Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Catching up: Should I stay or should I go?

* Football over baseball (for now): Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is celebrating Christmas in July right now, because QB Kyle Parker (who seemed to be gone when the Colorado Rockies took him in the first round last month) announced Wednesday that he's turning down $2.4 million in signing bonuses to return to school and play football this fall.

He definitely left open the possibility of leaving next offseason -- or any other time -- to focus exclusively on baseball, but at least top prospect Tajh Boyd would have more than a few spring practices under his belt by that point. The transition would be a little more manageable.

Parker's not quite Drew Henson in terms of football ability, but he's pretty good. He completed 55.6% of his passes with 20 TDs and 12 interceptions last year as a redshirt freshman, and he lit up both Miami and Florida State with a combined seven touchdowns passes. The $2.4 million question is whether he can do that without C.J. Spiller's 1,700 total yards and Jacoby Ford running circles around people. If he can, Clemson will be at or near the top of the ACC Atlantic again.

* Martin changes his mind: Cal freshman Chris Martin, a five-star prospect and one of the top defensive ends/outside linebackers in the country according to Rivals, lasted all of about four months as part of the Golden Bears' recruiting class:
Chris Martin, one of the top recruits from Cal's 2010 signing class, has announced his intention to transfer out due to "distractions."

"My decision to transfer definitely does not reflect on the football program or the academics at Cal," he said in a press release. "Rather, I feel like for me to focus and truly reach my potential I need to leave many of the distractions I have here at home in the Bay Area.

"I need to venture away from home and start my college career somewhere else where I don't have those distractions."

Martin went to high school in Oakland. If you're thinking it's a little odd to commit to what's basically your hometown school and then decide four months later that there are too many "distractions" in the area, you're correct. But if there are some people around him who are getting into trouble or making him think he'd be better off somewhere else, I can't blame him. He's 18.

So where's he headed? Well ... when this guy wants to get away from home, he really gets away:
A day after he notified the University of California about his intent to transfer, former Grandview High School linebacker Chris Martin announced Wednesday he will be heading to the University of Florida.

Martin made his choice of Florida public on his Facebook page, saying: "I would like to thank everyone who has been supportive of me through my crazy mental episodes. A special thank you to my mother and father who have supported me no matter what. I love you both. God has granted me a second chance. A chance I cannot mess up. With that said. Go Gators. Thank You to everyone and all the coaches who showed their interest in me."
It's worth noting that Florida's 2010 recruiting class now includes an entire defensive line (two ends and two tackles) full of five-star prospects. Urban Meyer, you are truly a recruiting maestro.

* Middleton done at U-Dub: Washington tight end Kavario Middleton is no longer a Washington tight end. In fact, he's no longer a Washington anything:
Washington has dismissed starting tight end Kavario Middleton for a violation of team rules less than two weeks before the Huskies begin fall camp.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made the announcement on Tuesday in a statement but did not specify what Middleton did. The school said there would be no further comment.
Middleton was a big-time prospect back in the day (in the top 100 nationally) and started to put things together last year as a sophomore with 26 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Then, during spring practice, he was supposedly passed by redshirt junior Chris Izbicki, who has a grand total of seven career receiving yards. Given the comments from Middleton's high school coach -- "Sark gave him every opportunity to improve and grow" -- my guess is that his demotion on the depth chart was a motivational tactic after a handful of screw-ups and that his "violation of team rules" was the last straw.

* Still undecided ... still: Bryce Brown, the most noncommittal player in the history of college football, apparently has changed his mind yet again. He left Tennessee in March and was presumed to be transferring to Kansas State (close to his family's home in Wichita) with older brother and former Miami linebacker Arthur Brown, but rumor has it that Bryce now wants back in at Tennessee. K-State must not have been as excited as he'd expected (who knew?).

Since the brothers seem to be set on playing together and Tennessee is woefully short on scholarship players (seriously, the Vols only have about 70), it sounds like the hypothetical package deal suggested a few months ago might be back on the table. Derek Dooley's "I'm not going to make a recruiting pitch" stance is admirable now but won't be remembered so fondly when UT is sitting at home in December with a 5-7 record.

If he can just bring in the Brown brothers, a five-star QB, a few talented offensive linemen, a starting safety ...

* You're next: SEC coaches are probably a little leery about picking up the phone right now, because that agent party down in Miami has the enforcement guys at the NCAA thinking they're The Untouchables. It all started with North Carolina and Marvin Austin, but that was just the tip of a massive, Titanic-destroying iceberg. Next on the list was South Carolina and Weslye Saunders. After that it was Florida and the Pouncey brothers. After that it was Alabama and Marcell Dareus. And now they're headed on down to Georgia:
Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton says the NCAA has requested permission to conduct an inquiry on campus.

TMZ.com reported Wednesday that Georgia is investigating whether All-American wide receiver A. J. Green attended an agent's Memorial Day weekend party in Miami that also has spurred investigations at Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Georgia football coach Mark Richt met with Green on Tuesday, and Green denied being in Miami that weekend, sources told ESPN.com.

Yikes. First of all, if you're a big-name college athlete and you're attending an all-expenses-paid trip on an agent's dime, you're an idiot. That's about as blatant as a rules violation can get. Secondly, I hope Green -- and everyone else, for that matter -- is telling the truth about who went where and who paid for what. Remember what happened to Dez Bryant? Breaking the rules is bad but not necessarily a career-ending transgression. Breaking the rules and lying about it? Just ask Bryant.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The (almost) last chapter in the Reggie Bush saga

We all knew this was coming ...
USC will replace athletic director Mike Garrett with former Trojans quarterback Pat Haden, university president-elect C.L. Max Nikias announced Tuesday.

Garrett has been under fire since USC was hit with numerous NCAA sanctions and a finding of "lack of institutional control" after lengthy investigations into benefits received by Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo.

... although calling it a retirement is a joke if I've ever heard one. Garrett's had his head in the guillotine since the beginning of the NCAA investigation. It's also kind of weird that a guy most people under the age of 40 know as a Notre Dame color analyst -- or crazy-eyed Tom Hammond's sidekick -- is now the USC athletic director.

But this part of the announcement was what shocked everybody:

Nikias also said USC will return the Heisman won by Bush in 2005 to the Heisman Trophy Trust next month.

Wwwhhaaaaaa?!? Jaw, meet floor. ESPN provides additional information:

The decision was an extension of the self-imposed penalties, which stated USC would dissociate itself from Bush and Mayo permanently. The NCAA bylaws also stated USC would have to "show cause why it should not be penalized further if it fails to permanently disassociate [Bush] and [Mayo] from the institution's athletic program."

Bush still has his own Heisman Trophy. The Heisman Trophy Trust has not taken any action against Bush or made any request to have him return his copy of the trophy.

The school has to separate itself so distantly from Reggie Bush that it's removing the greatest individual honor in sports -- one of seven in the program's history -- from Heritage Hall. More than anything else that's happened so far, I think this shows just how serious Bush's transgressions were. (It's a sad and amusing coincidence that USC's first Heisman winner was none other than Mike Garrett back in 1965.)

The question now is what the trust decides to do with the actual award: Either Bush keeps it or the spot gets vacated. Like I said a few weeks ago, I don't think an ineligible player with an erased past should get to keep the Heisman. If he wasn't eligible to play, he wasn't eligible to win anything. Hell, even the school won't acknowledge it -- you think anyone will ever take "Reggie Bush, Heisman winner" seriously?

