ESPN’s BCS title game Monday drew a 13.8 overnight rating — the lowest rating in the BCS system’s 14-year history.
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ESPN’s BCS title game Monday drew a 13.8 overnight rating — the lowest rating in the BCS system’s 14-year history.
As reported on Monday, the NCAA has gotten wind of the flier North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones posted on his Facebook page over the weekend — the one touting the “1st Annual Dwight Jones New Years Birthday Celebration,” and featuring $ 20 bills falling into the frame from untold heights — and incredibly, it doesn’t like what it sees. Which means Dwight Jones may be spending his last college game chilling on the bench:
The flier — featuring not only Jones’ name but also his picture in a UNC uniform, both potential NCAA violations — promises free admission to the “first 24 ladies” at the door, plus “24 free shots every hour on the hour” and a $ 500 cash giveaway for “some lucky ladies in the building,” all courtesy of D. Jones. (Admission starts at $ 10, if you’re interested, or $ 20 for VIP. Dress code is “sexxxy casual.”) It also touts Jones as a “2012 NFL Projected Top Draft Pick,” which should end any hopes for his senior season even if he’s still allowed to have one.
Time will tell if the soiree has actually been cancelled or merely “cancelled”: Considering it’s scheduled for five days after the Tar Heels’ appearance in the Independence Bowl — pretty clearly Jones’ final game in a North Carolina uniform, if he gets to play — the party will have no bearing on his future eligibility. If he’s going pro, he doesn’t have any future eligibility.
But the point here from North Carolina’s perspective isn’t whether its star receiver attends a party or violates a thousand NCAA rules when he clearly has no intention of setting foot on a college field again. The point is that North Carolina is making a token effort to stay kosher while Jones is still under its roof. As of Dec. 27, he’s free to declare for the draft, hire an agent, bathe in a waterfall made of cash and tell the NCAA to take its moldering amateurism rules and shove ‘em. As long as UNC put its foot down when it had the chance — and it has — Jones’ post-Independence Bowl social life isn’t on the compliance department anymore.
That’s a good thing, because North Carolina is still awaiting its fate from the NCAA on a litany of major violations, including “failure to monitor social media” in the wake of former defensive lineman Marvin Austin’s tweet heard ’round the world last May. UNC has already fired its head coach and athletic director, vacated 16 wins from the 2008-09 seasons and put itself on two years’ probation. The last thing it needs is another excuse for the Infractions Committee to add to the pain.
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Can’t blame the Mountain West for trying.
It’s been promising its fanbase that it would fight for BCS equality and now, four years after Utah upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which started the Mountain West’s quest, the conference has decided to request BCS automatic qualifying status for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
The only problem with that is that the teams that made the Mountain West the attractive conference it became have all packed their bags for leagues that already have automatic qualification.
During the four-year evaluation period from 2008-11, teams from the Mountain West — Utah, BYU, TCU and Boise State (which joined the conference this year) — went to four BCS bowl games and were a mainstay in the BCS standings. However, when Utah and BYU decided to leave the conference last year, they took their numbers, including a BCS bowl berth, with them. TCU is bolting for the Big 12 this summer and Boise State is headed to the Big East in 2013 (and taking San Diego State with it). Although TCU and Boise State’s numbers will still count for the Mountain West’s exemption, Boise State will only be around a year of the two the Mountain West is requesting leaving the conference with (as of right now) Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada as a potential BCS league in 2013. Only three of those teams had winning seasons this year and four won four or fewer games.
The Mountain West could still expand or combine leagues with Conference USA to become more attractive, but after the Big East picked apart both conferences, the “moneymaker” schools both conferences once possessed are a thing of the past.
Boise State and TCU have been the conference’s show horses for the past three years. In 2009, TCU finished No. 4 in the BCS standings and Boise State No. 6 and they played in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2010, TCU finished third and Boise State finished 10th in the BCS standings and TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. This year, Boise State finished seventh and TCU finished 18th in the BCS.
Thanks to those schools the Mountain West has the current credentials and the right to ask the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, which is made up of 12 members, one president or chancellor from each of the 11 FBS conferences and Notre Dame’s president, to give the conference credit for its history even if its future might be a little shaky.
The Mountain West did manage to fulfill three of the tenets laid out by the BCS:
It’s also important to note that the current BCS bowl system is on shaky ground as coaches and school officials call for a plus-one model similar to the Final Four in the NCAA hoops tournament.
