It is not often College Football Talk dives into the world of the FCS, and it is even less often we will discuss the Pioneer Football League. Because of that, you know something’s up when we do.
The Pioneer Football League has hit the football program at Jacksonville University with a one-year postseason ban and has vacated wins from the past five seasons. The offense? Financial-aid violations. The Pioneer Football League, a football-only conference made up of 11 schools does not allow for football scholarships to be awarded. The Pioneer Football League says Jacksonville inappropriately dispersed financial aid to players, although an internal review by the university and the league found no NCAA violations. Despite that, Jacksonville (coached by former Florida Gators quarterback, 1984 SEC Player of the Year and two-time All-American Kerwin Bell) has accepted the punishment handed down by the league and will sit out the postseason in 2015 after voluntarily sitting out of a potential postseason opportunity last season while an investigation was ongoing. Jacksonville volunteered to vacate its 2010 conference championship and all league wins from 2010 through 2014 (a total of 30 wins in conference play).
That’s not all either. In addition to the postseason ban and accepting the self-imposed penalties, the Pioneer Football League reduced the number of roster positions for the program from 130 to 96 and three coaching positions. According to Jacksonville.com, the university also lost its junior varsity program. That is crippling for a program like Jacksonville.
“I’m heartbroken by it. I’m heartbroken by it because of the kids,” Jacksonville athletic director Donnie Horner said, per Jacksonville.com. “These returning seniors, these returning sophomores, these returning juniors, this is effectively their second year [of punishment]. And that’s painful for those kids. But it’s clear to me in conversations with the league that they decided to impose the ban this year because of the severity of our not adhering to the PFL financial aid rules. These are not trivial, miniscule differences.”
This is not the first time one of the top programs in the conference had to sit out of the postseason for violating the financial aid rules of the conference. In 2013 the University of San Diego withdrew from postseason consideration after discovering violations regarding financial aid provided to football players. San Diego, the FCS program previously coached by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh before he accepted a job offer at Stanford, was atop the conference at the time of the decision and projected to represent the conference in the FCS playoffs.
It’s now officially official.
In late April, Sawyer Smith took his first step in moving on from Troy by announcing on social media that he had placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. Two weeks later, the quarterback used social media to reveal that his next stop at the collegiate level would be at Kentucky.
Monday, Smith’s expected new home confirmed the player’s addition to the roster.
”We’re excited to have Sawyer join our program,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said in a statement. “It’s great to add a quarterback with his experience and success. He helped lead Troy to an outstanding season last year and we’re glad to have him here.”
As Smith comes to the Wildcats as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to compete for a starting job immediately. Additionally, he’ll have another season of eligibility he could use in 2020.
Smith played in 13 games this past season, including starts in the last seven. In those appearances, the Florida native completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,669 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions. He also rushed for 191 yards and another touchdown.
Terry Wilson started all 13 games for the Wildcats in a 2018 season that saw UK reach double digits in wins for the first time since Jimmy Carter was sitting in the Oval Office. Wilson, though, was 10th in the SEC and 63rd nationally with a 133.9 pass efficiency rating.
For what it’s worth, Smith’s 139 rating was fifth in the Sun Belt Conference and 47th in the country.
Coaches say things to motivate their players even if nobody really believes it. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, entering his third season in charge of the Sooners this fall, is already proving to be a veteran when it comes to setting the bar high and motivating his quarterbacks in the offseason.
Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts will undoubtedly be the starting quarterback for Oklahoma when the 2019 season kicks off for the defending Big 12 champion on Sept. 1 against Houston. However, Riley is not prepared to publicly anoint his newest quarterback as the heir to the throne of the offense that has produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners at the quarterback position. Instead, Riley is telling media members at Big 12 media days Hurts will have to go out and earn the opportunity.
Don’t be shocked by seeing that quote, because that is what the best coaches will do no matter who is on their team. Except in certain situations where a proven starting quarterback is coming back to the program for a second or third (or fourth?) season, coaches will always hope to inspire healthy competition at every position, including quarterback. By not gifting Hurts the starting job in the middle of July, Riley is setting the tone that will keep Hurts pushing to improve his game and keep other quarterbacks like Class of 2019 five-star recruit Spencer Rattler and four-star Class of 2018 quarterback Tanner Mordecai working to get their shot.
But Hurts is far from any ordinary transfer quarterback. Hurts was the starter for Alabama for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, in which Alabama went to the national championship game both seasons, losing one and winning the other. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa replaced Hurts at quarterback for that national title win against Georgia, but Hurts was a major reason why Alabama was in the national title game two years in a row with him as the starter. Hurts brings multiple seasons of starting experience form one of the top programs in the sport with him. And after Oklahoma lost Kyler Murray to the NFL Draft a year after losing Baker Mayfield, Hurts is stepping right into a position that carried high expectations and demands results.
Hurts may have had a couple of bumps in the road in Tuscaloosa, but he didn’t come to Oklahoma to be a back-up. Riley knows that, but he has the responsibility to make sure everyone on his team is working hard to improve. That message should be heard loud and clear, even if media pundits don’t have to believe it.
The NCAA transfer portal has seen a number of names come and go this offseason. Now, it appears, LSU cornerback Kelvin Joseph is stepping a foot in the transfer portal for a second time.
Joseph reportedly entered the transfer portal back in May, only to have that story disputed by his father. A day later, Joseph announced on Twitter that his father was, in fact, wrong with his claim. After some time passed, it seemed as though Joseph may end up staying in Baton Rouge to play for the Tigers this fall. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said “everything is good” regarding the status of Joseph as the story unfolded.
However, as multiple reports have surfaced at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama today, Joseph is now back in the transfer portal.
By entering the transfer portal, Joseph is free to have contact with any other college football program that may be interested in recruiting him. He would have to sit out the upcoming 2019 season if he transfers to another FBS program due to standard NCAA transfer rules, barring any appeal being granted for immediate eligibility.
Joseph was a four-star member of LSU’s Class of 2018. He played in 11 games for the Tigers last season and was suspended from the Fiesta Bowl for unspecified violations of team rules.
As it stands right now, the Missouri Tigers will not be going to a bowl game at the end of the 2019 season even if they go 12-0. That is because the NCAA slapped the Tigers with a postseason ban for the upcoming college football season as part of a litany of sanctions levied against the program in January for violations of NCAA rules linked to ethical conduct, academic misconduct and academic extra benefits. However, Missouri is hoping their appeal will relieve the sanctions with enough time to make some postseason plans.
A report from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports says Missouri is expected to appear in front of the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee this week to state their case. However, no decision on the appeals is expected to be made for at least another month. A decision to lift a postseason ban could even come as late as September after the start of the 2019 season.
Missouri formally filed its appeal of the sanctions in March. Missouri Athletics Director Jim Sterk said in June he was hoping the appeal would be heard before the football season.
“We really think we have a strong case for overturning the majority of the decisions that they made,” Sterk said in a radio interview. “The people that are a lot smarter than me that worked on this case really presented an appeal that’s strong and compelling. And we’ll be doing an in-person hearing, we’re expecting somewhere in the middle of July and then hear something hopefully by before football starts or shortly thereafter.”
The NCAA lifting a postseason ban during the current season is not unprecedented. In 2014, the NCAA lifted sanctions against Penn State after the start of the season, thus allowing the Nittany Lions to have the opportunity to play in a postseason bowl game at the end of the year. At 6-6, Penn State went on to play in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College. The 2014 season was supposed to be the third year in Penn State’s four-year postseason ban as part of the sanctions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Penn State served just two years of a postseason ban before the NCAA dropped the sanctions against the program amid legal battles.