This is where the "but O.J. Simpson got to keep his Heisman" response typically comes in, to which I say, "weak comparison." Committing stupid crimes 30 years after you leave college doesn't have anything to do with your NCAA accomplishments. O.J. was an awesome football player with a whole bunch of impressive records that I could look up right now on the NCAA website. Bush -- at least according to the NCAA -- didn't exist in 2005. You won't find his name or stats in USC's media guide, the NCAA website or anywhere else. Some kid looking at a list of Heisman winners 20 years from now will be pretty damn confused when he gets to Reggie Bush and sees a list of zeroes in the stat column. Fortunately for him, Wikipedia will be implanted in all our brains by then, so it won't take long to to get the details (YouTube will also be transmitted directly into our corneas and cell phones will have been replaced by Facebook transmitters).

Where was I? Oh yeah ... if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Bush having an empty spot on his gigantic mantel at some point in the next few months.

But if you think about it, it doesn't really matter matter what the trust decides. We all know what was going on: Bush's career was a sham, and the jokes about "U$C" will forever be attached to his name. His history has already been decided. The official removal of the Heisman would just be the final clump of dirt on a legacy that's already dead and buried.

Tough call for Jim Tressel

Some genius or another -- I think it was Bruce Feldman -- over at ESPN seemed genuinely puzzled yesterday when the Big Ten announced which players will be available to the press at media days in two weeks and Terrelle Pryor wasn't one of them.

Of course! I mean, he's such a well-spoken guy ... and on that note, here's a breakdown straight from Jim Tressel's typewriter version of Microsoft Excel (I have impressive hacking skills) on why Pryor wasn't invited to Chicago:
For the visually impaired, the breakdown goes:
It's good to know Tressel's been doing his research.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A new (and improved) philosophy

The nasty, leech-infested muck that is college basketball has (fortunately) never really found its way to college football. Agents, runners, AAU weirdness and murky "here, have a job and car" recruiting scandals just aren't nearly as prevalent ... at least we don't think they are.

But kids get stuff sometimes. Stuff they aren't supposed to get. And we all know it. I don't know if the people in power just didn't really realize it was happening in football until all the USC stuff came about or if that was some sort of wake-up call as to the go-go-gadget arms of greedy agents, but for whatever reason, the NCAA is seriously cracking the whip right now at the first sign of inappropriate benefits.

Exhibit A:
Florida and NCAA officials are investigating a potential rules violation that allegedly occurred this past December involving former Gators football standout Maurkice Pouncey, sources said.

Florida is internally investigating what sources described as an allegation that a representative of an agent paid Pouncey $100,000 between the Gators' loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game and their season-ending Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati. Florida apprised the NCAA of the allegation after it became aware of it.

Two sources also told Schad that the letter was accompanied by photographic evidence of an alleged runner for an agent in social situations with Pouncey and his brother Mike, including at two awards shows.

Mike Pouncey will be a senior offensive lineman with the Gators next season.

The sources told Schad that the Pounceys have provided phone, bank and credit card statements that do not show any large payments. Two sources added that Maurkice Pouncey said he paid for a Cadillac Escalade and jewelry after the NFL draft with a deferred line of credit and did at times lend the Escalade to Mike in Gainesville, Fla.

Getting a line of credit after you leave school but before the draft? OK. Receiving $100,000 from an agent while still playing in college? Not OK. This seems fairly straightforward; I still can't figure out why it becomes a problem almost every year around bowl time.

Fortunately for Florida, there's not much possible damage. Older brother Maurkice already graduated, so the worst-case scenario is that he played in the Sugar Bowl while ineligible, meaning Florida would have to vacate the win (and Cincinnati could mercifully erase that ass-kicking from its record books). It could also end up as a secondary violation if the NCAA decides that there was a not-so-strict atmosphere around the locker room (at Florida?!? No!).

Mike could also run into some eligibility questions if he was hanging around with a runner or receiving any money on his own, but I can't see the NCAA coming down hard on him for using his brother's car. Have fun trying to close that can of worms.

Exhibit B:

South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman says the NCAA is investigating a possible rules violation of one of its athletic programs.

Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders told ESPN on Sunday that he has been interviewed by NCAA investigators in connection with the North Carolina case.

Saunders is a well-known friend of Marvin Austin, who started the whole UNC investigation by tweeting about a trip to Miami that presumably involved a bunch of money -- not his own -- being thrown around.

He's also one of the best tight ends in the country. If it turns out that he was involved in some shady activity, his loss (even for a few weeks) would be a pretty painful one for the South Carolina offense. But you know what's amazing about Steve Spurrier? Even in the middle of an awkward and possibly controversial situation, he can still pull out an off-the-cuff FTW comment:

"All I know is they had talked to him and talked to some players at North Carolina. That's all I know," Spurrier told the paper. "Whatever comes [of it], we'll just have to wait and see.

"We're not going to look the other way like possibly Southern California did," Spurrier continued. "We're going to abide by the rules."

Excellent. We'll see if he's still cracking jokes if Saunders is suspended for the season; my guess is that he'll throw his visor, utter some sort of "dad-gum" comment with an obnoxious smirk on his face and then blame it all on Stephen Garcia.

These two stories will undoubtedly be the catalyst for 387 columns about how college athletics aren't what they used to be and agents are ruining sports and "get off my lawn" and so on and so forth, but like I said earlier, this shit happens. And these situations are not comparable to what happened at USC; that was a widespread, years-long lack of compliance that was a bomb just waiting to detonate. The interesting thing is that the NCAA is kicking ass and taking names all of a sudden.

The Bylaw Blog explains the new policy perfectly:

What appears to have happened in this case exemplifies the new approach:

  1. Pick a target population, in this case football student-athletes who were expected to be drafted who returned to school.
  2. Investigate the target population for evidence of violations, which turned out to be improper benefits received by agents.
  3. Use the associations and connections between involved parties as a jumping off point for related investigations, using Saunders’ association with UNC defensive end Marvin Austin.

Such an approach was not possible as recently as five years ago since the NCAA enforcement staff did not fully understand the patterns of this activity. It’s the difference between playing Whack-a-Mole and knowing how the game works to predict which mole is coming up next. ...

Certainly the NCAA is devoting more resources to investigating and researching these problems, and that’s a question of priorities and will. But more important is that the NCAA is simply getting better at investigating and knows more about what to look for, where to look for it, and who to question.

We could debate the fairness of amateurism rules until we're blue in the face -- I believe the proper term for that discussion is "beating a dead horse." But with the current bylaws being what they are, it's nice to know that the NCAA is actually, you know, enforcing those bylaws and trying to ensure that there won't ever again be a blatant, USC-level rule-flouting that gets everyone pissed off as the obvious violations pile up and the punishment never comes.

Jeremiah Masoli, you are free to go

Jeremiah Masoli pretty much disappeared off the face of the Earth about two months ago. He was dismissed from the team at Oregon after a ridiculous string of off-the-field shenanigans, and the assumption at the time was that he'd be transferring immediately. Then there were rumors that he'd be entering the supplemental draft. And then nothing.

The supplemental draft came and went last week without Masoli's involvement. Nobody really noticed except The Oregonian, which was able to verify that Masoli did NOT turn in his paperwork by the required deadline and therefore has retained his one year of college eligibility.

So where's he headed? Nobody knows. Hawaii (where Masoli spent his senior year of high school) apparently was a candidate for a day or two after Masoli got in touch to gauge the coaching staff's interest, but The Star-Advertiser reported over the weekend that it "was mutually decided" that Masoli wouldn't be a good fit. I have a feeling that decision was about as mutual as Tiger Woods' impending divorce -- the conversation probably went something like this:

Masoli: "Hey, would you guys be interested in having me on the team if I transferred to Hawaii?"
Greg McMackin: "Ummm ... no thanks."
Masoli: "Fine. I didn't wanna come anyway."

There was an interesting development today, though, when KEZI-TV in Oregon reported that "a source very close to Jeremiah Masoli" said Masoli had completed his final undergraduate coursework at Oregon, meaning he can switch schools if he's accepted into a graduate program and be eligible to play immediately, even at a D-I school. That'd obviously help in terms of getting a relevant program to give him a shot since he won't have a year's worth of rust to shake off when he gets back on the field.

