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Saban chides Tide fans who leave games early

Nick Saban AP

Memo to those members of Tide Nation attending football games at Bryant-Denny Stadium: Nick Saban has spoken. And, as evidenced by the photo directly to the right, he’s hoppin’ mad.

OK, maybe not hoppin’ mad in the literal sense, but somewhat irked nonetheless. Or mildly perturbed. One of the two.

In the fourth quarter of Alabama’s romp over Arkansas Saturday, the Tide’s home field looked like, well, The U’s home field as fans made an early exit with yet another victory firmly in hand.  A photo posted on Twitter by al.com‘s Michael Casagrande (@ByCasagrande) showed a whole helluva lot of fans dressed as empty seats in what was apparently an early mock run for some type of Halloween costume contest:

Tide Fans

That scene left an impression on Saban.  The coach, who has talked to his players about “playing for 60 minutes in the game and competing for 60 minutes in the game,” is of the impression that fans should do the same regardless of the score.

And if they’re not going to put in a full 60?

“Maybe if you’re not interested in doing that, you should let someone else go who would really like to go because I have a lot of people who want to go,” the coach said.

In fairness to the Tide’s rabid fan base, the home slate of the team they live and die for 24/7/365 hasn’t exactly been filled with either quality opposition or nail-biters.  Alabama has played four home games this season: Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State and Arkansas.  Exiting the third quarter of those games, the Tide has been up on the scoreboard by a combined score of 123-9.

Aside from pleasing the head coach, what’s the incentive for hanging around and witnessing additional carnage?

If nothing more, Saban says, stay for the kids.  Specifically, the recruits who are in attendance at the game and who may be swayed by the atmosphere — or lack thereof — in the stadiums they visit.

“We have lots of recruits there, we like to see an enthusiastic full stadium,” Saban said. “We have a beautiful stadium and one of the nicest venues in all of college football and I think we all should show our appreciation for it by staying and supporting our team for the whole game.”

And there you get to the root of Saban’s displeasure with those who bolt early.  Recruiting is the life-blood of every football program, and nobody does it better than Saban & Company.

Saban uses every advantage he can on the field; the same goes for the recruiting trail.  If the coach who’s won four BCS titles in his career sees something that could potentially harm what he continues to build in Tuscaloosa, he’s not going to sit on his hands and say nothing.

It’s up to the fans whether they want to heed the coach’s admonition.  And, in that same vein, up to the athletic director to get rid of the Colorado States and Georgia States on the home slate, too.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: No change in top four, but hello Boise State and Marshall!

Oklahoma State v Florida State Getty Images

The top of the latest College Football Playoff rankings look the same as they did a week ago, but this week’s rankings saw a significant development toward the bottom of the order.

Alabama remains on top of the playoff ranking, followed by Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State in that order. This is the same top four from last week. TCU remains sitting in fifth place, waiting for a shot to creep into the top four, just as it did last week.

Boise State and Marshall made their respective debuts in the playoff ranking this week, and this is notable. The highest-ranked conference champion from a non-power conference will be given a spot in an access bowl. If Boise State wins the Mountain West Conference, it will be difficult for Marshall to make up enough ground to pass the Broncos despite trailing Boise State by one in the rankings.

The Top Four

1. Alabama

2. Oregon

3. Florida State

4. Mississippi State

No change here, perhaps as expected. The question was whether or not the committee would drop Florida State after another close loss during a week that saw Mississippi State blow away Vanderbilt. This was not the case, although that precedent had already been set. The big question the next two weeks will be whether or not Mississippi State without a conference championship can stay ahead of a one-loss Big 12 and/or Big Ten champion.

Who Is On Deck?

5. TCU

6. Ohio State

7. Baylor

Ohio State remains one spot behind TCU, which means it looks like the Buckeyes could need a little help to move up two spots. The good news for Ohio State is the Buckeyes could have a Big Ten championship game match-up with a rising Wisconsin team to help push them up in the final rankings if things go Ohio State’s way. We also need to know when the committee might feel the time is right to move Baylor ahead of TCU with a head-to-head result in favor of the Bears.

