Big Ten spring storylines

16 Comments

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.

Ex-Western Michigan WR reportedly holding up payouts in $208 million lawsuit with NCAA

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been well over a year since the NCAA reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over grant-in-aid/cost of attendance and yet the $208 million the organization is still just sitting in a bank account waiting to be doled out. While you might first think that this is the result of the usual dragging of their feet from those in Indianapolis, it turns out that is not the case at all.

USA Today is reporting that it’s actually former Western Michigan wide receiver Darrin Duncan who is the one holding things up. He withdrew from the class-action case but his attorney, Caroline Tucker, “attempted to obtain $200,000 from the plaintiffs’ lawyers in exchange for dropping the objection.” The lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side have naturally responded in force, asking either of the two to post a five-figure bond to cover their own legal fees resulting from this delay. The judge in the case, Claudia Wilken, knocked that down to $5,000 last Friday by calling Tucker/Duncan’s objection to the case “meritless and thus his appeal is unlikely to succeed.”

At this point, Duncan/Tucker can either put up the money and risk losing it to continue their objection or drop things and let the payments — which could go as high as $6,000 per athlete — begin. While this is naturally focused on money, there’s a bit more to what the former Broncos receiver is going through:

All of this is occurring against the backdrop of Duncan dealing with personal hardship.

Now 28, he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his mother and a GoFundMe page established on his behalf about a year ago. He has received death threats because of his objection to the settlement, his mother, Arleen Pollard, said in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.

It does appear as though a solution to this long-running saga is in the cards somewhat soon but until then, the wait continues before the checks can start hitting the mail.

Pitt reportedly poaches Mississippi State staffer to be new director of recruiting

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Could we have the start of a budding rivalry between Pitt and Mississippi State? No, but the two programs did see one poach a staffer from the other.

A source told FootballScoop that Mississippi State assistant director of football operations Reed Case has taken the director of recruiting position at Pitt. Both positions are off-the-field roles but as anybody who has worked in a football office will tell you, each is crucial to the day-to-day success of a program.

Per the folks over at FootballScoop, this is one of the first big jobs that Case has had at an ACC program in the Northeast but he’s got a diverse background from stops at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and East Carolina among others.

The move by Pat Narduzzi fills the vacancy left behind by long-time staffer Mark Diethorn, who previously served as the Panthers’ director of recruiting for six years before heading to a new job at his alma mater of Virginia Tech last week.

Recruit who reportedly didn’t have offer still commits to Virginia, Hoos pick up actual pledge from Danish recruit instead

Getty Images
1 Comment

Ahh ‘crootin.

The lifeblood of every college football program, recruiting can sometimes give us some awkward moments and it appears we have another courtesy of Virginia. Let us first bring up this tweet from Philadelphia (Pa.) Imhotep Class of 2019 wide receiver Anthony Gordon, who seemingly committed to the Cavaliers last Thursday.

Great for the kid, right? Well, there’s just one problem, 247Sports says that Gordon is not actually a commitment for the program for a rather big reason:

There was an issue though, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound wide receiver never had the scholarship offer from UVA he reported in March. According to multiple sources, Virginia had not been in contact since March and no call was made to the Virginia staff before the post on social media.

So… yeah. This immediately brings Kevin Hart (no, not that one) to mind after the former offensive lineman staged a ceremony to commit to Cal even though the Golden Bears never recruited him nearly a decade ago. It does seem like there is at least some contact between Virginia and Gordon in this case though, as that report makes clear, it has been a while since the two have talked.

All is not lost for Cavs fans though, as the program did add a commitment from Emil Bo Andersen at their summer camp. Why would we mention this? Well, Anderson is not only a 6-foot-5, 280-pount defensive tackle that comes at a position of need, but he’s actually Danish and is apparently ticketed to a full-ride across the pond thanks to what he showcased at the UVA camp. Very cool and not the first ACC player to come from overseas either should his pledge hold up.

It’s never dull in the ‘crootin world.

Syracuse QB Rex Culpepper on beating cancer: It felt like beating Clemson

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s been a lot of cool moments across college football this past spring but one of the best came in one of the most unlikely of places: Syracuse. At the Orange’s spring game in mid-April, backup quarterback Rex Culpepper suited up in between chemotherapy treatments and managed to throw a (tear-jerking) touchdown pass in the final drive of the afternoon.

Fast forward a few months and Culpepper, after undergoing over 100 hours of treatment, was declared cancer-free in early June. Fully healthy and finally cleared to return to regular football activities, the signal-caller recently went through an offseason workout with his teammates and later spoke to the media about everything that has happened throughout the process.

And how did he describe beating cancer? Well, naturally he brought an a very special on-the-field victory from last season.

“The closest thing I can say is it felt like beating Clemson,” Culpepper said, according to Syracuse.com. “You just feel so incredibly ecstatic that nothing in your life could ever go wrong.”

We’re pretty confident that even Tigers fans won’t mind hearing that given what the quarterback has been through and what a joyful moment that it was for the program back in October.

Next up for Culpepper and the team? Fall camp later this year as he competes with senior Eric Dungey in one of the more impressive quarterback rooms in the ACC for a variety of reasons.