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Bama Can’t Swing DE Thomas

PLAYER UPDATEIn the end, Al Golden and Miami were able to hold onto a big-time defender.  Chad Thomas, a 5-star defensive end, recently took a visit to Alabama, but in the end the Crimson Tide couldn’t swing him.

Thomas signed with the Hurricanes today.  He’d been a Miami commitment since July so it’s not a shock that Bama couldn’t bag him.  Still, plenty of Tide fans had hoped Nick Saban could pull this particular 6-5, 240-pound rabbit out of his hat at the last minute.  No go.

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The SEC Owes The NCAA A “Thank You” Note For 2013

sec-relieved-relaxed-manNo one likes the NCAA.  As college athletics de facto legal system, the NCAA is rarely predictable with each new case leading to a unique verdict and punishment.  While that’s not altogether different from any court system, it’s still maddening for most sports fans.

But SEC fans, you should be pleased with the work of the NCAA this year.  Several of your favorite players, coaches and schools appear to have gotten off rather easy in 2013.

Take Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith, for example.  As part of the NCAA’s long probe of the University of Miami athletic department — more on that in a minute — Haith was charged with failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance while serving as the Hurricanes’ hoops coach.  According to the NCAA, Haith knew there was funny business going on inside his program and that it involved assistants, an overzealous booster, and money.  The governing body also came to a “factual conclusion” that Haith changed his story to NCAA investigators multiple times.  In other words, he misled the NCAA and that’s the absolute worst thing a coach can do outside of giving money to players.  Former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel both lost their jobs and then received lengthy show-cause penalties from the NCAA for their dishonesty (Pearl’s was for three years, Tressel’s for five).  Haith’s punishment?  A five-game suspension.

So why did Haith get a pass?  Our bet — as we’ve written before — is that the NCAA wanted to damn sure close the book on its compromised investigation in The U as quickly as it possibly could.  That investigation led to a number of NCAA staffers losing their jobs and to yet another big black shiner for the organization as a whole.  The NCAA actually stumbled its way into a federal investigation and was darn lucky the self-inflicted damage wasn’t much worse.

Emmert and crew knew this and clearly wanted no part of any appeals that might result in further exposure of the bungled Miami investigation.  So Haith, Miami and most of the other folks involved in the scandal received lighter-than-expected punishments.  ”Move along, nothing to see here,” seemed to be the message emanating from NCAA Headquarters.

Then there was the autograph caper of Johnny Manziel.  As summer wound down, a number of sources claimed that the Texas A&M quarterback had received thousands of dollars in exchange for his autograph on merchandise that could be re-sold for greater profit.  Anyone with a brain knows that Johnny Football wouldn’t volunteer hours of his time to make someone else a boatload of money… all out of the goodness of his heart.  Who of us would?

But the NCAA wanted no part in opening up what could have become a skyscraper-sized can of worms.  Just as Manziel surely received payment for his time and/or autographs, other college athletes have no doubt done the same (they simply weren’t fingered by autograph brokers after the fact).  Knowing this, the NCAA handed Manziel a suspension lasting for all of one half of one game for not — get this — not trying to stop someone from profiting from his image.  Uh, right.

The one-time Heisman-winner sat out the first two quarters of the Aggies’ season opener and the story faded from the front page.  More importantly, the NCAA had set a precedent.  Not having the time or manpower to investigate every claim of a kid signing autographs for cash, Emmert’s group can now simply drop a one-half suspension on any player it believes accepted money for his John Hancock.

Interestingly, it was just three years ago that the same NCAA suspended Georgia receiver AJ Green for four whole games because he had sold a game-worn jersey for 1000 bucks.  Like Pearl and Tressel, Green must feel that he simply got popped at the wrong time.  Had he broken a rule in the current environment, he might’ve been benched for one half or one game rather than for a full 16 quarters, a third of his final season in Athens.