The Full Ranking

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.39.15 PM

Some Quick Thoughts

We finally got a glimpse of the non-power conference representation in this week’s ranking, yet it does not come without some potential controversy. Boise State, if it wins out, would have a more impressive overall body of work compared to a potentially undefeated Marshall, but what about Colorado State? If Boise State slips, Marshall is set up to stay ahead of a one-loss Colorado State team at a late point in the season. The committee will have to hope Boise State runs the table, because Colorado State with one loss has an even stronger case than a two-loss Boise State does against an undefeated Marshall. Colorado State has two victories against power conferences away from home compared to zero for Marshall, and the Rams only lost one game, at Boise State.

At what point does the committee remember that Baylor beat TCU? It has to happen at some point, right? Although TCU’s non-conference drubbing of Minnesota clearly looks better now, and may be a key win to hold over Ohio State as well. TCU defeated Minnesota by a wider margin of victory compared to the Buckeyes.

Minnesota avoided being dropped from the committee’s top 25 last week despite losing, and a win against Nebraska helped move them up seven spots this week. This is great news for TCU and Ohio State.

Take a look at UCLA. The Bruins continue to wiggle up the rankings, and could still be within reach of making the top four with a little help. If UCLA wins this weekend against Stanford, the Bruins will play Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA has struggled to get over the hump to be an elite team in the Pac-12, but they seem to be surging at a very good time. It may be a lot of ground to make up in two weeks, but it is far from impossible.

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Maxwell Football Club award finalists include Mariota, Prescott, Gordon and Beasley

Dak Prescott

The Maxwell Football Club has announced the three finalists for each of its individual awards, the Maxwell Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon have been named finalists for the Maxwell Award. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III have been named finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award.

the Maxwell Award is presented to the top player in college football as determined by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel. The award does not always go to the player that wins the Heisman Trophy. Last year, for example, the Maxwell Award went to Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Mariota, Gordon and Prescott may be likely names to be heading to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation at the end of the season, but the odds may be good the Maxwell Award goes to another player. No Oregon or Mississippi State player has ever won the Maxwell Award, but Wisconsin has one. The last running back to iwn the award was Penn State’s Larry Johnson in 2002.

The Chuck Bednarik Award is in its 20th season and goes to the top defensive player as determined by the Maxwell Football Club and its voters. Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the award last season. Whichever player wins the award this year will be doing so for the first time in school history.

this year’s winners for each award will be announced on December 11 during The Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN. The awards will be formally presented in Atlantic City, New Jersey in March as part of the Maxwell Football Club’s Awards Gala.

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Doak Walker Award finalists filled by Big Ten trio

Melvin Gordon, Desmond King

The Big Ten has a handful of really good running backs, and it shows with the naming of the finalists for the Doak Walker Award. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman were each named finalists for the top running back award, filling all three finalist spots.

Gordon held the single-game rushing record for just one week, but his production this season has been steady. Gordon leads the nation in rushing with 2,109 rushing yards with one more regular season game to play and possibly two more if Wisconsin plays in the Big Ten Championship Game and Gordon plays in Wisconsin’s bowl game.

Abdullah is also one of the top running backs in the country, but he has been slowed by injuries at times. Abdullah is still on track for a possible 2,000-yard season with 20 rushing touchdowns with one regular season game left and a bowl game.

Indiana’s offense may have been a disappointment this season, but this does not apply for Coleman. Coleman is the nation’s second-leading rusher behind Gordon with 1,906 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Coleman has carried the Hoosiers offense for much of the season, and he has handled it well.

Wisconsin’s Montee Ball was the last Big Ten running back to win the Doak Walker Award, two seasons ago. As good of a running program Nebraska has been through the years, the Cornhuskers have never had a Doak Walker Award winner. Indiana is also looking for its first Doak Walker Award winner. Gordon looks to be the favorite in this pack though.

