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Who is Your School's Lawrence Phillips/Aaron Hernandez?

April 26, 2015

When the back-to-back Lawrence Phillips and Aaron Hernandez stories broke this month, my first thought was the standard one many of you probably had: Why do these guys who have everything--money, fame, talent, girls--throw it away? How difficult can it be to not murder, deal drugs, beat women or intentionally run over teenagers, especially when the benefit of abstaining from such behaviors is the chance to lead a lifestyle that 99.99 percent of the world can only fantasize about?

But then, as a college football fan, I started thinking about the schools where these guys honed their talents. A big part of following a college team is keeping up with our favorite players at the next level. That's why so many Tennessee fans pull for the Broncos on Sundays, and Michigan fans for New England. When guys who played for our college team succeed in the NFL, and especially when they exemplify class and humility in doing so, a sense of pride infuses us that, while different from the feeling we get watching current players triumph, still makes us feel good about wearing that t-shirt out to Applebee's.

But what about those players who don't do the right things, don't make the papers for the right reasons, don't reflect well on the program we expend so much energy backing every autumn? How do those guys fit into our fandom? Do we pretend they never existed or played for our school? Forget about the years we spent cheering for them? Make self-deprecating jokes at our team's expense? (I've heard some great ones from Florida fans already.)

I can still remember picking up the Knoxville newspaper one morning in 2003 and shuddering when I read the bold, 72-point headline. Dwayne Goodrich, former UT defensive back best known for a pick-six in the 1998 BCS title game that put the Vols up 14-0 against Florida State, had been arrested for DUI hit-and-run. The accident killed two Good Samaritans. When I browsed the Tennessee message boards later that day, I found dozens of fans trying to disown the guy as a Vol. I understood their anger, but if Goodrich isn't a Vol, then FSU is the 1998 champ, and I doubt most of those fans want to give up the crystal football.

Besides, I'm convinced every program has at least one major pariah, which means you shouldn't be too ashamed of yours. Some are more obvious than others, like the aforementioned Phillips (Nebraska) and Hernandez (Florida). Then there's Southern Cal, which had a Heisman Trophy winner from 1968 dominate the news during the '90s for some unsavory stuff. (Hint: his initials are also those of a popular breakfast drink.)

Rae Carruth from Colorado is another gimme. Buffs fans can scour the annals, but I doubt they find an example that tops putting a hit on a pregnant girlfriend. Ditto for Cal's Robert Rozier, who admitted to killing seven people in 1985 as part of a cult initiation.

But some examples are more nebulous. For instance, is Michael Vick the guy for Virginia Tech? He did some awful stuff, but then he served his time, stayed out of trouble, and, by some estimates, saved more dogs through his awareness efforts than he harmed/killed during his dogfighting days.

What about Ray Lewis from Miami, indicted for double homicide in 2000? A prosecutor dismissed the charges in exchange for a guilty plea for obstruction of justice and testimony against Lewis's cohorts (read: snitching). But the deceased's blood was all over his limo, the white suit he wore that night was never found, and he has stubbornly refused to give the victims' families closure by spilling everything he knows. Seems to me that he should be a shoe-in, but from the fawning I witnessed during 2013 Super Bowl week, a lot of folks around college and pro football disagree.

Even Goodrich from Tennessee is questionable. He killed two people with his carelessness, then dug himself a deeper hole with his foolish and cowardly 20-hour delay before owning up to his mistake. But like Vick, he served his time and seems to have dedicated his life to preventing others from suffering the same fate as his victims.

I could keep going, but there are 127 FBS schools, and I doubt you care who I think is the biggest pariah for each of them. But I'm interested to hear from you. Namely, what school(s) you pull for, and which player(s) you think have brought the most shame. And also, how do you react when people mention that person's name in connection with your school/team? 

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Despite Humbling Bowl Season, SEC West Still Best Division in College Football

April 23, 2015

In a Bleacher Report piece today, correspondent Tom Scurlock opined that the Big Ten East has officially supplanted the SEC West as the best division in college football. According to Scurlock, the 2015 season will be its big coming out party.

It's an interesting premise worth hearing out. After all, fans pretty much regarded the SEC West as NFL Lite in 2014. Then the division turned in a 2-5 bowl season that caused everyone to, appropriately, retool their assessments. 

Unfortunately, Scurlock devotes few of the ensuing 600 or so words in his piece to actually defending the idea that the Big Ten's golden division is straight up better than its southeastern counterpart. Instead, he takes a quick jab at notorious SEC fanboys Paul Finebaum and Mark May before segueing into a dissertation about the importance of the Big Ten winning its September out-of-conference games, something it's had trouble doing recently.

Next he highlights the big match-ups that, with the right outcomes, will prove Big Ten East supremacy. Unfortunately, only two of the games he lists actually feature Big Ten East teams--Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, and Michigan State vs. Oregon (both rematches of games lost by the Big Ten East in 2014). 

