Illini-N’western Wrigley game to feature one usable end zone

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Seriously.  One — and only one — end zone will be used.

For those who were/are unaware, Illinois and Northwestern will play this weekend at the home of the Chicago Cubs, historic Wrigley Field.  And, as you can tell by the photo at the right — as well as other photos of the same end zone — it took a good deal of cramming to get a football field to fit inside the ivy-covered confines.

Of course, along with said cramming came concerns over player safety.  Specifically, players running/being ran headfirst into the outfield wall that sits just a couple of feet outside the east end zone.

As a result of the safety issues, the Big Ten has announced some major changes to Saturday’s game.  And have officially made a mockery of the game and turned it into one akin to something we all used to play in the backyard.  Or out in the street.  In traffic.

According to a press release issued by the conference, the following rule changes were determined to be the best of all options and will be in effect for this game only based on the unique layout of the field:

1)    All offensive plays will head toward the West end zone, including all extra points and all overtime possessions.
2)    All kickoffs will be kicked toward the East end zone.
3)    After every change of possession, the ball will be repositioned for the offense to head toward the West end zone.
4)    As a result of a coin toss held by the conference office Friday morning, Illinois will occupy the West team bench in the first half and Northwestern will occupy the West team bench in the second half and for all overtime periods.

Other rules under consideration include the fire hydrant at the corner of Elm & Main is out of bounds; each school will be responsible for bringing extra footballs because if one goes into Old Man Johnson’s garden you cannot go after it because he’ll tell your parents you trampled his tomato plants whether you did or not; all kickoffs will be thrown; five-Mississippi pass rushes on first and second down; if any player’s mom hollers for him during the course of the game, he will be permitted to re-enter the game after he’s finished cleaning his room; and oncoming traffic has the right of way and play will stop, except on fourth down when you’re on your own.

This game has been in the works for over a year and a half, but the league claims they didn’t realize they had a “situation” with the configuration of the playing field until the playing field was configured right in front of them.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes is of the utmost importance,” said Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany in a statement. “Both Illinois and Northwestern did significant due diligence over the past 18 months, but after seeing the actual layout of the field, all parties felt that it was appropriate to adjust the rules to further enhance the safety of our student-athletes. Wrigley Field is one of the most historic venues in the country, and playing the Illinois-Northwestern game at this facility will provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience for student-athletes, coaches and fans.”

Suffice to say, and short of finding an alternative way of shoehorning a football field into this particular baseball park, this might be the last time in a long, long, long time you’ll see a football game contested at Wrigley.  Hell, it’ll take a solid 4-5 years before the Big Ten is able to get the last little bit of egg wiped off their face after this debacle, so a next game at that place will likely be the last thing on their minds.

NCAA denies ex-Alabama assistant’s appeal of two-year show-cause

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Recruiting restrictions will remain in place for one former member of Nick Saban’s coaching staff.

The NCAA announced Thursday that former Alabama and current UT-San Antonio assistant coach Bo Davis must serve a two-year show-cause order instituted earlier this year.  Davis had appealed to the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee to have the sanction removed.

The NCAA announced in April of this year that Davis was found by the Committee on Infractions to have “acted unethically when he provided false or misleading information about impermissible recruiting contacts” and was slapped with the order as a result.

In late April of last year, reports surfaced that Davis was expected to resign or be fired as Alabama’s defensive line coach after the school opened an inquiry into possible NCAA violations on the recruiting trail.  A day later, the Tide announced that Davis had, ahem, “submitted his letter of resignation.”

The show-cause order runs from April 14, 2017, through April 13, 2019; Davis had argued in his appeal that the clock on the order should’ve started on the day he resigned from his job at Alabama.  From the NCAA’s decision:

However, the appellate committee noted that neither NCAA rules nor past cases consider timing other than the announcement of penalties as the start date. The committee also noted the infractions panel provided substantial leniency to the former assistant coach given that he was subject to a show cause order ranging from a minimum of five years to a maximum of 10 years with a prohibition on all athletically related duties. The infractions panel noted in its decision that this shorter show-cause penalty was due to the nature of the underlying recruiting violations and the university’s swift action once the violations came to its attention.

As part of the NCAA-mandated sanctions, Davis is barred from all off-campus recruiting activities until the order runs out in April of 2019.  Davis was hired by UT-San Antonio in February of this year as defensive line coach, and, at least for now, is still serving in that same capacity.