If Gordon wins the award, he will become the third Wisconsin running back to win the award. That total would also tie Texas for the most Doak Walker Award winners.

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FSU’s Aguayo highlights 2014 Lou Groza Award finalists

Roberto Aguayo

Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo has been named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. This should come as little surprise after the Seminoles kicker won the award in 2013 and has put together another dependable season kicking field goals and extra points for the defending national champions.

Maryland kicker Brad Craddock and West Virginia’s Josh Lambert join Aguayo as finalists for this year’s award for best kicker.

Aguayo is looking to become the second repeat winner of the Lou Groza Award. He would join another former Florida State kicker sharing that honor if he wins the award again. Sebastian Janikowski won the Lou Groza Award in 1998 and 1999. No other player has ever won the award multiple times.

Craddock is the only kicker in the country who has been perfect on all of his field goal attempts, and he has kicked a bunch of them. Craddock is a perfect 17-for-17 this season and the Australien kicker has shown great range at times as well.

No kicker in the country has kicked more field goals than Lambert though. The West Virginia kicker has kicked 24 of 32 kicks for the Mountaineers this season, and his 24 field goals made this season already surpasses the regular season high for kickers in the 2013 regular season.

All three finalists will be honored at a banquet on Tuesday, December 9 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The winner will be revealed during The Home DepotCollege Football Awards Show on Thursday, December 11 in Disney World.

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Auburn loses sacks leader for season before Iron Bowl

Auburn v Mississippi State Getty Images

If Auburn was hoping to find ways to bring down Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, the Tigers may have to look for someone else on the defensive line to step up. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday defensive end DaVonte Lambert will miss the Iron Bowl and Auburn’s bowl game after undergoing season-ending surgery on his left knee on Monday.

“That’s a big blow for us,” Malzahn said, per The Montgomery Advertiser. “We’re going to need some guys to step up.”

Lambert led the defense with 3.5 sacks this season. Montravius Adams and Angelo Blackson each have three sacks. Adams is also second on the team in tackles for loss, so he may be the most likely name to watch try and fill the void left by Lambert.

Lambert had been listed as the starting defensive end for Auburn on this week’s depth chart for the Alabama game. Sophomore Elijah Daniel (3.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks) is listed as his back-up.

“He’s a factor,” Malzahn said. “But we need some other guys to step up. Football’s a team game and when you’re playing against your rival, it’s got the ability to have guys step up and play better than they have all year, and that’s what we need.”

Getting sacks against Alabama is tough enough. The Crimson Tide have allowed just 10.0 sacks all season. Auburn has just 19.0 sacks this season as well. Losing one of their better sack specialists could be tough to overcome.

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Alabama and Florida State in mix for 2017 Atlanta game? Yes please

Boise State v Georgia Getty Images

Florida State and Alabama have met just four times dating back to 1965, although we could be heading to a postseason head-to-head clash between the Seminoles and Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff. We could also be on the verge of seeing the two southern powers collide in Atlanta to open the 2017 season, and that would be awesome.

The Palm Beach Post reports Alabama and Florida State are discussing a potential 2017 season opener in Atlanta, which would likely be a part of the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff. The game typically features a team from the SEC and the ACC often fills the other spot for the high-profile game. Alabama has been a frequent visitor to Atlanta for these games as well, so hearing about the possibility of the Tide once again playing in Atlanta to open the season is no shock.

According to the report, Alabama had also been in discussions about playing a game in 2017 with Penn State and USC, although the extent of those talks is unconfirmed. Penn State’s 2017 non-conference schedule is already filled, and USC has one spot to fill. The Trojans are also set to open the 2016 season against Alabama in Arlington.

By 2017, both the ACC and SEC will have a non-conference scheduling requirement in place that requires all conference members to schedule at least one game against another power conference opponent. Florida State has this requirement fulfilled by playing Florida each season. A game with Florida State would fulfill the requirement for Alabama in 2017.

