Philadelphia, PA – News and notes from around the FBS:
SABAN EXTENSION: After winning two national titles in the last three years, it was inevitable that Nick Saban would receive some sort of reward. It came earlier this week in the form of a contract extension through the 2020 season. He will get a substantial raise and come close to earning $6 million per year (with bonuses).
Saban, who was hired by Alabama in 2007, previously won a national title at LSU (2003). In the interim, he had a failed stint in the NFL, but returned to the collegiate ranks and landed in the perfect situation at Alabama.
While on one hand it is hard to justify a coach earning as much as Saban does, this is kind of uncharted territory. There isn't a coach who can stake claim to three BCS championships and no current coach boasts of three national titles overall. With the always increasing salaries among the coaching profession, it seems only fitting that Saban sits atop the list.
DEJA VU: It looks like Wisconsin has cornered the market on eligible free agents as former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien has followed the example set forth by former fellow ACC gunslinger Russell Wilson. Like the North Carolina State transfer before him, O'Brien has already completed his academic requirements at his former school and is set to graduate this spring. As such, he does not fall under the transfer rules governed by the NCAA and will be eligible to take the field in the fall.
"We're excited that Danny has chosen to attend Wisconsin," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "The first thing we did when we were aware of Danny's interest was to try and find out what type of person he was and if he would fit into our program. From our dealings with him and all the things I have heard from those who have been around him, he is a tremendous person and has great character. He had a fantastic visit and our current players who met him came away impressed. Having graduated from Maryland in just three years, you know right away that he is a smart kid."
Wilson certainly made the most of his lone season in Madison, keeping the Badgers in the national title mix for much of the year. It remains to be seen what O'Brien can do. He thrived two years ago, being tabbed the ACC Rookie of the Year after passing for just under 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns in College Park. However, he struggled under new head coach Randy Edsall in 2011.
Unlike Wilson, though, O'Brien is not necessarily "one and done" as he has two years of eligibility left, so Bielema may not have to scour the free-agent list next season for his quarterback of the immediate future.
NEW LOOK BIG EAST: The ever-changing Big East got a last-minute facelift with the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12. Temple is in for the 2012 campaign, but newcomers Boise State and San Diego State will come onboard in 2013 (football only), as well as UCF, Houston and SMU (all sports). Navy will join the party in 2015, but Syracuse and Pittsburgh will likely jump ship to the ACC, perhaps as early as 2013. To say this is a conference in flux is an understatement.
The 2012 football season will feature eight teams, and compounding the problem of a conference with no real football identity is a bland overall schedule with not a whole lot to get excited about on a national scale. Non-league marquee matchups this fall will feature Southern California versus Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. (Sept. 8) and Florida State at South Florida (Sept. 29). Both the Bulls and Orange are expected to be heavy underdogs in those contests.
The long-term future of the Big East is certainly in doubt as it has been hit the hardest by conference realignment. How long the conference stands remains to be seen.
NEW DAWN IN HAPPY VALLEY: Spring is a time for all things new and in the heart of the Keystone State, that means Bill O'Brien leading the Nittany Lions into spring practice and not Joe Paterno. It is the first time in nearly half a century that Penn State has started its football year without the legendary coach running the show.
Living out of a suitcase and a hotel room heading into spring drills, O'Brien hasn't yet settled in fully to his new job and surroundings, but the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator will put his stamp on the program early on. Replacing a legend, even amidst all the controversy surrounding JoePa's departure and subsequent demise, won't come easy.
"The Penn State football program is one of college football's iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno. There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach," O'Brien said following the death of Paterno in January.
The respect O'Brien speaks of will come in the form of his hard work and dedication to the Penn State football program, the university and community as a whole.