Georgia LB Natrez Patrick sees pot charge dropped; status for playoffs still uncertain

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Finally, there is some positive news off the field for the Georgia football program, even as some clarity on one player’s status moving forward is still needed.

According to ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach, the Barrow County district attorney’s office has decided to drop a marijuana possession charge against UGA linebacker Natrez Patrick. Earlier this month, Patrick was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.  That was the junior’s third marijuana-related arrest and fourth pot-related incident in a little over two years.

Patrick was arrested in early October of this year on a charge of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and ultimately served a four-game suspension.  In November of 2015, Patrick was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession and suspended for one game per university policy.  A year later, Patrick and a teammate, Roquan Smith, were investigated by police for alleged pot use although no charges were ever filed.

In this latest incident, Patrick was a passenger in a vehicle driven by teammate Jayson Stanley that was pulled over for speeding shortly after the Bulldogs won the SEC championship.

“When you get into someone’s car, you’re not going to search it to see if there’s marijuana in the car,” Patrick’s attorney, William Healan III, told Schlabach. “My client didn’t know the marijuana was there. If you’re sitting on a little piece of marijuana that you didn’t know was there, you’re not knowingly in possession of it.”

As for Stanley, he saw a driving under the influence charge dropped.  In exchange, the little-used wide receiver pleaded guilty misdemeanor possession of marijuana and speeding.

Despite the fact that the linebacker’s charge was dropped, Schlabach writes that “[i]t wasn’t immediately known whether Patrick would be available when the No. 3 Bulldogs take on No. 2 Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game… on New Year’s Day.” The Macon Telegraph, meanwhile, writes that when “[a]sked if this decision meant Patrick would not be considered a third-time offender under the UGA student-athlete handbook, athletics director Greg McGarity declined to comment.” Three drug-related offenses are grounds for dismissal according to university policy.

Patrick started seven of the nine games in which he played at inside linebacker this season.  Even as he missed nearly one-third of the regular season, Patrick is still sixth on the Bulldogs in tackles with 35.

Rice makes hiring of Michigan assistant Brian Smith as DC official

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Rice’s new head coach has officially plucked an assistant from Jim Harbaugh‘s Michigan coaching staff to fill a key position on his first with the Owls.

The Conference USA football program confirmed Wednesday night that Brian Smith has been named by Mike Bloomgren as his first defensive coordinator. Smith spent the past two seasons as the Wolverines’ defensive backs coach.

The stint in Ann Arbor was Smith’s first coaching job at a Power Five program. His first coaching job at the FBS level came at his alma mater UMass, where he was linebackers coach in 2004 and wide receivers coach in 2005.

In between those two collegiate stints, Smith spent eight seasons (2007-14) with the NFL’s New York Jets, beginning as a quality control/offensive coach before moving up to help with the secondary his last couple of seasons with the organization.

In addition to Smith, Bloomgren, who came to Rice earlier this month after serving as offensive coordinator at Stanford, also announced the hiring of North Carolina Central University head coach Jerry Mack as his coordinator on that side of the ball. Mack had previously coached at this level as wide receivers coach at Memphis (2011) and South Alabama (2012-13).

In his four years heading the FCS program, Mack guided the Eagles to a 31-15 record and three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships.

Two-time winner Dabo Swinney one of seven finalists for Bear Bryant coach award

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Not surprisingly, yet another coaching award has a decidedly familiar feel to it.

Wednesday, a group of seven finalists were announced for the 2017 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, one of the nation’s top award for college football coaches. Named in honor of the Alabama legend, those seven finalists are:

  • Paul Chryst — Wisconsin
  • Clay Helton — USC
  • Scott Frost — Nebraska, for his work at UCF
  • Gus Malzahn — Auburn
  • Jeff Monken — Army
  • Kirby Smart — Georgia
  • Dabo Swinney — Clemson

Swinney is looking to become the first coach in the 32-year history of the award to win it three consecutive years, after becoming the first to win it in back-to-back years. In January of 2017, Swinney joined Boise State’s Chris Petersen (2006, 2009) as the only two-time winners.

In addition to Swinney, one other College Football Playoff semifinalist, Smart, is up for the honor.

Smart, Swinney, Helton and Frost all led their respective teams to conference championships, while Chryst and Malzahn made it to their league title game. Monken guided the service academy to its best season in over two decades and has the chance to, with a bowl win, become just the second Black Knights coach (Bob Sutton, 1996) to reach 10 wins in a single season.