Update: Bielema doesn’t want Big Ten ‘to be like the SEC in any way, shape or form’

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In the two months following his hiring by Ohio State, Urban Meyer took what was shaping up to be a middle-of-the-road recruiting class and turned it into a consensus top-five group by the time National Signing Day 2012 had been put to bed.

In getting to as high as No. 3 in the Scout.com rankings, Meyer and his coaching staff flipped several highly-touted recruits, including some who had been verbally committed to other Big Ten schools.  Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State all felt the Meyer Effect in one way or the other on the recruiting trail, and it was the latter two programs that have not been shy about expressing their “displeasure” with the recruiting tactics that have brought to the conference.

Wednesday, Cleveland Heights (Ohio) offensive tackle Kyle Dodson announced that he was signing a Letter of Intent with Ohio State.  The four-star lineman had been a verbal commitment to UW since last June, but began to lean toward OSU after Meyer came on board.

While not specifically addressing the Dodson flip, UW head coach Bret Bielema told reporters that he had prior concerns over what he considered recruiting tactics on the part of the new OSU regime that were — his word — illegal.  As a result, Bielema claims to have spoken to Meyer about the situation and resolved whatever issue there was.

“There’s a few things that happened early on that I made people be aware of, that I didn’t want to see in this league, that I had seen take place in other leagues,” Bielema said during his signing day press conference yesterday. “Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices, that are illegal.

“I was very upfront, very pointed to the fact — actually reached out to coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him. The situation got rectified.”

One of the issues — albeit not an illegal one — is Meyer “breaking” an unwritten agreement among Big Ten coaches in which, once a prospect commits to a program in the conference, other coaches decline to actively recruit the player.  Meyer “broke” that “gentleman’s agreement” in the case of Dodson, as well as in the recruitment of Se’Von Pittman.

The four-star Canton, Oh., defensive end had long been a Michigan State commit, but flipped to the Buckeyes after Meyer’s hiring.  Like Bielema, the Spartans took issue with Meyer doing something that “Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio would never” do: “call or talk to each other’s commitments.”

“It sets a tone and starts a recruiting rivalry,” MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said the Monday before signing day. “I guess it’s fair game. You don’t want it to be that way, but that’s how it is.”

Narduzzi went on to add that “you lose friendships over that.”  We’re guessing that Meyer’s not going to be losing a lot of sleep over the loss of conference friends.

At his post-signing day press conference, Meyer explained the process of continuing to recruit a player who’s already given a verbal elsewhere.

“Sometimes they say, ‘How can you go recruit a young guy committed to another school?'” Meyer said. “You ask a question, ‘Are you interested?’ If they say, ‘No,’ you move on. If they say, ‘Yes, very interested,’ then you throw that hook out there. If they’re interested, absolutely [you recruit them], especially from your home state. Is it gratifying to take a guy from another school? Not at all.”

While it may be “pretty unethical” what Meyer is doing, at least in comparison to how business has been conducted in the Big Ten in the past, it is far from illegal and is not going anywhere.  So, if the rest of the conference — Michigan notwithstanding; they’re doing just fine thank you very much — wants to avoid being run roughshod over on an annual basis in the recruiting game, they might want to consider adjusting to the new “recruiting rules” in the conference.

OSU’s hated rival already has; I’d suggest the rest of the conference respond in kind.  For better or worse, Meyer has brought an SEC way to the Big Ten recruiting trail.  Keep up, or future signing day tramplings could very well in the offing.

UPDATED 6:29 p.m. ET: It’s official.  Meyer is in Bielema’s head.

Speaking to Matt Hayes of The Sporting News, Bielema stated that his boss, athletic director Barry Alavarez, will speak to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany about Meyer’s recruiting tactics during a meeting in Chicago Friday.  Bielema again complained about the recruiting practices utilized by Meyer and his OSU, hinting that whatever it was they were doing — Bielema would not delve into specifics as he seems more secure with blanket accusations made publicly — was illegal.

The biggest issue for Bielema, as well as Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, is Meyer flipping recruits that had previously been committed to another program.  The gentleman’s agreement that existed prior to Meyer’s arrival in the Big Ten?  It doesn’t exist in Meyer’s old SEC stomping grounds.  And, much to the chagrin of Bielema, it doesn’t exist in Meyer’s recruiting version of the Big Ten either.

“I can tell you this,” Bielema told Hayes. “We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC—in any way, shape or form.”

As the SEC has won the BcS title each of the past six years, and the Big Ten hasn’t won one since after the 2001 season, consider it mission accomplished, Coach Bielema.

Of course, we’re also talking about a head coach who went for two up by four touchdowns with six minutes left against Minnesota, and whose Badgers hung 83 points on conference foe Indiana, so the angst Bielema’s displaying about “fairness” should be taken with a significantly sized grain of salt.

Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.