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CFT Top 25: No. 15 Notre Dame

Everett Golson, Brian Kelly

2013 record: 9-4
2013 postseason: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Rutgers (29-16 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 20/No. 24
Head coach: Brian Kelly (90-37 overall; 37-15 in four years at Notre Dame)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Denbrock (first season as OC; 5th year under Kelly at Notre Dame)
2013 offensive rankings: 81st rushing offense (150.92 YPG); 39th passing offense (254.8 YPG); 68th total offense (405.8 YPG); 74th scoring offense (27.2 PPG)
Returning offensive starters: RB Cam McDaniel, WR DaVaris Daniels, OL Ronnie Stanley, OL Nick Martin, OL Christian Lombard
Defensive coordinator: Brian VanGorder (first season at Notre Dame)
2013 defensive rankings: 71st rushing defense (168 YPG); 15th passing defense (198.2 YPG); 31st total defense (366.2 YPG); 27th scoring defense (22.4 PPG)
Returning defensive starters: DT Sheldon Day, LB Jaylon Smith, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Austin Collinsworth
Location: South Bend, Ind.
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795, FieldTurf)

THE GOOD
Notre Dame’s offense should be much improved with Everett Golson at the helm — he’s the playmaking quarterback Brian Kelly has wanted ever since coming to South Bend from Cincinnati. In 2012, Golson “rode the bus” to the BCS Championship, as Kelly put it, running a relatively basic offense. And in 2011 and 2013, Tommy Rees quarterbacked the Irish to eight and nine — not where Notre Dame wanted to be in either year.

In Year 2 of Golson, even with his 2013 exile from campus, Notre Dame finally looks to have the kind of offense that can win the team big games. Golson has loads of talent around him, from sophomore running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant to wide receivers DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown and Corey Robinson to tight end Durham Smythe — remember that last name going forward. The offensive line looks solid, too, and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot holding back the Irish offense outside of a little inexperience heading into the fall.

Notre Dame has a number of stars on defense, too: Linebacker Jaylon Smith is the best player on the team, while defensive tackle Sheldon Day looks primed for a breakout season if he can stay healthy. The Irish secondary is stout, led by junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, sophomore safety Max Redfield and graduate student/Florida transfer Cody Riggs. It’s a deep unit, too, and one that should play well in Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defensive scheme.

THE BAD
I mean, have you seen Notre Dame’s schedule? Road games at Florida State, Arizona State and USC — all of which come in the second half of the season — are tough as it is, but throw in home games against Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina and Louisville and the Irish have an awfully difficult minefield to navigate this fall.

There’s a chance Notre Dame actually is a better team than it was last year — the Irish finished 26th in F/+ — but wind up with the same 9-4 record…or worse. The toughest stretch comes in early to mid October, when Notre Dame faces Stanford and UNC at home on back-to-back weekends before traveling to Florida State.

Stanford and Florida State certainly are tough, but that North Carolina game has all the makings of a dangerous trap game for the Irish. UNC has a good enough offense to give the Irish defense fits, and if Notre Dame goes into Oct. 11 looking ahead to Florida State the Tarheels could be primed for an upset.

THE UNKNOWN
Notre Dame lost five starters off its front seven from a year ago: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox. Sliding in for those guys is a group of inexperienced players who potentially could be good…but also who could potentially struggle to stop a number of the high-powered offenses Notre Dame has to face.

Guys like defensive tackle Jarron Jones and linebacker Joe Schmidt performed well in limited duty a year ago, but will they be able to succeed in larger roles? Can a converted safety (John Turner) and a converted wide receiver (James Onwualu) play Sam linebacker? Will freshmen defensive linemen Daniel Cage, Pete Mokwuah, Jonathan Bonner and Andrew Trumbetti be ready enough to provide much-needed depth up front?

