Sugar Bowl attendance at its lowest since 1939

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Through 30 games of the 2012-13 postseason slate, bowl attendance is down five percent from a year ago and eight percent from two years ago, the Birmingham News is reporting.  And nowhere is that dip in attendance more personified than in last night’s bowl offering.

The announced attendance for last night Sugar Bowl matchup between Louisville and Florida — won 33-23 in stunning fashion by the Cardinals — was just 54,178, down over 10,000 (64,512) from the announced attendance of last year’s Virginia Tech-Michigan game.  Not only that, the News notes, it’s the smallest crowd for the Sugar Bowl since 44,308 managed to show up for TCU-Carnegie Mellon way back in 1939.

Prior to 2009, just twice in a 35-year span had Sugar Bowl attendance dropped below 70,000; last night marked the third time in the past four years attendance had fallen short of that mark.

This is not a problem specific to the Sugar Bowl, or college football in general.  NFL attendance has been in a steady decline in recent years, so much so that the league and its clubs are leaving no stone unturned to improve the in-game experience for fans in an attempt to get them back to the stadium on Sundays and away from man caves and sports bars and the like.

It is, though, a problem for college football.

Of the 30 bowl games played thus far, attendance has dropped in 16 of them from the same time a year ago, with the per-game average coming in at just over 46,000.  Six games, including the Sugar Bowl, have had 10,000-plus fewer fans come through the turnstiles than in 2011-12 — the Belk, Meineke Car Care, Gator, Little Caesars and Russell Athletics Bowls.  The latter two actually realized attendance drops of more than 20,000 each.  On the flip side, just two games — the Poinsettia and Armed Forces Bowls — had attendance figures that increased by more than 10,000.

Of course, matchups certainly play a role in attendance.  The Gator Bowl went from Florida-Ohio State (61,312) to Northwestern-Mississippi State (48,612) this year, while Florida State-Notre Dame (68,305) in the Russell Athletics Bowl gave way to Rutgers-Virginia Tech (48,127).

Unlike the NFL, though, college football’s attendance problems aren’t necessarily related to the at-home experience being of a higher-quality — and cheaper — than the in-stadium one and the complex issue of flipping a collective fantasy mindset.  Rather, the reasons behind college football’s postseason attendance woes are relatively simple and straightforward: at 35, there are too many damn bowl games.

Water down the postseason with the likes of San Jose State-Bowling Green (17,835, Military Bowl), Ball State-UCF (21,759, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl) and Central Michigan-Western Kentucky (23,310, Little Caesars Bowl), and attendance will continue to be an issue.  Continue to invite nearly 60 percent of FBS schools to fill all available bowl slots — including 6-6 teams and, in one case (Georgia Tech), a 6-7 team — and bowl attendance articles will be an annual rite of winter.

Pare down the number of bowl games, though, and you’ll create better matchups and increase per-game attendance.  Thanks to the plethora of made-for-TV bowl games, though, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Ohio State DL coach Larry Johnson denies facilitating player payment at Penn State

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The ongoing federal corruption case against College Basketball, Inc., took an unplanned-but-not-unexpected swerve into college football on Tuesday when a witness for the government said he facilitated payments for numerous college football players from 2000 through 2013.

Pittsburgh-based financial advisor Marty Blazer, who has already pleaded guilty to defrauding clients, is now testifying on behalf of the government during the New York-based trial, and said he paid players representing a handful of programs ranging from Alabama and Michigan to Northwestern and Pitt, funneling them funds ranging from three to five figures.

Blazer did not name names for any coaches on Tuesday, but he did name the name of a player — former Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin — which led anyone who follows college football to figure out his coach — former Penn State defensive line, and current Ohio State defensive line coach, Larry Johnson.

According to Blazer, Maybin was considering leaving school early to enter the 2009 draft when Johnson (without naming his name) arranged a meeting between himself, Blazer and Maybin’s father. There, Johnson got Blazer to give Maybin’s father $10,000, with the hope that the cash-in-hand would keep Aaron Maybin a Nittany Lion while ensuring the player would become a Blazer client when he eventually went pro.

Maybin, as we all know, entered the 2009 draft and was selected 11th overall. Blazer said Maybin’s father later returned the money.

Johnson was reached by Yahoo Sports on Tuesday and vehemently denied the accusation.