In mid-September came another bombshell report from Yahoo! Sports (a group that’s quickly becoming the Woodward and Bernstein of college sports reporting).  Yahoo’s writers had uncovered documents and text messages suggesting that five current and former SEC football players had received impermissible benefits from agents and from runners for agents.  Former Alabama offensive tackle DJ Fluker, former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, then-current Vol defensive lineman Maurice Couch, and former Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and former wide receiver Chad Bumphis were all implicated in the scandal.  To date, there’s been little rumbling from the NCAA at all over these matters.  Tennessee immediately ruled Couch ineligible for the rest of 2013 — he admitted to taking cash — and that decision was upheld by the NCAA when UT tried to clear him later.

But there were no big follow-ups.  Despite the fact that ineligible players were used, it doesn’t appear that the NCAA will be stripping Alabama, Tennessee or MSU of victories.  That’s an awfully good thing for Bama since the deletion of wins would have likely meant handing back a pair of crystal footballs, too.  Along these same lines, it was also learned midseason that Tide safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix had received a loan of between $100 and $300 from an assistant strength coach.  The NCAA allowed Dix to return to the field after a two-game suspension.  Bama fired the strength coach who’d tried to do Clinton-Dix a solid.

Compare all that to the way the NCAA handled a 2007 textbook scandal in Tuscaloosa.  In that case, the NCAA forced Alabama to vacate victories because it had used ineligible players.  In fact, that’s usually how the NCAA responds to these types of cases.  Ask Bobby Bowden and Florida State.  But the NCAA doesn’t seem to be in such a vindictive mood these days.  Not when it’s taking on fire from every direction — a media attacking it, players suing it, and conferences threatening to break away from it.  Nope, the mood has clearly changed in Indianapolis.

No one likes the NCAA.  We get that.  But his year — maybe just this once — SEC fans should say thanks to Mark Emmert and crew.  Thanks for being so error-prone in their investigation of Miami.  Thanks for not having the money or manpower to investigate every autographs-for-cash deal in the country.  Thanks for having so much on their plate and for being so unpopular that they simply couldn’t respond to the playing of ineligible players as they have in the past.

It’s said that life is all about timing.  Well, in 2013 — at least in NCAA matters — the timing was right for the SEC.

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Nixon’s Pardon, Timing And The Real Reason Miami and Missouri’s Haith Got Off Lightly

gfx - honest opinionIt’s not been a banner couple of years for the NCAA.

There was an autograph scandal involving last year’s Heisman Trophy-winner.  Going after Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel could have opened the door for a lot of skeletons to come rattling out onto the floor.

There was a report of agent-runner-player monetary transactions in the SEC.  Four past players and one current player were shown to have received extra benefits by way of a runner.  Alabama (two players), Tennessee (two players), and Mississippi State (one player) could all eventually be stripped of wins for playing ineligible players (should the NCAA take the stance it usually takes in these type situations).

The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit is still on the horizon.  Major schools are calling for major reforms that would allow the richest of the rich to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships for their student-athletes.  The NCAA recently walked back its heavy-handed penalties against Penn State… penalties that never should have been assessed in the first place.

And through it all the NCAA’s investigation into the University of Miami program just dragged on and on and on.  That terrible tale even included the NCAA calling out some members of its very own investigative team for crossing too many lines in their efforts to get the dirt on the Hurricanes.  When it comes to black eyes, the Miami investigation might be the biggest shiner to date for Mark Emmert and his organization that everyone loves to hate.

So couldn’t the bungled two-year investigation into Miami — and all the negative press college sports’ governing body has received because of it — be the real reason that most of those being investigated at Miami were given light sanctions?

Miami will not be forced to miss any more bowl games.  Yes, the school will be docked an additional nine football scholarships but how many Cane fans would have gladly signed up for that when Yahoo! Sports first broke the news of booster Nevin Shapiro’s wrongdoings?  “Nine schollys?  No problem!”

Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith — who came out of the investigation looking pretty darned bad — was given a five-game suspension.  That’s it.  Five games.  No show-cause penalty for misleading investigators.  No three-year de facto ban from the sidelines like the one Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl received.

