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.)

Michigan’s Devin Bush stomps and kicks Michigan State logo in pregame warmups

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Remember a couple of years ago when a Michigan football player drove a tent spike into the turf at Michigan State as a rally call for the Wolverines, and then Michigan State got the last laugh with a win? Well, we could have the seeds of a similar incident already in East Lansing this morning.

Michigan’s Devin Bush decided to try and scuff up the Michigan State spartan logo on the field during the pregame warmups this morning at Spartan Stadium. The action was caught on camera by the Big Ten Network, quickly leading to comments about hos disrespectful the action is.

Michigan comes to Michigan State looking to remain undefeated in Big Ten play this season. The Wolverines are the favorites against Michigan State, but the Spartans have held the upper hand in this in-state rivalry over the course of the past decade. After a big win on the road last week at Penn State, you have to imagine this action by Bush will somehow be relayed to Michigan State before kickoff. Will that serve as similar motivation (as if any is needed against Michigan)?

It was Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden who was unapologetic for driving the tent stake into the turf prior to kickoff at Michigan State back in 2014. Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke apologized for the action, which was called out by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.

Michigan and Michigan State square off at noon eastern.

UPDATE: Yeah, the pregame shenanigans are getting heated.

Son of Outkast star Big Boi commits to Oregon

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It seems things are beginning to turn around for Oregon under head coach Mario Cristobal. A week after knocking off rival Washington in a key Pac-12 matchup and on the eve of another big division game on the road against Washington State, the Ducks reeled in the verbal commitment of Georgia running back Cross Patton for the Class of 2019. Patton is the son of Outkast’s Big Boi.

Patton announced his decision in front of his teammates on Friday, with his proud father capturing the moment on Instagram.

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#ScoDucks 🦆 #18 @crosspatton #PattonClan

A post shared by Big Boi (@bigboi) on

Although Patton is not rated by the recruiting services, mostly due to his size (5′ 6″, 170 lb according to Rivals), there is value to having a celebrity dad on board with the program that Oregon could take advantage of, especially if Patton develops into a weapon for the Ducks moving forward either on offense or special teams. And for a program looking to continue to move back to the top of the Pac-12 with the kind of swag the Ducks had at the height of the Chip Kelly era, the potential appears to be there.

Patton chose Oregon over a handful of offers to form FCS program including Columbia and Butler. Rivals also listed Georgia Tech as a school Patton was interested in. Florida State, with former Oregon head coach Willie Taggart, also appeared to be making a sales pitch for Patton. Big Boi was invited to perform at Florida State’s home game against Wake Forest today.

UAB football players to wear names of child patients on uniforms

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UAB and North Texas collide today in a pivotal Conference USA matchup between the 6-1 Mean Green (2-1 in Conference USA) and the 5-1 Blazers (3-0 in Conference USA. The matchup alone is enough to carry plenty of importance moving forward as far as the conference championship race is concerned, but today UAB will be doing something that means something more beyond football by paying tribute to patients at Children’s Harbor, a medical center focusing on assisting children and their families dealing with serious illnesses.

Players for UAB will ditch their own names on the back of their jerseys and instead will wear the names of a young patient at Children’s Harbor. It has become a bit of a tradition for the Blazers and is a nice way to be a part of the community since the football program was resurrected.

“It shows the city how appreciative we were when the program shutdown,” UAB wide receiver Collin Lisa said, via Al.com. “It’s not just the university, it’s about the city, the medical center, and all the little kids. It’s way more than just the game of football here.”

A full list of the children each UAB player will be representing today can be found here.

Indiana confirms 2½-year suspension for Morgan Ellison, permanent dismissal from football team

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Morgan Ellison‘s time in Bloomington has officially come to an end.

Friday night, Indiana announced that the running back has been suspended for two and a half years from the university as well as permanently dismissed from the Hoosiers football team. On Oct. 3, an IU panel determined that Ellison had sexually assaulted a female student in mid-August of this year.

IU’s announcement yesterday came after Ellison had appealed the original ruling.

The unidentified victim had alleged at the hearing that she was sexually assaulted in her sleep by Ellison. “It hurt so much and when I woke up I was like stop stop and he wouldn’t stop,” the alleged victim claimed in a text to a friend shortly after the assault, the Indianapolis Star had previously reported.

During the hearing, Ellison had claimed that all sexual activity that night in August was consensual.

Ellison has not been charged criminally in connection to the alleged sexual assault, although it’s unclear if the university’s police department is investigating the allegations.

In late August, Indiana announced that Ellison had been indefinitely suspended from all football activities, including games and practice, by Tom Allen for unspecified violations of team rules. Oct. 2, one day before the panel found him guilty, the head coach revealed that the running back was permitted to practice with his teammates but would remain suspended from playing in games for the foreseeable future.

Last season, Ellison led the Hoosiers with 143 carries for 704 yards and six touchdowns. The true junior had not played in any of the Hoosiers’ games this season before or after the panel’s ruling.