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OSU LB’s dad threatens legal action as SI expose’ comes under fire

Ohio v Ohio State Getty Images

A Sports Illustrated expose’ expected to further reveal the seamy underbelly of the Ohio State football program under Jim Tressel did just that, but has also had the unintended consequence of bringing significant heat to the publication on several different fronts.

Speaking to both the Newark Advocate and ESPN.com, the father of linebacker Storm Klein threatened legal action against SI over his son being named in the George Dohrmann (with David Epstein) piece.  In the article, Klein was one of nine current Buckeyes a former employee of a Columbus-area tattoo parlor — who was only willing to speak under the pseudonym “Ellis” — named as having “swap[ped] memorabilia or give[n] autographs for tattoos or money.”

Jason Klein, the LB’s father, vehemently denied his son was involved in any of the activity described, and also some that wasn’t even mentioned by Dohrmann.

“I’ve raised my son right,” the father told the Advocate late Thursday. “My son has no tattoos. He does not have any drug problems. I have every bit of his memorabilia that he’s ever got from Ohio State.”

“My son has no tattoos on his body,” the elder Klein told ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad. “I have all of his memorabilia. What has been written is preposterous. My son has been routinely tested for drugs and has never had a positive test.”

Storm Klein was mentioned in one paragraph in Dohrmann’s article.  Here’s the relevant passage:

Ohio State has conceded that six current players committed an NCAA violation by trading memorabilia for tattoos or cash at Fine Line Ink: Pryor, tackle Mike Adams, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Jordan Whiting. Ellis, who spent time in and around the tattoo parlor for nearly 20 months, says that in addition to those six, he witnessed nine other active players swap memorabilia or give autographs for tattoos or money. Those players were defensive back C.J. Barnett, linebacker Dorian Bell, running back Jaamal Berry, running back Bo DeLande, defensive back Zach Domicone, linebacker Storm Klein, linebacker Etienne Sabino, defensive tackle John Simon and defensive end Nathan Williams. Ohio State declined to make any of its current players available to respond to SI.

As far as I can tell, and I’ve read the piece on at least seven different occasions, there is not a single instance of Dohrmann connecting Klein to drugs, so for the father to offer that “my son has been routinely tested for drugs and has never had a positive test” is mystifying to say the least.  Be that as it may, and if Klein’s father’s claims that all of his son’s memorabilia are in his possession and he isn’t inked are indeed correct — we think the latter might be an easy one to prove/disprove — it would cast serious doubt on the veracity of “Ellis”, which in turn would call into question at least some of the more damaging claims made in the piece.

Klein’s father is not the only parent with a public beef with the piece, however.  The dad of defensive tackle John Simon, mentioned in the same paragraph as Klein, lashed out to the Columbus Dispatch over his son’s inclusion in the article.  While Jason Klein could not say with any degree of certainty that his son had ever been in the tattoo parlor in question, the elder Simon, also named John, stated unequivocally that his defensive lineman son has never been in the joint.

“It’s just more or less disbelief on how something like that can come out, how a reputable publication can write something like that without any proof at all,” the elder Simon said. “He was never there, never even close to the place. He didn’t get his tattoos from there; he got them from a place here in his hometown (Youngstown).”

Unlike the Klein clan, it doesn’t appear any legal avenues will be pursued by members of the Simon family.

In addition to damning accusations made about the OSU football program under Tressel, The Vest’s program at Youngstown State in the nineties was also placed under a great deal of scrutiny by the magazine.  Specifically, star Penguins quarterback Ray Isaac, who was ultimately found to have received cash, a car and a all-pay-no-work job from a YSU trustee on Tressel’s watch.

Dohrmann also explores Tressel’s management between then-quarterback Ray Issac and Mickey Monus, a wealthy school trustee and the founder of the Phar-Mor chain of drug stores, while Tressel was with Youngstown State. According to the report, upward of 13 players were illegally holding jobs at Phar-Mor and Issac, in addition to collecting roughly $10,000 in cash from Monus, was also driving a car provided by Phar-Mor.

“Tressel was aware of the car. At times, Isaac told SI, he asked the coach for help in getting out of traffic tickets. “He’d slot out two hours to meet and say, ‘Ray, I need you to read this book and give me 500 words on why it’s important to be a good student-athlete,’” Isaac says. Afterward the ticket would sometimes disappear, which, if Tressel intervened, would be an NCAA infraction.”