The same source claims Masoli's first choice for that hypothetical shot is Ole Miss (which is odd since there doesn't appear to be any particular connection there, but whatever). How does Houston Nutt feel about that?
I asked coach Houston Nutt via text message if he was pursuing Masoli. He flatly texted “No.”
I see. That seems pretty definitive, but note that it doesn't say Nutt wouldn't consider bringing Masoli in -- just that he's not pursuing him. Based on Mississippi's recruiting strategy (sign 40 guys and see which 25 qualify) and lack of an established QB, I don't think Nutt would kick him to the curb if he decides to enroll this fall.

But if Nutt really isn't interested, the options appear to be few and far between; the only D-I school that's even brought Masoli in for a visit is Louisiana Tech. That was before the news came out that he could be eligible to play this year rather than in 2011, of course, but what legitimate program is gonna pin its hopes on a fresh-off-the-street criminal with no experience in whatever offense that school happens to run and only one year of eligibility?

If you're thinking "that has Kansas State written all over it," you and I are on the same page. Bill Snyder has never been shy about bringing in questionable characters (academically, criminally or both) if he thinks it'll help him win. I don't have any idea if there's mutual interest, but it's an idea that makes sense to me ... especially since senior QB Carson Coffman hasn't exactly dominated in his mostly uninspiring career at KSU (he was actually benched after four starts last season).

Other than that, I dunno. It's hard to envision any other BCS conference team knocking at his door. I don't blame him for looking around -- Louisiana Tech can't be at the top of anybody's list -- but if it comes down to Louisiana Tech or Random FCS Technical School, the choice will be pretty easy (and probably pretty quick since fall practice starts next week).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is UNC the new USC?

Sounds like there's potential trouble in Chapel Hill:
A source at North Carolina told ESPN.com's Joe Schad on Thursday that UNC football players were interviewed by the NCAA this week and asked questions about agents and whether anyone had received gifts or extra benefits.
North Carolina seems like an odd place for violations, but Butch Davis knows how to collect NFL-caliber talent (remember the 2001 and '02 Miami teams?). UNC has a ridiculous six legitimate first-round prospects on defense alone: Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams. When you have talent, the agents will come calling.

The interesting thing is that there was no public report of violations or unusual activity at North Carolina (at least not that I'd heard of). But the NCAA wouldn't just step in and start an investigation without having something to go on.

ESPN provides a little background:

The investigation began with a phone call from the NCAA, Baddour said, though he declined to say when the call came or when investigators had visited the Chapel Hill campus.

A second source said that the NCAA asked all of UNC's projected NFL draft picks to provide phone records so investigators could see which agents they had spoken with.

The players were also asked who paid for the travel, who paid their rent and which agents they had met with and when, according to the second source.

Austin recently tweeted about a trip to Miami.

Both sources used the word "hectic" to describe the agent activity surrounding North Carolina football since multiple players passed on the NFL draft.

A third source, with ties to North Carolina, said that Austin was asked about having been seen driving Kentwan Balmer's vehicle.

Balmer is a former North Carolina defensive end who plays for the 49ers and worked out in Chapel Hill this offseason. Another source said Austin stayed at Balmer's apartment at times this offseason as well.

"Hectic" agent activity, eh? The compliance people at USC would probably recommend nipping that in the bud. That's not something you wanna screw around with, because that's the kind of thing that can really put a school in the NCAA's doghouse. Signing with an agent equals an immediate relinquishing of all eligibility, and since all the aforementioned guys passed up the draft to return for their senior seasons (except for Quinn, who's a junior), I don't think that's what they had mind. Accepting stuff from an agent is also a hardcore violation, although it's one a player can work his way out of if he handles it right.

The Bylaw Blog (which is remarkably informative when it comes to all this NCAA crap) makes an excellent point: Since any impropriety apparently occurred since the end of last season -- and obviously no games have been played yet this season -- nobody could have played while ineligible. If Austin received some free rent from Kentwan Balmer, for example, he could probably just repay that amount and resolve the situation before the start of the season. If an agent paid for a trip to Miami to meet with a representative, that's more of a gray area. There's usually going to be at least some loss of eligibility due to receiving inappropriate benefits.

But until the NCAA announces specifically who or what is being investigated, it's pretty hard to know exactly how serious things might be. Back to the Bylaw Blog:

The biggest question now is which NCAA group was on campus investigating. If members of the enforcement staff were around, then you can bet the NCAA thinks it has something.

If it was the Agents, Gambling and Amateurism staff, things are much murkier. Part of the AGA’s directive is fact-finding and research on agent trends and activities. But the AGA is also an investigative body in enforcement cases. So fact-finding may have turned into a lead, or the AGA could have been checking in on a hotbed of agent activity and decided there was so much activity that it was necessary to ensure violations had not occurred.
So there could be a serious investigation into already-documented inappropriate activity. Or it could simply be research on the number of agents around campus. Or it could be that agents are known to be around campus and the NCAA is just checking to make sure that there haven't been any violations. Figuring out the details is half the fun!

Based on the NCAA's typical time frame, we should find out more in about 2016 ... OK, not really. This is one case where the school needs to know ASAP if anybody's looking at ineligibility, so my guess is that there'll be something at least moderately definitive by the end of August.

As far as long-term impact, I don't have any rooting interest in UNC or any idea whether Butch Davis runs a loose ship (although he definitely cleaned up Miami after Dennis Erickson left), but it'd be a shame if some of the team's best players got the program into a bunch of trouble just as the Heels are finally becoming an ACC contender for the first time since the Mack Brown era.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

So long, Bobby Johnson

Exactly 52 days before Vanderbilt's season opener against fellow competitive nerd Northwestern, coach Bobby Johnson announced his retirement Thursday:

"I've decided to retire, not resign," Johnson said. "It's a tough decision with which my wife, Catherine, and I struggled. This is a personal decision."

"Football is not life, but it's a way of life and it consumes your life," Johnson said. "You only have so many years to live, and you want to see a different way."

The timing makes the whole thing seem a little odd, but Johnson, who turned 59 earlier this year, emphasized during his press conference that his retirement didn't have anything to do with health. It sounded like he just wasn't motivated anymore (and I know from experience that having a not-very-motivated coach just hanging around at the end usually leads to bad things).

A lot of people will look at a 29-66 career record at Vandy and say, "Meh, mediocre coach for crappy program." But that's selling him way short. Consider that in the 20 years prior to Johnson taking over, Vanderbilt had averaged three wins per season, hadn't finished over .500 or played in a bowl even once and had a season-high of five wins (on four occasions).

In comparison, Johnson's final five years make him look like Bear Bryant:

2002 Vanderbilt 2–10 (0–8, 6th East)
2003 Vanderbilt 2–10 (1–7, T–5th East)
2004 Vanderbilt 2–9 (1–7, T–5th East)
2005 Vanderbilt 5–6 (3–5, 5th East)
2006 Vanderbilt 4–8 (1–7, 6th East)
2007 Vanderbilt 5–7 (2–6, 6th East)
2008 Vanderbilt 7–6 (4–4, T–3rd East) W Music City
2009 Vanderbilt 2–10 (0–8, 6th East)

It took him a few years to get going, but once Johnson had flushed the system and brought in his own players (his first senior class would've been in 2005), Vandy went on its best four-year run since 1956-59 (!!!). We're talking about the Eisenhower administration, people. This is a school with four bowl games in its history -- no other SEC program has played in fewer than 14 -- and a grand total of one postseason ranking, which came in the grand ol' days of 1948. All you need to know is that he was SEC Coach of the Year in 2008 for finishing 7-6 and winning the Music City Bowl.