The X-Factor with Notre Dame’s defense is how the unit performs running a defense that’ll take more chances under VanGorder than it did under Bob Diaco. The last few years of stats don’t really apply to Notre Dame’s defensive outlook this fall, given there’s a greater emphasis on forcing turnovers and sacks rather than two-gapping and preventing big plays. We won’t know how this defense really shakes out until it actually takes the field this fall under VanGorder, so that makes it very much an unknown.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 at USC
Hypothetically, if Notre Dame heads to Los Angeles with one loss (likely to Florida State), a win over USC and an 11-1 season could be enough to get the Irish into the four-team playoff.

That’s the best-case scenario for Notre Dame. But there are plenty of other hypotheticals that involve Notre Dame either salvaging a disappointing season (say, a 7-5/8-4 year) or generating some early hype for 2015 (say, a 10-win year) that involve beating USC. That it’s a rivalry game doesn’t hurt, either.

There are plenty of other games that could’ve fit here: Michigan, Stanford, Florida State and Arizona State. But given it’s the final game of the season and Notre Dame-USC always carries weight, it gets a make-or-break designation.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Everett Golson
Six hundred days will have passed since Golson last played in a competitive game when he takes the field for Notre Dame Aug. 30 against Rice. But that long layoff hasn’t prevented Golson from seeing his name pop up as a Heisman dark horse, and the latest Bovada odds have him at 20/1 to win the trophy.

Golson threw for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2012, but expect those numbers — as well as his rushing totals — to go up this fall. It’ll take a big leap for Golson to legitimately get in the Heisman competition, but if Notre Dame has a better season than most are expecting Golson very well could find himself in the discussion.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

JJ Stankevitz is CSNChicago.com’s Notre Dame Insider. Follow him on Twitter @JJStankevitz.

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TE P.J. Gallo leaving Terps after 2015… for Wall Street

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The 2015 season hasn’t even kicked off yet and Maryland already knows one player is set to leave College Park with eligibility on the table — and not for the NFL draft, either.

Instead of working out with his teammates this past summer getting prepped for the upcoming season, Gallo worked out alone while serving a 10-week internship at Goldman Sachs in New York City.  The internship led to a job offer from the Wall Street staple, and also a choice for Gallo: pass on the job to play his final season of college football in 2016, or give up the sport and embark on his post-football career.

In the end, and after talking with head coach Randy Edsall, Gallo decided to leave the playing field early and get a head-start on the financial field.

“It was actually an easier conversation than I thought it was going to be because he was very supportive of it,” said Gallo to the Washington Post regarding his talk with Edsall. “I made the right decision for myself, for my future. Hopefully, five years from now, I can still look back and say it was the right decision.”

Gallo is on track to graduate from Maryland this spring and move to the Big Apple this summer, starting his new life in July.

In the fall, though, he’ll resume his role as mainly a blocking tight end for the Terps. Gallo has played in all 26 games the past two seasons, starting two of those contests. He has caught two passes in his career, including his first touchdown reception in an early-November win over Penn State last season.

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Holy Stitt! Montana stuns four-time defending FCS champ ND State

Bob Stitt AP

#StittHappens has always been a kind of cute and sorta naughty Twitter hashtag. Now, the man behind that expression has put some D-I meat on the marketing bone.

Two-touchdown underdogs entering the regular season and home opener, No. 12 Montana dropped a stunning 38-35 loss on FCS powerhouse and top-ranked North Dakota State Saturday evening. The Bison had entered the opener as back-to-back-to-back-to-back champions of the Football Championship Series, with this defeat marking just their fourth regular-season loss since the end of the 2010 season.

This game, though, was all about #StittHappening.

Bob Stitt became a cult hero in the game of college football thanks to his stint as the innovative — and flat-out unconventional — head coach at the Colorado School of Mines. After 15 seasons at the Div. II school, Stitt jumped into his first-ever head-coaching job at the Div. I level, and made an immediate impact.