In an interview with 790 The Zone in Atlanta, Isaac was very vehement in stating that Tressel was unaware of what was going on until Monus was indicted on federal charges, with the issues involving Isaac and other YSU players only seeing the light of day when they came out during the trial.

The article is a big lie… I’m very displeased with the article,” Isaac told the radio station.

“Jim Tressel never ever knew anything about our dealings. I kept it secret. To say Coach Tressel knew about this car, or knew about this money, listen, the only way that anyone knew about the money I received from Youngstown State University was Mickey Monus got indicted on $1.1 million worth of embezzlement and fraud. In documents and public record, they found checks that were written to me. … That’s the only way that this situation came to light. … Other than that, no one in the history of the world would have known the Mickey Monus paid me a dime.”

Isaac wasn’t the only person to refer to at least a portion of the piece as a lie.  Now-retired Youngstown State University president Leslie Cochran told the Youngstown Vindicator that a quote attributed to him in the SI article was, in his words, “fabricated“.

“What bothered me was that the family knows. Inside the family, everyone knows what’s going on,” Cochran reportelyd told the magazine in regard to how Tressel ran the football program.

“I never said that,” Cochrane told the Vindicator; “He absolutely said it.  Not sure what more we can say,” Epstein wrote on Twitter when apprised of Cochran’s denial.

Incidentally, Sports Illustrated, Schad wrote in his Klein article, said it stands by its story.

It remains to be seen whether the Klein family or anyone else will take legal action or whether said legal action would actually gain any traction once it were in the system, although it’s entirely possible Dohrmann/Epstein were burned by a source who may or may not have an ax to grind against a former employer.  What’s hard to fathom, however, is that a journalist as reputable and meticulous as Dohrmann would “lie” in such an explosive piece or “fabricate” a quote.

Just a guess, but we’re thinking that we haven’t heard the last of this SI piece on a whole helluva lot of different fronts.

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Oklahoma recruit Joe Mixon claims innocence in statement

Mixon

In a statement released by his lawyer, Oklahoma’s five-star running back recruit, Joe Mixon, claims he was merely defending himself during an altercation Friday morning with University of Oklahoma student Amelia Molitor.

The statement, provided by The Oklahoman, reads:

This past Friday morning Joe Mixon found himself in a situation where he was subjected to both verbal and physical attacks from a very intoxicated and troubled young woman.  As a result of these physical attacks, Joe instinctually defended himself against further harm.

As promised, Joe met with investigators from the Norman Police Department this afternoon. Throughout the meeting, Joe continued to be forthcoming and cooperative with their investigation.

We are looking forward to a thorough investigation and are very much looking forward to the truth coming out.  As we have always maintained, Joe has done nothing wrong.

Molitor alleged Mixon punched her in the face, which caused a broken bone.

The Norman Police Department is still reviewing the case, and no charges have been filed against Mixon or Molitor at this time.

The University of Oklahoma is aware of the situation and will likely withhold further comment until the findings of the case are divulged.

Photo credit: Rivals

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Michigan AD says Brady Hoke isn’t on hot seat

University of Michigan Introduces Brady Hoke Getty Images

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke isn’t worried about being on the hot season this season, and he shouldn’t be.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon stated Hoke’s job isn’t on the line as the Wolverines prepare for the 2014 campaign.

“It’s not,” Brandon told The Detroit News’ Bob Wojnowski. “Every football coach in America lives under enormous pressure, so I don’t need to apply any more. We’re the winningest program in the history of college football, we know what the expectations of our fan base is. Nobody has to tell Brady that. And I have all the confidence in the world that he’s bringing in the right kids, that he continues to do the right thing in terms of getting his staff lined up. I’m convinced we’re heading to a very, very good place.”

It’s certainly different to make such a claim in July than it will be a few months from now, particularly if the Wolverines struggle through another season.

Brandon expects the Wolverines to improve from last year’s 7-6 record. But he wasn’t willing to provide a benchmark for Hoke to remain off the hot seat. Brandon simply expects to see continued improvement.

“I have a high level of confidence that the pieces are being put together for this program to be what we all want it to be,” Brandon said. “I have to be patient because I know what’s involved. I know what was here when coach Hoke arrived, in terms of how we needed to change.

“We needed to get bigger, we went from one style (the spread offense under Rich Rodriguez) to a different style. You’d like to think you can snap your fingers and make that happen, but it takes time. So on the one hand, I have to be patient because I realistically know it takes some time, but on the other hand, I’m as impatient as anybody.

