Bill O'Brien

NCAA to reduce scholarship sanctions on Penn State

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Penn State’s — and state lawmakers’ — prolonged fight with the NCAA over historic sanctions levied on the football program is about to bear some fruit.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that, “[d]ue to Penn State University’s continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity,” its executive committee has agreed to gradually restore scholarships the football program had lost in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The move to restore scholarships, arguably the most crippling of the sanctions, was based on a recommendation by George Mitchell, who had been hired by the NCAA as an independent “integrity monitor.”.

The original sanctions called for a cap of 15 scholarships beginning in 2013 and running through 2016; the NCAA limit at the FBS level is 15.  Additionally, whereas FBS programs are permitted 85 scholarship players, the Nittany Lions would be allowed just 65.

The new directive from the NCAA, however, will allow Penn State to increase by five its scholarships in 2014, increasing to the full allotment of 25 the following year.  The program will be back up to its full allotment of 85 scholarship players beginning in 2016 — at least two full years ahead of what the original sanctions had called for — after moving to 75 in 2014 and 80 in 2015.

“The decision is the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure we reached the most appropriate outcome,” said Rita Hartung Cheng, who chaired the recent Executive Committee meetings regarding Senator Mitchell’s annual report and chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “During our discussions, we had the benefit of engaging with Senator Mitchell’s expert perspective and the views of our Big Ten colleagues.”

Other sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine, remain in place, although the press release stated that the NCAA “may consider additional mitigation of the postseason ban in the future depending upon Penn State’s continued progress.”

Even if the bowl ban remains in place, the restoring of scholarships is by far the biggest win for the football program in general and head coach Bill O’Brien specifically.  That specific sanction has crippled O’Brien and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail; the additional scholarships will now allow the program to make bigger inroads in the recruiting game, the lifeblood of any program, and begin scaling back its “run-on” program beginning as early as this recruiting cycle.

O’Brien has been a big part of the progress over the past couple of years as Penn State continues to climb out of the hole created by the Sandusky scandal.  That progress was noted by embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert.

“The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said Emmert in a statement. “The Executive Committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress.”

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett was happy with the NCAA’s decision.

“I am pleased that the NCAA is recognizing the important changes and reforms that the university has undertaken and will continue to make moving forward,” he said.

Former Michigan WR, Notre Dame DB move on to JUCOs

MORTON GROVE, IL - JANUARY 23: A U-Haul truck sits in front of a U-Haul store January 23, 2003 in Morton Grove, Illinois. Reno, Nevada-based U-Haul Co. is discussing debt restructuring. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
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Two former members of Power Five football programs have decided to slide far down the college football ladder in restarting their respective careers.

According to 247Sports.com, Cole is on the campus of East Mississippi Community College and will play for the JUCO team in 2016.  The report comes nearly four months after it was reported that Cole had decided to transfer from Michigan to Kentucky.

The recruiting website writes that UK “is a school Cole continues to consider.”

Cole was a highly sought after four-star 2015 recruit who was an early enrollee in Jim Harbaugh‘s first UM class.  The No. 74 player nationally on 247Sports.com‘s composite board, Cole was also the No. 1-rated player at any position in the state of Michigan.  He played in two games at receiver with the Wolverines; he’ll move to safety with his new program.

Speaking of defensive backs, former Notre Dame safety Mykelti Williams has also decided to go the JUCO route.  It was confirmed in March of this year that Williams had decided to leave the Irish and transfer elsewhere.

As it turns out, that elsewhere is Iowa Western.

Williams was a three-star member of the Irish’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 29 safety in the country; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Indiana; and the No. 464 player overall according to 247Sports.com. The 5-11, 200-pound defensive back chose Notre Dame over offers from, among others, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin.

He took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

Transferring Utah DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu visits Alabama, too

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu
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Earlier this month, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu made the decision to transfer from Utah. Over the weekend, the defensive lineman paid a visit to Nebraska as he began the process of finding a new college football home.

Earlier this week, Tu’ikolovatu continued that process at the defending national champions.

According to the defensive tackle’s Twitter account, Tu’ikolovatu paid a visit to Alabama on Monday. While the Tide, as always, remains loaded along the line even after losing so much to the NFL draft, they could certainly use someone with the talent — and size — the 6-1, 320-pound Tu’ikolovatu possesses if the player and team find common ground.

Last season with the Utes, Tu’ikolovatu played in all 13 games, starting two of those contests. His four fumble recoveries were tied for the lead in the Pac-12 and second nationally.

All told, Tu’ikolovatu played in 25 games the past two seasons. As a graduate transfer, he’d be eligible to play immediately in 2016 whether he moves on to Alabama, Nebraska or any other FBS program.

The 2016 season will, though, be his final year of eligibility.

Tim Irvin takes to Twitter to announce transfer from Auburn

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Eli Jenkins #7 of the Jacksonville State Gamecocks spins to avoid a tackle by defensive back Tim Irvin #22 of the Auburn Tigers on September 12, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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After just one season on The Plains, Tim Irvin will be plying his football wares elsewhere moving forward.

On his personal Twitter account Tuesday, Irvin, the nephew of former Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys receiving great Michael Irvin, announced that “it will be better for me to pursue my career elsewhere.” The 5-9, 194-pound defensive back gave no reason for his decision.

The Miami, Fla., native was a four-star member of AU’s 2015 recruiting class. 247Sports.com had Irvin rated as the No. 38 player at any position in the state of Florida and the No. 285 player overall in its composite rankings.

As a true freshman last season, Irvin played in 10 games. He started at nickel corner in games in which the Tigers opened in the nickel package.

As for potential landing spots?  It’s being reported that East Carolina, Miami and Texas may be considerations.

Dede Westbrook, Sooners’ leading returning receiver, arrested Monday

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 19: Wide receiver Dede Westbrook #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners pulls down a pass as cornerback Brodrick Umblance #4 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defends September 19, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 52-38.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma has a huge season opener at a neutral field against Houston to kick off 2016 in a couple of months.  Whether their top returning threat in the receiving game is on the field remains to be seen.

According to multiple media outlets, Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook was arrested late Monday morning on a charge of criminal trespassing.  The arrest occurred in Westbrook’s hometown of Cameron, Tex.

No details of what led to the arrest have been released.  An OU spokesperson said in a statement that “[w]e’re aware of it and are addressing internally.”

With Sterling Shepard off to the NFL, Westbrook is OU’s leading returning receiver.

In his first season with the Sooners, Westbrook was second on the Sooners in receptions (46) and receiving yards (743).  His 16.2 yards per catch was tops on the team for those with 20 or more receptions, while his four receiving touchdowns were tied for third.

For that production, Westbrook was named the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year.