This one-sentence snippet from ESPN nicely summarizes Johnson's impact:

Johnson ended losing skids to eight SEC teams during his tenure, including a 22-game string to Tennessee in 2005.
He made Vandy consistently competitive against its SEC peers for the first time since at least the 1980s and arguably the 1950s, and that's about all that can be expected. His 29-66 record and 2-10 final season shouldn't be what people remember.

Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Robbie Caldwell now takes over on an interim basis. He's never been a head coach or even a coordinator at any level, which is terrifying, but there aren't many other options when (a) you're Vanderbilt and (b) it's just seven weeks before the start of the season.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reason #3,742,818 why I love college football

Nebraska lost to Iowa State 9-7 last year -- at home, no less -- by committing a ridiculous eight turnovers, including four inside the Iowa State 5-yard line. It was one of the most bizarre games I've ever seen; I even wrote about it at the time.

The Cyclones were 18 1/2-point underdogs, were playing without starting QB Austen Arnaud AND star running back Alexander Robinson and put up 239 total yards and no touchdowns. And they won (their first win in Lincoln in 33 years).

There's no accurate word to describe it other than "lucky." Paul Rhoads probably knew this -- he just didn't care. He was riding a wave of adrenaline that could have carried him halfway back to Ames, and it led to one of the great locker room speeches of all-time (and I don't mean great in a Mike Gundy "I'm a man!" way):



That's what it's all about, right?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A new game show where everybody loses!

The offseason is boring for everybody. For fans, this means discussing depth charts and debating expansion scenarios. For players, this means finding trouble in new and eventful ways. And this was an unusually eventful week; in fact, it was so eventful that it's time for our first-ever episode of "Who Wants to be Arrested in a Ridiculous/Stupid Way?"

Contestant #1: Behind our first curtain is ... well, several guys, and they're all wearing orange. Two Tennessee players were arrested and several others were questioned after a fight at a Knoxville bar ended with an off-duty cop being beaten and lying unconscious on the ground outside. Some of the players were underage, including five-star freshman receiver Da'Rick Rogers. The fallout: Starting safety Darren Myles Jr. (one of the two guys arrested) has been kicked off the team and starting defensive tackle Marlon Walls and starting linebacker Greg King have been suspended indefinitely. Rogers was the other play arrested, but there's been no word yet on his punishment (Tennessee's investigation is still ongoing). If you're wondering why Myles got the boot, here you go:

An affidavit regarding Myles' arrest stated that a university officer identified himself to Myles at Bar Knoxville, after which Myles fled on foot. When the officer caught up to Myles and attempted to place him into custody, Myles broke free from the officer's grip and struck him in the face. Myles was later taken into custody by the Knoxville Police Department, which turned him over to university police.

And there's this:

This is the second time Myles has been in trouble. A projected starter this coming season, Myles was charged April 18 with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and public intoxication following an incident at another nightspot near campus. Dooley handled Myles' punishment for that arrest internally, though that criminal case is still pending.

Sounds like a guy with his head on straight, yes? Stupidity rating (on a scale of 1-10): Myles and Rogers each get a 10 and everybody else gets an 8; we'll call it a collective 9.

Contestant #2: We have another team effort, this time from a couple Georgia players who managed to do all their damage (literally) from the comfortable confines of a Chevy Avalanche. Backup running back Dontavius Jackson and starting receiver Tavarres King, both redshirt sophomores, were arrested and Jackson was charged with a whopping six crimes for some serious shenanigans:

Jackson was driving a Chevrolet Avalanche that belonged to King when officers noticed he did not move over for a separate police stop on the road and was traveling at a high rate of speed, university police chief Jimmy Williamson said. Two police vehicles were at that stop and one left to pull over the Avalanche at about 3 a.m.

Police had received a report that a vehicle had been struck earlier by an Avalanche, and the driver of the car that was hit identified a tag number and described some of the occupants.

"That just happened to be the car that our officer was behind, and he pulled them over."
So you've just been involved in a hit-and-run. You're approaching several police cars along the side of the road. Do you:

(a) Reduce your speed to something below the speed limit
(b) Move over to avoid being noticed
(c) Both of the above
(d) Don't move over or slow down, guaranteeing that you'll attract attention

Oh, and both had been drinking; neither is 21. We might have a winner! No official punishment has been announced yet, but Georgia's athletic department policy requires a minimum one-game suspension for any alcohol-related incident (and they probably won't get a slap on the wrist after Georgia athletic director Damon Evans just had to resign due to his own DUI scandal last week). Stupidity rating: 9.

Contestant #3: Our third contestant is a large gentleman -- about 6-foot-2, 260 pounds -- who's a returning starter at Iowa and enjoys drinking. And driving. At the same time.

Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns was arrested early Friday and charged with drunken driving.

A police report said Binns was pulled over near campus by University Heights police for traffic violations. The report said Binns had watery eyes, smelled of alcohol and showed impaired speech and balance.

Well at least he didn't try to hide it, right?

Police said the 20-year-old Binns initially denied drinking. He later acknowledged having several drinks and failed a preliminary breath test.

Ummm ... yeah. The original report also said Binns had a club wristband on that listed his age as 21. Unfortunately for him, police officers are capable of reading a driver's license and quickly realized that he's only 20. Oops. "Some form of suspension" now awaits, according to Kirk Ferentz. Stupidity rating: 7.5.

Contestant #4: We actually have a second contestant from Georgia (better keep your eyes on these kids, Mark Richt). But ladies, if you're looking for a rebel, you might want to skip over redshirt freshman cornerback Jordan Love and his not-so-intimidating rap sheet:

Love was arrested late Monday night after police responded to a complaint about three individuals shooting off fireworks near a campus dormitory. According to University of Georgia police chief Jimmy Williamson, the responding officer arrested Love after he refused multiple requests to provide his middle name before relenting.

Wait ... what??? I assume he was being a smart-ass, probably offering a bunch of profanities in place of his middle name or telling the officer to do something to a body part that shall not be mentioned, right?

Police presented Judge Charles Auslander with what they considered extenuating circumstances after Williamson spoke with Love's family Tuesday. Love does not use his middle name, Lawrence, as he was named for someone with whom the family no longer associates, Williamson said.

This brings me to a little segment I like to call "Really!?! With Seth & Amy."

If I ever make it to Athens, I'll be secure in knowing that the police are out there enforcing every Civil War-era law to the fullest, especially ones like "no spitting in public," "ties required at all times" and "middle names must always be provided to law enforcement officers."

Ridiculousness rating (on a scale of 1-10): 463.

And with that, I believe Jordan Love has established a Ken Jennings-esque record that might never be topped. We have our winner.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And the hits just keep on comin'



Here's a brief and chronological summary of things that happened to USC this week:

1. Junior defensive end Malik Jackson, a rotational player with 3.5 sacks last season, announced that he's transferring to Tennessee.
2. Seantrel Henderson was released from his letter of intent and signed with Miami.
3. USC issued letters of apology to five schools for claiming that they had inappropriately contacted freshman running back Dillon Baxter (which apparently never happened).
4. Junior fullback D.J. Shoemate, a former running back/receiver who's played sparingly in the past two seasons, announced that he's transferring to UConn.
5. The AFCA announced that USC is ineligible for this season's coaches' poll.
6. Redshirt freshman Byron Moore, listed as the backup at strong safety heading into fall camp, left the program and enrolled at a juco.

Wwwwhheeeeeee!!! A couple thoughts:

* On the surface, it doesn't look like the aforementioned transfers (Jackson, Shoemate and Moore) are particularly harmful. But this is what I said after the NCAA came down with the hammer of death a month ago:
Think about this: Since the NCAA recruiting-class limit is 25 players, USC's yearly limit has now been cut to 15. In 2014, there will be -- at the absolute most -- 45 non-freshmen on the roster (I suppose there could be a few fifth-year seniors still around, but I don't see how USC will be able to afford to redshirt anybody with that sort of personnel deficit).
Every player who transfers leaves a hole that has to be filled by somebody. And if it's a freshman, that's just one more guy who won't be around in five years when USC has half a roster.