“I want to win, and my expectations haven’t changed one iota. We want to be in that game in Indianapolis, we want to be competing for that championship. We have unfinished business and that’s to get this program back where we want it. I’m confident that’s going to happen.”

Unfortunately for Michigan, the road to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship doesn’t go through Ann Arbor. It goes through Columbus or East Lansing. And a third place finish — or worse — in the Big Ten’s eastern division could finally land Hoke on the hot seat.

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Georgia adds brother of Alabama recruit

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

Recruiting is all about relationships, and the Georgia Bulldogs may have pulled a trump card to eventually flip a current Alabama Crimson Tide commit.

The Bulldogs received a commitment from tight end Joseph Ledbetter, according to The Macon Telegraph.

“I’ll be at camp on Friday … and I will be on a full scholarship,” Ledbetter confirmed to Dawgs247.com.

Ledbetter, who played basketball for two years before deciding to transfer from Pfeiffer University, is the older brother of four-star recruit Jonathan Ledbetter.

Rivals.com ranks Johnathan Ledbetter as the third-best defensive end recruit in the nation. The defensive lineman committed to Alabama in January.

Despite his brother’s decision, Jonathan Ledbetter isn’t prepared to change his verbal commitment.

“It doesn’t really affect me,” Jonathan Ledbetter said. “I’m just glad he’s in school and has the opportunity, but we aren’t a package deal or anything.”

There could be some family pressure for Jonathan to eventually join Joseph at UGA, though.

“I would love to have two Georgia Bulldogs as sons, or three – because I have a third son as well,” the mother of Joseph and Jonathan Ledbetter, Teresa Belcher, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But I try to stay out of it. I try to let them decide what is best for them. Of course, I give my opinion. But Jonathan will make his decision on what is best for him, as far as the type of team that fits his personality. I try not to overwhelm him with questions about that.

“Jonathan is very happy for Joseph. He is very excited for his brother. But I really don’t think it’s going to influence his college decision on way or the other.”

Georgia, meanwhile, will still benefit even if the younger Ledbetter doesn’t change his mind. Joseph Ledbetter will add depth and athleticism to the Bulldogs’ tight end position after Hunter Atkinson decided to leave the program.

The trend at the tight end position is get highly athletic former basketball players and convert them. Georgia now has two with Joseph Ledbetter and starter Jay Rome on the roster.

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B1G commish expects governance model to pass

Jim Delany

College football continues to evolve and one of the game’s primary power players foresees a major change in the game coming in the next few days.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany fully expects his conference, along with the rest of the “Big 5″ conferences, to be granted more autonomy once the NCAA Division I board of directors votes Aug. 7 on a new governance model.

“I do think it’ll pass and capture the autonomy issues that are important to us in assisting student-athletes in the 21st century in ways that make sense,” Delany said during his speech at Big Ten media days, according to The Columbus Dispatch’s Todd Jones. “I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t pass.”

With more autonomy, the schools within the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC can address a glaring issues in college football…extra stipends to fully cover the cost of tuition.

The vote will be made with the lingering threat of the power conferences renouncing their NCAA affiliations if it doesn’t pass.

“If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student‑athletes,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said during SEC media days.

Delany wasn’t as demonstrative as Slive when asked what the conferences will do if the model isn’t passed, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of a potential mutiny.

“If it doesn’t (pass), I don’t really know what we’d do,” Delany said. “I expect there would probably be conversations within each conference, we’d huddle up, and then see where we’re at.”

When Delany and Slive speak, people listen.

“Mike Slive and Jim Delany don’t make their comments without the support of the individual institutions, which means the presidents have signed off on it,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Columbus Dispatch on July 18. “So each conference in the top five has gone through a process to get agreement from the presidents that if these things aren’t in place, at the vote, then we have to look at a different structure.”

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Will OSU QB Braxton Miller run the ball less this season?

Braxton Miller

During his first three seasons as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes, quarterback Braxton Miller ran the ball 557 times for 3,054 yards. Miller is one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, but he’s also suffered numerous injuries caused by his scrambling.

Miller emphasized better conditioning during the off season, and he expects those injuries to be far less problematic this fall.

The Buckeyes can also help Miller by relying less on him as the one of the team’s primary ball carriers. Unfortunately, they may not have that luxury.

Miller is the team’s leading returning rusher despite missing two games last season.

There is plenty of talent in the Buckeyes’ backfield with Ezekiel Elliot, Bri’onte Dunn, and Rod Smith, but it’s largely unproven. The Buckeyes desperately need one of these running backs to take over the role vacated by Carlos Hyde, who led the team with 1,521 rushing yards last season. This year’s backs don’t need to be as productive as Hyde was, but they have to take the pressure off of Miller to prevent the quarterback from becoming the team’s primary rushing threat.

