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.

Penn State, Auburn agree to home-and-home series in 2021, 2022

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1:  Quarterback Zack Mills #7 of the Pennsylvania State University Lions runs with the ball while defended by defensive tackle Spencer Johnson #53 of the Auburn University Tigers during the Capital One Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on January 1, 2003 in Orlando, Florida.  Auburn defeated Penn State 13-9.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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In Auburn’s 113-year history, it’s never played a Big Ten opponent in a regular season game. That’ll change in five years.

Penn State and Auburn announced Monday morning a home-and-home series to take place in 2021 and 2022. The first game will be played in State College on Sept. 18, 2021 and the return will take place at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 17, 2022.

“This is another great opportunity for our players and fans to be part of something special,” Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said. “Bringing together elite programs rich in tradition is what college football is all about. We look forward to this home-and-home series with Penn State.”

Making matters betters is the home-and-home nature of this series, instead of playing it as a neutral site one-off to begin a season. Those games are fun (and, far more importantly, generate a ton of revenue) but having Penn State travel to Alabama and Tigers fans going to State College is a far better experience for traveling fanbases.

Auburn and Penn State have met twice before in bowl games, with the most recent meeting a 13-9 Tigers win in the 2003 Capital One Bowl.

Penn State also added a 2021 home game against Ball State on Monday, per ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Notre Dame WR Torii Hunter will still play football after signing with Los Angeles Angels

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass and is tackled by Avery Williams #2 of the Temple Owls on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame rising redshirt junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr.‘s status with Brian Kelly’s football team won’t change after he signed with the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend.

Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver after catching 28 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns last year. But even though he now has a professional baseball contract, his focus will remain on football and the beginning of preseason camp in August.

Hunter, the son of former Minnesota Twins, Angels and Detroit Tigers All-Star/Gold Glover Torii Hunter Sr., was a 23rd-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft.

Thankful that they were there to experience this with me yesterday! I’m officially an Angel!✊🏾👼🏾

A photo posted by Torii Hunter Jr. (@thunterjr_) on Jun 26, 2016 at 4:27pm PDT

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Hunter, an outfielder, was primarily used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement for Mik Aoki’s Irish baseball team this spring. He worked a crazy schedule (“what is sleep?” he asked) to split time between baseball, spring football and classwork in March and April and hit .182/.308/.182 in 11 at-bats.

Hunter’s baseball highlight came at Florida State, though, a few days after he made a spectacular catch reeling in a Malik Zaire deep ball in Notre Dame’s Blue and Gold Game.

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Justin Thomas-Thornton tweets decision to transfer from Auburn

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 22: Auburn Tigers mascot Aubie greets fans during Auburn's Tiger Walk prior to their game against the Samford Bulldogs on November 22, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Auburn could be the beneficiary of an offensive transfer in the not-too-distant future, but the football program has apparently sustained a loss on the other side of the ball.

In a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account Sunday, Justin Thomas-Thornton revealed that he will be “pursuing my collegiate football and academic endeavors elsewhere.”  The defensive lineman gave no reason for his decision to leave The Plains.

Thomas-Thornton, a four-star 2014 signee, played in the 2015 opener against Louisville, but didn’t see any other action the remainder of the year.

If Thomas-Thornton opts for another FBS program, he will be forced to sit out the 2016 season. He’d then be left with two seasons of eligibility that he’d be able to use beginning in 2017.

WR Alvin Bailey opts to leave Florida, transfer from Gators

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Alvin Bailey #89 of the Florida Gators carries as Ocie Rose #1 of the Florida Atlantic Owls defends during the first half of the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Finally, a personnel attrition post on this late-June Sunday that doesn’t involve Baylor.

In mid-May, wide receiver Ryan Sousa announced via Twitter that he had decided to transfer out of the Florida football program, and ultimately landed at FCS Southern Illinois.  A little over six weeks later, a fellow Gator receiver has apparently made a similar decision, with Scout.com reporting that Alvin Bailey will leave Jim McElwain‘s squad.

No reason was given for the receiver’s decision, although the recruiting website has an idea as to why.

The Gators added five receivers in the 2016 recruiting class, three of which were on campus in the spring. Junior college transfer Dre Massey seemed to pull ahead of Bailey in the month long practices held between March and April.

The school has declined to address Bailey’s status with the football program.

Bailey was a four-star member of UF’s 2013 recruiting class, rated as the No. 22 receiver in the country.  The production never quite matched the recruiting pedigree, though, with Bailey catching three passes for 49 years in his career in Gainesville.  All of those stats came during the 2015 season.