Bill O'Brien

O’Brien: restoring of scholarships ‘tremendous news’

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While all of the sanctions levied on the Penn State weren’t rolled back Tuesday, the one that most harshly penalized the football program was, at least partially.

As you have no doubt heard by now, the NCAA announced today that the scholarship penalties against Penn State have been reduced, with an additional five scholarships added back next year and increasing by five each of the two years after that.  It will allow the Nittany Lions to reach the full complement of 85 scholarship players in 2016; under the original sanctions, PSU would’ve been limited to 15 new scholarships offered through 2016, with the 85-man limit unreachable until at least 2018.

It was a monumental day for the Penn State football program; for a handful of student-athletes who will now enjoy the benefits of a free college education that would have otherwise been unavailable at Penn State; and for head coach Bill O’Brien, who has maintained his allegiance to the Nittany Lions despite the crippling sanctions and significant offseason overtures from the NFL.

Suffice to say, O’Brien was overjoyed upon learning of the easing of sanctions this morning.

“Today’s announcement by the NCAA is tremendous news,” O’Brien said in a statement. “As a staff, we are especially pleased for our players, who have proven themselves to be a resilient a group of young men. Penn State has long been known for graduating its student-athletes and providing them with a world-class education. The scholarship additions will allow us to provide more student-athletes with a tremendous opportunity to earn that degree and play football for Penn State.”

The NCAA announced the sanctions against Penn State in July of 2012, a little over six months after O’Brien had been hired to replace the legendary Joe Paterno.  There has been legitimate concern both inside and outside of Happy Valley that the sanctions might cause O’Brien to look for a job elsewhere, a place where both his recruiting hands weren’t tied behind his back.

In late December of last year and early January of this year, O’Brien interviewed for head coaching vacancies with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns.  While O’Brien stated that money was not a factor in his decision to stay at Penn State, he reached an agreement on an amended contract in July that increased his pay by nearly $1 million annually.

After his flirtation with the NFL — O’Brien claimed he was not offered either job — the coach stated that “I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that’s what I am going to do. I’m not gonna cut and run after one year.

The fact that the scholarship sanctions were reduced will go a long way in ensuring that O’Brien doesn’t cut and run after two years… or three years… or four years, and so on.  While O’Brien viewed the development as “tremendous news” for his players, it’s also a huge win for a university doing everything in its power to fend off overtures to their head football coach and keep him on the Beaver Stadium sidelines.

“I am very happy for Coach O’Brien, the football coaches and staff and the players; especially pleased for our current and future student-athletes, who are the most important reason why we love working in intercollegiate athletics,” athletic director Dave Joyner stated. “We will continue to work hard within the Athletics Integrity Agreement to fully comply and to achieve excellence in everything we do at Penn State.

Two Power Five teams among handful of FBS schools to express interest in ex-Gator Treon Harris

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 14:  Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators drops back to pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Less than a week after he left his first college football home, teams are lining up to inquire about being Treon Harris‘ second.  Reportedly.

According to 247Sports.com, at least nine FBS programs have either spoken to Harris’ family or “have interest and have requested Harris’ release so they have the option to make contact.”  Two included in the latter group are Power Five teams — Kansas and Minnesota.

Other FBS teams in that second group also include Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Eastern Michigan and SMU.  Georgia State, Southern Miss and Texas State have all reportedly made contact with Harris and his family.

Additionally, a handful of FCS programs have been in contact.

Should Harris move on to another FBS program, he would be forced to sit out the 2016 season, but would then have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017.  A move to the FCS would give him immediate eligibility in 2o16.

Monday, Florida confirmed that Harris had decided to transfer out of the Gators football program.  There was no specific reason given for the departure, although the announcement came less than a week after Jim McElwain confirmed that Harris would be moved from quarterback to wide receiver.

At his press conference prior to the start of spring practice, McElwain acknowledged that a pair of his players, Harris and wide receiver Antonio Callaway, haven’t been a part of the Florida football team since January.

And that’s without even mentioning Harris’ in-season issue in 2014 that was ultimately resolved a week later.