The rest involve teams from the other side of the conference, the West, which no thinking person is arguing belongs in the same echelon as the SEC. While he lists some intriguing games, most notably Wisconsin vs. Alabama, it's hard to deduce East supremacy from a game in which no East teams are playing. Unless, of course, you resort to transitive logic (e.g., Michigan State beat Wisconsin and Wisconsin beat Alabama), which has been proven over and over as useless for comparing college football teams.

So let's have some fun and do the job Scurlock should have done after making such a bold proclamation. We're going to rank the Big Ten East and SEC West, side by side, #1 thru #7, and then compare from top to bottom.

I know, I know, it's far from a perfect comparison. For starters, we're only comparing each team to one team from the other conference. Another issue: the only fair way to rank teams within each conference without relying on unfounded and ill-researched 2015 predictions is to go by 2014 results, which may or may not be a valid indicator of performance next year.

But it's still going a lot further than Scurlock went. And if my supposition is correct (I promise I haven't cheated and done this ahead of time), it should be enough to throw his assertion into serious question.

Without further adieu....

#1 - Ohio State vs Alabama

And the Big Ten East races out to an early lead! This match-up goes to the Buckeyes, and not only for its 42-35 playoff win over the Tide last year. Ohio State is bringing back most of last year's title team; Alabama is rebuilding (or, if you're an optimist with crimson-tinted glasses, reloading). OSU returns three Heisman-caliber quarterbacks; 'Bama is breaking in a new guy. At this point, it's probably accurate to say Ohio State would win seven or eight of 10 against the Tide. Big Ten East 1, SEC West 0.

#2 - Michigan State vs Mississippi State

The biggest toss-up on the list. Mississippi State was the hottest team in football for the first half of 2014, vaulting from unranked to #1 faster than any team in CFB history. But it limped down the stretch, losing three of its last four, culminating with a 49-34 Orange Bowl setback against Georgia Tech. Michigan State's trajectory looked better: a blowout loss to Oregon in September gave way to an impressive October-January run, its only loss during that period coming to eventual champ Ohio State. In the Cotton Bowl, Sparty scored a 42-41 upset over Baylor, a team many argued should have occupied Ohio State's spot in the CFB playoff. It's close, but gotta give this one to the guys in green. Big Ten East 2, SEC West 0.

#3 - Maryland vs Ole Miss

This is where it starts to get ugly for the Big Ten East. Like its in-state rival, Ole Miss petered out as the 2014 season progressed, but they were always better than Maryland and will be next year, too. I don't think anyone, even the most strident Terps fans, who actually pay attention to college football would dispute this with a straight face. Ole Miss got hammered by TCU in the Peach Bowl, but TCU was damn good. Maryland's blowout loss came at the hands of mediocre (if I'm being generous) Stanford in something--apparently a postseason college football event--called the Foster Farms Bowl. Big Ten East 2, SEC West 1.

#4 - Rutgers vs Auburn

This is where it starts to get REALLY ugly for the Big Ten East. Granted, Auburn lost in overtime to a Big Ten team in the Outback Bowl, but why was the #4 team from an SEC division playing the champ of a Big Ten division (Wisconsin)? That alone signals imbalance between the two conferences. Rutgers would be hard pressed to beat an SEC team from either division. Okay, maybe Kentucky and definitely Vandy. Other than that they're staring down 12 losses if they go team-by-team in the SEC. Their most impressive win in 2014 was Maryland. Auburn, meanwhile, beat Ole Miss, blew out LSU and notched an impressive out-of-conference win against Kansas State. This one isn't close. Big Ten East 2, SEC West 2.

#5 - Michigan vs LSU

Wolverine fans can hashtag HARBAUGH and pump their fists about what may well turn out to be a bright future, but as of right now, their team sucks. They didn't even go a bowl last year. They got shut out 31-0 by Notre Dame. At least they beat Appalachian State this time. LSU exists on a completely different plane. That they're third from the bottom in the SEC West attests to the division's strength. That team is good, and save for Tennessee, they were the youngest in the nation last year. Yes, like Michigan, they lost to Notre Dame (in the Music City Bowl), but the game was razor close, the finish controversial, and it followed a season in which the Tigers beat Wisconsin and took Alabama to overtime. They would mop the floor with Michigan. SEC West 3, Big Ten East 2.

#6 - Penn State vs Texas A&M

Once again, lopsided. Penn State beat no one good last year, and they lost to some putrid teams like Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern. The Aggies won on the road at Auburn, while all their losses except LSU came against teams that finished in the top 25. Penn State is another possibly-bright-future, definitely-shitty-present team. James Franklin proved at Vanderbilt that he can win. Theoretically it should only be easier in State College. But it hasn't happened yet, so this one goes to the College Station boys. SEC West 4, Big Ten East 2.

