Devonta Freeman

Questions arise over Jameis Winston autograph authentication

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Another Jameis Winston story that doesn’t involve the game football?  Yep, another Jameis Winston story that doesn’t involve the game of football.

Lost amidst the ongoing saga that is the oft-delayed student code of conduct hearing is one involving the Florida State quarterback’s penmanship.  Specifically, allegations that Winston had placed his Herbie Hancock on a thousand or more pieces of memorabilia in exchange for money, which, as Georgia’s Todd Gurley can attest, is a violation of antiquated and archaic NCAA bylaws.

Conducting its own investigation, FSU released a statement in mid-October which read, in part that “[a]t this time we have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature.” One memorabilia service, James Spence Authentication, has more than 1,000 items purported to be signed by Winston on its website. JSA has authenticated that the items were signed by Winston, although that authentication is now coming under significant scrutiny.

From an ESPNOutside the Lines” report:

Five sources who spoke to “Outside the Lines” on the condition of anonymity said that James Spence Authentication got the items only after competitor PSA/DNA backed out of the February signing with Winston. PSA/DNA did so after being told that it couldn’t witness the quarterback signing the items in person, sources said.

OTL reported that “the submissions [available on JSA’s website] came from individuals who all got their items from a single signing arranged by a Florida memorabilia dealer named Donnie Burkhalter.”  The alleged signing took place in Tallahassee this past February, with at least five autograph wholesalers paying Burkhalter between $30 to $40 per Winston autograph, OTL reported.

Burkhalter in the past has denied that he paid Winston for the autographs.  JSA stands behind its authentication process.

The alleged connection between Winston and Burkhalter stems from the latter’s relationship with former Florida State and current Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman. Tony Fleming, Freeman’s agent, confirmed to OTL that Freeman approached Winston about doing a signing with Burkhalter, but the current Seminole QB said no.

It’s further alleged that Burkhalter and some of the autograph wholesalers had set up hotel rooms — plural — full of memorabilia for Winston to sign. However, sources told OTL that Winston didn’t show as planned. Instead, OTL wrote, “Burkhalter told those in attendance that Winston had decided he couldn’t do a signing in the hotel room and instead preferred to do it in an apartment.” It was at that point when a fishy situation really began to reek.

So, sources said, Burkhalter loaded the Florida State items into his truck and returned later with the items signed, telling those waiting back at the hotel that he had to give the batch of items to a person who then got the items signed inside the apartment.

Burkhalter again denied most of the allegations, with the memorabilia dealer telling OTL “that he has gotten items signed by Winston but has never compensated him.”

“He said he never told anyone that Freeman set up an autograph signing and doesn’t recall setting up items in a hotel for a Winston signing,” OTL wrote, adding that Burkhalter “said February was a long time ago, but he didn’t get anything close to 1,000 pieces signed by Winston for anyone.”

Suffice to say, whether the signatures on the 1,000 or more items on JSA’s website are indeed Winston’s has been called into question by autograph experts contacted by OTL.

One, Rich Albersheim of Albersheim’s Historical Memorabilia and Autographs in Las Vegas, said it would be tough to determine authenticity because he wasn’t comfortable with the lack of verified Winston representations or exemplars in the marketplace.

The other, Ron Keurajian, a Baseball Hall of Fame autograph specialist, said that in his opinion, “These Winston autographs from the supposed signing are done by more than one hand. His authentic signature is very unstructured, which makes it harder to authenticate, but there are many here that actually are structured very well.”

In completely unrelated news, perhaps one day the NCAA will remove its head from the sand and/or its rectum and allow “student-athletes” to profit off the very images that its member institutions use to rake in billions.  Is a financial trust that can be tapped into after eligibility has expired too much to ask?