Harris started the 2015 season opener, but gave way to Will Grier — with a suspension thrown in for good measure — until Grier was himself suspended in October for the remainder of the season.  The true sophomore then started the last eight games of the year, with the Gators going 4-4 in that span.  Included in that stretch were three losses to close out the year by an average of nearly 25 points per game, with Harris completing under 44 percent of his passes (36-83) and directing the offense to a combined 24 points.

A four-star member of the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class, Harris was rated as the No. 18 player at any position in the state of Florida and the No. 123 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.

FSU, WVU closing in on agreement to open 2020 season in Atlanta

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State Seminoles is greeted by the Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, before taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida State defeated West Virginia 33-21 in Bobby Bowden's last game as a head coach for the Seminoles.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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Jimbo Fisher‘s native and adopted states could soon be crossing paths on the gridiron, this time in the regular season.

Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail was the first to report that West Virginia and Florida State are in talks for a game that would open the 2020 season, and that the two sides were close to finishing the deal.  ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy subsequently confirmed that report.

The game, which would be the latest iteration in the long-running Chick-fil-A Kickoff series, would be played Sept. 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The football programs have met three times previously, with all three coming in the Gator Bowl.   As WVU was in the process of moving from the Big East to the Big 12 in February of 2012, it cancelled a 2012-13 home-and-home series with the Seminoles.

The final of what was a trio of FSU wins over WVU came in the last game for Bobby Bowden, the legendary head coach of the Seminoles who coached the Mountaineers for six seasons before leaving for Tallahassee.

Bowden’s successor at FSU, Fisher, is a native of Clarksburg, WV.

Justin Timberlake, Larry the Cable Guy stump for Big 12 candidacies of Memphis, UCF

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 07:  Actor/singer Justin Timberlake watches the game between the Memphis Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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As you no doubt know by now, the Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand.  Wednesday night, a pair of entertainment heavyweights threw their celebrity behind two of the potential candidates.

A handful of teams have been mentioned as possibilities, from Houston to UConn to USF to BYU to Tulane to East Carolina to Cincinnati to Colorado State to Boise State.  Additionally, Memphis and UCF have been heavily speculated on for months, and they’re the two programs that have seen Memphis native Justin Timberlake and Nebraska fan Larry the Cable Guy, respectively, stumping for them within a couple of hours of each other.

It’s highly, highly doubtful that the celebrities throwing their support behind their favorites will have any impact whatsoever on the process or the Big 12’s ultimate decision. Still, it certainly can’t hurt in the court of public opinion.

Video purports to show part of brawl involving Wazzu football players

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  A Washington State Cougars helmet showing the initials of Pat Tillman next to the American flag during the Arizona State Sun Devils against Washington State Cougars Pac-10 game at Sun Devil Stadium/Frank Kush Field on November 13, 2004 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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A situation that began to grow legs earlier this week now has some video evidence to prop it up.  Purportedly.

Monday, reports surfaced that a group of Washington State football players triggered a brawl at a backyard party in Pullman early Saturday morning.  The players allegedly threw fireworks at attendees, which twice led to a request by the house’s residents to leave.  A third request saw the verbal engagement escalate into a physical confrontation on the part of the players, with one of the residents being knocked unconscious for 10 minutes and another sustaining a broken jaw that’s going to require reconstructive surgery.

The names of the Cougars reportedly involved have not been divulged.

A police investigation into the situation is ongoing, and felony charges against those involved are possible.  One snippet that will be of interest to those investigating the brawl was obtained and posted by Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Head coach Mike Leach has yet to comment publicly on the incident, although athletic director Bill Moos released the following statement:

In regards to the events that took place over the past weekend, the university was made aware of the situation shortly after the incident occurred. It is our understanding there is a thorough investigation underway by local law enforcement and we will cooperate fully as we take these matters seriously. In addition, facts are being gathered within the athletic department in order to provide assistance. We have high expectations for the conduct of WSU student-athletes, and treat any alleged allegations with the utmost transparency. The WSU athletic staff is in constant communication with the Office of the President and the Office of Student Life to ensure that university leadership is aware of the continuing investigation by local law enforcement. We will refrain from further comment until the findings of the investigation are complete.