Simply put, college football fans may never again witness the pure volume and amplitude of changes which will take place as the 2012 season unravels itself. Below is a list of the top-ten changes, in ascending order of significance (defined by national impact and/or the precedent for the listed change):
10. New Coordinator Sets at Auburn and Iowa
Auburn followed up its 2010 National Championship season with a less-than-stellar 8-5 (4-4 SEC) record. Gus Malzahn dropped the reins of the Tigers’ offense to become head coach at Arkansas State. Meanwhile, Ted Roof left Auburn’s defense to take over at Penn State (following a one-month stay at UCF). Gene Chizik hired Temple’s Scott Loeffler to lead the offense. Taking what the defense offers, Loeffler expects to establish the run but that task will not be easy with a giant question mark at quarterback. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder came over from the Atlanta Falcons and was well received this spring. One of the nation’s top set of bookends (Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier) will help him develop pressure but anchoring against the run will be an important goal to cement this season. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz never lost a coordinator in his 13 years at Iowa – until this past offseason, when he lost both. This year, Greg Davis takes over the offense while Phil Parker will lead the Hawkeyes’ defense. Parker coached Iowa’s defensive backs during all of Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa so, to say the least, he is familiar with the old system which should reduce that unit’s learning curve. Davis spent the last 13 years leading the Texas offense, which begs a focus on whether Iowa can control the line of scrimmage in this season’s running game.
9. Mike Stoops Joins His Brother – Brent Venables Leaves for Clemson
The venerable Venables was a fixture on Bob Stoops’ defensive staff for the past 13 years during which time many fans wondered how he would fare with another school. It was not under ideal circumstances but Venables gets the chance to hold his own reins and start anew this season With Mike Stoops’ dismissal as head coach of Arizona, his brother, Bob, sought a staff reunion which brought Mike to Norman as a supposed co-defensive coordinator with Venables. The situation was not comfortable for any of the men involved and a disastrous Orange Bowl performance by Clemson against West Virginia opened the door for Venables to take over Tigers’ stop-unit. The changes injected new blood and enthusiasm into both programs. Mike set out to simplify the Sooners’ defensive scheme while Venables set out to instill toughness in his athletic Clemson personnel.
8. The State of Arizona Starts Over
As stated above, Mike Stoops was dismissed from Arizona last season, and the Wildcats find themselves under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez. Unlike Rich Rod’s last transition (where he pounded the square-peg of a read-option spread scheme into the round-hole of plodding pro-style personnel with no prior spread knowledge or experience), he now inherits a program that has a basic understanding of spread concepts and a quarterback in Matt Scott who has the tools to make the offense run. A focus on passing this spring paid surprising dividends for Scott and the offense, though things may change as he becomes a live target this fall. Meanwhile, in Tempe, Pitt’s former head coach sprinted his way into the Arizona State teamhouse this offseason. Graham’s tenure at Tulsa proved he can squeeze production out of his brand of the spread and that the system is capable of producing on the ground as well as the air. The Sun Devils came out of spring camp without a named starter under center though some insiders feel there is a “slight edge” to Mike Bercovici (Brock Osweiler’s backup last season).
7. Arkansas Picks Up Bobby Petrino’s Pieces
Arkansas fans may have wished the news out of campus was a mere April Fool’s joke but, alas, it was not. Bobby Petrino wrecked his motorcycle with 25-year old Jessica Dorrell on board. As word of his affair with the engaged Dorrell continued to leak, and the extent of Petrino’s attempt to cover-up the affair and incident became clear, Arkansas became the last school to require a new head coach for the 2012 season. Former Razorback assistant coach John L. Smith was brought in to assure continuity and stem the bleeding. Many eyes will be on Arkansas this fall to see whether the hire is simply a band-aid or if Smith can lead the talented ‘Hogs to success in the nation’s toughest division (the SEC West).
6. 28 New Head Coaches
There are 124 teams in the FBS, so nearly a quarter of them are subject to new skippers this season. No fewer than 14 of the programs with new head coaches are from BCS conference-affiliated schools and they include four of the more storied programs in the country (Ohio State, Penn State, UCLA and Texas A&M). Florida Atlantic turns to Carl Pelini to take over for Howard Schnellenberger, who hung up his sport coat after 52 years of coaching.
