More accusations leveled against Auburn’s football program

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Over two years after Gene Chizik, Cam Newton, et al hoisted the crystal football, allegations of misconduct continue to dog the Auburn football program.

According to a report titled “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory” from former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts on her new website Roopstigo.com, Chizik and/or his coaching staff — and/or his predecessors — were responsible for multiple violations of NCAA bylaws including impermissible benefits and academic fraud.

The story ostensibly centers on former Tigers defensive back Mike McNeil, one of four ex-AU football players charged with armed robbery in March of 2011.  McNeil was one of a handful of former players quoted on the record for Roberts’ piece, a group that included wide receiver Darvin Adams, defensive end Mike Blanc, defensive end Antoine Carter and defensive back Neiko Thorpe.  Other unnamed sources were utilized in the story, on which AU officials have thus far declined to comment.

McNeil, who’s scheduled to go on trial later this month and faces 21 years to life in prison if convicted, leveled most but not all of the accusations included in the article.  Some of those include:

— After being rebuffed by his computer science instructor and that instructor’s supervisor in an attempt to get a grade changed, McNeil claims he went to an athletic department counselor with his problem. “Within days… the grade was changed from an F to a C and he did not miss a game,” Roberts wrote.  Additionally, three of the players claimed that nine players, including star running back Michael Dyer, should not have played in the BCS championship game against Oregon in January of 2011 because they were academically ineligible. “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” Blanc was quoted as saying.

— Adams, who set an SEC championship game record with 217 receiving yards that sent the Tigers to the BCS title game, claimed that he was offered financial incentives — McNeil and Blanc claimed it was several thousands of dollars —  by the AU coaching staff to return to the Tigers for the 2011 season.  Instead, Adams turned pro early and went undrafted.

— Following “a difficult day at practice in 2007,” McNeil claims that then-defensive coordinator and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp handed him $400 in cash and asked, “is this enough?  Is this good?”  Through a UF spokesperson, Muschamp, who left AU for Texas following that season, denied such a payment was made.

— McNeil claimed that he was given $500 to host 2008 recruit and eventual 2009 Alabama signee Dre Kirkpatrick — the NCAA limit is $50. “If I’m a star player and I’m a likable person, and a recruit comes in at my position, then, of course, I’m going to take him under my wing,” McNeil said in the article. “If a star recruit was in town, you would get a lot more than the NCAA limit.”

In addition to no reaction from the university, neither Chizik nor his agent have been available for comment, although one of the most-quoted players in the piece offered up this curious reaction via Twitter once the story went viral.

“Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad,” Blanc tweeted this evening.

Roberts’ blockbuster is the latest in a long line of accusations leveled against the AU football program that stretch back to months before their 2010 BCS title.

The most publicized scrutiny involved the recruitment of Newton, the Heisman-winning quarterback who left The Plains after one title-winning season for the NFL.  The NCAA investigated the allegations — that Newton’s services could be obtained during the recruiting process for a substantial financial “donation” to the player’s father — and ultimately determined that no violations had occurred.

Interestingly, there was no mention of Newton in Roberts’ report that focused primarily on that championship season.

In addition to the Newton imbroglio, the AU football program has been investigated over the past two years by the NCAA regarding its recruiting practices… allegations made by four former players on an HBO showTiger ProwlJovon Robinsontwo now-former ace recruiters and their recruitment of Robinson… and that’s about all for now as you get the point.

The NCAA has yet to respond to requests for comment, although they understandably have more pressing issues on their collective plates.

UPDATED 9:21 p.m. ET: In a pair of tweets posted to his Twitter account, Neiko Thorpe claims that he was misquoted by Roberts in her story.

“While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike I have just read her article & not only am I misquoted but my words are very out of context. We didn’t talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I’m proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me.”

For her part, Roberts stands by her reporting, including the on-the-record quotes attributed to the former players.

QB controversy in Tuscaloosa? Freshman Tua Tagovailoa impresses at Alabama spring game

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Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game took place at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday and those tuning in to the Crimson team’s last minute 27-24 win over the White team had to be especially impressed with the Tide’s explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

In particular that comes at the quarterback position, where there might be more of a controversy at the spot than first thought. Incumbent Jalen Hurts was very sharp on his downfield passes but his strong outing (301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was overshadowed by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who simply stole the show down in Tuscaloosa.

The early enrollee signal-caller from Hawaii jumped onto the scene in the first half of the game and wound up completing 17 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while working with both the first- and second-team offenses. You could normally dismiss numbers put up against a team’s second-string defense, this is Alabama we’re talking about so you know it’s coming against numerous future All-SEC players.

Tagovailoa did throw a pick-six in the second quarter but that was mostly because linebacker Terrell Hall made an unbelievable play on a swing pass to snatch the ball out of the air and run it all the way back to the opposite end zone. Freshman tailback Najee Harris (70 yards rushing) as well as stud wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy (134 yards, two scores) also stood out on Saturday.

In all, offense ruled the day as the two quarterbacks combined for over 600 yards through the air. That probably won’t make reviewing film with Nick Saban all that pleasant for members of the secondary next week but was probably good news to most fans after lackluster performances down the stretch to end last season.

Either way, everybody should probably start brushing up on how to pronounce Tagovailoa even if he doesn’t ultimately unseat Hurts as the starter because the young QB has lived up to the early billing by recruiting analysts.

Baylor freshman tailback Abram Smith out for the season with spring ACL tear

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Baylor kicked off the first spring game of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday and wrapped things up with a 65-39 Gold team victory over the Green squad that included a pretty impressive touchdown catch from former basketball player Ish Wainright.

The news wasn’t all rosy in Waco however as after the game Rhule announced that freshman running back Abram Smith would be lost for the 2017 season after suffering an ACL tear in the Bears’ first spring practice.

Smith wasn’t being counted on as being a starter this season but his loss is a fairly big blow to the team’s depth at the position. Returnees JaMycal Hasty and Terence Williams already missed parts of the spring game due to injuries on Saturday, leaving just senior Wyatt Schrepfer to take most of the carries late in the contest.

All three figure to be good to go by the time fall camp rolls around but there’s not much behind them with Smith being lost for the year. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, the early enrollee likely would have seen some snaps in 2017 but will instead have to spend it redshirting on the bench.

Brian Kelly takes the blame for Notre Dame’s struggles last season

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Notre Dame wrapped up spring football with the Irish’s annual spring game on NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and front and center was not surprisingly head coach Brian Kelly.

While fans of the team were probably most interested in how quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked, Kelly did go into detail about what the offseason has been like after last year’s disappointing 4-8 campaign. While the coach has been known to be a bit defensive when it comes to the team’s struggles, he did open up during a sit-down interview and was transparent in taking the blame for the way 2016 went.

“When you have a losing season, you have to look at yourself first,” Kelly told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth. “I’ve always felt like there isn’t a bad football team but there is bad leadership and I don’t think I provided the kind of leadership (last year). It starts with yourself.”

Kelly goes on to discuss the significant changes to the Irish coaching staff, how this team is very much a work in progress and how Wimbush is handling taking over as the starting signal-caller.

The Gold team ended up winning the spring game 27-14 over the Blue team behind a strong defensive performance. If Saturday’s outing was any indication, Notre Dame should be much improved this upcoming season and that seems to start from the top on down.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.