Swarbrick addresses Te’o situation, but questions remain

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Or, rather, one very key question remains.

The sports news cycle exploded Wednesday evening with a Deadspin report alleging that the story surrounding the death of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o‘s girlfriend was in fact a lie allegedly perpetrated in part by the player.  Both the University and Te’o followed that up with separate statements that each came to the same conclusion — Te’o had been duped by and became the unwitting victim of an elaborate hoax.

At a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday, athletic director Jack Swarbrick continued that theme.  In opening remarks before taking questions from the assembled media, Swarbrick described Te’o as “the perfect mark,” saying that the Heisman finalist “was the victim of that hoax. … is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.”

Based on information relayed to him by Te’o as part of the school’s own initial look into the situation, Swarbrick stated that Te’o received a call in early December from a number associated with Lennay Kekua — the girlfriend who Te’o had proclaimed to be the love of his life — and with a voice on the other end of the line that sounded like that of Kekua claiming she had not in fact died three months earlier.  Three weeks later, on Dec. 26, Te’o took that information to the Irish coaching staff before it ultimately landed in the hands of a private investigation firm.

A report from that investigative firm was delivered to the University Jan. 4 — three days before the Irish played Alabama for the BCS championship — and forwarded to Te’o and his family. “It… is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke,” Swarbrick stated.

The hoax perpetrated by multiple unidentified individuals was so elaborate, Swarbrick explained, that there was even “a place to send flowers” after Kekua’s supposed death.

“There are a remarkable number of characters involved,” the AD explained. “We don’t know how many people they represent. There are male and female characters, brothers, cousins, mother, and we don’t know if it’s two people playing multiple characters or multiple people. But, again, it goes to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all the way through.”

Swarbrick at one point was on the verge of tears, pausing for several seconds to compose himself as he described the “tragedy” of “the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life.”  That specific exchange was the overriding takeaway from Swarbrick’s surreal press conference, one that shows, right or wrong, the athletic director is standing firmly behind Te’o’s version of what transpired over the past three years.

Despite Swarbrick’s staunch and eloquent and oft-times emotional support of Te’o, there was one nagging question that the AD simply couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.  What was the nature of Te’o’s supposed relationship with Kekua?

“What I will tell you, this was exclusively an online relationship,” Swarbrick said when asked to explain how the Te’o-Kekua pairing came to be.

That, though, doesn’t jibe with an Oct. 12, 2012 article from the South Bend Tribune — an article, incidentally, that was taken offline in the wake of the Deadspin story — that contained these quotes from Te’o’s father.

“They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o told the Tribune. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”

A short time later, Swarbrick was asked about when the relationship began and how they met.

“I don’t remember the exact length of time,” Swarbrick said, “but it had it began with an online reaching-out to him that he responded to.”

Again, that falls short of the narrative spun in the Tribune story, which focuses on Te’o and Kekua meeting after the Notre Dame-Stanford game in 2009.

Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.

Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.

Near the end of the press conference, a reporter again pressed Swarbrick on how the relationship between Te’o and Kekua had been portrayed, intimating that it was the player himself who led many to believe that the two had met in 2009 at Stanford.  Essentially, the whole “hoax” claim was again being called into question, and Swarbrick again danced around any type of in-person meeting between the couple.

Q: …I know there have been reports that Manti said he had an initial face to face meeting with his girlfriend at Stanford at some point. What’s going on with that?

JACK SWARBRICK: Again, I’ll let Manti provide the details, but as I said earlier in this press conference, when Manti took me through the entire story from start to finish, when he first described the contact, he used the verb met. For him, the fact that they connected online, that they met online, was consistent with using that verb. Not one that I might have chosen, but it was for him.

How stares get pleasantly tangled or handshakes get exchanged in an initial online connection is, at the moment, the great unknown and will take an explanation from the player himself to unravel that technological mystery.

Speaking of which, Swarbrick suggested during his press conference that Te’o could meet with the media as early as Thursday.  Whether any additional light will be shed on the bizarre situation, or whether Te’o will further bury himself in the court of public opinion, when that inquisition takes place remains to be seen.

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Auburn dismisses WR Kyle Davis

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Kyle Davis began the 2017 season in Gus Malzahn‘s doghouse.  Today, he’s been kicked out of the yard and to the curb.

Last week, Davis was a non-participant in practice and didn’t travel with his teammates for the Week 7 game against LSU.  Malzahn confirmed Tuesday that the wide receiver has been dismissed from his Tigers football program.

The only reason given was breaking unspecified team rules.

We wish him nothing but the best moving forward,” the head coach said in announcing the dismissal.

