‘We Were… Penn State’: Sanctions debilitate, cripple Nittany Lions

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Right or wrong, or how such a precedent will impact the future of the sport, NCAA president Mark Emmert, at the discretion of his bosses, took the unprecedented step Monday of leveling historic sanctions on the Penn State football program.

There will be days and weeks and months — hell, even years — to digest and debate whether a criminal matter that will bleed into civil litigation should fall under the purview of the NCAA.

What’s not up for debate and needs little digestion? The sanctions levied against the school’s football team are staggering in scope and potential to impact the program for a decade, if not much, much longer.

The fines and loss in revenue totaling roughly $73 million — a $60 million fine from the NCAA and the loss of $13 million in Big Ten bowl revenue, all of which will go to charities to benefit victims of child sex abuse — as well as the four-year bowl ban drew a majority of the headlines, but it was two other provisions in the sanctions that have the potential to damage the Nittany Lions for the long haul.

First and foremost, the Nittany Lions were stripped of dozens of scholarships, beginning next year, over the next four years, as well as a cap on the number of scholarship players on its roster beginning in 2014. From the NCAA’s release:

For a period of four years commencing with the 2013-2014 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 academic year, the NCAA imposes a limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 25 allowed) and for a period of four years commencing with the 2014-2015 academic year and expiring at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year a limit of 65 total grants-in-aid (from a maximum of 85 allowed) for football during each of those specified years. In the event the total number of grants-in-aid drops below 65, the University may award grants-in-aid to non-scholarship student-athletes who have been members of the football program as allowed under Bylaw 15.5.6.3.6.

For perspective, FCS football programs are permitted 63 scholarship players in any given year.  As we noted earlier, Penn State football will essentially be an FCS program in terms of size for several years, and yet will be facing Big Ten and nonconference opponents with the full complement of 85 scholarship players.

Recruiting experts are already weighing in on the long row to hoe the first-year coaching staff will face now and on down the road, because of both the scholarship losses and postseason ban.

“Kids want to go to college to play in championship games and the postseason,” Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “Now that it’s been taken off the table, it’s just going to absolutely destroy Penn State’s recruiting ability in the short term. Certainly when you reduce scholarships, that hurts recruiting because you can’t recruit as many players. But when you’re talking about how kids view Penn State as a potential place to play football, not having a chance to play in the postseason for pretty much the duration or a large chunk of their career is going to be a huge, huge deterrent.”

There was even more gloom from another of the recruiting website’s experts.

“The sanctions change everything,” national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “The sanctions are the one thing I said way back when could splinter this class and could ruin future classes. That’s what kids care about. The scandal itself hurt recruiting last year, but it wasn’t going to stop kids from going to Penn State. Sanctions will do that.”

While that’s bad enough, another stipulation contained in the sanctions could be even more damaging, at least in the short-term.  Again, from the NCAA’s release:

  • Football student-athletes who transfer will not have to sit out a year of competition. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athlete will be immediately eligible upon transfer or initial enrollment at an NCAA institution, provided they are admitted and otherwise eligible per NCAA regulations.
  • Penn State will release any incoming student-athletes from the National Letter of Intent.
  • Permission-to-contact rules will be suspended. Penn State cannot restrict in any way a student-athlete from pursuing a possible transfer. Student-athletes must simply inform Penn State of their interest in discussing transfer options with other schools. Interested schools also must inform Penn State of their intention to open discussions with the student-athlete.
  • Official and unofficial visit rules will be loosened. Any incoming or currently enrolled football student-athletes interested in taking an official or unofficial visit will be permitted to do so during the 2012-13 academic year, no matter how many visits they took during their recruitment. Institutions seeking to provide an official visit to a student who already visited the school as many times as NCAA legislation allows can seek relief from the NCAA on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, the NCAA has declared it’s open season on any and all current or incoming Penn State players, essentially creating a free-agent frenzy that has the potential to utterly dwarf what transpired at USC three years ago.  In the case of the Trojans, any junior or senior was permitted to transfer with no restrictions; a Penn State player in any class — including incoming freshmen — is now free to leave the school.

Additionally, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany heavily intimated during a teleconference Monday morning that players will likely be permitted to transfer within the conference  as well, further exacerbating the program’s plight.  For some reason, I get the feeling that the likes of Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan Brady Hoke have already perused PSU’s roster and commenced a game of “need it… got it… need it… need it… got it…”

Commitments to future recruiting classes are also in jeopardy, with one verbal from the Class of 2013 decommitting within minutes of the sanctions being made public.

