O-H! UH-OH! Buckeyes to probe car sales to players and relatives

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Well, here we go again.

Even as The Ohio State University is in the midst of a major quagmire created by the lies and cover-up of its head coach, now they may have yet another issue to deal with.  And one that the NCAA may very well have a significant interest in.

Prompted by a Columbus Dispatch investigation that began in 2007, the OSU’s associate athletic director and head of compliance told the paper that the school will take a look into the sale of at least 50 used vehicles to student-athletes — mainly football players — and their relatives.  According to the Dispatch‘s report, the probe will center on two Columbus dealerships — Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct — and whether or not the players and/or their relatives were given deals not offered to the general public.  While the two dealerships are not connected and have different owners, Aaron Kniffin was a salesman at both businesses; the Dispatch describes Kniffin as the common thread in two dozen transactions.

Kniffin, if you recall, was the salesman whose name was connected to a previous investigation of vehicles being driven by quarterback Terrelle Pryor.  OSU cleared Pryor of any wrongdoing in that case.

And, at least for now, the OSU compliance official sees the same ending in this latest case.

“We’ll take a step back, we’ll take a look at the transactions and the values, and we’ll make some determinations in consultation with the (Big Ten) conference office and go from there,” Doug Archie told the paper.

“I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred.”

The report, which again can be viewed by clicking HERE, is very detailed and extensive but well worth the time it takes to pour over, but here are a few of the highlights — or lowlights, depending on the amount of scarlet & gray clothing littering your closet.

— Jack Maxton owner Jeff Mauk and Auto Direct owner Jason Goss were interviewed by Archie Friday and both individuals denied giving special treatment to players or their relatives.  The Dispatch reports that Goss and Kniffin attended seven football games — including the 2007 national championship and 2009 Fiesta Bowl — as guests of players who were members of the football team at the time.  Goss denied that he was a guest of any player to whom he sold a vehicle.

— For the biggest red flag from the entire potential situation unearthed by the Dispatch, we’ll allow the paper to spell it out here:

Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0.

Mauk could not explain it. “I don’t give cars for free,” he said. Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. “I paid for the car, and I’m still paying for it,” he said, declining to answer further questions.

— Former running back Maurice Wells‘ mother, who lived in Maryland at the time, bought a vehicle from Kniffin while he was an employee of the Chevrolet dealership.  That transaction is one of the four dozen or so under investigation.

— The mother and brother of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for receiving impermissible benefits in an unrelated case, also purchased vehicles from Kniffin.  The transactions involving the relatives of Pryor and Wells are three of the eight involving individuals related to current or former Buckeyes student-athletes.  Archie told the paper he was aware of all the transactions involving players being looked into by the Dispatch — the owners of the dealerships stated they routinely call Archie whenever an OSU athlete is going to purchase a vehicle from them — but he was not aware of the purchases made by the relatives of players.

— On so many players buying vehicles from one or two dealerships, Archie told the Dispatch that “[i]t’s something from a compliance perspective that I would rather not have.”  Two former NCAA investigators who requested anonymity told the paper that there’s cause for concern as they’ve never heard of so many athletes buying cars from the same salesman.

— Speaking of said salesman, Kniffin, who currently sells vehicles in another state, owes more than $130,000 to the IRS and his $570,000 Delaware County (Oh.) home is in foreclosure.

— If you take the the first “n” out of Kniffin, what are you left with?*

In and of itself, this latest situation casts Ohio State in a very negative light, at least in the short-term and until it’s proven one way or the other.  Add it on to the previous issues, however, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the current state of the flagship football program of the state of Ohio.

At some point, the university is going to be forced to take a step back and take a hard look at not only head coach Jim Tressel, but Tressel’s boss, athletic director Gene Smith, as well.  Then again, if some of them did that, they’d have to worry about the coach dismissing them.  Right, Mr. Gee?

(*that was my point, not the Dispatch’s.  And it was a joke.  Lighten up people.)

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.