#7 - Indiana vs Arkansas

If you're a Big Ten fan, I already know what you're thinking. Yes, Indiana beat Missouri, but here's what I think about Missouri. TL/DR version: They're obscenely lucky in conference games, weren't the true best team in the East in 2013 or 2014, and they'll be exposed in 2015. And yes, Missouri beat Arkansas, but go back to the previous sentence about being lucky, and then farther back to my point about transitive logic. Arkansas is in everyone's preseason top 25, like this one, this one, and this one. Indiana is in no one's. I haven't even seen them pop up at the bottom of others receiving votes, where you see names like Sam Houston State and North Dakota State, or heard them mentioned in any college football discussion not about bad teams. Still not convinced? If Indiana and Arkansas lined up to play a game tomorrow, and your life depended on picking the outcome correctly, who ya got? SEC West 5, Big Ten East 2.

Final tally: SEC West 5, Big Ten East 2. The SEC West, despite recent troubles, reigns supreme from top to bottom. Last year's bowl season was bad, but this is still the division that no fans of other programs from around the country would want their team to play in. Seriously, find the most honest Florida State, Texas or Oregon fan you know, look him in the eye and ask if his team would find it easier making its way through the SEC West as opposed to its current conference and division--or the Big Ten East, for that matter. The result will be telling.

I'm no SEC fanboy. I don't pull for a conference, I pull for a team (Tennessee). I think fans who chant "S-E-C" (or any other conference) are some of the biggest tools in sports. But facts are facts. The idea that the Big Ten East or any other division, as of 2015, has usurped the SEC West's spot atop the college football totem pole is indefensible. 

That's why Tom Scurlock didn't even try to defend it.

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Two College Football Rules That Need to Change, Like, Yesterday

April 21, 2015

Every off-season, the NCAA brains (oxymoron not intended) get together and come up with ways to change the game for the following season.

Sometimes their intentions are good, though their execution is always questionable. Think about the recent rule changes for player safety. Clearly that was an elephant in the room that needed to be acknowledged, but knee-jerk reactions like moving touchbacks to the 25 to discourage kick returns (one of the most exciting plays in the game) and saddling defenses with nebulous rules hasn't seemed to reduce injuries, and they have made the game more frustrating to watch.

What exactly constitutes "launching," anyway, and how do you define a "defenseless player"? The refs can't seem to answer those kinds of questions any better than me, judging by the number of five-minute play stoppages we've seen over the past few seasons for them to discuss whether some ambiguous rule has been broken or not.

This isn't to say that rule changes are always bad. Sometimes a few tweaks here and there can make things run smoother on the field, not to mention create a more enjoyable experience for the fans. Here are two rules that should be changed, like, yesterday.

The Fumble Through the End Zone Touchback Rule

This illogical rule creates a turnover and gives the other team possession at the 20 when a player who's about to score fumbles shy of the goal line, the ball bounces into the end zone and then goes out of bounds. If the ball goes out an inch shy of the pylon, the offense retains possession and can punch it in for a score the next play. But if it takes an unluckier bounce and sneaks past the goal line, all of a sudden it's a turnover.

Tennessee has lost two heartbreakers in the last decade on this nonsense rule: 6-3 to Alabama in 2005, and 34-31 to Georgia in 2013. Sure, lingering bitterness probably explains some of my hatred for the rule, but mostly those games illuminated what I already knew to be a load of BS.

Anywhere else on the field, the defense has to recover a fumble in the field of play to win possession, the only exception being when a player fumbles out of bounds in his own end zone, which is a safety and should be. If a fumble goes out of bounds anywhere between the two end zones, the team that last had possession retains the ball.

The touchback rule punishes the offense for being as close as possible to scoring before fumbling. It makes no sense. Why should a player who fumbles a millimeter short of the goal line be handed a worse outcome than one who gets sacked for a 10-yard loss before losing the ball?

NCAA powers that be: do what you should have done decades ago and change this rule. And while you're at it, go ahead and retroactively award Tennessee those two wins.

Timeouts from the Sidelines

Timeouts should only be called from the field. If a coach is incapable of creating an effective system where he communicates with a player on the field to call for timeout, one, his name is probably Les Miles, and two, he should suffer the consequences for a lack of game management skills.

Part of amateur sports, which the NCAA still masquerades as, is teaching these kids valuable skills like communication, teamwork and leadership. Therefore, the players should assume responsibility for all communications with officials. The coach's job should be to instruct the players on what to do, not to do it for them. That's why the chain of communication should go coaches, players, officials.

Not to mention, eliminating timeouts from the sidelines would deal a blow to what is easily the most obnoxious, loathsome, abhorrent stunt coaches pull during games.

If you've watched more than 15 minutes of football in your life, you already know what I'm talking about.

The ice-the-kicker timeout.

The ice-the-kicker timeout ranks alongside toenail clipping in public, easing out an SBD in a crowded elevator and leaving an empty grocery cart in the center of an open parking space atop the hierarchy of behaviors that are despicable, repugnant and vile.

The only thing worse you'll ever see in sports is the endless procession of intentional-but-for-some-reason-not-called-that-way fouls by the team down 4 to 10 points during the last minute of a basketball game. To the fans, without whom the NCAA wouldn't exist, this kind of stuff makes the game insufferable.