Since the NCAA handed down the less than Draconian penalties, there’s been much head-scratching.  How could the NCAA not drop the hammer on Miami as it once had Southern Cal?  How could the NCAA not freeze out Haith the way it once had put Pearl’s career on ice?  And Jim Tressel’s?

First, as we told you yesterday, it’s impossible to try and draw direct comparisons between NCAA cases.  You’ll drive yourself nuts making the attempt.  Each case is different and the closest you can get to A-to-B comparisons are broad generalizations.

That said, did we mention that it’s not been a banner year for the NCAA?

That’s right, people. We believe timing played a big, big role in the NCAA’s decision to tell the U and Coach Haith, “Go and sin no more.”

Check the above examples.  With all the stuff that’s hit Emmert’s fan in recent months, the NCAA seems to be meting out penalties that are easier on both the guilty parties and on the NCAA itself.

In Manziel’s case, the NCAA decided to give the high-profile star a slap on the wrist for not trying to stop other people from profiting off of his name.  Yeah, that’s one way of looking at a player’s decision to spend several hours signing thousands of autographs that would later be sold.

But if the NCAA had gotten serious on the matter and delivered a tougher blow than a suspension for one half of one game, the governing body would have been forced to look long and hard into every other player whose signature is now available online.  In a word: Nightmare.  So the NCAA took the easy way out.  Manziel was hit with a one-half ban and the precedent for others had been set.  Remember that as soon as the NCAA’s investigation into Manziel came to light, fans began to toss allegations at rival schools’ players.  Thanks to the NCAA’s ruling on Johnny Football, any other player alleged to have sold autographs can now be handed the same, one-size-fits-all penalty.  “Sit for one half of one game.”  Simple.  Fewer headaches for all involved.

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NCAA Closes The Book On Miami Investigation; Mizzou’s Haith To Be Suspended Five Games

frank-haith-mizzou-logo-tightThings on the football front at Missouri are going swimmingly.  But the Tiger program that tips off next month has stumbled a bit in the undertow.

Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith — formerly the head man at the University of Miami in Coral Gables — will be suspended from the Tigers’ first five games this season for not promoting an “atmosphere of compliance” while coaching the Canes.  Mizzou opens the year against Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, and IUPUI.  Here’s guessing they’ll survive that lineup of cupcakes, creampuffs and other assorted pastries without Haith on the bench.

The NCAA says that Haith “failed to meet his responsibilities as a head coach and when he did not monitor the activities of his assistant coaches, and attempted to cover up the booster’s threats to disclose incriminating information.”  The NCAA wrapped up its 26-month investigation into the Miami program today.

All things considered?  Haith and Missouri should accept the slap on the wrist and just move forward, thankful that the dirt in South Florida really didn’t track back to hurt Missouri in any meaningful way.

Interestingly, the NCAA’s report shows that Haith defended his program’s recruiting methods by suggesting to the NCAA staff that if he’d have cheated he’d have recruited better:

 

“Did we win enough games for the Miami supporters?  You read the papers, I don’t think they felt that great about what we did there.  I didn’t recruit, I didn’t get the five-star guys.  And let’s, like I sid, let’s don’t be naive about the level.  Our business is corrupt and how we (have) got to deal with these guys at the high-level kid.”

 

Haith likely would have preferred those comments not come out.  Mizzou fans might begin to wonder anew why AD Mike Alden hired a guy who didn’t win enough at Miami and couldn’t sign “the five-star guys.”

But if a little egg on the face and a five-game suspension are the totality of the fallout for Haith, he and the University of Missouri should be pleased.  Things could have been worse.

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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Tennessee Wins The Week

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxAlmost every decision by Tennessee’s first-year coaching staff has been made with recruiting in mind.

That includes their continuous use of the “brick by brick” slogan and last week’s debut of the “Smokey gray” uniforms against Georgia.

So far, it all seems to be paying off.

Tennessee received commitments this week from defensive end Derek Barnett from Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy and offensive lineman Dontavius Blair from Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

Blair, who chose Tennessee over Auburn and Texas A&M, is a key commitment for the Vols. They will likely have to replace the entire offensive line next season, which means Blair will be asked to help right away.