There is a precedent for an exemption: The Big East received one for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, though that may have had as much to do with keeping six automatic qualifying conferences as it did with taking a leap of faith on the Big East. It’s unlikely the BCS’ Presidential Oversight Committee will take a similar leap of faith again.
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Based on his sophomore season at Oregon and the accompanying hype over the offseason, this should have been the week Cliff Harris basked in the adulation of All-America teams and whatever other awards were his for the taking. Instead, after a season on the bench and in the doghouse, it was the day he was booted from the team for good: Per a release from the university, Harris has been dismissed for — altogether now — an undisclosed violation of team rules, ending an enormously promising career on a whimper.
Whatever happened to be the final straw, we can be fairly certain that it was dumb. Harris’ previous suspensions this season were the result of progressively dumb infractions, beginning with getting caught going more than 50 mph above the speed limit in June, subsequently revealing $ 8,500 in unpaid fines since 2008. He was suspended again in late October for driving on a suspended license and without insurance. He was not cited on the first stop for telling an officer that he and starting quarterback Darron Thomas did not have any marijuana in the car because “we smoked it all.”
In a perfect world, Harris would have stayed on and turned in the kind of all-purpose season that just got LSU cornerback/punt returner/noted 420 aficionado Tyrann Mathieu invited to New York for a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Instead, he finishes the seasons with nine tackles and one interception in six games, none of them starts. He finishes his career with 61 tackles, eight interceptions and five touchdowns, four of them coming on punt returns. Presumably, he will now take his proverbial talents to the NFL Draft, where there will still be interest as long as Harris can still lock s— down.
Two of the six games Harris missed were the Ducks’ losses at the hands of LSU in the season opener and USC in October, where Oregon was especially stung by special teams errors and lapses in coverage, respectively, that made a critical difference in both games. Enough difference to turn either one in the Ducks’ favor? That’s too much to put on any player. But however small the margin, their chances of landing in the BCS Championship Game are somewhat higher if Harris plays in those games.
As it stands, the Ducks had more than enough explosiveness to win the conference without him, and did, and will go on to the Rose Bowl without him. Harris may still be on his way to the next level, but between him and his now-former team, I don’t think there’s much doubt which side missed the other this season the most.
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The winner of Texas and Texas A&M’s annual game usually gets a year of bragging rights in this football-crazy state. The victor of Thursday night’s showdown will get to boast about this one for a lot longer than that. It is Texas A&M’s last Big 12 game before the Aggies move to the Southeastern Conference next season.
For the better part of two years, the general feeling at USC has been one of decline, or at least bracing for decline. Pete Carroll bolted for the NFL, the new coach had no track record to speak of, the NCAA dropped its most heavy-handed sanctions in years. After six years spent almost entirely in the top 10, the Trojans have spent most of the last two clinging to the fringes of the top 25, or out of the polls altogether.
They lost four games in 2009, Carroll’s final season, and five in 2010, Lane Kiffin’s first. The lost to Oregon State and blew and eight-game winning streak over Notre Dame and dropped back-to-back games against both Stanford and Washington. They dropped five of six against ranked opponents. In September, they barely scraped past Minnesota and Utah and got waxed by Arizona State. This season, the second year of a bowl ban and an enforced absence from the BCS standings, looked like just another one to bear under the banner of “rebuilding.”
The notion that it might possibly be anything else doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone before last week’s 38-35 upset at Oregon, up to and including the pollsters who ranked the Trojans 18th going into the game, or the oddsmakers who installed them as two-touchdown underdogs. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone in the athletic department, either, according to athletic director Pat Haden, who admitted today he regretted only just getting around to a Heisman campaign for quarterback Matt Barkley, after the golden-armed junior rocketed up the charts by dropping four touchdowns on the Ducks in the night of his life:
That’s just how fast USC morphed back from fading also-ran to, well, to USC, perennial Pac-12 powerhouse. In the polls that still bother to rank them in the probation years, the Trojans are suddenly back in the top 10. Suddenly everyone wants a piece of Matt Barkley. Kiffin is the runaway favorite to win Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
If they beat UCLA for the fifth consecutive year Saturday, as expected, they’ll be the unofficial Pac-12 South champs, and may still finish as the highest-ranked team in the conference. As they’ve promised to prove to the Bruins this week, the Trojans are suddenly looking like something very close to who they used to be.