That's obviously why Henderson's loss was so devastating: The sure-fire four-year starters are the ones USC absolutely must have in order to stay elite. There will be no depth, no more position battles between four former five-star recruits. Almost every recruit needs to turn into a good player or there will be a complete hole at some spot on the roster (the funny thing is that since Henderson eventually did sign his letter of intent, he took a scholarship that could have gone to someone else in this past recruiting class).

So when USC fans try to explain that so-and-so wasn't that good anyway and only left because he couldn't get regular playing time, just remind them that you'll be pointing at their depth chart and laughing in about three years.

* I'm torn on the idea of not allowing a team to be ranked. On one hand, it makes sense that a team that's ineligible for the BCS shouldn't get a ranking. Why does it matter how good people think they are when they can't play in a bowl anyway? On the other hand, the sole purpose of every week's poll except the season-ending one is to compare teams. If USC is 8-2 on November 27 and loses to an 8-3 Notre Dame team, I'd like to know how the coaches think that win stacks up. Did ND just beat the #10 team in the country or the #20 team? That difference could mean a lot to an opponent in terms of both ranking and bowl placement.

My solution: Now that the BCS is the determining factor for everything, allow every team to be ranked but simply remove any ineligible ones from the BCS standings. That still achieves the primary goal ... or at least what I think is the primary goal. If the goal is to embarrass USC a little more by not even acknowledging their existence on the field during their two years in college football's version of timeout, then yes, ignoring them in the coaches' poll is probably the way to go.

* The Dillon Baxter situation is just flat-out weird. To recap: Baxter informs USC's director of compliance on June 11 that he's been contacted by five schools about transferring. This is against NCAA rules, as freshmen are not eligible to transfer without penalty. USC then sends a letter to the Pac-10 and NCAA seeking to remind the five schools (Alabama, Florida, Fresno State, Washington and Oregon) that freshmen are not to be contacted. All five receive a letter informing them of such. A month later, they all receive letters of apology after USC announces that Baxter “has now confirmed that he did not receive a call from your institution."

Ummm ... so did he or didn't he? I've been trying to wrap my head around the whole scenario and just can't figure it out. If he wasn't contacted by those schools -- and he named them specifically -- why would he make it up? I don't see what the motivation would be. And if he was, why did he back down? There would be proof via cell phone records and/or text messages, so it's not like it'd just be his word against a bunch of athletic departments and lawyers.

Michael Lev at the Orange County Register threw out this idea:
A colleague of mine came up with a theory, which goes like this: At the time, all five schools seemed like prime candidates to poach USC juniors and seniors who could transfer without having to sit out a year per the NCAA sanctions. (We subsequently learned that they couldn’t go to other Pac-10 schools.) So if you’re USC and you’re concerned about that, why not float a story that might cause those potential poachers to back off?
Ehhhh ... maybe. It's plausible but a little far-fetched. If you're looking to scare away poachers, this seems way too complicated. Think about it. "OK, let's go to a freshman and have him come up with a story about how he's been contacted by these teams, which they can't do. But we can't just announce it -- it'll have to go through compliance, and then they'll have to file a complaint. Then the NCAA will tell those schools to back off and everybody else will be too scared to mess with us 'cause we're USC!" Sounds like a brilliant plan except for the 500 things that could go wrong AND the fact that it wouldn't stop any of those schools from contacting whichever juniors or seniors they wanted. Lane Kiffin might be sleazy enough to come up with something like that, but again, I don't really see what the point would be. And this theory seems really unlikely in light of the news that Tennessee faxed the USC coaching staff a list of every junior and senior on the roster, implying that the Vols would be recruiting all of them. If any school was in line for a warning shot, it was Tennessee.

The only logical explanation I can come up with is that Baxter was contacted by players for those teams but not necessarily representatives (read: coaches). Keep in mind that Baxter was a big-time recruit from San Diego; it's probably safe to assume that he knows somebody -- former teammates, former opponents, buddies from combines and camps, etc. -- on just about every D-I roster. And I imagine that there were a whole lot of texts and Facebook messages to USC players on June 10 saying something like "Dude, I can't believe what happened to you guys. You should come play with me." Except their messages had more typos and crazy words those damn kids use.

He probably got some texts and told the coaches about it, and the staff interpreted that as inappropriate contact. When USC actually investigated and realized that it was just talk between players and not contact initiated by coaches or boosters or administrators, they had to back away from the original claim without going into too much detail. The coaches can't just come out and admit that they told Baxter to report something that wasn't really a violation; they'd be hit with the NCAA equivalent of filing a false police report. Yeah, it's petty, but USC can't afford even the slightest hint of violations right now.

I could be completely wrong about the whole thing, of course. But when it comes to weird stories that are missing a big chunk out of the middle, Occam's Razor is our friend.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Henderson headed to Miami (not the Heat)

For the record, I don't think LeBron James or Dwyane Wade had anything to do with this:
Seantrel Henderson, a prized offensive lineman considered by most analysts to be the nation’s top high school football recruit, and his father, Sean, said on Friday afternoon that he would attend the University of Miami in the fall.
Big win for Miami, especially after USC shocked me and everyone else when they released Henderson from his letter of intent, making him eligible immediately. Miami could be extremely good this year, but there isn't much experience or depth on the offensive line. The projected starter at right tackle is Jermaine Johnson, a four-star prospect a year ago but still just a redshirt freshman. Henderson will get a shot to start right out of the gate.

As for USC, this was just one part of a horrific week that I'll discuss more in a separate post. Losing a rotational defensive end (Malik Jackson) hurts, but losing a top-10 national prospect who might have started for three or four years is a killer. USC just won't have the scholarships to absorb that kind of loss a couple years down the road -- that's when they'll be the most desperate for elite starters, because there will be literally nothing behind them. With Henderson gone, there are only three O-linemen on the roster from the last two recruiting classes (two tackles and one center). Have fun with that in three years.

One last note: I give USC (read: Lane Kiffin) a little credit for manning up and letting Henderson walk after persuading him to sign by promising minimal NCAA sanctions. It would've been pretty lame to force an elite freshman to sit out a year just because he was smooth-talked into bed believing USC would get off light and didn't want to be part of a decimated team with no hopes of a national title.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Splittin' up the Big Ten

You can probably find about 600 gazillion proposals for Big Ten divisional alignments out there on the interwebs. Some of them are ridiculous and don't make sense. Some are just funny. A lot of them are pretty much the same. But since everyone's dying to know my thoughts (obviously), here we go ...

There are a few things that need to be established before we get to the nitty-gritty:

1. Jim Delany -- and everyone else who matters -- has repeatedly emphasized that competitive balance and long-standing rivalries will be prioritized over geography.
2. Unfortunately for Delany, pretty much every real rivalry in the Big Ten is based primarily on geography. Think about it.
3. Michigan and Ohio State will be in the same division. There's no way the best rivalry in college football is getting split up -- Delany and Michigan AD Dave Brandon have basically said as much. Nobody wants to see what's traditionally the conference's biggest game of the year replayed a week later. Not gonna happen. I will immediately laugh at and ignore any proposal that separates UM and OSU.
4. The Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota triumverate will also remain intact. There's no good reason to split them up and eliminate one or more of the Big Ten's most intense rivalries.
5. There are four traditionally elite programs: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska (in no particular order).
6. A hypothetical North-South alignment wouldn't work. Not only would you be separating Michigan and Ohio State, you'd be separating Nebraska from all three of its geographic rivals and creating an embarrassingly weak divisional grouping of Illinois/Northwestern/Indiana/Purdue. You'd lose a ton of rivalry games and end up with illogical divisions that are no better than the ACC's (quick, name which teams are in the Atlantic Division and which are in the Coastal). East-West is the only way to go.