That's why I love to see a kicker miss an attempt that's nullified by the opposing coach's timeout and then split the uprights on the next play when it actually counts. Even better when the game's on the line. The other coach looks like an idiot in addition to the a-hole he's already exposed himself as.

Sure, if sideline timeouts are eliminated, a player on the field could call timeout right as the other team is lining up to kick, but at least then the kicker would see it, rather than finding out after the ball sails through the goalposts that it doesn't count.

Come September, I'd like to see a new rule that does two things: bans timeouts from the sidelines, and issues swift kicks to the groin for defensive timeouts within five seconds of a field goal attempt.

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Britt McHenry Video Lacks Context, So Stop Making Snap Judgments

April 19, 2015

This isn't a college football story. But its subject works for a network that covers a lot of college football, and a few important narratives related to the story aren't being broached by the popular media, so I'm going to go with it.

By now you've heard about the Britt McHenry video, in which a young, attractive, female ESPN reporter loses her temper at a towing company employee and makes several comments that appear rude, vulgar and repugnant.

In the one-minute video, recorded by a security camera and then chopped to pieces so it only shows McHenry's end of the confrontation, the reporter mocks the employee's low-level job and lack of education, alludes to her missing teeth, and then ends the exchange by advising the woman to lose weight.

At a quick glance it's pretty damning. Here's an attractive, privileged, highly paid quasi-celebrity belittling Jane Workingwoman, who's just doing her job and trying to get by. McHenry's tirade is unprovoked, her anger unjustified, her level of verbal bombardment completely unnecessary.

At least that's how it appears. But like most 60-second-or-less YouTube clips the masses use to make snap judgments, the McHenry video lacks the most important thing--context.

Context is critical to understanding what actually happened in a given situation. That's why the easiest way to mislead people about something is to remove context.

During the 2000 presidential primaries, a George W. Bush ad highlighted a "warning" from The Arizona Republic, a conservative paper from Republican rival John McCain's home state, that "it's time the rest of the nation learns about the McCain we know." Primary voters saw it and assumed the paper had unflattering information on McCain, but here's the rest of the quote, omitted by the Bush ad: "There is much there to admire. After all, we have supported McCain in his past runs for office."

Like Bush's anti-McCain ad, the heavily edited McHenry video is presented with no context. Does it show what happened in the moments immediately preceding the confrontation? Nope. Does it show anything the attendant says to McHenry, other than her snarky comment about releasing the video to the public? Sure doesn't.

What's worse is that, allegedly, the original, unedited video did contain much of this context, but the towing company removed it before releasing the video and has gone to great lengths to keep it under wraps.

Here's what we know about the events leading to the confrontation. McHenry and a friend went to dinner at a Chinese establishment and parked in the restaurant's dedicated lot. Approximately two hours after the restaurant closed, the pair returned to the lot and found their car had been towed.

I won't lie. I'd be pretty mad, too. And when I went to retrieve my car, I doubt I'd be super friendly about it, especially when told the charge for towing it one mile is $135.

Would I descend into a rant about the employee's weight, education, job and dental health? I'd like to think not, but if she pushed the right buttons, who knows? Few of us can honestly say we've never made remarks, when provoked, that we wouldn't want recorded, broadcast to the entire world and attributed to us.

Once a shady air conditioning repairman from Sears insulted my living quarters, so I used my best four-letter vocabulary to fire back an invective about his lack of proficiency with the English language. Is it something I'm proud of? Of course not, but the guy pissed me off, and I'm not perfect. Neither is Britt McHenry, and neither is anyone rushing to judgment about this incident.

Here's what else we know: The business that towed McHenry's car, Advanced Towing, carries an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. Its average Yelp rating is one star. Moreover, several reviews, all posted before the McHenry incident, mention issues with a specific employee who, while not named, sounds similar in description to the reporter's foe.

Does the company's abysmal reputation justify unprovoked name-calling and belittlement, if indeed that's what happened? No, but it alters the narrative, namely that this skirmish was Cruella de Vil versus a helpless, innocent dalmatian. Sorry, but when you agree to receive a paycheck from a company that is well-known for being shady and unethical, you willingly and knowingly subject yourself to the wrath of people wronged by your employer. That's how it works.

I'm not taking sides here. I'm not going out on a limb and claiming that the employee was in the wrong and McHenry in the right. First off, I have no idea, because, like everyone else, I've not seen evidence that shows the entirety of what happened in its proper context.

Second, if I had to bet, I'd wager that, like most disagreements, this was either no-fault or both-at-fault, depending on how you choose to define it. McHenry was unhappy about her car, the employee was unhappy about McHenry being unhappy, and, like a schoolyard fight, things escalated until they got out of hand.

But the video only shows one kid's punches, every aggression by the other deleted to skew the narrative. That's what happens on YouTube. Cell phone cameras and video editing software make it easy to remove proper context and effectively lie about what actually happened. And because it's "video evidence," people believe the story it tells without asking questions.