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 1 Florida State

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2013 Record: 14-0, 9-0 in ACC (ACC, BCS National champions)
2013 postseason: BCS Championship (34-31 win against Auburn)
2013 final AP/coaches ranking: No. 1/No. 1
Head coach: Jimbo Fisher (45-10 overall, 45-10 in four years at Florida State)
Co-Offensive coordinators: Lawrence Dawsey (8th year at Florida State), Randy Sanders (2nd year at Florida State)
2013 offensive rankings: 28th rushing offense (203.14 ypg), 14th passing offense (315.9 ypg), 6th total offense (519.1 ypg), 2nd scoring offense (51.6 ppg
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Charles Kelly (2nd year at Florida State)
2013 defensive rankings: 18th rushing defense (124.79 ypg), 1st passing defense (156.6 ypg), 3rd total defense (281.4 ypg), 1st scoring defense (12.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 8
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Stadium: Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300; Grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
To say Florida State is loaded all across the field in 2014 might be an understatement. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has signed a top ten recruiting class each year he has been head coach, which has done well to increase the amount of quality depth all over the roster in Tallahassee. Not only is Florida State built to be a machine in ACC play, but the Seminoles also have the ingredients to be prepared to defend their reign as national champions in the new era of college football. This goes beyond having the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jamies Winston, a sophomore who is as unnerved as he is confident. Winston is joined in the backfield by one fo the top running backs in the ACC, Karlos Williams, and he is able to rely on a pair of targets in receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, tow of the best at their positions in the ACC. The offensive line weighs in at 1,256 pounds, and an average of 314 pounds. Oh, and Florida State can play defense as well. Mario Edwards will bring pressure off the end, Terrance Smith anchor things in the middle of the field and PJ Williams will do his best to shut down opposing receivers. Like the offense, the Florida State defense is deep in athletic skill and talent and shutdown opposing offenses with frequency last season. Florida State should be favored in every game they play this season, and that could carry into the postseason no matter where they fall in the playoff. Florida State is the clear favorite in the ACC. They can run the table once again without breaking much of a sweat before the postseason.

THE BAD
When the biggest concern about Florida State is the punting game, life is pretty good. The only concern for Florida State on paper appears to be the punting game, which is downright silly. Cason Beatty struggled most to pin opponents deep on their end of the field, but Florida State was able to overcome that thanks to the superior talent on defense. Punting likely will not cost Florida State a game at any point in the regular season, but you never know when one bad punt sequence can turn a game around. If Florida State does happen to lose a game along the way though, the question about the strength of schedule faced in 2014 could come into fair question when it comes time for the College Football Playoff selection committee to choose the playoff participants. The ACC is extremely top heavy, or so it seems for now, so it might be fair to wonder how a one-loss Florida State team would stack up with strength of schedule comparisons to a one-loss champion from the Pac-12, Big Ten or Big 12 (or SEC).

THE UNKNOWN
How will Florida State manage to keep focus? This is not to suggest the Seminoles will get lazy at any point, but for the first time in a long time this program is entering the season ranked on top of the college football world, a new experience since the height of the Bobby Bowden. Florida State seems to have a certain swagger about them, which is good. They are confident, a little bit cocky, and they back it up on the field. The BCS Championship Game was the first time we saw Florida State challenged in some time, and they responded well. Now they have to run the gauntlet from start to finish. They are equipped to do it, but even the best teams in college football history are thrown a monkey wrench at one point or another.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Louisville
You never know what a Thursday night is going to offer. The night has been known to showcase some good upsets over the years, and that includes Florida State. In 2010 the No. 16 Seminoles were tripped up on the road at North Carolina State. The disappointment carried over a week in a game against North Carolina. If there is one game on the schedule this season that could present a decent obstacle in conference play, it may be the Thursday night road game at Louisville on October 30. The Seminoles do have a week off to prepare for the game after a home game against Notre Dame, and this year’s Louisville team may not be quite as good as it was a season ago wit Teddy Bridgewater, but Florida State cannot afford to take this one lightly. Florida State can probably afford a close loss in the regular season without disrupting playoff plans, but the Seminoles will still have a road game at Miami and a home game against Florida to get through as well. As the season winds down, the margin for error will continue to shrink.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: RB Karlos Williams
Let’s concede for a moment that there is a historical trend that plays against quarterback Jameis Winston here. There has only been one two-time Heisman Trophy winner, so it would seem that history is against Winston in 2014. Because of that, we will eliminate him from the conversation for now. Instead, let’s look at his teammate in the backfield, running back Karlos Williams. Williams rushed for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while spending the bulk of the year backing up Devonta Freeman. Williams is expected to take on the bulk of the running game this season, and he should prove worthy of the job. A 1,000-yard season should easily be within reach.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Auburn OC steps in it by tossing “what if…” card at FSU loss

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With nothing but a couple of spring games — we see you Oregon, Oregon State, Miami (OH) out there straggling — standing between us and a football-less abyss the next three months, one of Gus Malzahn‘s coordinators has added a little sizzle to what’s soon to be a lack of substance.