Alabama leads the all-time series 2-1-1. The last time the teams played was in 2007 in another neutral site game in Jacksonville. Florida State won the September game, 21-14. Alabama has hosted the other three meeting in the series, winning two, between 1965 and 1974.

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Hugh Freeze to Florida? Rumor mill is turning out unlikely scenarios

Hugh Freeze

There is no question the Florida coaching vacancy that will soon officially become available will be one of the top landing spots for some coach in this season’s edition of the coaching carousel, and the rumor mill should be working at high speed in the coming weeks as Florida looks to find a replacement for outgoing Will Muschamp. One name that has been thrown out there in the coaching rumor mill already is Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

On the surface, it would seem to make sense Freeze would be on the list of potential targets for Florida, and why not? Freeze has shown signs of solid recruiting and development with the Ole Miss program in his short time in Oxford, and the Rebels looked to be one of the top teams in the country until the last few weeks. Despite a couple of losses in recent weeks, Ole Miss still looks to be in a better position than Florida right now, and that alone should be enough to keep Freeze in Ole Miss.

This time of the year always seems to turn out rumor after rumor, and sometimes those rumors may be leaked by agents representing coaches ready to either make a move or make a power move to get a brand new contract signed. Ole Miss is already working to put an end to any potential coaching rumors tied to Freeze. The school is already in the process of working on a new contract for Freeze, which both sides previously were reported to be in agreement to finalize after the regular season. The job security for Freeze at Ole Miss also appears to be very good, as he has already had his contract extended twice before.

Freeze leaving Ole Miss may not necessarily be out of the question, but leaving a job at one SEC school with as much job security as Ole Miss has provided for a bit of a rebuilding project at Florida does not appear to be the likely scenario to bank on. Coaches rarely make a move from one school to another within the same conference too. It is even more rare to see a coach at a strong program leave to rebuild another in the same conference.

Florida announced last week Muschamp will be removed as head coach at the conclusion of the regular season. It was Muschamp’s decision, apparently, to not coach the Gators in any potential bowl game the program will be invited to play. This makes sense, as it gives him plenty of time to focus on his next job, whatever and wherever that may be. It also gives the entire program a chance to move in a new direction and the players a chance to play without the distractions that could come with the Muschamp sideshow.

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Texas’ Espinosa won’t seek sixth year

Mississippi v Texas

As it turns out, an injury occurred early on in the season has played a significant role in one of the most experienced Texas offensive linemen calling it a career.

Starting center Dominic Espinosa sustained what turned out to be a very significant ankle injury in UT’s season-opening win over North Texas.  Because a health issue kept him off the field as a true freshman in 2010, it was thought that the offensive lineman would apply for a sixth season of eligibility and return to the Longhorns in 2015.

That won’t be the case, however, as Espinosa himself confirmed, via a very heartfelt letter penned to the fans of the football program and posted on social media, that he is retiring from the game of football.

Prior to the injury in the opener, Espinosa had started 40 straight games at center for the Longhorns.

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Stanford won’t have Ty Montgomery for game vs. UCLA

Ryan Murphy, Ty Montgomery AP

Stanford’s offense has been bad enough with Ty Montgomery on the field.  Without him?  That’s far from optimal, yet that’s the position the Cardinal will find itself this weekend.

Tuesday afternoon, David Shaw confirmed that the all-purpose wide receiver will not play in Friday’s regular-season finale against UCLA.  Montgomery sustained an injury to his right shoulder very early on in last weekend’s win over Cal.

It’s the same shoulder that nearly kept him out of the opener after undergoing surgery earlier in the offseason.  Shaw did say there’s a “distinct possibility” he’ll be healthy enough to play in a bowl game.

Montgomery leads the Cardinal in receptions (61) and receiving yards (604), and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (three).  Montgomery’s absence will also hurt the Cardinal on special teams as he’s their leading kickoff (25.2 yards per return) and punt returner (19.8 ypr).  He’s returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

The Hornung Award finalist being unavailable could also impact the Pac-12 South race.

