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The weekend before Thanksgiving rarely features any compelling matchups in college football. Some teams try to take a break from conference play to schedule lesser opponents - such as Alabama (#10 AP, #11 BCS), who squared off on Thursday night against Georgia State. Others will be idle, including the top three in this week's BCS poll - Oregon, Auburn and TCU.
This is probably a good idea, with the Thanksgiving break (amazingly enough) coming up next week. College students looking forward to a week off and a quick trip back home for some of Mom's home-cooked Tofurkey shouldn't be asked to focus on anything too important. (We are talking about Generation Y here, folks. God knows what passes for tradition with these kids. Maybe they will grow up with fond memories of the holiday Skype get-together and reading Justin Bieber's Thanksgiving Twitter feed on their iPads.)
Finally, there are teams like Boise State who have smartly realized this weekend is an ideal time to grab some spotlight. The Broncos (9-0 overall, 5-0 in conference, #3 AP, #4 BCS) welcome WAC opponent Fresno State to the Smurf Turf on Friday night.
And while few of us may think of Friday as an ideal time for gridiron action, Chris Peterson and (the Electric Blue) Company will get national exposure on ESPN2.
While Fresno State is no pushover on the road this year (3-1 away), few in the WAC can matchup against the firepower of Boise's offense while also penetrating what has developed into a stifling defense.
And yes, then there are the true gimmicks as those of us in the Chicagoland area have witnessed unfold throughout the week. But first, allow us to comment briefly on the white elephant in the room.
The Cameron Newton Situation, or, Why This Season May Be a Do-Over
First, let's reiterate there is no evidence anything untoward happened during Cameron Newton's recruitment by . . . Auburn. Rather, the goings-on during his recruitment by SEC West rival Mississippi State have stirred up what could be the worst public controversy for the NCAA since Reggie Bush.
Despite Newton's alleged explanation that the "[Auburn] money was too much" for him to attend Mississippi State that is echoing around message boards, no tangible evidence has surfaced on any wrongdoing on his part or by his father, Cecil Newton. Again, pertaining to his recruitment by Auburn.
We won't bore you with a recap of the story to date (you can refer back to our Week Ten column for that) but this week did see an interesting wrinkle emerge: A potential connection between Alabama casino owner Milton McGregor and a pay-for-play scheme including not only Newton but the entire Auburn program.
The FBI has been investigating McGregor in a federal wiretapping case for allegedly trying to buy pro-gambling votes from Alabama politicians. Now the FBI has asked McGregor about his involvement with Cam Newton and paying players.
McGregor owns the an entertainment complex in Shorter, Alabama. The complex contains the Victoryland dog track, the Oasis hotel, and "Quincy's 777" casino and sportsbook. The complex has been closed since August following a raid by the state gambling task force, an entity created by Alabama Governor Bob Riley (Democrat).
Last week, Governor-elect Dr. Robert Bentley (Republican) announced in a press-conference on various reforms and changes he will make upon taking office in January that he will dissolve the task force.
Bentley will instead work with the new state attorney general, Republican Luther Strange. Among his past work, Strange lobbied on behalf of Transocean Offshore Drilling Co.- owner of, you guessed it, the Deepwater Horizon rig - in the late '90s.
In other words, the fatcats will be returning to Victoryland any day now.
This is just the beginning of what can be a deep, deep rabbit hole. Don't just take our word for it. Bookmark this link for an impressive message-board rant on the alleged Da Vinci Code-esque scope of this story. Dan Brown, eat your heart out. Even you couldn't dream up a sports conspiracy theory this juicy. Take my advice - print all four parts of this sucker and keep it on hand for those long hours at the office between now and Turkey Day. (With many thanks, we suppose, to loyal Beachwood reader and Jayhawk-in-resident Nick S. Congrats, Nicky, you owe us at least one night of sleep.)
For his part, McGregor (or rather, his attorney) denies any involvement in the Newton situation. McGregor, a major booster for the Auburn program (he donated a cool $1 million to the school in '08), might have to do a bit more than that to avoid further questioning on the matter.