Barnett’s commitment is another example of Tennessee’s improved in-state recruiting. Three of the top four in-state prospects are committed to Tennessee, according to 247Sports.

It was coach Butch Jones and his staff who made the difference in Barnett’s decision.

“I love Coach Jones,” Barnett told Volquest.com. “Coach Jones, I feel like, is changing the program around and I trust him a lot and I think he’s a loyal coach and I really want to play for Coach Jones and no one else right now.

“I can’t explain it. I just have a good feeling he’s going to turn the program around and he’s doing that right now. I can’t explain it to you, but I just know.”

Wide receiver Josh Malone from Gallatin, Tenn., knew something was different about Tennessee when he visited Knoxville last weekend. Malone told Volquest he saw an improved game-day atmosphere at Neyland Stadium during his official visit.

“The difference is the atmosphere is a lot more … it’s just a better atmosphere and it wasn’t like going through the motions of just doing things,” Malone said. “They’re doing things the right way.”

Tennessee safety commitment Todd Kelly Jr. agreed. He attended the game during an unofficial visit.

“That game on Saturday speaks for itself,” Kelly told WNML Radio. “Even though we didn’t get the win, just the atmosphere was entirely different. I’ve never seen Neyland Stadium like that, basically in my life. It was just so loud. The fans were enthusiastic.”

Tennessee, which has 26 commitments for the 2014 class, is hoping to see more positive results from last weekend. Uncommitted defensive prospects Clifton Garrett, Dewayne Hendrix and Charles Mosley were all in attendance and expressed positive reactions to their trip to Knoxville.

Mosley, a lineman from Brighton (Tenn.) High School, named Tennessee his leader during the summer. He told Volquest this week he will likely wait to make a decision after he visits other schools, including Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.

Garrett, who has previously named LSU his leader, raved about his trip to Tennessee on social media while he was in Knoxville. The Vols will hope to continue that momentum when defensive coordinator John Jancek visits Garrett on Friday.

 

Tennessee hopes that trip will pay off for the Vols. Everything else seems to be working right now.

 

Stanley set to announce

Offensive lineman Donell Stanley from Latta (S.C.) High School will announce his decision on Friday afternoon at 1 ET.

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With Tennessee On Deck, Injured Florida QB Driskel “A Lot Better”

jeff-driskelFlorida quarterback Jeff Driskel sprained his left knee against Miami on September 7th.  After an open date this past weekend, the Gator signal-caller says he’ll be ready come Saturday when Tennessee visits in the SEC opener for both schools.

According to Driskel, his knee is “feeling a lot better” after the time off.

The Gator offense sputtered against Toledo in the Gators opener.  The next week, Brent Pease’s group rolled up 400+ yards on Miami, only to turn the ball over five times in an ugly, sloppy loss.  Now Driskel and company will need to dust off the cobwebs from an open date and fix some of their early-season mistakes:

 

“Just getting back to the basics.  That’s what you do during the bye week.  For me, cleaning up the reads, taking what’s there and not trying to force anything.  That’s what I’m going to have to do, and I really took that to hear.  Just get back to the basics, take what’s there and move on to the next play…

When we eliminate turnovers our offense has been doing really well this year.  Like we’ve said all along, when we handle us we’ll be find.  That’s what we’re going to try and do.”

 

While the Gators have been trying to handle themselves — sorry, couldn’t resist — they’ve also had time to eyeball Tennessee’s 59-14 loss to Oregon over the weekend.  Driskel’s take: “I think we have the players where we can hit some big plays.  We just have to make them when they’re there.  Oregon really took advantage of the looks when they were there and you can put up some big points when you take advantage of your opportunities.”

Driskel did just that last year in Knoxville.  He threw for 219 yards (his second best effort as a starter) and rushed for another 81 as UF notched its eighth win in a row over the Vols, 37-20.  This season, Driskel has run the ball 17 times for 38 yards, but coming off a knee injury, it will be interesting to see just how much running the Gator QB does on Saturday.