5. Rule Changes
Safety, safety, safety. Stopping shy of installing Velcro flags on waists, the NCAA has made several rule changes with a nod towards reducing the incidences of players placing themselves in the game’s most unsafe positions. Having resolved that more injuries occur during kickoff returns than any other play, the NCAA implemented three rules designed to reduce their frequency. First, teams will kick off from the 35-yard line (instead of the 30). Second, no player can line up further than five (5) yards behind the line of scrimmage prior to the kickoff so that running starts by coverage personnel will be shortened. Perhaps the most impactful rule-change, though, is a “carrot” rather than a “stick.” From now on, touchbacks from kickoffs will result in drives beginning at the 25-yard line instead of the traditional 20-yard line. We all know that concussions have become a ‘hot topic,’ so two new rules have been implemented to seek their reduction. Any player who loses his helmet during a play (except due to an opponent’s facemask violation) will be required to leave the field for one play. Moreover, a player who loses his helmet during a play must quit the play rather than continue without the helmet. The final change to be highlighted here is that, seeking to reduce the incidences of players flipping over onto their heads, players may no longer leap over blockers in an attempt to block a punt.
4. Playing Without Historic Players Under Center
At the end of last season, the NCAA lost the most prolific career passer in its history (Houston’s Case Keenum [19,217 yards, 155 TD’s]), its winningest quarterback (Boise State’s Kellen Moore [50-3]), its most efficient single-season passer (Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson) and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner (Baylor’s Robert Griffin III). Yet, none of those players were the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft (Stanford’s Andrew Luck) and, potentially, next year’s most productive NFL rookie signal caller could be Oklahoma State’s former starter, 28-year old Brandon Weeden. These programs don’t simply have an opening to fill in their roster – they have gaping craters. So, too, do Michigan State (replacing Kirk Cousins), Arizona State (Brock Osweiler) and Texas A&M (Ryan Tannehill). The staffs at each of these schools have their work cut out for them in 2012.
3. West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12
With the loss of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC (see below), last year’s ten-team Big 12 dropped to eight members. West Virginia committed to join the Big 12 and the Big East sued. Twenty million dollars later, the Mountaineers freed themselves from their former conference and joined the Big 12. TCU joined WVU as a new Big 12 member having never set foot in the Big East which they had formerly committed to join. The change was seamless as West Virginia took over Missouri’s conference schedule and the Horned Frogs took over A&M’s. TCU brings its historically elite defense to the land of the spread offense, while WVU quarterback Geno Smith has found the luster added by the increased schedule-difficulty in the Big 12 has enhanced his presence in preseason Heisman Trophy discussions.
2. Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC
Winners of the last six national championships, the SEC’s expansion was a matter of ‘want-to’ rather than ‘need-to.’ Perhaps with an eye towards a national move towards ‘super-conferences,’ the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M to bring the conference to 14 members. Missouri will compete in the Eastern Division and, given the volume of players returning to the Tigers from its 2011 edition (along with the nation’s top recruit at receiver [Dorial Green-Beckham]), it should compete from the start. A&M opens up Texas to the SEC market and brings 350,000 alumni to the fan base but many question marks exist given the brand-new staff (Houston’s Kevin Sumlin took over this spring) and loss of last year’s quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.
1. New Beginnings in Happy Valley
As he continued to stamp his own renewals, the nation wondered whether Joe Paterno’s tenure at Penn State might end poorly but nobody could have imagined the carnage of the few weeks which ultimately ended his 46th year at the helm of the Nittany Lions. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on the strength of accusations from several men that Sandusky sexually abused them when they were young boys and the story suggested knowledge of at least one incident reached the Penn State football offices without meriting a substantial response. When the nightmarish smoke cleared, Joe Pa was fired and all but two of his coaches were let go while the fallout also claimed the jobs of the school’s President and Athletic Director. Rising from the wreckage was the refreshing leadership of former New England Patriot offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, who assembled a competent and hungry staff. The nation’s eyes will be on Happy Valley this fall and it is wise to remember that: a) the players had nothing to do with the Sandusky debacle; and, b) the magnitude of change to be experienced by the Nittany Lion faithful is unprecedented. Well over two generations of fans witnessed the late-Joe Paterno lead Penn State from the sidelines. Today’s world demands immediate satisfaction with such intensity it is safe to say that no other school will ever lay claim to such a feat.
Brock Murphy is a freelance college football writer and analyst and can be reached at email@example.com
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