So, please, don't use YouTube as a source for forming strong opinions. Use it for cat videos, movie clips and highlights from the last year your team was good. Unless, of course, you're a Tennessee fan like me, in which case I'm not sure if video exists that far back. Then just stay off the damn site altogether. Read a book or go outside or something.

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Cardale Jones Should Start at QB for Ohio State in 2015

April 17, 2015

Remember last summer, when the college football world was collectively deleting Ohio State from the 2014 national championship conversation? The season hadn't started, but it seemed over for the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller, starting QB and Heisman front-runner, had just re-injured his throwing shoulder, requiring surgery. His backup was a redshirt freshman who had never taken a snap, and the guy behind him was some clown best known for sending out a tweet questioning why a third-string football god such as himself needed to do the whole "school" part of college.

Then the season started. For the first few weeks, Ohio State seemed well on its way to irrelevancy. They looked inept in an ugly win against Navy before being soundly beaten by Virginia Tech. After regrouping during the ensuing bye week, though, the Buckeyes got it together under backup J.T. Barrett. Rattling off 10 straight wins, they earned a date with Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship. The last of those wins, against rival Michigan, came at a cost, though, as Barrett went down with a broken ankle in the fourth quarter, ending his season. 

It would be up to Cardale Jones, the aforementioned tweeter, not only to beat Wisconsin, but to do it convincingly enough to win the hearts of the college football playoff selection committee. At the time, the group had the Buckeyes ranked behind TCU and Baylor for the fourth and final playoff spot.

The Buckeyes dispatched Wisconsin, 59-0, earning a spot in the playoff. They took care of top-ranked Alabama in the playoff semifinal, 42-35. In the championship game, playing Oregon, they were underdogs again, but prevailed 42-20. In the three games he started, all against top-level competition, Jones threw for 742 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, and rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Heading into the 2015 season, Ohio State has the opposite problem from last year. Three top-tier QBs, only one starting slot. Neither Miller nor Barrett have put in transfer applications, and after briefly flirting with the idea of entering the NFL draft, Jones also elected to return to Columbus.

Cardale Jones should be the starting QB for Ohio State next season. But first, let's talk about why the other two guys should not.

Miller and Barrett are coming off pretty serious injuries. For Miller, it was his second surgery on his throwing shoulder. Come September, when the Buckeyes open the season against their lone conquistador from last year, Virginia Tech, twenty months will have passed since Miller played in a game. That's almost as much time as Michael Jordan took off from the NBA to play baseball. If you remember, when he came back, he wasn't the old MJ right away.

Unlike the NFL, college teams can't take the first game or two to shake off the rust. In the national title picture, one loss is often too many. Sometimes zero losses is too many--ask Auburn in 2004. Expansion to a four-team postseason has made things a little more forgiving, but why risk it? Virginia Tech would love nothing more than to ruin the Buckeyes' season. The guy entrusted to keep that from happening should be the guy with recent success beating top competition.

Barrett's situation is a little different. His injury isn't as big a deal, but neither was his performance prior to the injury. Don't mishear me--he played admirably given the situation he was forced into, called to action with no experience and little time to prepare. But the Buckeyes were a better team before his term at QB, and a better team after his term at QB. His numbers were great, but numbers don't tell the whole story. The offense simply operated better under Jones, which at least partially explains why Ohio State struggled against bad-to-mediocre teams like Penn State, Indiana and Virginia Tech with Barrett, and dominated the likes of Oregon with Jones.

Even the semifinal contest against 'Bama, in which the Buckeyes weren't given a modicum of a chance by much of anyone, wasn't as close as the 42-35 score indicated. The Tide used big plays to keep things tighter than they should have been, but the Jones-led Ohio State offense pretty much did what they wanted with the ball.

If Jones can lead the Buckeyes to their three best performances of the season cold, is there any reason to think he won't be even better after a year of preparation with the first-team offense? At the very least, shouldn't he be given the chance to prove it? They can always change QBs if needed, but why not start with the guy who, in his last three games, put up 59, 42 and 42 against #12, #1 and #2.

Hearing Ohio State fans stress about this problem is kind of funny when you think about it. It's like guy in high school who complained, with a straight face, about having too many girls after him. Homecoming was around the corner, and the bastard just couldn't narrow down his list of potential dates. Hot girls, too. And he expected you to feel sorry for him. Meanwhile, you were over here praying that the "maybe" from the chunky girl in A.P. history, the one who still wore a retainer, would turn into a "yes."

No matter who the Buckeyes take to the dance, they're gonna have a dime-piece on their arm. But Cardale Jones is the fairest of the fair. No QB in recent memory has put together a stretch like his last three games. Name him the starter, put your faith in him, rally the team behind him, and the guy will blossom. Who knows, he might even attend a class or two.

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Jameis Winston Sued By Accuser, Because God Forbid This Story Go Away

April 16, 2015

I'm exhausted from bandaging my thin skin that was shredded by angry Mizzou fans after my last post, so I'll keep this one short.