Trailing 35-28 and facing a fourth and goal from the 11-yard line with roughly 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, Stitt opted for a field goal that cut the lead to four. Needing a defensive stand, the Grizzlies got just that on the ensuing drive in forcing a three and out, handing the ball back to the offense with just under two minutes remaining and 80 yards away from the winning score.

Facing a fourth and 10 from the NDSU 44-yard line, Brady Gustafson completed a beautiful pass over the middle to Reese Carlson that went for 33 yards to set the Grizz up in the red zone. Five plays later, on a fourth and goal from the one, Joey Counts powered over through the left side of the line for the game-winning score with just two ticks of the clock remaining.

Don’t fret, though, Bison fan; I get the feeling that, in the end, NDSU will be right back where they’ve been the last handful of years.

Holy Stitt, though, that was a fun way to open the 2015 Div. I season.

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No sir! Kevin Sumlin tweets, deletes ‘Sark After Dark’ crack

Kevin Sumlin AP

That uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when, nanoseconds after sending what you thought was a direct message on Twitter to one of your friends/family members/close associates, you realize had instead been sent out for all 71,000-plus of your followers to see and digest?  Yeah, Kevin Sumlin suddenly knows that feeling all too well.

As you may have heard by now, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian essentially made an inebriated fool of himself at a school-sponsored event last weekend.  The second-year coach apologized in a statement for his behavior shortly thereafter and then offered up another apology in his first meeting in front of reporters, acknowledging that he will seek treatment to see if he has some type of drinking problem.

Fast-forward to Saturday afternoon, and the Texas A&M coach (accidentally), well, went here:

The tweet, obviously meant as a private missive to someone, was very quickly deleted.

Let this serve as a message to all of the youngsters in the audience: Twitter’s for sharing your public thoughts, and any thoughts that you think should be DM’d should instead be sent in the form of a text message.  On an untraceable burner phone.

Unless you have a fall guy, then all bets are off and just do whatever the hell you want.

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Arizona loses versatile LB Cody Ippolito to torn ACL

Arizona v UCLA Getty Images

For the second time the last three years, Cody Ippolito will be sidelined for the season with a knee injury.

Rich Rodriguez confirmed Friday evening the severity of the latest injury sustained by the linebacker, announcing that Ippolito tore an ACL in practice earlier in the week. Obviously, the redshirt junior will miss the entire 2015 season.

“Cody was having a really good camp and he’s a tough, hard-nosed football player,” Rodriguez said. “He loves to compete and loves to practice, so I was really disappointed for him. He’ll rehab like crazy after surgery, and hopefully we’ll get him back for another year or two playing at a high level.”

The “good” news that comes out of this, as the Wildcats head coach intimated, is that Ippolito is a prime candidate for fifth and sixth seasons of eligibility due to the fact that he missed complete seasons because of injury.

Last season, coming off his first collegiate knee injury in 2013, Ippolito started six of the 14 games in which he played. Ippolito had been in a battle with Derrick Turituri for the strongside ‘backer spot before the injury claimed him. He was also to serve as All-American Scooby Wright‘s primary backup at middle linebacker.

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Injured Hogs RB received handwritten note from new SEC commish

Greg Sankey AP

Departed SEC commissioner was widely known in college football circles as a man of integrity and class.  It appears his successor is cut from the same cloth.

Initially diagnosed with a foot injury that was expected to sideline him for an extended period of time, Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams was subsequently ruled out for the entire season because of the issue.  Even as Williams will likely never play a down under his stewardship, new SEC commissioner Greg Sankey decided to reach out to the injured Razorback.

And not only did the new conference boss reach out, he did it in an old-school style that would make the likes of Bill Snyder proud: a handwritten note.

That’s just class right there.  And yet another sign that the conference will remain in good hands for the foreseeable future.

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Unable to enroll at UVa., 2015 signee T.J. Griffin headed to Herd

T.J. Griffin

On the same day Virginia confirmed the murky status of one of its 2015 signees, said signee has reportedly already found a new home.