Davis and two other Tigers were suspended for the season opener against Georgia Southern for, again, breaking unspecified team rules.  Since returning, the sophomore has seven receptions for 210 yards.  His 30 yards per catch is tops on the team.

A four-star 2016 signee, Davis was rated as the No. 10 receiver in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Georgia.    As a true freshman, he caught 12 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.  He started one of those contests.

Mike Leach downplays rumors that have him following Bill Moos to Nebraska

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Sunday, it was confirmed that Bill Moos was leaving his job as athletic director at Washington State to take the same position at Nebraska.  It didn’t take long after the official announcement of the move for the speculation to commence.

A home loss to Northern Illinois was the football program’s first-ever to a MAC school and its first home loss to a Group of Five team since 2004, sparking talk as to how much longer Mike Riley could last as the Cornhuskers’ head coach.  Losses by a combined 63 points the last two weeks to Wisconsin and Ohio State did nothing to alleviate those concerns.

Enter Moos, whose last football hire at Wazzu has turned into a very significant upgrade for that program.  Taking over a team that won a combined nine games the four years before he was hired by Moos, Mike Leach guided the Cougars to 12 wins his first three years after being hired in 2012.  The past two seasons have turned into breakout ones of sort for the Cougars as they won nine games in 2015 (most since 2003) and eight in 2016.  They were off to a 6-0 start this season before Cal stunned them in Week 7.

Add Riley’s struggles to Leach’s successes and mix in Moos’ departure Pullman for Lincoln, and the recipe was there for Leach-to-‘Huskers talk.  Monday, the coach downplayed such a possibility.

“I don’t have any plans to do that and then they already have a head coach there and he’s a pretty good one, Mike Riley,” Leach said according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “Wish Bill the best and we just move forward.”

Leach did, though, have high praise for his now-former boss.  Extremely high praise.

“He’s the best AD that I’ve ever met,” Leach said. “Everything from active to retired to dead. Bill’s the best AD I’ve ever even met. …

“Bill’s a very honest, straightforward guy and he was a guy you could count on, who you knew had your best interest.”

Alabama settling in as five-touchdown favorite over Tennessee

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Five-touchdown, not five-point.  The Butch Jones Era, ladies and gentlemen.

In the wake of yet another crippling, emasculating loss for the Tennessee football program, Butch Jones again pulled fired up his verbal backhoe and further buried his coaching tenure on Rocky Top.  There’s little doubt Jones’ time as the Volunteers will expire at some point between now and shortly after the end of UT’s season; there’s exactly zero doubt that, outside of Knoxville — and probably inside, to be blunt — the perception of the program under Jones is at its lowest in decades.

The latest case in the latter point?  Wagering establishments.

Sunday afternoon, UT will enter the not-so-friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa for the 100th edition of its annual rivalry game against top-ranked Alabama.  Over the weekend, the Vols opened as anywhere from a 33- to 34.5-point undergo.  As we head toward midweek, it’s crept a bit upward according to Bovada.lv.

Bovada tells CFT that, over the last 31 years, the Vols have never been as large of an underdog as they are right now.  Prior to a 23-13 loss, they were 30- point underdogs to Florida in 2009.  In 2011 and 2013, they were 29- and 28-point underdogs, respectively, to Alabama.  They ended up losing both contests, 37-6 in the former and 45-10 in the latter.

In the previous 99 meetings between the rival programs, the Vols have lost by 35 or more points exactly four times. The first came in 1906 (51-0), the second in 1963 (35-0).  The last two times?  The 2013 game mentioned above and 2016 (49-10).

Ahead of last year’s game in Knoxville, the Crimson Tide was in the neighborhood of a seven-point favorite.

Cal loses leading tackler to season-ending injury

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Cal’s stunning upset in Week 7 came with a very steep price tag on the defensive side of the ball.

In the second half of Cal’s upending of then-No. 8 Washington State Friday night, Devante Downs went down with an unspecified injury.  Three days later, the football program confirmed that the inside linebacker would miss the remainder of the 2017 season because of it.

Other than lower body, the specific nature of the injury wasn’t detailed.

Regardless of what exactly is sidelining Downs, it’s a very significant blow to a Golden Bears defense that’s currently tied for 67th in scoring after finishing the past four seasons 125th, 123rd, 108th and 125th in the same category.

Through seven games, Downs is far and away Cal’s leading tackler with 65.  Next closest?  Ra Davison‘s 43.  He also leads the team in sacks (three), quarterback hits (four) and forced fumbles (two), while he’s tied for the lead in interceptions (two) and fumble recoveries (two).  The 5.5 tackles for loss for which he’s been credited are tied for second.