“It was headed for a top-15 class,” Farrell said of the group of 2013 commits PSU had previously landed. “Now all bets are off.”

The lone saving grace for head coach Bill O’ Brien , who reiterated his commitment to the school earlier?  As of a couple of hours after the announcement of the sanctions, it was still unclear how many if any players would or will take advantage of the liberal transfer rules, although one PSU athletic official told CFT today that they are “bracing for a dozen or more” departures in the coming days and weeks.

In the run-up to today’s announcement, one report stated that Penn State may have preferred the death penalty over what was about to hit them.  While that’s still a stretch — just ask SMU about the long-lasting impact of shuttering the football program for a year or two — it’s certainly not as laughable a notion as it first appeared.

The sum total of the sanctions that slammed headfirst into Penn State today portends a decade of climbing out of the scholarship/transfer hole.  Regardless of whether it takes X number of years north or south of a decade to rebuild Penn State, the football program, one thing seems certain: Penn State, the university, will never ever be the same, regardless of what happens on a field a hundred yards long.

And, based on the Freeh report, that may very well be the best thing to come out of this whole sordid saga of pedophilia and cover-ups and putting a football program — and its legendary head coach — above young victims of sexual abuse.

As for the football program itself, the entity that has become synonymous with the university, there will be several operative words attached to it for the next several years and beyond.

“Rebuilding.”  “Adapting.”  “Moving forward.”

And, perhaps most importantly, “irrelevant.”  Given what 10 or more victims went through at the hands of a former Penn State assistant and convicted serial pedophile, for them that’s very much apropos.

No. 13 Notre Dame rolling early to take big halftime lead over turnover-prone USC

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There are bad starts, and there are starts like what No. 11 USC had in the first half of their rivalry game against No. 13 Notre Dame.

Fumble on the first drive? Check. Shank a short field goal? Yep. Muff a punt? Indeed. Throw an interception. Thumbs up.

As a result, the Irish fed off an electric atmosphere in South Bend to jump out to a hot start against their intersectional rival and went to the locker room up 28-0 at halftime in a game that seems over given the way the two sides are playing at the moment.

Proving that a few weeks off were indeed plenty to get back to 100 percent, quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked sharp in taking advantage of all those USC miscues. He finished the half with two touchdown passes (one to Kevin Stepherson, the other to Equanimeous St. Brown) and ran for 76 yards and another score despite that balky foot injury that kept him out for several weeks.

Running back Josh Adams didn’t get a ton of work given all the quick end zone trips (just 14 carries), but also gave a boost to his low-key Heisman campaign by running for 68 yards and a touchdown.

As many positives as you could come up with for Notre Dame in the half, you could just about double it and come up with the number of negatives for USC. Sam Darnold had one of his worst halves in cardinal and gold, fumbling on the opening drive and throwing an interception late in the second quarter. He wound up with 107 yards as the only source of offense for the Trojans after Ronald Jones was bottled up to the tune of just five yards on seven carries.

USC has authored several second half comebacks already this year but, based on the way they played so far in Notre Dame Stadium, they’re going to need a comeback just to avoid getting blown out. The flip side is another strong showing like that and all the College Football Playoff talk surrounding the Irish will start to become very, very real come Sunday.

Penn State starts fast, but Michigan hanging around

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On a white out night in State College, Penn State threatened to blowout Michigan early, but the Wolverines battled back to a 21-13 deficit at the break.

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead pulled out a wrinkle on the Nittany Lions’ second play from scrimmage, and it worked to perfection. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley shifted pre-snap, and Barkley took the direct snap and raced 69 yards untouched for a touchdown.

After forcing a three-and-out, Penn State moved 78 yards in four plays, keyed by a 35-yard rainbow heave from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki. Barkley scored his second touchdown of the first quarter one play later, a 15-yard burst around the right side. 

But Penn State’s offense stalled from there. The Lions’ next possession ended in a McSorley interception, and the possession after that was a three-and-out that lost nine yards. Penn State penetrated Michigan territory midway through the second quarter, but Barkley dropped a wheel route that would’ve put the Lions inside the red zone. Penn State turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

Meanwhile, Michigan turned McSorley’s interception into an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard Karan Higdon run on fourth-and-goal. Quinn Nordin missed the ensuing PAT.

