Auburn’s Bryan Harsin opens spring after offseason uncertainty

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AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said he isn’t bitter about a school investigation that placed his job in apparent jeopardy.

Harsin has now turned his attention to finding a starting quarterback and stopping a five-game skid. But the memories linger, of course.

“There was a lot of things that happened,” Harsin said after the Tigers’ first spring practice. “I don’t really see the value at this point of looking back in the rearview mirror. I’m a guy that wants to move forward, that wants to get better, that wants to keep moving. Now, that’s how I operate.

“There’s other people involved. There’s other families involved. I’m not saying they have to operate like I do.”

The probe started with President Jay Gogue telling trustees that his office was “trying to separate fact from fiction” surrounding the polarizing coach. The program had lost 18 players and five assistant coaches after Harsin’s 6-7 debut season, including three coordinators.

One former player said Harsin treated them “like dogs,” though others rose to Harsin’s defense.

It ended with Gogue decrying the “wild speculation” and misinformation in the “feeding frenzy” surrounding Harsin, whose contract runs through the 2026 season. He didn’t specify the nature of that speculation.

Now, Harsin is trying to move forward and overcome any lingering uncertainty among players, fans and recruits. He says that has to be a team effort, and not just among players, stressing that “this isn’t Auburn versus Auburn.”

“If we’re all going in that same direction, people are going to want to be a part of that,” he said. “If we’re not going in the same direction, people aren’t going to want to be a part of it.”

Harsin also knows some opposing coaches will use that offseason turmoil against Auburn on the recruiting trail.

“And there’s a lot of programs and people out there that have no problem doing that,” he said. “I don’t feel that way. I really don’t. There’s a lot of people that don’t. We battled it and we’re going to battle it every day.”

Harsin hired Eric Kiesau as his third offensive coordinator in some 14 months. With the offseason issues apparently behind them, their most high-profile task of the spring is picking from a large field of quarterback candidates.

Three-year starter Bo Nix left for Oregon, and LSU transfer T.J. Finley took his place after Nix’s season-ending injury. Auburn brought in former Texas A&M starter Zach Calzada and Oregon transfer Robby Ashford to join Finley, redshirt freshman Dematrius Davis and signee Holden Geriner in the competition.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”