Head coach Mike London revealed in a statement that the university has granted T.J. Griffin a release from his U.Va. National Letter of Intent signed this past February. Griffin was denied admission at UVa., but the football program wanted the defensive back to go the prep school route and return to Charlottesville next year.

Instead, Griffin decided to leave for an FBS opportunity elsewhere.

“We have granted T.J. Griffin a release from his letter of intent to allow him to enroll at another institution this fall,” London’s statement began. “He contacted me with the request and explained his reasons for not wanting to enroll at a prep school this fall. I understand his personal situation and want to do what is best for this young man and his family. We wish him the best in the future.”

And, reportedly, Griffin’s immediate future will include joining a team that plays in Conference USA.

Marshall has yet to officially announce Griffin’s addition to the roster, although that appears to be a mere formality as other media outlets are reporting that’s where he’ll land as well.

Griffin was a three-star member of the Cavaliers’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 70 cornerback in the country and the No. 26 player at any position in the state of Virginia. As noted in the embedded tweet, Griffin will be eligible to play immediately for the Herd in 2015.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Daxx Garman buried third on Terps’ QB depth chart

West Virginia v Oklahoma State Getty Images

When Daxx Garman transferred into Maryland from Oklahoma State, many, perhaps most, assumed the quarterback would be sitting atop the depth chart entering the 2015 season. Instead, he’s buried on it.

Friday, the Terps released a depth chart ahead of the opener with Richmond and, in what some might consider an upset, Perry Hills was listed as the starter. Caleb Rowe sits in the prime backup spot behind Hills, which means Garman will enter the upcoming season No. 3 in the quarterback pecking order.

The positioning likely serves as a bitter pill for Garman to swallow as this is his final season of eligibility.

Last season, Garman, who began his collegiate career at Arizona, started eight games for Oklahoma State before going down with a concussion in mid-November. Mason Rudolph, Garman’s replacement, showed more than enough promise in his three starts that he was the unquestioned starter in spring practice, triggering Garman’s transfer to the Terps in May.

Garman, and even Rowe were considered by many to be the favorites entering summer camp, but it was Hills who’ll exit it with the starting job. Hills won the job as a true freshman in 2012 and started the first seven games that season before missing the final five due to a torn ACL. He took a redshirt the following season, then played in three games last year.

Rowe, meanwhile, tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice this past October, the same knee he suffered the same injury in the same month back in 2012, and sat out the spring. Rowe, who will entered spring as the favorite to win the starting job, was granted another season of eligibility earlier this year that allow him to play again in 2016.

Hills, Garman and Rowe were listed as co-starters entering summer camp this year.

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Sun Belt reportedly down to Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina for 12th spot

Karl Benson

Who’s ready for some conference realignment news! Anybody? Nobody? Bueller?

The Sun Belt is looking for a 12th member and has zeroed in on either Eastern Kentucky or Coastal Carolina for that coveted final spot, according to Dan Wolken of USA Today.

“They have enough votes,” an unnamed source told Wolken. “They have already visited the campuses.”

Commissioner Karl Benson declined to speak for the piece, but he has acknowledged conversing with both schools previously.

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Adding either school would allow the Sun Belt to immediately schedule a conference championship game, though conference title games are expected to be deregulated by the NCAA in 2016.

Eastern Kentucky is said to be more FBS-ready on Day 1 (Coastal’s football stadium seats less than 10,000 people, for starters), but Coastal Carolina is coached by billionaire former Ameritrade CEO Joe Moglia and, if the last five years have taught us anything about conference realignment, the prospect of future money tends to send common sense waiting at the door in these scenarios.

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Ohio State lists J.T. Barrett, not Cardale Jones, as team captain

barrettclose Getty Images

It may mean absolutely nothing. It may mean everything.

Either way, the only thing it really means is that one will walk out for the opening coin toss and one will not.