After the turnover on downs, Michigan marched 67 yards on a series of John O’Korn plays — a 14-yard rush, an 18-yard strike to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and 23 yards to Kekoa CrawfordTy Isaac powered in from six yards out to pull the Wolverines within one with 1:45 to play before the half. 

Threatened for the first time of the evening, Penn State ended its streak of three straight unsuccessful drives with a 7-play, 75-yard march that consumed only 52 seconds. McSorley accounted for 68 yards on the drive, including a 3-yard rush to put the home team back up eight.

O’Korn closed the half hitting 7-of-9 passes for 63 yards, while a host of Wolverines runners combined to rush 22 times for 78 yards.

McSorley hit 10-of-18 passes for 159 yards with an interception with five carries for 26 yards and a score. Barkley rushed 11 times for 109 yards and two scores, while DaeSean Hamilton caught three passes for 69 yards.

Michigan will receive to open the second half.

Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden apologizes for flipping off Alabama fans

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It would take someone in need of Mr. Magoo-level corrective lenses to not see this one coming.

As you no doubt know by now, Alabama took Tennessee to the woodshed Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa.  The Vols did save a slight sliver of their collective manhood as they scored a touchdown for the first time since the second quarter of the Sept. 23 win over previously winless UMass, a span that stretched nearly 13 full quarters of playing time.

In the aftermath of that defensive touchdown, however, defensive back Rashaan Gaulden decided to offer up a double-digit, middle-finger salute to the Crimson Tide student section that resulted in a 15-yard penalty.  In the aftermath of that gesture, Gaulden offered up an apology.

“I would like to issue an apology to the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama for my gesture after the pick-six by (Daniel) Bituli,” Gaulden said. “That remark that I showed was very out of character. That’s not how my parents raised me. That’s not how a leader of the team should show their emotions on the field.

“I really, sincerely apologize to the student section at Alabama for disrespecting them.”

Beleaguered head coach Butch Jones, who is likely out at some point after the end of the regular season if not sooner, certainly didn’t need something like this shedding even more negative light on his flailing football program.  Jones stated that any punishment meted out to Gaulden will be handled internally.

“That’s something that will be dealt with internally in our football program, but that’s not who we are, that’s not what we’re about,” Jones said. “But, he knew that. We spoke about it, and he feels awful about it. It’s one of those things of overall just being a mature football team. But, again, that’s something that we don’t accept in this program and he understands that.”

Since we here, we’ll go ahead and offer this up as the current state of the once-proud UT football program.

Late heroics save No. 9 Oklahoma on the road at Kansas State after wild second half

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Just before the end of the first half, everybody was wondering if Baker Mayfield was 100 percent healthy. Just before the end of the second half, it became pretty clear he was doing just fine. The Sooners’ star quarterback was dazzling once again to power a last minute comeback on the road, leading No. 9 Oklahoma to a 42-35 win against a pesky Kansas State squad that was looking to pull an upset before some late heroics on the final drive.

The signal-caller appeared to get injured during a scramble late in the second quarter and was taken out in the red zone on the ensuing possession, used only as a decoy on a few wildcat snaps. As it turned out, that seemed to be a coaching strategy as OU rotated in backup Kyler Murray several times on ensuing possessions. Mayfield eventually wound up with an efficient 32-of-41 for 410 yards and two touchdowns passing while rushing for two scores and 69 yards as well.

Most importantly, he also got the win after perfectly executing a two minute drive that led to tailback Rodney Anderson (147 yards, two scores) hitting the corner for the game-winning touchdown.

That was all despite the best efforts of his counterpart Alex Delton, who was making just his second start behind center for the Wildcats. While he was solid as a passer (144 yards, one TD, one interception), the dual-threat was incredible on the ground and ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns. That led to quite the combination in the backfield as Alex Barnes managed 108 yards — 75 of which came on a touchdown run on the second snap of the game.

The close victory on the road keeps Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff race, even if the effort was less than impressive given the early struggles. The meeting between the youngest and oldest coaches in FBS proved to be quite the thriller in the end too, as Lincoln Riley claimed the ‘W’ over the Wizard himself Bill Snyder in what will surely be a memorable game for both sides.