O’Leary and Cal’s Jeff Tedford.

(Still to come: individual storylines for the six BcS conferences — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.)

South Carolina’s Javon Charleston suspended after arrest on assault, burglary charges

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If you had the SEC in “next conference to reset the Days Without An Arrest ticker” pool, go ahead and collect your winnings.

According to the Columbia State, South Carolina’s Javon Charleston was arrested earlier this month on one count each of assault and burglary.  The charges stem from an incident that occurred during the early-morning hours of June 17.

The alleged victim claims that Charleston, after she stopped responding to his text messages, broke into her house and, after finding her in bed with another male, engaged in a verbal altercation with the man and ultimately chased him out of the residence.  It was after that when the woman claims she was physically assaulted by Charleston, who allegedly referred to her as a “dirty slut” in the process of the alleged assault.

Charleston, the newspaper wrote, “told the police he knew the woman and the code to get into the residence and that he went to check on her when she stopped texting him, believing that she was drunk.”

As a result of the arrest, Charleston has been indefinitely suspended by the football program.

Charleston was initially a walk-on to the Gamecocks who was placed on scholarship during summer camp last year. The wide receiver/defensive back appeared in 13 games last season, with most of those appearances coming on special teams.  He has been competing for a starting safety job throughout the offseason.

Chad Morris finally finalizes $3.5 million contract with Arkansas

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Chad Morris was hired in early December and has already gone through his spring practice at Arkansas but just signed that big new contract with the school this week.

The practice of working for a new program but not formally signing a contract isn’t new (just ask Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher) but all the parties in Fayetteville finally got pen to paper in recent days to finalize the deal, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The deal runs through the end of the 2023 season and will pay Morris roughly $3.5 million in base salary with plenty more available for the head coach to collect in bonuses:

Morris will be eligible for up to $1 million in competition-based bonuses and $200,000 in academic-based bonuses each year, and is eligible for three retention payments of $500,000 apiece, contingent that no “significant” NCAA violations have occurred and the program is not on NCAA probation at the time the payments are due in February of 2019, 2021 and 2023.

(AD Hunter) Yurachek said he signed the contract last Friday and it was executed with the signatures of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville chancellor Joseph Steinmetz and UA system president Donald Bobbitt this week.

Thankfully, there’s no complicated buyout structure like there was with former head coach Bret Bielema. If Morris wants to leave for another job, he’d owe $3 million prior to Dec. 31, 2019 and decreasing amounts each year afterward. If he’s fired by the school before the final day of 2022, he will receive 70 percent of his $3.5 million annual salary until the end of 2023. If he is fired on or after Jan. 1, 2023, he will take the full $3.5 million he’s owed.

Funny enough though, according to the Democrat Gazette, his boss still hasn’t signed his own deal with the school despite being formally hired the day before Morris was last December. One down, one to go we guess.

Clemson AD Dan Radakovich rules out alcohol sales at Memorial Stadium

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Death Valley is staying dry.

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich spoke to the Post and Courier this week and pretty flatly rejected joining the burgeoning bandwagon in college athletics and allowing beer and/or alcohol sales at the Tigers’ football stadium.

“It hasn’t been a huge topic here because we really don’t look at that as something moving forward inside Memorial Stadium that is on our list of things to get done,” Radakovich said. “There’s a different atmosphere at our games.”

Alcohol is not sold anywhere at the stadium for Clemson home games though there are some unique cases where fan can bring some to specific areas prior to game day for consumption after kickoff.

The policy stands in stark contrast to some of their fellow ACC schools, as everybody from Pitt to Louisville to Wake Forest have begun sales. There’s been significant debate in the SEC on opening things up on the same front and major programs like Penn State to smaller ones like Fresno State are cashing in on the new revenue stream.

It doesn’t sound like the Tigers will be joining them anytime soon.

“Our people in the parking lot have a good time. There’s no question about that,” Radakovich added. “But inside the stadium, I think it’s a little different.”

Mike Gundy and AD Mike Holder will be together at Oklahoma State at least through 2021

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Mike Gundy and Mike Holder better patch up their relationship because both are set to be in Stillwater a lot longer.

Days after the Cowboys head coach and athletic director got into an interesting back-and-forth over the former’s recruiting prowess following the latter’s comments, Holder received a new contract extension that will keep him at the school through 2021.

Gundy himself is signed a year beyond that as part of the new five-year deal he inked after the 2017 season.

The new deal with Holder includes a hefty six-figure raise from the $644,371 he made from the school last year. There was a point early in his tenure where he was one of the Big 12’s lowest paid AD’s but that story has shifted significantly over the years as OSU’s budget has climbed, with the school taking in some $93 million in revenue according to the latest figures.

Given all of the new contracts, hopefully both Holder and Gundy will both have a conversation in the coming months to get back on the same page and patch up their relationship — because both are set to be attached at the hip in Stillwater for several more years.