If UCLA wins Saturday, they claim the division title and the spot opposite Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.  If UCLA loses, the winner of the Arizona-Arizona State game earns the berth.

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Gophers’ David Cobb ‘very questionable’ for B1G play-in game

Minnesota v Nebraska Getty Images

The winner of Saturday’s Minnesota-Wisconsin game will move on to face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game the following weekend.  Unfortunately for one of the participants, they could very well be missing a very key piece of its running game.

Tuesday afternoon, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill was asked about running back David Cobb‘s status for the play-in game. “Very questionable,” Kill responded.

Cobb sustained a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter of the Week 13 win over Nebraska in Lincoln.

Especially when it comes to a game with such high stakes, losing Cobb would be a significant blow for the Gophers.

Cobb has rushed for 1,430 yards this season, over 1,000 yards more than the team’s No. 2 rusher, quarterback Mitch Leidner (407).  The top back besides Cobb?  Berkley Edwards and his 140 yards.

While Cobb is ninth nationally in rushing, his Gopher teammates on the defensive side of the ball will be tasked with stopping the nation’s leading rusher (2,109 yards) and scorer of rushing touchdowns (25) in Melvin Gordon.

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Christian Hackenberg’s dad ‘won’t even touch’ transfer talk

Christian Hackenberg, Adolphus Washington

To say that Christian Hackenberg‘s second season in Happy Valley has been underwhelming would be an understatement.

As a true freshman, Hackenberg completed 59 percent of his passes and tossed 20 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions in Bill O’Brien‘s final year at Penn State.  In James Franklin‘s first season with the Nittany Lions, Hackenberg has thrown just eight touchdowns against 14 interceptions in completing just over 55 percent of his passes.  In 2013, he threw for 2,955 yards on 392 attempts; in 389 passes this season, he’s totaled 2,411 yards.

Certainly not all of the struggles are on Hackenberg — the offensive line has allowed 39 sacks and even more quarterback hits — but those struggles, alongside public squabbling with teammates and just overall frustration, has led some to speculate that the Freshman All-American could be looking to transfer from the  Nittany Lions at season’s end.  In a telephone interview with Lancaster Online, Hackenberg’s father, a former college quarterback himself, didn’t exactly refute the speculation, although he did allow that leaving is not a talking point for the family.  Well, at least for now it’s not.

I won’t even touch that,” Erick Hackenberg told the paper when asked about the rumors. “That’s everyone else’s $64,000 question. The $64,000 question in the Lasch Building (PSU’s football facility) and in this household is how can we get better every week and at the end of the year be in a better place than now — or three weeks from now, or a month from now, at a bowl game, be at a better place than we are now. Everything else will handle itself.

“I don’t really have a comment on that at all. I think that’s a lot of conjecture. … It’s the outside, looking in. Out of respect to Coach (James) Franklin and the team, out of respect to Christian and everybody else, that’s not fair to a lot of people, so I’m not going to touch that. That’s something that doesn’t even need to be talked about at this point. He loves being at Penn State.”

It seems highly unlikely that Hackenberg, a five-star recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2013 coming out of high school in Virginia, would leave the Nittany Lions after this season.  Stranger things have happened, though so it at least bears monitoring.

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Irish won’t have two starting defensive linemen for USC game

Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

Notre Dame will head into its annual rivalry game with USC very shorthanded along its defensive line.

Tuesday afternoon, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed that Sheldon Day (pictured, left) and Jarron Jones (pictured, right) have been ruled out of Saturday’s game with the Trojans due to injuries. Day will miss a second consecutive game because of a sprained knee, while Jones is out with a Lisfranc injury.

Day could return for a bowl game, Kelly said, but Jones is out for the remainder of the season. Jones will undergo surgery next week and be sidelined for anywhere from 4-6 months, which means his availability for spring practice is certainly up in the air.