The Auburn (#2 AP, #2 BCS) program can only hope for one outcome of this mess: total exoneration of Cameron Newton. That fishiness occurred seems without question, given Friday's news that one of the key figures involved in the MSU scandal - pseudo-agent (and alleged representative of the Newton family) Kenny Rogers - texted an outline of the pay-for-play scheme to fellow Bulldogs booster Bill Bell. For his part, Rogers insists Cecil Newton forced him into what he knew was an unwise decision. (Sending the text, it seems, not the pay-for-play scheme in general.)
Asked for comment by an Atlanta TV station on Thursday, Newton's family attorney responded by saying, "No money has been offered to Cam Newton . . . [nor has he] asked for any money."
Well, great. But nobody has accused Cam Newton of anything. But if his father was shopping him around, then what? Did Cam know? What if he didn't? Does it matter? (And look, not for nothing here, but how could he be that blind?) To clear Newton, the NCAA will have to say that either all of the stories about text messages, voicemails and conversations have been completely fabricated by jealous fans , boosters and spurned agents (not a total stretch, incidentally, given the fervent atmosphere in the SEC) or that Cecil Newton did (unsuccessfully) shop Cameron around but the signing with Auburn was clean.
Then what? The former seems unlikely and the latter creates a dangerous precedent in the college game.
The whole thing makes me feel like I need another shower. The College Football Report won't give you any answers to this problem. I don't know if there is a solution. For sure, paying players won't work - but don't just take my word for it - for that, give ESPN.com's Johnette Howard a read and if you're still in doubt, try out Bill Plaschke from the LA Times.
The state of affairs today that makes a Reggie Bush situation possible - wherein only the high profile offenders get caught - will only change when students, fans and boosters exert enough pressure on schools to either vigilantly self-police or (perhaps better yet) fund a significant "ethics enforcement" effort by the NCAA.
The NCAA is funded by its member schools, so efforts to catch recruiting violations are inherently limited by the resources made available by those same institutions breaking the rules.
I suppose we could ask Congress to get involved, but let's assume for the moment that body is busy screwing up other parts of society to leave big-time collegiate sports alone.
And, as we've mentioned here before, we shouldn't expect change overnight. In the meantime, however, we have to continue busting the rats too lazy, too corrupt or just too stupid to avoid getting caught. What's the alternative?
Backyard Football Comes to Wrigley - Northwestern, Illinois Debate Who Gets to Be "Shirts"
Just when we felt like things couldn't get any worse, news broke on Friday that the Northwestern-Illinois game at Wrigley Field will be played with backyard football rules. The story will not come as a surprise at this point, but I hope I'm not alone in rejoicing at the sheer silliness of it all.
Then again, that tune might change when the inevitable class action lawsuit gets filed. I think we can all safely assume that everyone who shelled out for tickets in the bleacher seats (the now-vacant end zone) will be more than a little peeved to watch all the offensive action take place at the other end of the field.
Now, think about the likely lawyer-to-regular-Joe ratio in that crowd. We have to be talking about, what, 1 in 100? 1 in 50?
Then again, maybe the Big 10 will think of a solution. Like a two-for-one beer special for the bleacher seats. That ought to do the trick. I can't think of any problems that would cause. At all.
Maurice Clarett, This Is Your Life
The CFR would like to welcome one-time NFL draft bust and former felon Maurice Clarett back to football.
Clarett, interviewed here, enjoyed a return to the field with Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League this season after being released from prison in January.
He served 3 1/2 years on robbery and weapons charges stemming from an incident in 2006 after failing to make the Broncos roster in 2005.
Clarett, who was ruled ineligible for receiving extra illegal benefits the season following the Ohio State 2002 championship, should serve as a cautionary tale. Not everyone gets away it. But despite making a royal mess of his once-promising career, we can't help but root for the guy now. Here's hoping he keeps to the straight-and-narrow and returns next year for the Nighthawks.
Enough pontificating, let's get to the picks.
The Sports Seal:
Kansas State (-2) at Colorado (Saturday, 1:10PM)
Illinois @ Northwestern (+7.5, Saturday, 2:30PM)
New Mexico @ BYU (-30, Saturday, 5:00PM)
And in the Top 25:
New Mexico State @ #18 Nevada (-37.5, Saturday 3:00PM)
#13 Arkansas (-3) @ #21 Mississippi State (6:00PM, Saturday)
#25 Florida State (-4) @ Maryland (7:00PM, Saturday)
Mike Luce brings you The College Football Report in this space every week. He welcomes your comments.
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