Which brings us to The Big Question: Is Saturday night Barkley’s swan song in the Coliseum before his inevitable ascension to the first round of the NFL Draft? Or will he be back in Cardinal and Gold next year to fulfill the last stage of his progression from blue-chip freshman to senior superstar? Are USC fans coming out to send off another homegrown favorite to the next level, without so much as an all-conference nod to show for his up-and-down career? Or will they be savoring a preview of the team that stands to return the Trojans to the national elite?
Because outside of Barkley, next year’s lineup is looking kind of loaded. Just start with the surrounding cast on offense. Junior tailback Curtis McNeal is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season despite spending the first half of it relegated to third string. Sophomore Robert Woods and true freshman Marquis Lee are the most lethal 1-2 receiving punch in the nation already, with more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns between them on 159 catches. Freshman tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble have eight touchdowns on 35 grabs. There hasn’t even been room for freshman receivers Kyle Prater and George Farmer, arguably the two most hyped talents on the roster after arriving at the top of their respective recruiting classes in back-to-back seasons.
Altogether, the 2012 Trojans are scheduled to bring back 22 of the 24 players listed as possible starters against UCLA, including all five starters on the starting offensive line, a future top-10 pick at left tackle, the No. 1 pass rusher in the Pac-12, three freshman linebackers and the entire secondary. Eleven of that number are currently freshmen and sophomores. If that list includes Matt Barkley, they’re instant frontrunners for the Rose Bowl and very likely the top of the preseason polls.
Late-breaking campaign notwithstanding, Barkley is almost certainly not going to win the Heisman Trophy next month. He won’t get to play in a bowl game, either. But those are only two of the opportunities he’d be passing up for an NFL paycheck: After two-and-a-half years of debates about his “potential” and whether he’s overrated or underrated or fit to carry the torch of his prolific predecessors at the position, Barkley has put himself in position to be everything he came to USC to be as a senior — the biggest name in college football, surrounded by the most talent, on a team with the highest ceiling both on the field and (with the postseason ban lifted after this year) in the polls. Every goal he ever set for himself, and every expectation ever thrust on him by anyone else, is within his grasp.
But of course, “everything” in this case also includes an NFL paycheck, which may very well be enough to lure him to the next level as-is. He’d leave with a degree in the spring, and no one will say he’s not ready to make the leap compared to any other quarterback who tries. If Saturday is his last game at USC, Barkley will go out as a good kid who ultimately made good under circumstances he never bargained for when he showed up for his first spring practice in 2009. Fans will respect him and wish him luck and wonder what might have been.
If it’s not, though, it could be a prelude to a season that bring the Trojans full-circle to the frontrunner status they enjoyed for so long under Carroll, with all the hardware — and yes, all the hype — that comes with it. After last week’s breakthrough in Eugene, it could be the final brick that makes USC USC again. If Barkley is really considering passing that up after one final game against a 6-5 rival that can’t advance his team to a bowl game or any other type of reward, man, he’d better make it count.
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The SEC rushed to fix its website late Thursday night after a page announcing the addition of Missouri to its conference surfaced without warning.
It wasn’t a dummy page and didn’t appear to be a hack. It was an official page from the SEC website, logos and advertisements included.
The weird thing about it? The page was dated Oct. 22 and the text referenced a Monday announcement. It could have been a template, since Oct. 22 was a Saturday and this template was similar to the one used for the Texas A&M announcement. But it was quite thorough regarding the history and culture of Missouri — the Show-Me State does barbecue and country music, too, y’all — and what the move meant to both entities.
The SEC has played coy about announcing any new membership beyond Texas A&M, though it seems like just a formality for the conference and Missouri to say its “I dos” and bind themselves together till further realignment do them part. But neither has been willing to make their relationship official until some unlucky web worker published the wrong page at a time when at least one person happened to be looking at the SEC website.
The page was down within an hour, of course, but not before me and several other folks got screen shots of the error for all to see.
So what does all this mean? Well, other than the fact that the on-again off-again relationship between Missouri and the SEC is the worst-kept secret in college football right now, it also means that a day after the university’s Board of Curators gave chancellor Brady Deaton the OK to move the school out of the Big 12, the SEC was ready to announce the arrival of its newest member.