The Jameis Winston rape story just will not die. Now the girl is suing him. This despite the cops investigating for over two years and finding no grounds to charge Winston, much less convict him.

Yes, I know that O.J. was sued and lost in civil court after being exonerated in criminal court. But at least O.J. was tried for those murders. And there was plenty of evidence against him. Most agree he was acquitted on a technicality (thanks, Mark Fuhrman). Investigation of the Winston incident turned up NOTHING.

Besides, more financial incentive existed to sue O.J. He was filthy rich from a long NFL career. Winston's a college kid. Sure, he'll be a pro next season, but the days of lavish rookie contracts are over, and there's no guarantee he'll ever be a veteran (remember Ryan Leaf? Todd Marinovich? Jamarcus Russell?) If this girl thinks a win in civil court--highly unlikely--will set her up for a life on Easy Street, she needs a strongly dosed reality pill.

(Ironically, the Brown and Goldman families never got a dime from O.J. He had millions, but was smart enough to tie it up in annuities and Florida real estate, both protected by law from judgments, so he was dead broke on paper. You think Winston's attorney doesn't remember that bit of history?)

Look, I don't even like the guy. I think he's a punk, a terrible leader and an overrated quarterback. I hope the worst team in the NFL (Tampa Bay) takes him with the first pick, because I'm a fan of the second-worst team (Tennessee) and I'd much rather have Mariota.

But to channel Keanu Reeves in The Devil's Advocate, not liking Jameis Winston isn't a reason to find him guilty of a serious crime, or, in this case, to assign him blame for a serious wrongdoing without corroboration.

Again, there is NO evidence. It's he said, she said. If he did it and got away with it, God, karma or whatever you believe in will exact justice in due time. But in a courtroom, in America, proof is needed.

I'm sick of hearing about this, and I'm sure you are, too. (Yet you opted to read this story, and I opted to write it. Sad, I know.) Can we just move on? Please? Talk about something else? I'd rather spend another season hearing Herbstreit bloviate about Boise State being the real deal than listen to more non-football Winston talk.

There's so much more to talk about: Way-too-early playoff predictions. Ohio State's QB controversy. Hell, I'd even settle for a nice SEC-versus-the-rest-of-college-football debate right now. Just no more Winston talk. Please. Let this be the final word.

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Does Missouri Deserve More Respect? Pinkel Thinks So, ESPN Agrees, but I Say No

April 16, 2015

Since joining the SEC three seasons ago, the Missouri Tigers have played in the conference title game twice. They played for the Big XII championship in three of the five seasons before that. They've averaged almost 10 wins per season for much of the last decade, during which the program has also won five bowl games.

But they're still plain, boring, nondescript Missouri, making them the Rodney Dangerfield of the college football world--no respect. Now a growing chorus of voices, including ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and, of course, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, say it's time for the Tigers to get their due.

On the surface, the Tigers' consistently strong performance over the past decade places it among college football's gilded class, lending credence to the notion that the program has been slighted in the eyes of fans and talking heads. After all, five division titles in Power 5 conferences, five bowl wins and 9.5 wins per season over eight years, while not an Alabama resume, is unquestionably good.

Since 2010, Missouri has certainly fared better than, say, current SEC rival Florida and former Big XII rival Texas. Yet, as Missouri State coach and former Mizzou assistant Dave Steckel points out, the Gators and Longhorns receive considerably more press coverage than the Tigers, even in 2015.

But while Tigers fans can craft a compelling argument on paper for why their team deserves more accolades, their case doesn't hold up to greater scrutiny.

Here are a few things to consider about Missouri's recent success.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Sure, Missouri played for five conference titles, but they won precisely zero of those games. And yes, they won the Cotton Bowl twice, but that was before changes to the CFB postseason made it an elite bowl. Most of the Tigers' championship game losses weren't even close, which isn't surprising when you consider they played in the far weaker division of both the Big XII and the SEC.

If you want your name mentioned alongside the big boys, at some point you have to do more than show up for the championship game. You have to show up and show off, meaning win. Missouri was the Buffalo Bills of the Big XII, and now the SEC. Opponents love to see them in the big game because they've proven so adept at losing it.

One of the reasons Florida and Texas still get talked about despite their recent struggles is they've actually won conference championships and national titles in the not-too-distant past.

Path of least resistance. Missouri won the SEC East the last two seasons, but guess how many teams with winning conference records they had to beat to do so? One. Not even one per season; one during the two seasons combined. That was Georgia in 2013, which, while a top 10 team at the time, was decimated by injuries after having roughly half their starters hospitalized by Tennessee the week before.

Georgia went on to lose three more games that year, including two to unranked teams--Vanderbilt and Nebraska. They finished the 2013 season out of the top 25. And that was the best team Missouri beat during its two SEC East title runs.

Auburn, in contrast, went 9-1 against SEC teams with winning conference records during its title runs in 2010 and 2013. That's why Auburn gets respect. They win against good teams to get to the big game, and then they win against good teams in the big game.