For those who have forgotten already, Auburn had jumped out to a 21-3 lead on favored Florida State late in the second quarter of the BCS title game this past January.  However, five straight non-scoring possessions — four punts followed by an interception — allowed the Seminoles to close the gap to 21-13 heading into the fourth quarter, with that closing stanza finding FSU closing out a 34-31 win with a trio of touchdowns.

It was that drought after halftime that had AU offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee lamenting what could’ve been — and what will likely leave people buzzing over the coordinator playing that particular card.

From Brandon Marcello of al.com:

“We could’ve executed much better and really named our score in that game, and we didn’t,” Lashlee said. “We let them hang around and we ended up losing the football game. …

“From an offensive standpoint, if we would’ve executed at a higher level, there were plays here or there that maybe even the average fan doesn’t see that, if we just executed, we stay on the field on third down, or it’s not a bust and a sack or a throw-away, it’s a touchdown. That could have blown the thing open.”

Just a couple of things.

One, the Seminoles could, if they so desired, rue similar missed opportunities early on that allowed the Tigers to jump out to that double-digit lead to begin with. In between a field goal on its opening drive and a Devonta Freeman three-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the first half, the ‘Noles ran 14 plays and netted just 28 yards on four straight possessions. I’m quite certain that the FSU coaching staff could focus on just executing to “stay on the field on third down” or not busting a protection that results in a sack or a throwaway or any other lament instead of, ya know, giving credit to the defense — especially a defense as talented and dominant as FSU’s was a year ago.

Secondly, does an assistant whose squad was perilously close to 9-3 or 8-4 or worse in the regular season — “Kick-Six” or “War Damn Miracle!” ring a bell? Wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M by a combined 16 points, the latter two after trailing in the fourth quarter? — really want to toss about the “what if…” card so flippantly, when all signs point to that squad being a bounce or two away from watching the Seminoles from home instead of the sidelines?

I’d think not but, hey, at least we have a little fodder heading into the really dark recesses of the college football offseason.

Tide’s Sunseri one of record 98 players declaring for draft

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A draft-eligible Alabama rumored to be headed to the NFL — or not — will indeed be a part of a record-breaking pool this May.

Tide defensive back Vinnie Sunseri was one of 98 players included on the NFL’s official list, released Sunday, of players “who have been granted special eligibility” for the upcoming draft.  It was reported a week ago that the safety was leaning toward making the early leap into the NFL, although there was some vacillation as the redshirt junior waited until right up until the Jan. 15 deadline — plus the three additional days allotted to reconsider, provided there’s no signing with an agent — before making his final decision.

Sunseri is still rehabbing a torn ACL, which he suffered in a mid-October win over Arkansas.

The 98 players granted special eligibility by the NFL is a record, shattering and/or obliterating the old mark of 73 set just last year.  That standard broke the record of 65 set the year before that.  In 2004, just 43 players with eligibility remaining left school early.

For the second consecutive year, LSU led all schools with seven early entrants.  In 2013, the Tigers saw 10 players leave early.  Sunseri gave the Tide five players leaving early, the same number as USC and one-win Cal (?).  Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and South Carolina each saw four players take the early jump into the NFL.

2014 marks the sixth consecutive year that the number of early entrants has increased.

The number could have actually topped the century mark as four players who have left school early but have already graduated were not included in the NFL’s official count: Southern California defensive back Dion Bailey, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard.

You can view the complete, official list of early entrants into the NFL draft:

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An unofficial list of underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft

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The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is upon us. It looks like we’ll have a record 92 (at minimum) declarations this year, easily topping last year’s record of 73. This draft should be among the most talent-laden in recent history.

Why the sudden exodus? Blame the new rookie wage scale, which rewards less money to first round draft picks and delays the big payout until a player’s second contract. That means the more time spent in the league, the better. A lot of these players want to get moving on proving themselves, even if they are a late round pick at the start.

Here’s the unofficial list of early entries as of the Jan. 15 deadline. The NFL will have an official list on Jan. 19:

Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Chris Boyd, WR, Vanderbilt
Carl Bradford, DE/OLB, Arizona State
Bashaud Breeland, DB, Clemson
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DB, Alabama
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
Jonathan Dowling, S, Western Kentucky
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Mike Flacco, TE, New Haven
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Austin Franklin, WR, New Mexico State
Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Vic Hampton, CB, South Carolina
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Adam Muema, RB, San Diego State
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Jeoffrey Pagan, DL, Alabama
Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
Darrin Reaves, RB, UAB
Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
George Uko, DL, USC
Pierre Warren, FS, Jacksonville State
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Terrance West, RB, Towson
James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
David Yankey, OL, Stanford