Big Ten coaches say they’re keeping distance from PSU players

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Many would probably agree that the most crippling sanction levied against Penn State by NCAA president Mark Emmert was the mass reduction of scholarships over the next four years.

The penalty is two-fold: a reduction of 10 initial scholarships for the 2013-16 signing classes and 20 total scholarships from 2014-17, giving the Nittany lions a 65-scholarship player cap.

It could take several years before Penn State is able to recover from that, and the NCAA did them one more by opening the transfer gates, allowing any player wishing to leave to do so without the slightest restriction based on conference, head coach or otherwise. On paper, that sounds like a good idea. Transfer restrictions can be, and often are, absurd. But the counter argument in favor of them has always been the free-for-all that would inevitably follow.

And what a free-for-all it’s been already.

CBSSportsBruce Feldman was first to report the free agent frenzy, and as of Wednesday, members of Illinois’ coaching staff were apparently hanging out in State College trying to grab a player or two*.

(*Illinois coach Tim Beckman denied coaches being present at PSU, however)

“We have chosen to stay at Penn State and opposing coaches are outside our apartment, was that the intention of the NCAA?” tweeted Penn State defensive back Adrian Amos

Embellished or not, there was a chaotic vibe coming out of Happy Valley.

Day 1 of Big Ten media days was more subdued. Partially because Nittany Lions running back Silas Redd wasn’t in attendance — he’s reportedly very close to signing with USC — and partially due to other Big Ten, coaches taking a by and large less-controversial approach when it comes to poaching from their fellow Big Ten member.

Bret Bielema (Wisconsin), Brady Hoke (Michigan), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Bo Pelini (Nebraska) and Kevin Wilson (Indiana) are among the coaches who said in one form or another that they would not actively pursue Penn State players.

“I made the decision as a head coach that we would not reach out to any Penn State players,” Bielema said. “One of the things that I’ve loved and appreciated about being in this conference is there is a genuine respect for everybody in our league. You are a Big Ten brethren.”

I have a problem with [recruiting Penn State’s players],” Meyer added. “I think if a player reaches out and says, ‘I’m outta here and I’m gone,’ a player has a right to do what he wants to do. But to go actively recruit, I have a problem with that.”

And, to be clear, that was the overall theme of coaches not wanting to get involved with Penn State: it would be the player, not the school, initiating the contact.

Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t.

I’m a firm believer in the power of the coaching fraternity, where coaches generally look out for one another. And no other coach needs support like Penn State’s Bill O’Brien.

At the same time, the NCAA has made it abundantly clear that coaches are allowed to pursue any kid from Penn State that they want provided they give proper notification. Beckman and Purdue’s Danny Hope seemed less reserved — and, perhaps, more honest — about the possibility of recruiting Penn State.

“The NCAA has established the rules and the guidelines and obviously because they’re strong from an ethics standpoint, and as long as we’re compliant, we’re going to exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our own football team,” Hope said.

And ethics be damned, Hope, along with any other coach seizing the opportunity, is doing the exact same thing Penn State players are allowed to do: look out for No. 1.

Saying otherwise is a PR move, and actually refraining from actively recruiting Penn State is the more humane course of action. But doing the right thing doesn’t equal wins, which is the most the most important metric for college football coaches. If a player can provide immediate assistance somewhere else, the natural reaction is to make it happen.

Funny how the NCAA thought Penn State was the school in need of a culture change.

WATCH: Ole Miss Baker Mayfields its flag on Mississippi State’s field

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Talk about adding insult to injury.

Heading into Week 13, three-loss Mississippi State, ranked 14th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings for whatever reason, was a 16-point favorite over Egg Bowl rival Ole Miss for Thursday night’s game in Starkville.  The loss of starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to a gruesome first-half injury all but sealed the Bulldogs’ fate; A.J. Brown‘s all-game production proved to be the dagger in sealing that fate, putting an exclamation point on the Rebels’ third win in the in-state rivalry the last four years.

As to how it all ties in to the lede?  The visiting Rebels decided to go all Baker Mayfield on Stark Vegas’ midfield after the win…

… not long after the same player who planted the flag hiked his leg like a dog, feigning urinating on the Davis Wade Stadium field.

There could very well be two different coaches in charge when the next Egg Bowl rolls around, but this will always be, regardless of who is on the sidelines, one of the most vitriolic rivalries in all of college sports.  Or sports, period.

A.J. Brown powers Ole Miss to Egg Bowl win over No. 15 Mississippi State

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No. 14 Mississippi State lost their quarterback, lost the game, lost the Egg Bowl trophy and lost a year’s worth of rivalry trash talk in one fell swoop on a chilly Thanksgiving evening at home. To add insult to injury, they lost all that at the hands of a Starkville native to boot as star receiver A.J. Brown powered Ole Miss to their sweetest victory of the year over their in-state rivals 31-28.

The Rebels needed just three plays and 39 seconds to open the scoring in what was perhaps the team’s best all-around game in several weeks, showing no signs of any tryptophan-induced sluggishness following a traditional turkey day meal. Brown finished the game with 167 yards receiving and a 77 yard touchdown to cap off a terrific return to his hometown in opposing colors, while tailback Jordan Wilkins also chipped in with another 110 yards and two scores on the ground to pace the offense.

The old Landshark defense also made an appearance, with the second worst team in all of FBS when it came to forcing turnovers managing to secure a whopping five turnovers and three sacks.

While the loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Bulldogs, most of the team’s attention was on their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. He entered the game on the verge of another 2,000 yard passing/1,000 yard rushing season but was tackled awkwardly on a three yard run early in the first quarter. Replays showed his ankle to be facing a much different direction than it should as part of a gruesome scene and the signal-caller was carted off to the team’s medical facilities shortly thereafter amid a raucous applause from fans on both sides.

Fitzgerald later returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates but it certainly appears that his promising season is over as Mississippi State turns their attention to a bowl game in the coming weeks.

Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Keytaon Thompson, who was much more of a threat with his legs than his arm until a few late drives. He finished the night with 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a team-high 121 yards rushing (with another score) in relief. Tailback Aeris Williams managed to rack up 82 yards and a score but faced a stacked line of scrimmage at every turn given the injury to his veteran teammate.

While the injury to Fitzgerald overshadowed the game, the backdrop of Ole Miss’ NCAA infractions case loomed large over the rivalry as much as the game itself. The two schools’ fan bases have been quite chippy and MSU linebacker Leo Lewis — a central figure in the case — was kept in check to the tune of two tackles and a half a sack as the Rebels didn’t attack him like some thought they would.

Perhaps more pressing to some Bulldogs fans is if that was the last Egg Bowl they would see with head coach Dan Mullen patrolling the sidelines. His name has been linked to openings at Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and others in the past few weeks and there is a growing expectation that the most successful coach in school history could have just donned the maroon and white for the final time in a loss.

That’s of no concern across the way as interim coach Matt Luke did a good job rallying the team to their sixth win of the season. The Rebels are not bowl eligible as part of self-imposed sanctions but the satisfaction of beating their rivals probably takes the sting out of that fact just a little bit, especially with a Starkville native like Brown leading the way on Thursday night.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

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The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

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LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.