The perennial rabbit's foot. Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems like an inordinate amount of good fortune has bestowed Mizzou in recent years. Opponents seem to catch the Tigers immediately after losing star players to injury or suspension. I mentioned the 2013 Georgia game. Then there was the 2014 Tennessee game, played by the Vols days after two starting defenders, including the team's best player, A.J. Johnson, were suspended amid a sexual assault allegation.

Also in 2014, Florida outplayed Missouri, nearly tripling the Tigers' total yardage and number of first downs, but gave the game away with six turnovers and several special teams blunders.

Yes, this argument is a little bit of a reach. Injuries happen, suspensions happen and sometimes teams play like garbage. It's part of the game. But over the last few seasons, these things have happened more against the Tigers than any other team.

Their ridiculous stadium. Even if Missouri had the resume of 1995 Nebraska or 2001 Miami, can you respect a team that plays in a stadium that looks like this:

Hideous. Almost as bad as Boise State's bird-killing blue field. Get rid of those ugly diamonds, un-italicize the yard numbers, and THEN try for respect. Oh, and add about 50,000 seats, and make sure you fill them. You play in the SEC, not Conference USA.

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Murder Was the Case: Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty

April 15, 2015

Jurors reached a verdict this morning in the trial of Aaron Hernandez, finding him guilty of first degree murder, unlawful possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd. The conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

Hernandez starred at the University of Florida from 2007-2009, winning a national championship with the Gators in 2008. He had a penchant for trouble in Gainesville, beginning with a bar fight during a recruiting visit as a high school senior. Florida's then-head coach Urban Meyer achieved temporary success in straightening Hernandez out by rooming him with Heisman winner and choir boy Tim Tebow.

But the tight end didn't elude trouble long. In New England, he had a reputation for preferring the company of his questionable friends back home in Bristol, Connecticut to spending time with his Patriots teammates, many of whom characterized him as aloof and standoffish. During his rookie year, Hernandez allegedly made a violent threat to teammate Wes Welker in an altercation during a film session.

After arresting him for Lloyd's murder, police quickly connected Hernandez with a 2012 double homicide in downtown Boston that followed an altercation in a nightclub. Hernandez has since been indicted for both murders. Investigators speculate that the killing of Lloyd was related to knowledge he had of Hernandez's involvement in the earlier slayings.

We brought you the Lawrence Phillips story yesterday, and now this. Why do these guys who have everything cling to a lifestyle that so many desperately want to escape? I've never had the chance to prove it, but if I had millions of dollars and legions of adoring fans, I think I could leave the thug life behind.

Hernandez is expected to be sentenced before the end of the day.

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Former Nebraska Standout Lawrence Phillips Suspected of Killing Prison Cellmate

April 14, 2015

Lawrence Phillips, the troubled running back who helped power Nebraska's era of dominance in the mid 1990s, is suspected of killing his cellmate at the Kern Valley State Prison in Central California.

Damian Soward, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence, was found unresponsive Saturday morning in the cell he shared with Phillips. He was pronounced dead soon thereafter.

Phillips, already serving a 31-year sentence for multiple battery charges, has yet to retain an attorney.

Now seems like a good time to revisit the highlights of one of the more interesting -- in that Natural Born Killers sort of way -- characters in college football history.

March 1994: Phillips is accused of assaulting another college student, grabbing him around the neck and throwing him to the ground, during a road rage incident at an intersection. Enters a pretrial diversion program, charges eventually dropped.

August 1995: Nebraska becomes aware of a rules violation from the previous season in which Phillips accepted a $100 lunch from a sports agent. Phillips reimburses the money, his eligibility remains briefly in question, but the matter is ultimately dismissed before the 1995 season begins.

September 1995: After rushing for 206 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a 50-10 victory over Michigan State, Phillips returns to Lincoln to learn that his former girlfriend, Cornhusker basketball player Kate McEwen, is shacking up with transfer quarterback (and future 'Husker star) Scott Frost. Phillips charges into Frost's room, plucks McEwen out of his bed and drags her by the hair down three flights of stairs. Meanwhile, Frost hides under the bed, ensuring that his paramour receives the brunt of the attack. Head coach Tom Osborne immediately suspends Phillips from the team, but in a controversial move reinstates him for the Fiesta Bowl national championship game against Florida. Phillips excels in the game and helps lead Nebraska to a 62-24 drumming of the Gators. In December of the same year, Phillips pleads no contest to the assault and is sentenced to one year of probation.

June 1996: Shortly after being drafted sixth overall by the St. Louis Rams, Phillips is charged with DUI in California. His blood alcohol content, according to the arrest report, is twice the legal limit.

November 1997: Citing Phillips' inconsistent performance and inability to stay out of trouble, head coach Dick Vermeil releases him from the Rams. In a tearful press conference, Vermeil states that Phillips is one of the best running backs he's ever coached.

November 1998: Phillips is released from his new team, the Miami Dolphins, after pleading no contest to assaulting a woman outside a nightclub in the Fort Lauderdale area.