Miller may not get much of a reprieve even when he drops back to pass. Four starters along the offensive line graduated and are no longer on the roster. And Taylor Decker is switching from right tackle to left tackle. This unit is going to need time to gel.

Miller is now physically ready to take the pounding which comes during the Big Ten’s regular season, and he’s going  to need it.

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Urban Meyer: ‘Stefon Diggs is one of best players in the country’

Fellonte Misher, Stefon Diggs

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer might be a little jealous of the Maryland Terrapins. The Buckeyes may be favored to win the Big Ten Conference and they’re one of the most talented teams in college football, but they don’t have a wide receiver the caliber of Maryland’s Stefon Diggs.

Meyer was quite complimentary of Diggs when asked about the receiver at the Big Ten’s media days.

“Very athletic. Diggs is one of the best players in the country in my opinion,” Meyer told the Baltimore Sun’s Matt Zenitz.

Meyer went as far as proclaiming the Terrapins could be competitive during the program’s first season in the Big Ten Conference.

If Maryland is going to live up to Meyer’s expectations, Diggs will have to be fully healthy and return to the same explosive player he was prior to breaking his leg Oct. 19 against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Diggs missed the final six games of the season.

But Diggs says he’s fully healthy and ready for fall camp.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown believes Diggs will be the same explosive player seen prior to the injury.

A healthy Diggs is a dangerous player. As a freshman, he finished eighth nationally in all-purpose yards. Diggs averaged 17.3 yards per catch last season and Maryland was 5-1 before the receiver was knocked out of the lineup.

Even though Maryland was picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten’s eastern division, Diggs will be a reason to watch the Terrapins each Saturday.

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Brady Hoke not worried about being on the hot seat at Michigan

Brady Hoke AP

If Brady Hoke is entering a make-or-break season for his tenure at Michigan, he’s not too concerned about it.

Entering his fourth year in Ann Arbor, Hoke has seen Michigan’s success decline since 2011’s 11-win Sugar Bowl season. The Wolverines won eight games in 2012 and then seven in 2013. Another slip toward mediocrity this fall and Hoke’s future could be far from certain.

Hoke, though, said at Big Ten Media Day on Monday in Chicago that he’s not concerned about his job security. Via the Detroit Free Press’ Mark Snyder:

“Believe me, we’re not satisfied with anything,” he said. “But to worry about what other people think? I’ve never worried about what other people think in anything I’ve done.”

Hoke went the diplomatic route and trumpeted Michigan’s graduation rates and said he’s most concerned about the academic success of his players. That’s fine and all, but if Hoke wants to continue to guide his student-athletes to a degree from a prestigious Big Ten school, he’ll probably have to win some more games.

Snyder has a good quote from Devin Gardner in his story on Hoke’s status, so give it a click.

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Injuries end playing career for Rutgers wide receiver

Michaelee Harris, Tejay Johnson

Injuries have ended the career of Rutgers wide receiver Tejay Johnson, per NJ.com’s Dan Duggan. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood made the announcement at Monday’s Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

Johnson will have a to-be-determined role with the team in his senior year at Rutgers.

The Egg Harbor Township, N.J., native converted to wide receiver in spring practice after making 35 tackles as a safety in 2013. He was frequently limited by injuries over the course of his career, and according to Duggan his move to wide receiver — his natural position — was made in an effort to limit the wear and tear on his body.

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Bo Pelini continues to be self-aware about his cat and Faux Pelini

Bo Pelini Cat 2

Say what you will about Bo Pelini as a coach, but this is pretty funny:

If you don’t know what Pelini’s getting at, that means you’re not following Faux Pelini on Twitter, which means you’re doing Twitter wrong. This isn’t the first time the real Nebraska coach has engaged the fake Nebraska coach — back in January during the BCS Championship, Pelini asked the parody account if he could have his cat back.

The Nebraska coach also brought his cat to the Huskers’ spring game this year.

Pelini has a reputation of being an incredibly intense coach on the sidelines — which stems from moments like this — but he said at Big Ten Media Days on Monday that he’s trying to show he’s a different person off the field:

And hey, if his cat and a parody Twitter account are the vehicle for showing that, it’s pretty awesome.

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Jimbo Fisher sounds fine with Jameis Winston playing baseball

Jameis Winston AP

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston admitted earlier this month he’ll eventually have to choose between baseball and football, but wants to continue his two-sport career for as long as he can.