Jones had started all 11 games this season and totaled 12 for his career.  Day started the first 10 games before suffering his knee injury.  He has 17 career starts.

The injury news is not limited to the defensive line, unfortunately, as freshman defensive back Drue Tranquill sustained a torn ACL in the loss to Louisville and will, obviously, be out for the remainder of the 2014 season.  As is the case with Jones, Tranquill’s availability for spring practice is in jeopardy.

Tranquill had started two of the last three games at safety for the Irish.

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Baylor toots its own ‘game control’ horn

Art Briles AP

Rather quickly, discussion over College Football Playoff worthiness has devolved into the murky world of “game control.”

While ESPN has created some type of tangible statistic for it, the CFP committee has cloaked itself in the abstract when it comes to “game control.” As was the case when it came to obscenity, apparently the Supreme Court of College Football just knows it when it sees it.

There are seven teams widely viewed as capable of landing a seat at the four-team playoff table. One of those, one-loss and seventh-ranked Baylor, has taken to touting its own “game control” prowess in its weekly game notes release.

Baylor Game Control

As for the Bears players?  The metric doesn’t compute.

“Haven’t heard it,” offensive tackle Pat Colbert said when asked about “game control.”

One of Colbert’s teammates, though, knows what’s really important.

“At the end of the day, you just have to go and win out the season and see where you are at the end,” running back Shock Linwood said. “You’re in control of your own destiny.

“We all know what it takes for us to be in the playoffs. We have to go out there and finish the year off right.”

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Tide remains Bovada’s title favorites

Nick Saban AP

With one week left in the Power Five regular season — two if you’re the Big 12 — the gang from Tuscaloosa remains the apple of one wagering website’s eye.

According to Bovada.lv, Alabama remains its favorite to win the 2014 College Football Playoff at 2/1.  Those are slightly shorter odds than the 5/2 the Tide was getting in the set of odds released by Bovada last week.

Oregon remains behind UA, although the Ducks’ odds went from 15/4 on Nov. 18 to 9/2 this release.  2013 BCS champion Florida State, which began the 2014 season as the CFP favorite, remained at 6/1 for the third straight week.

Of the remaining seven teams still listed by Bovada, three saw its odds lengthen from last week — Ohio State, at 7/1 from 6/1; TCU, at 8/1 and 7/1; and Georgia, 33/1 from 25/1 — while three saw shortened ones — Baylor and Mississippi State, 17/2 to 8/1; and UCLA, 50/1 to 25/1.

One team was taken off Bovada‘s board, and that was Ole Miss.  The Rebels had been at 33/1 a week ago.  Missouri, meanwhile, went from off the board to 50/1, the longest odds of any of the 10 teams receiving odds this week.

Bovada Week 13 CFP Odds

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A Buckeye throws another rivalry punch? ‘They’re dismissed’

Dontre Wilson, Delano Hill AP

The 110th edition of Michigan-Ohio State in 2013 featured two Buckeyes — offensive lineman Marcus Hall and running back Dontre Wilson — being ejected from The Game for throwing punches in the midst of a kick-return fracas.

Neither player was dismissed or suspended by head coach Urban Meyer, although Hall was reprimanded by the Big Ten for twin obscene gestures and didn’t start — or ultimately play — in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State the following week.

With the 111th edition of The Game on the horizon? It appears Meyer is taking a more strident stance when it comes to in-game fisticuffs.

“He said he wants the game to be very intense, but if anybody throws a punch they’re dismissed,” linebacker Curtis Grant said Monday. “He pretty much put it out there [Sunday]. There’s no telling what will happen if we get in a fight this year.”

For his part, Meyer acknowledged “a very strong conversation” with his team Sunday when it came to last year’s The Game incident, although he stopped short of mentioning a boot if another jab is thrown.

“That’s not the way we play the game and I think a lot of lessons were learned,” Meyer said. “We went without one of our key linemen in the championship game the following week and we played a game without two or three good players. So that’s not, that was a very strong conversation (Sunday) in the team meeting.”

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