May 13, 2011

Mailbag: Will Buckeyes' punishment match USC's?

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Earlier this week, NCAA president Mark Emmert said he wants to take a hard line against football programs that break rules.

His comments would seem, then, to confirm that the NCAA has been soft against previous violators. After all, if the NCAA already was tough on rules-breakers, there would be no need to get tough, would there?

The feeling at USC is the NCAA got tough two years ago when it imposed serious sanctions on the Trojans for extra benefits violations involving Reggie Bush.

But the NCAA has a history of coming down harder on some programs than others. Will that change now with Emmert's impending get-tough policy?

Look to Columbus, Ohio, for the eventual answer to that question.

Tough call

Do you think Ohio State's penalties will be worse than those USC is dealing with now?
West Columbia, S.C

The Reggie Bush situation resulted in the Trojans being ineligible to compete for the conference championship or play in a bowl game for two years and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years.

Because an appeal is pending, USC hasn't yet (and may not) feel the full effects of the scholarship reductions.

Now, I realized a long time ago that the NCAA is inconsistent in how it doles out punishment. For example, in 1994, Texas A&M was put on probation and not allowed to contend for the Southwest Conference championship because players were paid for work they did not do at a summer job. In 2006, three Oklahoma players, including then-quarterback Rhett Bomar, were found to have been paid thousands of dollars for work they did not perform at a local car dealership. The NCAA docked the Sooners a couple of scholarships for two years.

I'm sure the NCAA could offer an explanation about why virtually the same offenses resulted in much different punishments, but it all smells of fertilizer to me.

Heck, just look at last year. Last August, the NCAA found that Georgia's A.J. Green sold a jersey and immediately suspended him for four games. Last December, the NCAA found that five Ohio State players sold memorabilia (in some instances, for more money than Green received) but decided those suspensions (for five games) wouldn't go into effect until the 2011 season and allowed the players to participate in the Sugar Bowl.

Apparently, the NCAA could see a difference in the transgressions, but I can't. That's why I'm doubtful Ohio State will face the same sanctions as USC.

Logically, it would seem Ohio State would receive at least the sanctions that USC did. The Bush scandal involved much more money, but it also involved one player. The Ohio State scandal involves five players, and coach Jim Tressel, who also will serve a five-game suspension. But Tressel originally was given a two-game suspension by Ohio State and "volunteered" to have it extended to five only after an appeal to reduce the players' suspensions was denied by the NCAA.

We know Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, tailback Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas broke NCAA rules by selling memorabilia to the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor. We also know that Tressel had knowledge of this before the 2010 season, yet chose to keep quiet and played the players anyway. He then lied to his bosses about being aware of the situation. Tressel even contacted Pryor's "mentor" to warn him that the owner of the tattoo parlor was the subject of a drug investigation.

The NCAA is tough on those who break the rules and lie about it. In 2009, Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant lied about a meeting with Deion Sanders. Apparently, his untruthfulness was the only major grievance, yet the NCAA suspended him for the majority of that season.

The NCAA punished Tressel for lying, too. In June, he must attend an NCAA-sponsored five-day compliance seminar. It will be held at a waterfront resort hotel in Tampa.

Now, that's taking a hard line, isn't it?

Thin Heels

North Carolina lost almost every starter on defense and also lost their starting quarterback and running back. With the playing time the backups received last season, do you think the Tar Heels can make a run at a national championship?
Albemarle, N.C

Actually, North Carolina has five full-time starters returning on defense, and that does not include cornerback Charles Brown, who was a starter in 2009 but sat out last season. Linebacker Zach Brown wasn't a fulltime starter, but he played well and some project him as a possible first-round draft choice in 2012. End Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell also are projected as potential first-rounders. The Tar Heels will be fine on defense.

Offense is the issue. The Tar Heels were inconsistent offensively last season (44 points one week vs. Virginia, 10 the next vs. Miami ; 37 points at Florida State, 10 vs. Virginia Tech the next week). That was with four-year starter T.J. Yates at quarterback.

This fall, North Carolina will rely on sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner, once a highly regarded prospect who threw just two passes last season. He has big-time receiver in Dwight Jones and three returning starters along the offensive line. An effective running back must emerge to boost a stagnant running game, though. Ryan Houston, who missed last season but had a strong showing in '09, could fill that role.

There are just too many questions regarding North Carolina's offense for me to believe the Tar Heels can win a conference title, much less the national championship.

Florida State is my pick in the ACC.

But don't give up. Going into last season, few thought Auburn could win the national championship. Many had the Tigers picked to finish fourth in the SEC West. I was among them.

Tiger bounce

What do you think Auburn's record will be this year without Cameron Newton?
Hoover, Ala

Anyone who believes Auburn won't take a major step backward this season has forgotten how incredibly dominant Newton was last season.

If not for Newton, I doubt Auburn would have beaten Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia or Alabama. He was obviously the main difference between Auburn being a "good" team and a national champion.

It's going to be tough enough for Auburn without Newton, but don't forget the Tigers lost much, much more.

Four starters on an excellent offensive line are gone. So are top receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachary. The defense will be without seven 2010 starters, including linebacker Josh Bynes and All-America tackle Nick Fairley. In addition, starting safety Mike McNeil was kicked off the team after an arrest for robbery. And don't underestimate the loss to reliable kicker Wes Byrum.

Auburn still has talent. Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer are as good a duo at running back as you'll find. Coach Gene Chizik and his staff have done an excellent job in recruiting. But Auburn just lost too much high-level talent. The bet here is Auburn finishes 7-5 or 6-6.

Trivia time

You want a tough one? Here is it: Name the player/players who have won a consensus national championship, the Heisman and a Super Bowl. Besides Tony Dorsett, has anyone else accomplished that feat?
Follansbee, W.Va

For years, Dorsett was the only players to hold that triple crown. But in the past two years, two more have joined him.

Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman and was on USC's 2004 national championship team, and he helped the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory following the 2009 season.

Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won the Heisman while helping the Wolverines to a share of the national championship in 1997. Last season, he won a Super Bowl as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

(Marcus Allen, who won the Heisman as a USC running back in 1981 and the Super Bowl as a member of the Los Angeles Raiders, was a backup on the 1978 Trojans team that won the UPI version of the national title.)

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at
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