Jimbo Fisher, too, is all for his Heisman-winning quarterback continuing his career on the diamond. From Fisher’s appearance on ESPN’s First Take this morning (h/t to Coaching Search):

“Baseball is a game of failure. Baseball is a much greater game of failure. It’s a whole different mindset. Anytime you’re competing in any sport, I think it’s good, but what baseball teaches you is how to overcome adversity. It teaches you how to fail and fail and fail, and still be able to perform.

“I think as a quarterback, I don’t care how good you are, there are going to be bad moments. … I think baseball slows it down for him and has made him a better (football) player.”

That’s a good take on it, though Winston only had five hits in 39 at-bats with eight walks and nine strikeouts for FSU this spring. Batting involves an awful lot of failure — and even when you don’t fail and hit a ball hard, there’s still a chance you’ll make an out. If Fisher thinks playing baseball is making Winston mentally tougher, then by all means should he continue to play.

Where I’d be worried if I were Fisher is Winston pitching. Winston is a much better pitcher than he is a hitter, posting a 1.08 ERA with 31 strikeouts and seven walks in 33 1/3 innings last season. But every pitch he throws is putting strain on his ulnar collateral ligament, and if one day he feels a pop in his right elbow and needs Tommy John surgery…it could very well wipe out a full season of his football career.

It’s not a huge risk, given Winston doesn’t pitch an awful lot for FSU. But baseball’s rash of Tommy John surgeries this season has created such a panic over any minor elbow discomfort, that if Winston does feel a little twinge one day next spring maybe it’d be best for his football career to shut down his baseball one.

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Auburn WR commit is Rivals No. 1 class of 2016 recruit

Auburn logo

The recruiting class of 2016 is still a year and a half away from its signing day (unless an early signing period materializes), but Rivals released some early ratings for the group and ranked wide receiver Nate Craig as 2016’s top recruit.

That’s good news for Auburn fans, since Craig pledged his verbal commitment to the Tigers on July 21.

Of course, a verbal commitment isn’t really a commitment and 18 months separate us from February 2016. But Craig did commit to Auburn while holding offers from powerhouse programs like Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC, among many others.

If his rating holds, the Tampa native would join Percy Harvin, Derrick Williams and Dorial Green-Beckham, all of whom were wide receivers ranked as the No. 1 recruit in their respective classes.

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Beavers’ standout center may not be ready to start season

Oregon State v Arizona State Getty Images

Oregon State C Isaac Seumalo became an instant starter for the Beavers the day he stepped onto the team’s practice field as a true freshman. Seumalo, however, may not open the season as a starter this fall due to a broken foot he suffered during the Hawaii Bowl.

Seumalo missed all of spring practice due to his recovery, and Oregon State head coach Mike Riley doesn’t have a definitive timetable for the center’s return.

“I think it’s on pretty good schedule to be ready to play, if not at the very first game, early,” Riley told the Oregonian’s Gina Mizell at Pac-12 Media Days. “So we’re going to be very, very careful with that. So that’s why I’m being very careful when I say he’s going to play. But I anticipate him being ready. I would think he might be ready for the first game, but maybe not.”

Oregon State opens the season against against the Portland State Vikings and returns to the islands to play the Hawaii Warriors on Sept. 6. If Seumalo hasn’t returned to the lineup by that point, the Beavers have an open date, which will grant the lineman an extra week to heal.

Seumalo, who was named to the Outland Trophy watch list this summer, is one of the nation’s top interior blockers. He’s already considered the top center prospect for the 2016 NFL draft by ESPN’s draft guru, Mel Kiper Jr.

“Seumalo is another center who could easily move to guard, and is also athletic enough to handle tackle,” Kiper wrote. “He already has 25 starts, but will be coming into the season with a layer rust after missing the spring with a foot injury.”

Riley is considering the possibility of moving Seumalo to guard upon his return. Riley told Mizell that he actually prefers Seumalo to play right guard, while sophomore Grant Bays steps in as the team’s new center.

Either way, the Oregon State offensive line is far better with a healthy Seumalo in the lineup than when he’s not.

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Ohio State AD: B1G expansion ‘is about money’

Gene Smith

Ohio State AD Gene Smith knows how to pander to his audience. Within the course of two days, Smith gave two different spins on the addition of Rutgers (and Maryland) to the Big Ten Conference.

Smith defended the league’s addition of Rutgers Saturday in an interview with NJ.com’s Dan Duggan.