“That is not accurate at all,” Johnson said. “That is absolutely false. I would never, ever ask anybody to do that. That is not me.”

“Why is it that something like that comes out and nobody says anything to me?” Johnson Sr. said. “This is the first call I’ve gotten. All of a sudden this Marty Blazer guy can just say whatever he wants? That is absolutely amazing. Wow.”

Johnson coached Penn State’s defensive line from 1996 through 2013 and has been at Ohio State since 2014. The 67-year-old is generally regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in college football, and while it’s unclear if the NCAA would even take an interest in the case, Johnson obviously wants to make sure the testimony of an admitted fraudster does not ruin his reputation.

Clemson lands No. 1 overall player in Class of 2020

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Clemson has managed to dominate college football without really dominating the college football recruiting rankings. Since 2015, the Tigers’ classes have ranked, in order, No. 9, No. 11, No. 16, No. 7 and No. 10, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Those are good classes, to be sure, but not necessarily great ones; they’re the type of classes you’d expect to lead to a team competing for ACC championships and New Year’s Six bowls, not beating Alabama in the national championship game twice in three years.

Clearly, Clemson’s coaches have cornered the market on finding a few great players and a bunch of really good ones, then developing them to all play like great players. The question then becomes: What happens if Clemson starts recruiting a bunch of great players? What happens if, in addition to playing like Alabama, Clemson started recruiting like Alabama?

We’re about to find out.

The Tigers on Tuesday landed Bryan Breese, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive tackle from Damascus, Md., who happens to be the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2020, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

“At the end of this little run I was really between Clemson, Georgia and Penn State and over that last visit everyone talks about you’ll feel it and I didn’t understand that till the last visit and I got the feeling and knew where I was supposed to be,” Bresee told 247Sports.

But Tuesday’s news wasn’t just about Breese. He became Clemson’s first 5-star commitment of this class, joining a group of 11 4-stars that vaults the Tigers over Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the 2020 team rankings, with three less players on board than the Crimson Tide. Beyond Breese, Clemson is also favored to land 5-star quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, 5-star defensive end Jordan Burch and 5-star Myles Murphy, all of whom rank in the top 10 nationally, plus 5-star linebacker Antoine Sampah, who ranks No. 31 in the country.

If all that comes to pass, Clemson could follow one of the best seasons ever with one of the best recruiting classes ever.

“This class could be by far one of the best classes ever,” Bresee said. “I think definitely one of the best classes for Clemson.”

Transfers from Rutgers, Coastal Carolina land at same FCS school

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The same FCS program has double-dipped in the NCAA transfer portal, FBS division, in bulking up the talent on its football roster.

Monday afternoon, Albany announced via social media that running back Alex James and fullback Max Anthony have officially signed with the program.  James, a redshirt junior, comes to Albany from Coastal Carolina, Anthony, a fifth-year senior, from Rutgers.

As both players come to the Great Danes from the FBS ranks, they will each be eligible to play immediately in 2019.

The past two seasons for the Chanticleers, James has rushed for 475 yards and seven touchdowns on 114 carries.  He also caught 16 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.

Anthony had started six of the 27 games in which he played for the Scarlet Knights.

Witness in hoops trial claims he paid football players from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, others

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A sweeping college hoops scandal that’s engulfed the sport has now touched its gridiron counterpart.

Marty Blazer, a Pittsburgh financial advisor-turned government informant after pleading guilty to securities fraud charges, took the witness stand Tuesday in the college basketball fraud trial and levied some potentially explosive allegations.  As part of his testimony, Blazer alleged that, between 2000-14, he paid football players from, among others, Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Pitt.  The payments, some of which were in the thousands of dollars, were aimed at convincing the player to remain in college and not enter the NFL draft in the hopes that they would retain him as their financial adviser when they did turn pro.

The names of specific players were, for the most part, not mentioned by Blazer.

The most damning of the accusations made by Blazer seems to involve Penn State during the Joe Paterno era.  Specifically, Blazer alleges that he paid the father of then-Penn State player Aaron Maybin $10,000, with the payment being made at the behest of an unnamed Paterno assistant coach.

If accurate, the NCAA would consider such an arrangement a major infraction.  It’s unclear what, if any, action The Association will take on the football side of the accusations made under oath.

Requests for comment from each of the football programs mentioned in Blazer’s testimony have not yet been met with a response.