Amid a newsy Friday evening, Ohio State announced J.T. Barrett will represent the quarterback room among the Buckeyes’ six 2015 captains.

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“This was the most players I’ve seen receive votes for captains,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “We had 14 players receive votes, but these six separated themselves. This is one of the great accomplishments these young men will experience, to be elected by their peers. And it is very well deserved.”

For the “it means nothing” camp: Connor Cook is not one of Michigan State’s captains this season, which will clearly not stop him from starting at quarterback this fall.

For the “it means everything” camp: How many teams really choose their backup quarterback as team captain?

Either way, Meyer will likely keep his actual starting quarterback decision under wraps until the Buckeyes take the field at Lane Stadium on Labor Day evening. Or maybe he told us all we need to know tonight. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma, I tell you.

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LSU OC Cam Cameron diagnosed with prostate cancer, plans to coach in 2015

Sam Houston State v LSU

LSU offensive coordinator has been diagnosed with prostate cancer but plans to coach in 2015, it was revealed Friday night. Ross Dellenger of the (Baton Rouge) Advocate was the first to report the news.

Cameron has already undergone treatment for the disease, saying only “minor limitations” have gotten between him and the job, but painted a picture that his diagnosis was already in the rearview mirror.

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The Tigers, unfortunately, experienced a very similar bit of bad news at this time just four years ago.

Just weeks before the 2011 season, then-offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He vacated his offensive coordinator post to offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and remained on as quarterbacks coach. Following the 2012 season, Kragthorpe moved off the field and into a special assistant to the head coach/chief of staff role, where he’s remained ever since.

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LSU opens the 2015 season at home versus McNeese State next Saturday.

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Tim Beckman responds to Illinois firing, calls allegations “utterly false”

Tim Beckman

Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas felt strongly enough about the results of an investigation into his head football coach’s performance to fire him months before the study was even complete. Thomas said Friday investigators had spoken with more than 90 witnesses and reviewed more than 200,000 documents.

Tim Beckman thinks it’s all a pack of lies.

The now former Illinois head coach released a statement Friday evening.

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While nothing he can say at this point will get him his job back, it’s obvious what Beckman is doing here: setting the stage for a lawsuit in which he comes for the $3.1 million due on the final two years of his contract and (however futilely) attempts to clear his name in pursuit of other coaching jobs.

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Oregon lists EWU transfer Vernon Adams as starting QB

Eastern Washington v Washington Getty Images

It didn’t come with a grand proclamation (at least not yet) or a trumpeting of horns, just a line on a depth chart, mixed in with dozens others like it. Yet it is significant all the same: Oregon has listed Vernon Adams as its starting quarterback for the Eastern Washington game next Saturday.

Adams, of course, just arrived from Eastern Washington. As in, two weeks ago.

Oregon announced the addition of the record-setting EWU quarterback as a graduate transfer on Feb. 11, but Adams couldn’t join the Ducks’ roster until he completed his undergraduate coursework. That didn’t happen until Aug. 13.

Adams needed all of two weeks to beat Jeff Lockie out for Oregon’s QB1 job.

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In 37 career games at Eastern Washington, Adams threw for 10,438 yards with 110 touchdowns against only 31 interceptions while adding 1,232 yards and 11 scores on the ground. A 6-foot powder keg of extreme confidence, Adams has a knack for saving his best performances for the biggest of stages. He threw for 425 yards and three touchdowns (with two picks) in a loss to eventual FCS runner-up Illinois State in the FCS playoffs last December, a performance only surpassed by his spotless 475-yard, seven-touchdown effort in a 59-52 loss to Washington in September.

In a game only surpassed by Washington at Boise State in terms of awkward Week 1 reunions, Adams’ first game as Oregon’s quarterback will be against Eastern Washington next Saturday in Eugene.

