Big Ten spring storylines

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Thanks in large part to the biggest “free-agent signing” in college last year, Wisconsin staked its claim to a win in the first-ever Big Ten championship game.  With Russell Wilson one-and-done in Madison, however, the conference generally and the Leaders (chuckle) division specifically are up for grabs yet again.

The only certainty for the 2012 race to Indianapolis?  Ohio State won’t be involved, thanks to its well-publicized NCAA issues.

The story of the conference headed into the spring is, of course, a pair of newcomers.  Bill O’Brien takes over a Penn State football program tainted by the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal, while Urban Meyer returns to his home-state Buckeyes after hitting the pause button on his coaching career following the 2010 season.

Below are a handful of Big Ten storylines we’ll pay at least some attention to this spring:

Leg up in the Legends?
While Michigan State claimed the division’s spot in the first Big Ten title game, it will likely be its in-state rival that will carry the frontrunner tag heading into the upcoming season.  And why not?  All Brady Hoke did in his first year at Michigan was lead the Wolverines to the most wins (11) since 2006, taking an immense first step in erasing the stench left behind by the RichRod regime.  Beginning in the spring, though, Hoke must find and identify new playmakers at the wide receiver position.  Additionally, Denard Robinson must find a way to reduce his turnovers, although a second year in the same system could very well alleviate that issue on its own.  Fortunately — and by “fortunately” I mean “get down and thank the Good Lord Greg Robinson is not around” — the defense is in the very capable hands of Greg Mattison and, even with some attrition in the trenches, should be a strength of the 2012 edition of the Wolverines.

Monumental change in Happy Valley
For the first time since Lyndon Baines Johnson was sitting in Oval Office, a head coach not named Joe Paterno will direct the Nittany Lions football program through spring drills.  Charged with the task of replacing a coaching legend is Bill O’Brien, who will not only be taking over a program rocked by scandal over the past several months, but will be a head coach for the first time at any level of football.  With O’Brien at the helm, one will actually watch the Nittany Lions field a (gasp!) modern style of offense, replete with passing and excitement and the like.  While keeping some continuity on the defensive side of the ball by retaining Larry Johnson Sr. cannot be understated, all eyes in the spring will be on the number of footballs piercing the Happy Valley air.  Just who will be doing the majority of the flinging remains to be seen; Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden will once again battle for the starting job, with Paul Jones possibly getting himself into the mix as well.  While that crucial battle will begin in the spring, it likely won’t be finished until deep into summer camp.

(Insert “Urban development/renewal” pun here)
Penn State’s not the only Big Ten school preparing to cannonball into 21st century offensive football.  Urban Meyer will bring his version of the spread offense to the Buckeyes, implementing the new system after bringing an SEC mindset to the recruiting game.  Unlike the Nittany Lions, however, there is no question who will be the new offense’s triggerman as true sophomore-to-be Braxton Miller has all of the tools to flourish under the tutelage of Meyer and his offensive coaching staff.  Certainly there are other questions that need answered — filling holes on the offensive line chief among them — and there’s no postseason to play for, but the foundation laid by Meyer & Company this spring will certainly benefit the program in 2013 and beyond.  Provided another sabbatical is not in the offing, of course.

Uncertainty under center
Just because Wisconsin and Michigan State met in the first Big Ten title doesn’t make them the favorites for a return engagement in the second.  A big reason why?  Replacing the talent and experience lost at the quarterback position.  The Badgers, of course, will be looking for a replacement for Russell Wilson, and could very well turn its attention to the East Coast yet again for a QB solution; UW is reportedly one of the handful of schools Danny O’Brien is considering as he transfers from Maryland.  The Spartans, on the other hand, will definitely look from within for a replacement for Kirk Cousins, who started the past three seasons and was widely considered MSU’s heart and soul.  Barring an unexpected development, Andrew Maxwell,  a four-star member of the Spartans’ 2009 recruiting class, is Cousins’ heir apparent.  Whether he’s ready for his new, more visible role remains to be seen.

Illinois DE Bobby Roundtree undergoes spine surgery after swimming accident

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One of the top defensive players Illinois has is recovering from surgery following a weekend swimming accident. Defensive end Bobby Roundtree underwent surgery on Sunday for what has been reported to be a severe spinal injury.