What has changed since then? It’s tough to say, especially since several other conferences seem to be waiting on Missouri and the SEC to make the first move before setting the dominoes in motion.
And for an hour Thursday night, it seemed like that move was a done deal.
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Injured Indiana running back Darius Willis had two choices last Saturday night: Accompany the Hoosiers to Denton, Texas, to look on as they suffered a humiliating loss to North Texas, or head over to the Bloomington National Guard Armory for something called “Infinity Pro Wrestling.” Obviously, as reported by the Indiana Daily Student, it really wasn’t much of a choice:
Following a brief staredown, Mssr. Manix proceeded to kick Willis and revel in the boos as another wrestler, “PJB” (a real-life friend of Willis’) helped Willis out of the ring. Later, Willis accompanied PJB to the ring for the latter’s match with Manix, and — during the inevitable “glancing blow knocks ref unconscious” portion of the evening — climbed into the squared circle himself to deliver a flying shoulder tackle that left Manix incapacitated as PJB limped in for the pin and the victory. All of this is on video.
Unfortunately, none of it was cleared with Indiana or head coach Kevin Wilson, who was obviously exasperated by the stunt and admitted Wednesday that he didn’t know if it affected Willis’ eligibility. (In all likelihood, it wouldn’t: He reportedly wasn’t paid for the event or for advertising it, and it had nothing to do with football. I’m informed by John Infante of the NCAA’s Bylaw Blog that it could conceivably be considered “a promotional activity or outside competition during the year,” a minor secondary violation.) At any rate, it probably doesn’t matter: With his lingering knee injury, Willis could apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship that would restore his final year of eligibility in 2012, but Wilson told reporters earlier this week that “his career is basically over.”
In football, maybe. In the Indiana National Guard Armory wrestling circuit? The sky — or at least Indianapolis’ Tyndall Armory — is the limit.
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To describe Notre Dame’s rapidly descending start to the 2011 season, you have to tell a tale of two teams. Team A is averaging more than 500 yards per game and has outgained its first two opponents by more than 300 total yards. Team B is 0-2 with five turnovers in each loss, more than any other team in the nation. Unless they rip off ten consecutive wins to finish the regular season, neither one is going to a BCS game.
But if Team A ever figures out how to leave Team B stuffed inside of a locker, that may not be so farfetched — or so says at least one skeptic who thinks the turnovers have distorted the reality of how good the Irish really are:
If that sounds a little … I dunno, forgiving at the moment, remember that Herbstreit has always been a “trust your eyes” sort of analysts, and what his eyes saw Saturday night in Ann Arbor was mostly the “Team A” edition of Notre Dame dominating the Wolverines for the first three quarters before falling victim to Denard Robinson’s X-Box audition in the fourth. (After charting every play of the game, even Michigan super-blogger Brian Cook described the Wolverines’ strategy in the final 15 minutes as “chuck it up and hope.”) For the second week in a row, the Fighting Irish controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, consistently moved the chains and came out significantly ahead in the box score by almost every measure — and lost.
Which brings us to the inescapable theme of their season to date: Turnovers. More specifically, red zone turnovers that negate all the positives of a long drive into opposing territory. Against South Florida, Notre Dame failed to score on four different trips inside the USF 10-yard line, including a goal line fumble that was returned the length of the field for a USF touchdown, an interception into the USF end zone and another interception that bounced off the intended receiver’s helmet inside the USF five-yard line. Against Michigan, quarterback Tommy Rees was picked off at the Wolverine two-yard line in the second quarter and later fumbled for no reason at the Wolverine nine, on either side of a fumble by running back Cierre Wood at the Wolverine 30-yard line. Six golden opportunities to score, seven points for the other team.
Of course, “could been” has been the mark of struggling teams from time immemorial. But in this case, it’s also the mark of one that’s doing a lot right and can still be very good if it curbs its tendency to shoot itself in the face when it’s put itself in position for something good to happen. As coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday, “they can see the body of work is there,” obscured by a handful of big errors that have undermined the whole thing. Vegas can certainly see it, installing the Irish as 4.5-point home favorites Saturday against 2-0 Michigan State on the bet — literally — that the “real” Notre Dame is the one that’s dominated the stat sheet rather than the one that’s fallen short on the scoreboard.
Still, that’s the Irish’s last chance to salvage the benefit of the doubt: If the giveaways persist in another high-profile loss, the reality will be all too clear.
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