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.)

Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen, Appalachian State’s Clifton Duck named Sun Belt preseason players of the year

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The SEC isn’t the only league in the South to release their preseason all-conference team on Friday as the Sun Belt named Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen and Appalachian State defensive back Clifton Duck as the preseason offensive and defensive players of the year for 2018.

Hansen is looking to repeat as Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year after winning the award at the end of last season after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and accounting for 44 touchdowns with the Red Wolves. Duck had six interceptions last year to help pace the Mountaineers’ defense and is tied with fellow first-team selection Blace Brown (who plays at Troy) for the most in the nation the past two seasons with 11.

All told though, the Neal Brown’s Trojans had the most selections across the two All-Sun Belt preseason teams with 11 players earning a nod.

The full 2018 Preseason All-Sun Belt team is below:

First Team Offense

QB – Justice Hansen

RB – Jalin Moore (Appalachian State), Warren Wand (Arkansas State)

WR – Justin McInnis (Arkansas State), Penny Hart (Georgia State), Marcus Green (ULM)

TE – Collin Reed (Appalachian State)

OL – Victor Johnson (Appalachian State), Lanard Bonner (Arkansas State), Kevin Dotson (Louisiana), Tristan Crowder (Troy), Deontae Crumitie (Troy) 

First Team Defense

DL – Ronheen Bingham (Arkansas State), Logan Hunt (Georgia Southern), Hunter Reese (Troy), Trevon Sanders (Troy)

LB – Anthony Flory (Appalachian State), Michael Shaw (Georgia State), Tron Folsom (Troy)

DB – Clifton Duck, Justin Clifton (Arkansas State), Monquavion Brinson (Georgia Southern), Blace Brown

First Team Special Teams

K – Gavin Patterson (South Alabama)

P – Corliss Waitman (South Alabama)

RS – Marcus Green (ULM)

Second Team Offense

QB – Caleb Evans (ULM)

RB – Wesley Fields (Georgia Southern), Trey Ragas (Louisiana)

WR – RJ Turner (ULM), Jamarius Way (South Alabama), Deondre Douglas (Troy)

TE – Ellis Richardson (Georgia Southern)

OL – Jacob Still (Arkansas State), Curtis Rainey (Georgia Southern), Hunter Atkinson (Georgia State), Shamarious Gilmore (Georgia State), Aaron Brewer (Texas State)

Second Team Defense

DL – Myquon Stout (Appalachian State), Marterious Allen (Georgia State), Tyree Turner (South Alabama), Marcus Webb (Troy)

LB – Silas Kelly (Coastal Carolina), Bull Barge (South Alabama), Bryan London II (Texas State)

DB – Tae Hayes (Appalachian State), BJ Edmonds (Arkansas State), Marcus Jones (Troy), Cedarius Rookard (Troy)

Second Team Special Teams

K – Tyler Bass (Georgia Southern)

P – Cody Grace (Arkansas State)

RS – Marcus Jones (Troy)

Hotels, recruiting trips and meals among the things on the chopping block at New Mexico due to budget cuts

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Operating a Division I athletics program can be tough but few face the inherent hurdles of running a department quite like the two FBS schools in the state of New Mexico. For years the Aggies of New Mexico State have had one of the smallest budgets in the country and their rivals at New Mexico are not immune to the same challenges either. Case in point came this week as the Lobos moved to cut four sports on Thursday by a unanimous vote from the UNM Board of Regents.

While football was not on the chopping block for the school (it’s a required sport to remain in the Mountain West), the program itself is not immune to penny-pinching the department is facing in the near term. According to the Albuquerque Journal, this includes no longer staying at a hotel the nights before home games, a reduction in the recruiting budget for trips and a potential reduction in the number of meals the school provides to players.

“We are talking about football internally,” athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. “Football, as well as every other sport, is going to be held to the same accountability when it comes to managing their budgets.”

According to recent records, the football team spent a reported $8.3 million during the most recent fiscal year and failed to turn a profit. The Lobos will soon be reducing the total number of players on the team from 116 to 113 (there will remain 85 scholarships available) for both budgetary and Title IX reasons as well. While it was certainly not intended, the program did see some additional cost savings earlier this year when they suspended head coach Bob Davie without pay for 30 days.

Still, times are tough in the state and nobody knows that better than the athletic departments who are facing a money-crunch and trying to do what they can to dig themselves out of it.

North Carolina’s self-reported NCAA violations the result of players selling their shoes

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We learned two things about the North Carolina football program this week and neither of them are all that great for the Tar Heels or their brand.

The item that generated the most headlines was head coach Larry Fedora discussing his misguided views on CTE at ACC Media Days but in terms of impact, it may very well be the fact that the school self-reported several NCAA violations that could lead to player suspensions this season. Now we know what the whole mess was about and let’s just say that it’s a lot less serious than the last time the school underwent the NCAA microscope.

Per WRAL, the secondary violations that were agreed upon were the result of players “selling university-issued shoes and athletic gear.” Yep, selling shoes.

“It’s disappointing,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham told The News & Observer about the matter. “You know we do a great job. I think our compliance office does a great job with education, and students know the rules, and occasionally we make mistakes. We had a couple of students who made some mistakes, and there’s obviously penalties associated with that.”

Adding a layer to this story is that the school recently switched to the Jordan Brand for their apparel prior to the 2017 season as a nod to the Tar Heels’ most famous alum. As part of a uniform unveil that summer, players were given a free pair of Retro 11s and understandably went nuts upon receiving them. They also received some Air Jordan 3 retros in January. It’s unknown whether those shoes are the ones in question that were sold or if it were some other items that players were given to wear but the bottom line is selling such items is against NCAA rules.

At well over $100 for each pair, the players in question face not only repaying the money to a charity to regain eligibility but also the prospect of several games worth of suspensions. It seems like we’ll find out soon who will be held out and for how long but that trip to face Cal in the season opener could be a lot tougher than Fedora and his staff thought thanks to the latest bit of scandal in Chapel Hill.

Watch list season rolls on with Rimington Trophy latest to release list of 58 (!) centers to keep an eye on

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Are you a center that plays college football? Congrats, there’s a nearly 50% chance that you’re on the latest watch list to be released to the media for a postseason award.

On Friday, the Remington Trophy followed in the footsteps of its counterparts and released the 2018 Fall Watch List featuring centers from all over the country. In total, some 58 (!) players made the cut after getting nominated by their schools. The Pac-12 led the way this season with a full 10 players on the list, followed by the ACC with eight centers and the SEC just behind with seven.

Among those that you could say headline the entire group are Alabama’s Ross Pierschbacher, Georgia’s Lamont Gaillard, Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy, Texas’ Zach Shackelford, Penn State’s Connor McGovern, Florida State’s Alec Eberle and Clemson’s Justin Falcinelli.

You can find the full Remington Trophy watch list here.

And if you’re in the preseason watch list mood… the Doak Walker Award, Mackey Award, Biletnikoff Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Bednarik Award and Maxwell Award have all released their watch lists for various positions as well.

We’re still a month away from the regular season actually starting in college football but media days and award watch lists are a sure sign every summer that the long, long offseason is coming to an end.