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Florida QB Driskel On Crutches With Knee Sprain

crutch 3dFlorida quarterback Jeff Driskel not only suffer the indignity of turning the ball over three times in 21-16 loss to rival Miami on Saturday.  He also suffered an injury.

The UF football program announced yesterday that Driskel — who’d been spotted using crutches on the Gainesville campus earlier in the day — was dealing with a “slight sprain to the knee.”  Luckily for Florida, the Gators have an open date before Tennessee visits The Swamp in two weeks.

The best game of Driskel’s career came last season against the Volunteers in Knoxville.  The Gator QB was 14-of-20 through the air for 219 yards, two scores and no interceptions.  He also gained 81 yards on eight carries in Florida’s 37-20 win.

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Kentucky Rocks, Tennessee Rolls, Florida Falls

postgame-linksKentucky 41 – Miami (Ohio) 7. Video Highlights

1. 675 yards for Kentucky’s offense – third most in school history.

2. Linebacker Avery Williamson hands game ball to Mark Stoops – gets his first win as a head coach. Watch video of Stoops postgame news conference.

Miami 21 – Florida 16. Video Highlights

3. Big story of this game – five turnovers for the Gators.  First time Florida hasn’t started the season 2-0 since 2004.

4. Will Muschamp: “You can’t turn it over five times and go 1-for-6 in the red zone scoring touchdowns (and expect to win). Muschamp postgame news conference.

5. Jeff Driskel threw for a career-high 291 yards but also turned it over three times – two interceptions and a fumble.

6. Bright spot for Florida – defense allowed just 69 yards after the first quarter.

Tennessee 52 – Western Kentucky 20. Video Highlights

7. Turnovers also the story of the day in Knoxville.  Vols force seven turnovers – five of them in an amazing six-play stretch.

8. Coach Butch Jones on the turnover stretch: ”I’ve never ever been associated with anything like that.” Watch video of Jones postgame news conference.

9. Tennessee committed just one turnover and had only two penalties.

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Miami 21 – Florida 16

Video highlights of Miami’s 21-16 victory over Florida.

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SEC Gameday Links: Afternoon Football Action

gameday-linksMiami (OH) at Kentucky

1. What would beating Miami (Ohio) mean for Kentucky?  Linebacker Avery Williamson:  ”A huge, huge victory for us.”

2. Kentucky looks to quarterback Max Smith to spark the offense.  Coach Mark Stoops:  ”We’re trying to do whatever we have to do to win games…”

Florida at Miami

3. Florida and Miami have played each other only five times in the past five years.  So is this still a rivalry game?

4. Expect a sell-out crowd and a hot, muggy day.

5. With the weather, how much will running back Matt Jones be able to play?

6. Did you know these two teams used to battle for a hand-carved Seminole war canoe?

Western Kentucky at Tennessee

7. Why Tennessee true freshman cornerback Cameron Sutton will be in the crosshairs today.

8. This second game of the year will be the first real test for Butch Jones’ Volunteers team.

9. Western Kentucky is a double-digit underdog but don’t tell that to WKU safety Jonathan Dowling: ”We don’t look at it as being underdogs. We ain’t the underdogs.”

Toledo at Missouri

10. Missouri defense will face a fast-paced no-huddle attack.  Are they up to the challenge?

11. When the Toledo job came open in 1991 Gary Pinkel got it, boosted by an endorsement of an old college teammate, Nick Saban.

Alcorn State at Mississippi State

12. With Tyler Russell out with a concussion, all eyes on Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott.

13. Mississippi State was 7-0 heading into last year’s game with Alabama.  1-7 since.

South Carolina at Georgia

14. No South Carolina player has ever finished a four-year career undefeated against Georgia.  But a victory today would change that.

15. What does Georgia need to do to stop the streak?  For one thing, an almost perfect game from quarterback Aaron Murray.

16. The battle between South Carolina’s defensive line and Georgia’s offensive line will be one to watch.

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