OK, so ... there are two similar proposals that fit all of these requirements. The first:

West East
Nebraska Ohio State
Iowa Michigan
Wisconsin Michigan State
Minnesota Penn State
Illinois Purdue
Northwestern Indiana

Obvious problem: Three of the four strongest teams are in the same division.

Wisconsin and Iowa will probably be better than Michigan and Penn State this year, but the important thing to remember is that we're talking about permanent, long-term divisions. Kansas State was awesome back in the late 1990s, too, and Oklahoma and Texas sucked. But if anything's been established in the last few years (with the resurgence of Alabama, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, etc.), it's that the cream will always rise to the top. Michigan will be very good again, probably soon. And for schools in geographically isolated areas or with limited resources (like K-State), it's really hard to maintain consistent success. It's extremely likely that 20 years from now -- and for most of the time in between -- the top four in the Big Ten will still be Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska.

My first instinct when looking at this proposal was that it'd be fine despite its one obvious flaw. Having three of the top four in the East makes it pretty top-heavy, but Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have all been consistently good (except for a few outliers) for the past decade. It's not like the West would be bad. And, just as importantly, every meaningful rivalry is preserved.

But consider this: No school other than Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State has won an outright conference title since 2001, and it's only happened three times since Penn State joined the Big Ten in '94. Those three represent a clear top tier. The whole point of having a conference championship game is to have a conference championship game, not a BCS tune-up like we've seen for Texas or Oklahoma in the Big 12.

While all three schools in the West are consistently good (sometimes better for Nebraska), it's asking a lot to assume that either Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska will be elite every year and provide an opponent at the approximate level of the Ohio State-Michigan-Penn State winner. In other words, it's a lot more important to put two of the conference's best teams in the championship game than it is to have divisions that are hypothetically balanced in terms of average winning percentage or some other statistical measure.

The more I've thought about it, the more I've decided that there's no reason NOT to shift Penn State to the West and balance out the four traditionally elite programs. Penn State is the only school in the conference that doesn't have a geographical or historical rival -- mostly because they've only been in the Big Ten for 16 years and Pitt's in the Big East -- but if you asked PSU fans who their biggest rivals are, they'd probably say Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa, just because those are the teams Penn State usually plays with the most on the line. Their rivalries are purely competitive ones. There's no hatred, no sense of attachment or history.

If you wanna talk about history, consider that a recent Nebraska-centric post on Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries has already generated 200-some comments on the 1994 national title vote. I agree with the writer's assessment that PSU-Nebraska isn't a rivalry just because of 1994, but it doesn't hurt. There's something to be said for having a pissed-off fan base. And what really matters is that the two would regularly be competing for division titles, which is exactly what makes Penn State's games against Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa so important.

That leads us to our second proposal:

West East
Nebraska Ohio State
Penn State Michigan
Iowa Michigan State
Wisconsin Purdue
Minnesota Indiana
Illinois Northwestern

Better, yes? The East's top pair (Michigan and Ohio State) is traditionally a tiny bit stronger than the West's (Nebraska and Penn State), but the West's second tier (Wisconsin and Iowa) will more consistently compete for division titles than the East's (Michigan State, Purdue and Northwestern). This arrangement does require the Illinois-Northwestern "rivalry" to be split up, but I doubt anyone outside the state lines will lose any sleep.

Probably the best-case scenario in terms of pure balance would be splitting up Iowa and Wisconsin, but that just can't happen. Even if there's some sort of protected cross-divisional rivalry game, those two schools are rivals with each other AND Minnesota AND would be geographic rivals with Nebraska, so somebody would be seriously losing out and would probably throw a shitfit.

As far as I can see, this is the best we're gonna get. We keep every rivalry intact except Illinois-Northwestern (which would still be played at least two out of every four years) and ensure that each division will almost always have a team worthy of playing in the conference championship game.

All that said, I won't be surprised if Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State end up stuck in the same division when the music stops (the decision will be made in August). That'd be the easy/lazy way to do it. But based on Delany's insistence that competitive balance will be key, my prediction is that we get Michigan-Ohio State in one division and Penn State-Nebraska in the other.

The other issue still to be determined is whether there will be eight conference games (as has been the case forever) or nine, which would allow more intraconference play and cut down on games against the New Hampshire Culinary Institute. Nine would be better on almost every level ... except for the whole money thing. More crappy opponents = more money and a better shot at bowl eligibility (which in turn means more money). There will probably be some school presidents and athletic directors who are FOR SERIOUS against losing any wins and/or revenue.

Assuming that the money argument wins and that we're stuck with eight conference games, that means five divisional games and three nondivisional games. I'm still hoping that one of those three nondivisional games will be locked in as an annual crossover rivalry for each team (such as Illinois-Northwestern, Michigan-Minnesota and maybe Michigan State-Penn State), but that'd be a bitch mathematically. The two free nondivisional spots on each team's schedule would then rotate between five schools; I don't have any idea how that would work.

Realistically, it'll probably be an eight-game conference schedule with the three nondivisional games for each team rotating every two years. Michigan would play (just hypothetically) Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota for two years -- home and away with each -- and then Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State for two years. No team would ever go more than two years without playing any other team. Hard to complain about that (even if you're Illinois or Northwestern).

But a nine-game schedule would be even better: With four nondivisional openings and only six nondivisional opponents, each series would be "on" for four years and "off" for two. Every team would play every other team in four out of every six seasons. At that point, protected rivalry games wouldn't even be necessary. Sign me up.

For the record, there's at least some support for the nine-game schedule. ESPN blogger Adam Rittenberg talked to five athletic directors who seemed to be on board, and it only takes nine votes to pass a bylaw in the Big Ten. So if you'd like to sign my petition ... yeah, that'd be awesome. I'm just not sure there's enough support, especially when you consider that at least a few Big Ten teams already have their 2011 nonconference schedules filled. I don't think anybody wants to pay Directional State University a $200,000 cancellation fee and then fill that spot with a conference road game.

If it happens, great. If it doesn't, I have no issues -- as long as the divisions are balanced and preserve all the major rivalries. Like I said earlier, I won't be shocked or devastated if Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State end up clumped together in the Division of Death, but my hope is that Delany and the rest of the decision-makers are smart enough to look at the Big 12 and realize that having a conference championship game won't mean much if two of the three best teams are sitting at home.

It's a long way from Oregon to Louisiana Tech

Jeremiah Masoli's college career might not be over just yet:
Jeremiah Masoli visited Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., over the weekend, The Oregonian has confirmed, as the former Oregon quarterback attempts to sort out his future after being kicked off the Ducks team this spring.
A previous report from a TV station in Louisiana said Masoli planned to visit Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State, but The Oregonian disputes that and says he does not intend to visit Starkville. Assuming this is accurate, the choice will be between Louisiana Tech and the NFL supplementary draft.

The obvious question here: Why Louisiana Tech? Nobody seems sure. My guess is that new LT coach Sonny Dykes (formerly the offensive coordinator at Arizona) reached out to express interest, because there can't be too many schools looking to bring in a guy who's pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary AND been charged with marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license all within the last five months.

Dykes is a spread-offense guy who obviously has seen what Masoli can do in person (he accounted for a ridiculous 11 touchdowns in two career games against UA). Dykes probably figures that even a year's worth of Masoli in 2011 would do a lot for the visibility of his program. It's also worth noting that this year's projected starter, Ross Jenkins, is a senior. LT will have a new starter in 2011 one way or another, so why not make it a former Heisman candidate? There's little downside for Tech.

