NCAA charges Tennessee with 18 violations

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Tennessee hopes its “exemplary cooperation” with the NCAA helps the Volunteers avoid serious punishment from 18 major rules violations as easily as they dodged paying former coach Jeremy Pruitt‘s multi-million dollar buyout.

The NCAA notified Tennessee of the Level 1 violations, the NCAA’s most serious, for allegations of providing impermissible cash, gifts and benefits worth about $60,000 to football recruits and their families under Pruitt. The notice of allegations says at least a dozen members of Pruitt’s staff were involved in more than 200 individual violations over a two-year period.

Tennessee has until Oct. 20 to respond, according to the letter it received from the association’s enforcement staff.

Pruitt and nine others were fired for cause in January 2021 after Tennessee started an internal investigation following a tip on Nov. 13, 2020, and found what the university chancellor called “serious violations of NCAA rules.” The firing negated Pruitt’s $12.6 million buyout after he went 16-19 in three seasons.

Chancellor Donde Plowman had said Pruitt was responsible for overseeing the football program. Tennessee also fired two assistants and seven members of the recruiting and support staff. Pruitt, three of his assistants and three other staffers could face show-cause penalties making it difficult for them to get another college job after a hearing is held with the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions.

“In every step of this process, we took quick and decisive actions that exemplified the longstanding values of the NCAA reiterated in the membership’s new constitution,” Plowman said in a statement Friday. “The university hired outside counsel to fully investigate allegations about the football program, acted promptly to terminate the employment of football coaches and staff members, and shared our conclusions with the NCAA enforcement staff.”

Pruitt told ESPN he was still reading through the report and seeing a lot of information in the allegations for the first time.

“I’d rather not comment a whole lot past that, other than to say that I’m looking forward to telling my side of the story somewhere down the road,” Pruitt said.

NCAA investigators opened a case in December 2020 and became more involved within the two weeks before Pruitt was fired.

The complaint notes how Tennessee handled its investigation “should be the standard for any institutional inquiries into potential violations.” The NCAA noted Tennessee immediately mirror-imaged football staffers’ cell phones leading to information “that substantiated the violations alleged.”

Tennessee wrapped up its investigation last November and announced then it wouldn’t self-impose a bowl ban to avoid penalizing current players and coaches. New athletic director Danny White, who replaced the retiring Phillip Fulmer, hired Josh Heupel in late January 2021.

Plowman noted the NCAA enforcement staff recognized the university’s “exemplary cooperation” in the case.

“While we will take appropriate responsibility, last fall, the university announced that we will not self-impose penalties that harm innocent student-athletes like postseason bans based upon the actions of coaches and staff who are no longer part of the institution,” Plowman said.

Three Level I allegations involve impermissible visits during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period.

On nine separate weekends from July to November 2020, about $12,100 in impermissible recruiting inducements and unofficial visit expenses were provided for six recruits and their families to come to the Knoxville area, according to the complaint.

Among the allegations, on at least 31 occasions from January 2019-March 2021, outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton, inside linebackers coach Brian Niedermeyer, recruiting staff member Bethany Gunn and Pruitt’s wife, Casey Pruitt, provided about $16,300 in impermissible benefits to an individual in the form of cash, parking to attend home football games and entertainment expenses to host a recruit’s mother.

And on 25 occasions from January 2019-March 2021, Casey Pruitt allegedly provided a total of $12,500 in cash benefits to an individual for monthly car payments.

Pruitt and two recruiting staffers provided or arranged for approximately $11,223 on at least 20 occasions between January 2019-December 2020. That includes $2,443 reimbursed to the assistant director of recruiting using CashApp for costs that covered furniture, household goods or party decorations.

The then-head coach also provided approximately $6,000 in cash toward a down payment toward a new car during an unofficial visit.

White said in a statement that receiving the notice of allegations “was an expected, requisite step in this process – a process our university initiated proactively through decisive and transparent actions. This moves us one step closer to a final resolution.

“Until we get to that point, I am unable to discuss the case in any detail. As a university, we understand the need to take responsibility for what occurred, but we remain committed to protecting our current and future student-athletes.”

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.