Adams’ former head coach, Beau Baldwin, spoke out against the graduate transfer rule that allowed Adams to leave and play immediately at Oregon. “It’s not what the rule is intended for,” Baldwin said. “… Ultimately we feel like, you know what, we were also the ones who developed [Adams] from a level where obviously out of high school he wasn’t at that level.”

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Arkansas TE C.J. O’Grady arrested on DWI charge

Dennis Johnson

In his entertaining and insightful profile of Bret Bielema‘s Arkansas program, Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel noted that Razorbacks players found themselves in handcuffs only once every 483 days since Bielema’s arrival. Time to reset the clock.

Hogs tight end C.J. O’Grady was stopped early Friday morning for the lack of a working taillight on his scooter and subsequently arrested for driving while intoxicated and being a minor in possession of alcohol, according to the Associated Press.

O’Grady, speaking through slurred speech and emitting an odor of alcohol, reportedly registered a blood alcohol content of 0.099, topping the legal limit of 0.08 and well above Arkansas’s 0.02 limit for minors.

A native of Fayetteville, O’Grady is a freshman hailing from Fayetteville High School. He was released from jail and is due back in court Sept. 28, the Monday after Arkansas’s date with Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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Purdue puts two-game cap on Gelen Robinson’s suspension

Gelen Robinson, C.J. Beathard AP

Earlier this month, Darrell Hazell confirmed Gelen Robinson would miss at least two games and up to four following an offseason arrest.  In the end, the punishment meted it is at the lower end of the spectrum.

The Purdue head coach revealed Thursday that Robinson will be suspended for the two-game minimum.  Purdue begins the 2015 season with a road trip to defending Conference USA champion Marshall and follows that up with a home game against FCS Indiana State.  The defensive end will be eligible to return for the Sept. 19 game against Virginia Tech in West Lafayette.

In late June, Robinson was arrested on charges of operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent or more and illegal possession of an alcoholic beverage.  The charges triggered a violation of a prior diversion agreement with the courts.

As a true freshman last season, Robinson played in 10 games. His four tackles for loss were sixth on the team, while his two sacks were good for fourth.

Entering summer camp, Robinson, the son of Boilermaker basketball great Glenn Robinson, was viewed as a likely starter at end.

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A week before opener, Tim Beckman fired as Illini’s head coach

Tim Beckman AP

In the end, Tim Beckman‘s hot seat turned into an electric chair before the season even kicked off.

In a surprising move given only its timing, Illinois announced that Beckman has been dismissed as its head football coach.  The move comes exactly one week before the Illini open the 2015 season against Kent State.

The firing also comes more than three months after a former player accused the coach of “misuse and abuse of power,” while another stated shortly thereafter that Beckman “takes the cake as the worst coach I ever met.”  Athletic director Mike Thomas initially supported the beleaguered head coach, but the preliminary results of an external review into the accusations forced Thomas into pulling the trigger now instead of later.

“The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly,” Thomas said in a statement. “During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program.”

The results, while preliminary, are damning, and show exactly why Thomas and the university had to make the move in the here and now. From the release:

During a preliminary briefing from the external reviewers, Thomas said he learned of efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries. He also said in some instances student-athletes were treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship during the spring semester of their senior year if they weren’t on the team.

“Both of those findings are unsettling violations of University policy and practice and do not reflect the culture that we wish to create in athletic programs for our young people,” Thomas said. “I expect my coaches to protect players and foster their success on and off the field.”

Beckman has been fired for cause, meaning he will not receive the $3.1 million remaining on the last two years of his original five-year contract or the $743,000 called for if his contract had been bought out.

Replacing Beckman on an interim basis for the entire 2015 season is offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.  The release stated that “the external review did not indicate any findings related to Coach Cubit.”

In three seasons with the Illini, Beckman compiled a 12-25 overall record and a 4-20 mark in Big Ten play. He likely would’ve been fired after the 2014 season, but the Illini managed to win their final two games to earn a bowl bid.

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