For Masoli, though, I'm not really sure how sitting out a year and then playing at a mid-major in Louisiana would be a benefit. It'd be nice to show people that he can avoid committing any crimes for a while -- the NFL usually prefers that -- but sitting out a year and then (even in a best-case scenario) tearing up the WAC won't really help his stock. I don't see any scenario that ends with him going higher than the sixth or seventh round ...

... all of which leads me to believe this NFL.com report that says Masoli is expected to enter the supplementary draft (although that was written before his visit to Ruston and doesn't really provide any specific info). He still won't go in the early rounds, but I'd rather develop while getting paid a few hundred grand a year than develop while hanging out in rural Louisiana. Call me crazy. Then again, getting a college degree and getting his life straightened out before getting to the NFL certainly wouldn't hurt. He's probably just glad to have that option.

The draft will be held July 15, so we'll know either way within two weeks.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ridiculous stat of the day

Washington State has won a total of two games against D-I teams in the past two seasons. That's pretty bad. But to realize just how epically, ridiculously terrible they've been, just look at this chart that shows the worst single-season yardage differentials in the past decade:




1. 2009 Washington St -3161
2. 2006 Temple -2841
3. 2008 Washington St -2630
4. 2009 New Mexico St -2526
5. 2003 Army -2514
6. 2001 Baylor -2415
7. 2005 Temple -2348
8. 2002 Rutgers -2292
9. 2008 Washington -2263
10. 2003 Buffalo -2227

Upshot: Washington State's past two seasons have been two of the three worst for all teams in college football in the past decade. And if you need further proof, here it is: Wazzu has been outscored by 723 points (!!!) in that time.

We're talking about a Pac-10 team that went to a Rose Bowl just over a decade ago and is now being obliterated by an average of 241 yards and over 30 points per game. That's just embarrassing. I know it's not easy to win at a school with minimal tradition in the middle of nowhere, but somebody should remind Paul Wulff that it's OK to be competitive.

Seantrel Henderson isn't so sure anymore

If anybody really got screwed in the whole USC fiasco, it's the recruits who signed on with Lane Kiffin just two months before the penalties were handed down. None of those players knew how bad things would be (although they must have had some idea that there'd be serious punishment), and they can't be too happy now that they won't be able to play in a bowl until at least their junior year and probably won't ever seriously compete for a national title.

Uber-recruit Seantrel Henderson, for example, is less than thrilled:

National offensive player of the year Seantrel Henderson might be wavering on his intent to enroll at Southern California after the school was dealt severe NCAA sanctions.

Henderson, an offensive tackle from Cretin-Derham in St. Paul, Minn., skipped a scheduled orientation last week which prompted Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and three members of his staff to fly to Minnesota earlier this week.

Henderson's father, Sean, spoke to USA TODAY and said he could not comment on the situation.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press did manage to squeeze a comment out of him ... kind of:
Playing in a pro-am basketball league Tuesday night, Henderson was asked about his status with USC.

"I don't want to talk about that," Henderson said according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Henderson was smart back in February. He decided to wait to sign a letter of intent until after the penalties had been announced -- and he could do this because he was either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall prospect in the country (depending on which scouting service you prefer), so teams would wait for him. He could've waited until August if he wanted to. But for some reason, about six weeks after Signing Day (and after several meetings with Lane Kiffin), he gave in and signed. Good choice, right?

So now he's got a couple of not-so-exciting options:

1. He can play out the string at USC, possibly start as a freshman and have a good shot at being a first-round pick in a few years -- but probably never experience college "glory," so to speak.
2. He can transfer. Since there's not a chance in hell USC will grant him an immediate release, he'll have to sit out a year (essentially a redshirt year) and then will have four years to play wherever he wants.

Where would he go? His other finalists were Ohio State and Miami, but he'd also visited Notre Dame, Michigan and Minnesota and had offers from literally every major program. It's not like he'll have to go somewhere with limited exposure if he decides to leave -- he'll just miss out on the chance to start as a freshman and accelerate his NFL timeline. In other words, his decision will tell us whether it's college or the NFL that Henderson's really looking forward to.

We should know one way or another in the next two months since I assume he'll want to be settled by the start of the season. Either Kiffin will salvage the biggest (literally) and best prospect in his 2010 class -- which is crucial since USC will be limited to 15 scholarships in each of the next two classes -- or Christmas will come early for some other big-time program.

On a related note, I have no idea why more prospects don't disregard the letter of intent. It provides no benefit for the student-athlete; all it does is lock the player into a particular school. The school can withdraw the scholarship offer at any time and has no obligation to provide four years of aid (just ask Alabama). It's a one-year-at-a-time deal. The fine print basically says, "We can screw you over whenever we want if we decide to give your scholarship to somebody else. Sorry." Actually, I don't think it says "sorry." I'll double-check.

But if you're a recruit with a choice between 20 or 30 BCS conference schools, why sign a letter of intent? Nobody's gonna turn you away and NOT offer you a scholarship if you want to come -- it's just a matter of whether you lock yourself in. And if the school isn't locked in for four years of aid, the player shouldn't be locked in either.

Example: Mitch Mustain. He was the top QB recruit in the country in 2006 and picked the local school, Arkansas, only to be immersed in craziness almost immediately upon his arrival. He transferred to get away from it and (coincidentally) ended up at USC, where he had to sit out a year. Had he not signed a letter of intent with Arkansas, he would have been eligible to play in 2007 at USC and might have beaten out Mark Sanchez as John David Booty's backup. It's very possible that he'd have been the starter in '08 and '09 and would have been a first-round pick in April's draft. Instead he's spending his senior year on the bench behind Matt Barkley. I'm not saying with any certainty that things would have gone differently for him, just that I'm sure he'd like to know what would have happened in '07 (and beyond) if he'd have been eligible.

That's obviously a rare scenario, but the same holds true for just about any five-star prospect. Considering all the possible issues that could come up -- coaching changes, NCAA penalties, lack of playing time, etc. -- why risk penalizing yourself for a possible transfer if you don't need to? It's a screwy, one-sided system.

Seantrel Henderson knew it and shouldn't have signed. I'm just curious about whether he's more upset with Lane Kiffin's crazy recruiting voodoo or his own decision to give up on what was a pretty smart plan to avoid all the letter-of-intent restrictions.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Catching up: A rivalry in danger

* The end of The Holy War? I was under the assumption that when Utah was invited to the Pac-10 and said "yes please my bags are packed let's go," it meant that the Utah-BYU series would just continue as an annual nonconference matchup. But BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe doesn't sound very confident:
“BYU and Utah have over time developed one of the storied rivalries in college athletics,” Holmoe said in a statement released from the school. “Utah’s move to a different conference will certainly have an effect on the rivalry; however, at this point it’s hard to know to what extent. [Utah athletic director] Dr. Chris Hill and I have a very good relationship and will certainly be talking about this in the future. For now, we’re grateful for the long tradition of athletic competition between the two schools.”
Keep in mind that Utah also has a 115-year-old rivalry with Utah State and an upcoming series with Boise State from 2011-13. With the Pac-10 playing a nine-game conference schedule, that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for flexibility (although the series could always take a short break and then continue in 2014).

And the more I've been thinking about it, the more I've been wondering exactly how motivated Utah will be to keep playing BYU. The Utes are in the Pac-10 now -- they don't need the publicity or the national recognition from that sort of game. But BYU does. Wouldn't it benefit Utah to eliminate one of BYU's few nationally relevant games (and head-to-head recruiting opportunities) now that the Utes have the upper hand?

On top of that, it's not like Utah will be looking to toughen its schedule while regularly battling for bowl position in what should be a pretty deep Pac-10 (or Pac-12 or whatever). They'll be looking at the same formula as every other BCS conference school: more easy nonconference opponents = more home games, more money and more bowls.

I still hope something gets figured out, but this year's BYU-Utah game might be the last until at least 2014.