Smith stated Rutgers “will bring a lot to the table.” The Buckeyes’ athletic director complimented Rutgers’ prestigious academic programs. He also mentioned the football team’s success under former head coach Greg Schiano and the money the school put into the program during that period.

The idea Rutgers was chosen to become a member of the Big Ten Conference due to a business decision was merely an after thought.

Smith was far more candid Sunday during an interview with The Columbus Dispatch’s Todd Jones. When Smith was asked directly about the Big Ten’s additions of Rutgers and Maryland, Smith stated the obvious.

“From a business point of view, it makes huge sense,” Smith told Jones. “This is a business deal. This is about money. Everybody wants to dodge that; I don’t. It’s about the stability of our conference for the long term.”

Smith looks at these moves as a way to adjust to the changing landscape of college football and the United States’ shifting population.

“It provides a new geography for us to have a presence in, for a number of reasons: television, recruiting, (and) providing Penn State with some geographical partners,” Smith stated. “The reality is, growth was inevitable for intercollegiate athletic conferences. We needed to be part of that.

“As far as the shifting population, that is reason enough by itself to look at the concept of expansion.”

With the Big Ten’s media days set to commence Monday and Tuesday, a big spectacle will be made of the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. The two programs will be accepted as equals among the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, etc. The reality is these program were merely business acquisitions which proved to be a means to an end for the Big Ten Conference.

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Steve Spurrier expects Mike Davis to turn pro after season

Mike Davis

South Carolina RB Mike Davis rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as a sophomore. If he has a similar junior campaign, Davis won’t return to Columbia for his senior season.

“Mike Davis, if he has a big year, he’s going to go pro,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told ESPN.com’s Edward Aschoff after his annual media golf event Thursday. “And we’re going to tell him to go pro, because he should. The lifespan of a running back is only a certain amount of years. If a young man after three years can go, we’re going to shake his hand and let him go. That’s why you keep recruiting more running backs.”

After Spurrier watched former RB Marcus Lattimore suffer two major knee injuries, which put his potential professional career in jeopardy, the coach’s only recourse is to recommend Davis leaves after this season, whether he has an outstanding year or not.

“The thing as a running back is your life expectancy isn’t long in the NFL,” South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands told Aschoff. “Here in the SEC, it’s probably the closest thing to the NFL.”

South Carolina will help Davis by employing a running back rotation this fall with fellow juniors Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson in the backfield. This will prevent some of the wear and tear other feature backs around the country will experience.

While Davis isn’t considered the top running back prospect potentially available for the 2015 NFL draft — that distinction belongs to Georgia’s Todd Gurley — his size (5-9, 223) coupled with a physical running style projects well to the next level. Early projections rank Davis as a Top 5 prospect at his position prior to the start of the 2014 season.

Davis’ ability to play at a high level and avoid injuries will set him up to make an easy decision after the season.

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Auburn’s Gabe Wright expects to bounce between DT and DE

Gabe Wright, Bo Wallace

While Auburn’s run to the national title game last season was spurred by the team’s innovative offense and overwhelming rushing attack, the Tigers’ defense was led by defensive tackle Gabe Wright. Wright proved to be one of the most disruptive interior defenders in the nation, but his role is expected to expand this fall.

Wright will start the season at defensive tackle, but he’ll also be expected to receive repetitions at defensive end.

Wright was forced to play defensive end during spring practice due to injuries along the defensive line, and the Tigers’ coaching staff came away  impressed with his play.

“(Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Gardner) actually wanted to put me in last year, but he just stated I wasn’t mentally ready,” Wright told al.com’s Brandon Marcello. “I respect and I don’t second-guess his decision. If I’m called upon, I will answer the call. There’s no doubt about that. It just shows his confidence in me.”

Wright also wasn’t physically ready to play defensive end last year. He’s down to 290 pounds with enough the athleticism to set the edge and rush the passer.

“I’ve been wanting to drop down body weight since I’ve been here — and body fat —  which has been done,” Wright said.

Wright’s versatility will provide insurance along the Tigers’ defensive line after losing Dee Ford to the NFL and Carl Lawson to a potential season-ending ACL injury. Wright’s ability to provide depth at defensive end also allows the ultra-talented Montravius Adams to gain more repetitions at defensive tackle.

While Wright remains one of the best interior defenders in college football, his biggest contribution this season may be his ability to play defensive end until Lawson is fully healthy or one of the Tigers’ young pass rushers are ready to take over the spot.

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