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.

Jeremy Smith’s dad says RB son transferring from Louisville

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A lost 2017 season for Jeremy Smith has morphed into a departure for the player.

The father of the running back confirmed to the Louisville Courier Journal Monday night that his son has been granted a release from his Louisville scholarship. A school official subsequently confirmed Smith’s departure as well.

The senior will be leaving the football program as a graduate of the university, giving him the ability to use his final season of eligibility immediately in 2018.

Smith came to the Cardinals from the junior college ranks as a member of their 2015 recruiting class.  After rushing for 270 yards his first year, he ran for 382 (on 57 carries) in 2016.  That latter season, his eight rushing touchdowns were second on the team to Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson‘s 21.

Entering the 2017 season as the Cardinals’ top returning back, Smith suffered a foot injury during practice between the first two games of the year that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.  That injury limited him to just eight yards on five carries.

Jerry Kill to make health-related decision on future as Rutgers’ OC

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Once again, Jerry Kill‘s health could force him to step away from the game.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, nj.com is reporting that the Rutgers’ offensive coordinator “is evaluating his options and is expected to make a health-related decision in the coming days” on his coaching future. The 56-year-old Kill was hospitalized in September of this year after suffering what was described as a minor seizure related to his ongoing battle with epilepsy, although he returned to his coaching duties shortly thereafter.

Ahead of an official decision, the website added, head coach Chris Ash has been informing prospects on the recruiting trail of the possibility that Kill might not be with the Scarlet Knights because of the issues that stretch back years.

In October of 2015, Kill was forced to step down as Minnesota’s head football coach because of health issues related to ongoing epileptic seizures.  Prior to joining the Rutgers staff, Kill spent the 2016 season in a non-coaching role at Kansas State.

In the year prior to Kill’s arrival, RU was 127th nationally in points per game (15.7) and 18th in total offense (283 yards per games).  In Kill’s first season in 2017, they were 121st in the former category (18 ppg) and 129th in the latter (263 ypg).

Nebraska’s Scott Frost confirms he will indeed coach UCF in bowl game

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After a little uncertainty, Scott Frost will indeed finish what he started this season.

After Frost led them to a perfect regular season and AAC championship, UCF earned the Group of Five’s bid to a New Year’s Six Bowl. In between the title win and bowl announcement, however, Frost was hired as the head coach at Nebraska. At the time, all of the sides involved indicated that Frost and his coaching staff, all of whom are following him to Lincoln, would be coaching the Knights in that bowl game.

As recently as late last week, however, there was some uncertainty as to whether Frost would actually lead UCF in the New Year’s Day Peach Bowl matchup with Auburn.  Tuesday, though, Frost was back at UCF with his undefeated Knights team and confirmed that he will coach them one last time, calling it “an honor” to do so.

“There’s some unusual circumstances but we’re gonna handle this as we would any bowl game of this type,” Frost said according to the Omaha World-Herald. “Our staff is completely committed and we’re going to do everything we can for this football team. …

“It’s an honor to be invited to this game. These players have poured their hearts out to accomplish a lot this year. There’s been a lot of circumstances swirling around this season and that’s been tough to navigate but they’ve been great with that. I’m grateful we have a chance to give them their best possible chance to put on the best show in Atlanta and win a football game.”

Frost had been on the road recruiting for his new team before returning to Orlando Monday night.  He and his assistants will remain there through Thursday as they continue preparing for the bowl game, then will continue recruiting duties for the Cornhuskers right up until the dead period starts Dec. 17 while continuing prep work for the Knights’ postseason.

Unlike in any other year, there’s an early signing period that starts on Dec. 20 and goes for 72 hours.  After that early signing period ends, there’ll be just a week or so left until Frost takes the field one last time as the Knights’ head coach.

Sonny Dykes to coach new team, SMU, in bowl game vs. old team, Louisiana Tech

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This is something you don’t see every day, in a couple of ways.

Monday night, SMU confirmed reports that had surfaced earlier in the day that Sonny Dykes has been named as the Mustangs’ new head football coach.  Dykes replaces Chad Morris, who left for the same job at Arkansas late last week.

At an introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon, Dykes’ new boss, athletic director Rick Hart, revealed that the new coach will get to work immediately as he will coach the Mustangs in their bowl game Dec. 20.  Dykes will immediately begin assembling his coaching staff to help in preparation for the Frisco Bowl.

And SMU’s opponent in the Frisco Bowl?  Louisiana Tech, which Dykes was the head coach of from 2010-12.  After going 22-15 in three years at Tech, he left for the same job at Cal in December of 2012.  He went 19-30 with the Bears before being fired after his fourth season in 2016.