November 1999: Yet another team, the San Francisco 49ers, releases Phillips for "conduct detrimental to the team."

May 2003: After resurfacing in the Canadian Football League, Phillips racks up another assault charge -- this time of the sexual nature -- causing his team, the Montreal Alouettes, to release him.

August 2005: Phillips gets angry at a group of Los Angeles teenagers during a pick-up football game, reacts by driving a car into them. Who hasn't done that at some point in his life? After arresting him, the cops reveal that Phillips is also wanted for -- wait for it -- yet another sexual assault, this time on a former girlfriend in San Diego. Phillips doesn't get out of this one so easily: In 2009, he is sentenced to 31 years in the crossbar hotel, where he resides today.

April 2015: Accused of murdering his prison cellmate. Details unknown as of this writing.

Too bad. By all accounts from those who coached him, the guy was a once-in-a-generation talent. Unfortunately, he was also a once-in-a-generation screw-up with something seriously wrong between the ears.

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Robbed! 4 Players Who Should Have Won the Heisman but Didn't

April 14, 2015

The Heisman trophy is awarded each December to college football's best player. At least, that is what we are led to believe.

But growing in ranks are skeptics who feel the award has become an amalgam of popularity contest and political statement, with marketability, ratings, political correctness and public perception trumping on-field achievements in the selection process.

To be certain, no player has made it to New York, much less held up the trophy, without having rightfully earned his way into college football's elite with his play. That said, there have been several clear instances over the years where the true best player in college football was denied the hardware, lending credence to skeptics' charges.

Here are four college football players who should have won the Heisman but didn't.

4. Tommie Frazier, Nebraska, 1995:

In the mid-1990s, one team dominated college football above all others: the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Behind an unstoppable option attack that put up staggering numbers with seeming ease, Nebraska won back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995 and was known for eviscerating even highly ranked opponents. 

The leader of its offensive juggernaut was quarterback Tommie Frazier, who capped his record-breaking 1995 season (during which he was never sacked) by leading the Cornhuskers to a national championship and a 62-24 shellacking of the Florida Gators -- a team led by the following season's Heisman winner, Danny Wuerffel. College football historians still regard Frazier's 75-yard run in that game, during which he broke at least eight tackles on his way to a touchdown, as one of the greatest plays in the history of the sport. 

Without question, Ohio State's Eddie George, the 1995 Heisman winner, boasted an impressive resume. But Frazier leading his team to total domination week in and week out speaks for itself.

3. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 2009:

Since the genesis of the Heisman trophy in 1935, Michigan's Charles Woodson, in 1997, is the only defensive player to win it. (More on that later.) That is a shame, as the 2009 college football season saw the breakout of a once-in-a-generation defensive tackle with animal strength, rocket-like closing speed and a mean streak the size of an F5 tornado's path. 

Over the course of 14 games, Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh racked up 52 tackles, 20.5 tackles for losses and 12 sacks -- including one in the Big XII Championship game in which he slung Texas quarterback Colt McCoy to the ground like a rag doll. Led by Suh, Nebraska finished its 2009 campaign ranked first in the nation in scoring defense, yielding only 10 points per game. 

But a running back from the SEC named Mark Ingram also compiled some pretty good numbers in 2009, albeit not as good as Suh's. Ingram, however, had the advantage of playing for the University of Alabama, which finished the season undefeated. Therefore, Suh was relegated to also-ran while Ingram took the hardware.

2. Vince Young, Texas, 2005:

Texas quarterback Vince Young made no attempt to cloak his disappointment after losing the 2005 Heisman to University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush. Rather than making the standard conciliatory post-ceremony statements expected of the runner-up, Young stuck around only for a perfunctory interview in which he defiantly expressed his opinion that he should have won, promised that his Texas team would be more than prepared to play Bush's USC team in the upcoming national championship game, and then disappeared out the back door of New York's Best Buy Theater. 

While such petulant antics would eventually sabotage his NFL career, Young made good on his promise that season. Amassing 267 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in one of the most dominant individual performances college football has ever seen, he led Texas to a thrilling, come-from-behind 41-38 victory over a USC squad featuring not only the Heisman winner Bush, but also Matt Leinart, the previous season's winner.

1. Peyton Manning, Tennessee, 1997:

During his tenure at Tennessee, Peyton Manning rewrote the record books for college quarterbacks. His most prolific season was his senior campaign in 1997, when he threw for 36 touchdowns and almost 4,000 yards in leading the Volunteers to an 11-1 record and an SEC championship. 

That was good enough to bring home the O'Brien Award, the Maxwell Award, the Unitas Award and the ESPY for Best College Football Player. But Heisman voters chose Michigan defensive back and human highlight reel Charles Woodson instead, citing the need for a defensive player to win the award and Manning's inability to beat Florida. 

Though Woodson's accomplishments as a playmaker are unassailable, no one embodied college football and everything it stands for the way Peyton Manning did. His failure to capture the sport's most prestigious individual award, in the opinion of many, forever impugned the award's credibility.

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