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.)

Florida, USF tweak future series to move game at Raymond James Stadium up to 2021

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While we came awfully close to seeing Florida play an in-state squad from the AAC (ahem, UCF) this postseason, we’re guaranteed just such a matchup down the road when the Gators hook up with USF for a previously scheduled three-game series. While that 2-for-1 was put on the books back in May, it was just announced by the schools that they’re making a change already.

According to a release, the single game that USF is responsible for at Raymond James Stadium has been shifted up to 2021 instead of the 2023 date originally agreed upon. The pair of games at the Swamp in Gainesville will remain on the docket for 2022 and 2025 so this is just a slight tweak to the series.

The moves help the Gators fill out their (more near-term) future schedules a bit more as they have just a single opening in 2021 after the Bulls adjusted their end of the series. In-state foes USF and Florida State are, however, all that’s on the docket for Florida starting in 2022 and beyond so AD Scott Strickland has some work to do over the coming months and years on that front.

The flip side is that USF has quite the slate of difficult opponents in 2021, with the home-game in Tampa against Florida sandwiched between trips to BYU and N.C. State in the same season. The team does have one more non-conference opening that year, which you would assume would wind up being a lower-level school at home.

NDSU promotes Matt Entz to replace new Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman

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North Dakota State is sticking with what works. Namely, that includes promoting from within.

The program announced on Thursday that defensive coordinator Matt Entz will indeed become the Bison’s next head coach in the coming weeks, taking over the job from new Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman after he was hired by the Big 12 school earlier this week.

“Having watched Matt as the defensive coordinator for the past five years, I knew he possessed the qualities to be the head football coach at North Dakota State: leadership, integrity, toughness, and a sincere appreciation for the history and tradition of Bison football,” ,” AD Matt Larsen said. “I’m eager to work with Coach Entz and his staff as they continue building upon the championship tradition of Bison football.”

This will be Entz’ first head coaching gig and comes after serving the past five years as NDSU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Prior to joining Klieman’s staff, he found plenty of success as a DC at previous stops with FCS Western Illinois and Northern Iowa.

“Great things happen to great people, and I am so happy for the Entz family,” Klieman added. “Matt is the right guy for the job. I know the Bison will have unbelievable success. The program is in great hands.”

Both Klieman and Entz will remain in their current roles with NDSU until the conclusion of their FCS playoff run before moving on to their new gigs. The former had been promoted once Craig Bohl left for Wyoming a few years ago and that’s worked out just fine for the Bison so it appears the school has no qualms at going back to the well and doing the same thing with the latter. Entz certainly understands expectations around the ol’ Fargo Dome going forward, which includes this weekend’s upcoming semifinal game against South Dakota State.

Texas Tech regents approve $20 million football facility renovation, may expand alcohol sales at stadium too

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Seemingly like clockwork, when a Power Five school hires a new head coach they typically will wind up improving facilities in some fashion shortly thereafter. Consider that the case at Texas Tech following the ouster of Kliff Kingsbury and the recent hire of Matt Wells to lead the football program.

The school’s board of regents met on Thursday down in Lubbock and among the agenda items was approving a $20 million renovation to the team’s football facilities. As is nearly always the case in the state, the project was naturally approved and will move forward, per the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, as soon as Wells is able to sign off on any changes he wants to the plans:

That wasn’t the only football-related move on the agenda for the Red Raiders however, as athletic director Kirby Hocutt put in his pitch to open up beer and wine sales at Jones AT&T Stadium as soon as the upcoming season.

As noted above, there are numerous Big 12 schools who have opened the taps in general seating areas over the years. Oklahoma State was the most recent to do so in 2018 but it’s been brought back at Texas and West Virginia, among others, to great success (i.e. $$$) the past few years.

Holy Cross AD reportedly set to take same position at Air Force after lengthy search

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Air Force appears to finally have their man to lead the Falcons’ athletic department.

Some eight months after former AD Jim Knowlton departed for California, it appears the program is on the verge of plucking Holy Cross AD Nathan Pine to fill the same position in Colorado Springs. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette first reported the news.

Col. Jennifer Block has served as interim athletic director in the wake of Knowlton’s departure but it’s clear that the Air Force has always wanted to keep a civilian in the top post long term. To that end, this will be the first time the Falcons’ AD will be hired and paid under the umbrella athletics corporation at the school, per the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Pine has a lengthy background out West despite spending the past five years leading the Crusaders. An Oregon State alum, he has worked for the Beavers and fellow Pac-12 program California as well. In addition, he’s made stops at Maryland and, funny enough, academy rival Army too.