Tobacco Road spat: O’Brien rips Withers’ ‘academic’ comments

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Apparently, there’s a cute little cat fight brewing between the football coaches at North Carolina and North Carolina State — over academics.

The back story: during a radio appearance Wednesday ahead of their annual rivalry game with NCSU, UNC interim coach Everett Withers questioned “the academic environment” at the Raleigh school, and said recruits in the area “need to know the flagship school in this state.”

“They need to know it academically,” Withers said during the radio spot. “If you look at our graduation rates, as opposed to our opponent’s this week, graduation rates for athletics, for football, you’ll see a difference. … If you look at the educational environment here, I think you’ll see a difference.”

Conveniently, Withers failed to mention that, of the two schools, only his has appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions recently to answer questions regarding, among other things, academic fraud in the football program.  That point didn’t go unnoticed by Withers’ NCSU counterpart, who lit into the coach’s remarks when asked about them Thursday, bringing up not only the academic fraud angle of the NCAA issues but also the one-time presence of John Blake on the coaching staff — alleged to be on the take from a now-deceased NFL agent — as well as multiple players receiving impermissible benefits.

“Here is a guy that’s on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis,” O’Brien said at his regularly scheduled post-practice media availability. “. . .If you take three things that you can’t do in college football, you have an agent on your staff. You’re paying your players. And you have academic fraud. That’s a triple play as far as the NCAA goes. So I don’t know that he has anything to talk about or they have anything to talk about. If that’s what people want in their flagship university in North Carolina, then so be it.”

He was asked what he meant by “paying your players.” He indicated that he was referring to the impermissible benefits players received.

“They had players accepting money from somebody,” O’Brien said. “I mean, money is being given from someone to somebody, that’s been documented, right? I don’t know how it got there. Maybe I’m wrong saying that. But those are no-nos as far as the NCAA goes.”

[/meow]

You’ll have to forgive any cattiness being displayed by the respective coaches theses days.  Withers is the head coach of the Tar Heels on an interim basis and will likely be replaced following the season with a permanent coach following a national search.  O’Brien’s hold on the Wolfpack job is a tenuous one, rumored to be on the coaching hot seat in the midst of a 4-4 season and with just one winning record in his first four years at the school.

And, as far as what the two are squabbling over?  The Charlotte Observer notes that, “[a]ccording to data provided by the NCAA, North Carolina’s football team had a graduation success rate of 75 percent for the freshman class of 2004, compared to 56 percent for N.C. State.”

The graduation success rate in 1-A (FBS) football for entering class of 2004 is 69 percent.

Phillip Fulmer says he’s ready to help Tennessee recruit again

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Former Tennessee head coach and recently-named athletics director Phillip Fulmer is ready to get back in the mix on the recruiting trail on behalf of the Vols. With a  new head coach in place (Jeremy Pruitt) and a new staff coming together in Knoxville, having Fulmer provide a couple nuggets of insight every now and then can come in handy. After all, Fulmer was recruiting as Tennessee’s head coach for a long time and he has come to learn a thing or two about the recruiting pipeline in Knoxville.

But Fulmer is preparing himself to go another step farther in the recruiting efforts, should he be needed. According to Michael Bratton of Saturday Down South, via Twitter, Fulmer says he has already passed the necessary NCAA testing to be cleared to officially recruit football players to Tennessee.

That is certainly interesting to see because it is not the norm for an athletics director to get involved in the recruiting efforts of a school beyond approving recruiting budgets and events. But if there is any doubt Fulmer has been itching to help get Tennessee back on track as an SEC contender, his move to land the AD role and quick action to clear himself to be able to recruit for the program should speak volumes about his commitment to improving the Vols on the football field even if he is no longer the head coach.

The only question left to answer here is just how involved Fulmer will actually be in the recruiting efforts, or if this is a short-term play as Tennessee builds a new staff just before an early signing period in college football.

Peach Bowl still in doubt for Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway

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The game is still a few weeks away, but Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway‘s availability will be in question every passing day until the Tigers kickoff against UCF in Atlanta. Asked about the possibility of having Pettway retrun from injury to play in the Peach Bowl against the undefeated AAC champions, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said he simply cannot predict what will happen.

“I don’t know the answer to that quite yet,” Malzahn said last week, as noted by Gridiron Now. “It’s hard for me to answer that right now. Maybe as it gets a little closer, I can be a little more accurate.”

Pettway has been sidelined by a shoulder injury, which was expected to cost him a significant amount of playing time for the remainder of the season. However, Auburn never officially ruled Pettway’s season to be done as a result of the injury, which leaft the door open for a possible bowl appearance if Pettway is able to recover in time and be cleared to play.

Pettway has rushed for 305 yards and six touchdowns out of the Auburn backfield this season. Kerryon Johnson has carried the running game for Auburn this season, and Pettway’s potential return would be more of a complimentary role in a bowl game.

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.