According to a report from 247 Sports, Roundtree was visited in Florida by Illini head coach Lovie Smith, defensive line coach Austin Clark and a member of the Illinois medical staff. There is currently no update on his status following surgery or how this may eventually impact his status for the upcoming season. For now, the focus is purely on recovery from the surgery to address the spinal injury. The details of the incident resulting in the injury have not been shared at this time either other than it occurred on Saturday in Tampa.

Roundtree was a three-star recruit in the Class of 2017 of Illinois. The Florida native recorded 66 tackles with team highs of 12.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks for the Fighting Illini last season.

Report: Ex-FSU QB Deondre Francois to walk on at FAU

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Months after contemplating his future, former Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois will walk-on with the FAU Owls. According to a report from 247 Sports, Francois will attempt to enroll at FAU as soon as possible to begin the process of officially joining Lane Kiffin and the Owls.

Francois was dismissed by Florida State in February by head coach Willie Taggart, with the second-year head coach of the Seminoles attempting to improve the culture of his latest football program. Francois has been cleared of a domestic assault accusation in Jan. 2018, and he had previously had a legal issue involving suspected possession of marijuana. A video shared by Francois’s girlfriend showed a man threatening her, with the man said to have been Francois One day after being dismissed by Florida State, Francois was officially entered in the NCAA transfer portal to begin weighing his options for his future.

Kiffin is no stranger to giving players another chance to play FBS football. He has been making a habit of it during his brief time in Boca Raton with the Owls. Kiffin has welcomed players from troubled pasts to build his depth on the roster, including former Oklahoma quarterback Chris Robison and a number of players who appeared in the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U.”  Kiffin has been actively adding players via transfers on top of his normal recruiting efforts and the plan has worked with a Conference USA title in 2017 and a team seemingly capable of making another run to the conference title in 2019.

That is why it may seem odd that Kiffin took a bit of a jab at the transfer portal earlier in the offseason, calling it a “sexy thing to do” for players. As it turns out, however, Kiffin may have just landed another potential starting quarterback through the transfer portal.

Francois played in 11 games for Florida State in 2018, passing for 2,731 yards and 15 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He has two years of eligibility remaining.

LSU CB Kelvin Joseph reportedly plunges into transfer portal

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LSU cornerback Kelvin Joseph entered the transfer portal on Monday morning, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Joseph is a surprise entry, given that the 4-star recruit and Baton Rouge native is just a sophomore. He appeared in five games as a true freshman in 2018 — meaning he cannot use the season as a redshirt — collecting 12 tackles with one pass breakup.

He was expected to compete with incoming freshman Derek Stingley, Jr. for a starting job opposite Kristian Fulton this fall. With Fulton out due to injury, Joseph and Stingley started LSU’s spring game.

Entering the portal does not guarantee Joseph will leave, and he is still free to return as long as LSU will have him. Joseph was suspended for a violation of team rules from LSU’s Fiesta Bowl win over Central Florida, but, again, he did start the spring game, indicating he’s on good standing with Ed Orgeron and the LSU staff.

Mother’s death forces Purdue RB Evan Anderson to leave team

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Purdue running back Evan Anderson has left the team, head coach Jeff Brohm told Gold and Black.

A member of Purdue’s 2018 signing class, Anderson redshirted last season, then had a proverbial bomb go off in his life that took precedence over football and school.

“His mother passed away,” said Brohm told the site. “That set him back, that hurt him. It hurt all of us. It was a bad situation. We felt for him. He missed a lot of school, he missed a lot of practice. I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but his family situation was important to him. It was a rough, rough semester on him–and understandably so.”

A 3-star recruit, Anderson is a native of Suwanee, Ga. Should he desire to continue his college football career, he figures to be a shoe-in for an NCAA hardship waiver if he transfers closer to home.

In less important matters, Anderson’s departure leaves a hole on Purdue’s running back depth chart. The Boilermakers’ top two running backs were seniors, and their third-leading rusher was wide receiver Rondale Moore. The Boilers’ leading returning rusher is sophomore Alexander Horvath, who carried all of nine times in 2018. Six runners, including two incoming freshmen, will fight for carries in fall camp, but Anderson will not be one of them.