* A rough week for Ohio State: Ohio State had an Oregon-style week, losing three potential contributors to various shenanigans in a matter of three days. Recruit suffering life-threatening gunshot injuries? Check:
Jamel Turner, 18, was left in critical condition by a shooting early Saturday in Youngstown. A 17-year-old girl was killed in the shooting.
By the way, this is the second time Turner (a four-star DE/OLB) has been shot in the past year. "Wrong place at the wrong time" has to turn into "might wanna find some new friends" at some point. Hopefully Turner recovers and gets his life back on track.

Receiver (not a starter but a significant contributor) flunking out and transferring to a junior college? Check.
Receiver Duron Carter, a starter for Ohio State in 2009 as a freshman, has enrolled at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas with intentions on improving his academic standing. Carter, who had 13 receptions for 179 yards last season, missed the Buckeyes' 26-17 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl after being ruled academically ineligible.
If the name sounds familiar, that's because Duron's father is Hall of Famer (and former Buckeye) Cris Carter. He looked like a potential star as a freshman before his academic issues, so his loss will be felt, especially in three- and four-receiver sets. OSU is particularly inexperienced after starters Devier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Carter was third among receivers in yardage last year; after that, there's nobody else on the roster with a college reception.

And last but not least (OK, this is probably least), defensive end Keith Wells left the team Monday and intends to transfer. Wells was a pretty highly touted recruit but hadn't amounted to much, getting spot duty as a freshman but then redshirting as a sophomore. He was looking at up a lot of similarly talented players on the depth chart and might have been having academic issues (there's some dispute on that). He hasn't yet announced a destination, but don't be surprised if it's a lower-division school where he can get immediate playing time if he's eligible.

* Arizona loses a receiver: Spectacularly named senior Delashaun Dean, one of a group of three returning Arizona receivers with over 40 catches last season, has been suspended indefinitely:
Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Delashaun Dean was arrested over the weekend on weapons charges and has been suspended from the football team indefinitely.

Coach Mike Stoops issued a statement this morning confirming the suspension. He said Dean's penalty is "due to a violation of team rules."

Dean's loss would hurt, but UA actually has remarkable depth at wideout, even with Terrell Turner (48 catches) graduating and tight end Rob Gronkowski heading to the NFL. There are four returning juniors with significant experience: starter Juron Criner (45 catches) as well as David Roberts (43 catches), David Douglas (31 catches) and William Wright (23 catches). This is a benefit of regularly sending out three- and four-receiver sets. With QB Nick Foles and the rest of the offense returning almost intact, the passing game should be fine.

As for Dean -- a pretty good athlete at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds -- any shot at the NFL probably hinges on working his way back and having a strong senior year.

* Former five-star recruit headed to ... USF? It's only been two years since Darrell Scott was the top-rated running back in the country (and No. 6 player overall on Rivals), but it's been a loooong two years. Scott passed up offers from USC, Florida, Texas and everybody else to go to to Colorado (for some reason) and has been the epitome of the team as a whole: a disappointment. He rushed for 343 yards as a freshman after getting beat out by fellow freshman Rodney Stewart, then posted a whopping 95 yards last year while missing time with a nagging hip injury. The lack of help on a horrific offense probably hasn't helped.

With Dan Hawkins on the holy-crap-my-ass-is-on-fire hot seat, Scott has decided to jump ship and head to (according to his Facebook page, anyway) USF.
"Just got a scholly peeps!!!! Your looking at a bull now," he wrote. "USF here I come baby."
If he's looking for playing time on what should be a pretty good team, he seems to have chosen wisely. USF's starting running back this year will be Moise Plancher, a sixth-year senior (yes, that's right). Backup Mike Ford was dismissed from the team in February, and there's nobody else of note on the roster.

Scott will have to sit out this season as a transfer but should be the front-runner for the starting job on a Big East contender in 2011.

* Oregon might be a little closer (maybe) to deciding on a QB: The battle to replace the moronic Jeremiah Masoli has been a dead heat since spring, with Dennis Dixon play-alike Darron Thomas (a redshirt sophomore) battling experienced-but-not-as-athletic senior Nate Costa.

I guessed about two months ago that Thomas would get the nod based on nothing but potential and one half against Boise State in 2008. But on Monday -- which was Oregon's first day of summer conditioning -- Oregon beat writer Rob Moseley made an observation that might mean something or might mean absolutely nothing:
Nate Costa has consistently been at the front of the pack leading guys through drills this evening.
Note that these weren't organized drills or plays, just "voluntary" workout-type things ("voluntary" goes in quotes because everyone knows they aren't really voluntary). But if Costa appears to be taking more of a leadership role for a program that hasn't exactly been stable this offseason, that might be the difference come September; this is a talented team with still-realistic Pac-10 title aspirations.

Don't expect an official decision until the final days of fall camp.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Pac-10 gets its 12th team

The Pac-10 didn't take long to recover from its broken heart:
The Pac-10 invited Utah to become the 12th member of the conference Wednesday, two days after being turned down by Texas, Oklahoma and three other Big 12 schools.

Utah officials did not immediately say whether the invitation would be accepted. However, a source tells ESPN that Utah will join the Pac-10.

Obviously. I'm sure there'll be a lot of debate over where to stay in the Mountain West or head to the Pac-10. "Let's see, would you like to keep your $1.33 million in TV revenue or would you like $15 million, a shot at an automatic BCS bid and a huge boost in prominence?" Tough call. The only negative anyone has come up with is the split from BYU, but some minor scheduling adjustments should take care of that and keep The Holy War alive and well as a nonconference matchup.

From the Pac-10's standpoint, Utah is actually a pretty good addition. Good football team (at least middle of the pack in the Pac-10), good basketball team, good TV market (Salt Lake City is the 31st-largest in the country) ... nothing spectacular but nothing not to like. Getting more quality competition is never a bad thing.

Overall, though, the Pac-10 didn't really do anything to increase its national relevance. Nobody east of the Mississippi will be drawn to the impending Pac-10 Network to see Utah-Arizona or Colorado-Washington or just about any other combination outside of USC-Oregon. In other words, Utah and Colorado are both fine additions, but they represent expansion for expansion's sake. The important thing is that the new Pac-10 can split into two divisions, hold a championship game, start a network and bring in a little extra money via Denver and Salt Lake City. The lesson: If there's more money, everybody's happy.

The Denver Post reports that the new divisions will look like this:

South North
USC Cal
UCLA Stanford
Arizona Oregon
Arizona St. Oregon St.
Utah Washington
Colorado Washington St.

No surprises there. One of the big concerns with a divisional split was that the Washington, Oregon and Arizona schools wanted to keep their regular trips to California to help with recruiting. Separating Stanford and Cal from USC and UCLA makes that possible and still retains most geographic connections. The only quasi-rivalry that might be lost some years is USC-Cal; that's manageable.

I've seen a bunch of articles praising Larry Scott for his aggressive moves in expansion, and I'll give him credit for trying to do something EXTREMELY bold. But at the end of the day, the Pac-10 pretty much is what it was a week ago except with one more good team (one that'll finally get a chance to test itself against consistently strong competition) and one more mediocre team. And a championship game, of course.

And then there's the Mountain West. The poor, poor Mountain West. Just five days ago, the addition of Boise State seemed like the first step toward a guaranteed automatic BCS bid. With Utah, BYU, TCU and Boise State? That's a strong conference, probably even better than the Big East. I even said this at the time:
... even if the Big 12 stays intact, the Mountain West will be a lot stronger coming out of expansion than it was going in.
Errrr yeah. I obviously didn't foresee the current scenario. As it is, we're right back to square one. There's one excellent team (Boise taking Utah's place) and two consistently very good teams (BYU and TCU). Unless the MWC can steal another good program from a major conference (extremely doubtful), it's gonna be pretty hard to land that coveted auto-bid.

So close and yet so far ...