No. 23 Wake Forest set for Sam Hartman’s return at Vanderbilt

Corey Perrine/USA TODAY NETWORK
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Wake Forest’s time without star quarterback Sam Hartman turned out to be short. The question now for the 23rd-ranked Demon Deacons heading into Saturday’s trip to Vanderbilt is how long it takes their offense to find last season’s high-efficiency and prolific form.

The Demon Deacons (1-0) beat VMI last week with Hartman out due to a blood clot near the collarbone that had sidelined him indefinitely, leaving Mitch Griffis to earn the win in his first career start. But the school announced Tuesday that Hartman had been medically cleared to return and he was back atop the depth chart for the trip to face the Commodores (2-0), enough to swing the point spread

“We’re getting back our captain and one of our best leaders that we’ve ever had here, and a really good football player,” coach Dave Clawson said. “I think more than anything they’re just happy for him because they know how important it is to him.”

Hartman guided the Demon Deacons to 11 wins and a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last year, leading an offense that ranked among the best in the Bowl Subdivision ranks. Hartman’s play was also a key reason why Wake Forest cracked the top 10 of the AP Top 25 last year, too.

“We’re all juiced up for it,” linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. said.

The Commodores, off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2018, rolled past Hawaii 63-10 in their opener. But coach Clark Lea wasn’t happy with how his Commodores cruised to the finish of last week’s 42-31 win against Elon and sees that as another area for growth.

“This is a great opportunity for us to go against the program that’s kind of set the standard here recently with respect to balancing being a great academic school and playing high-level college football,” Lea said. “For us, we’re still so young as a program and I think the first two games are indicative of this.”

Things to know about Saturday’s Wake Forest-Vanderbilt game:

TOUGH STRETCH

This starts a tough stretch for Vanderbilt leading into Southeastern Conference play.

The Commodores are the only FBS team scheduled to play three straight games against teams that played for their conference title last season. Next up is a game against reigning Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois before opening league play against No. 1 Alabama.

Vanderbilt is among 11 teams with at least five opponents from the preseason AP Top 25.

OFFENSIVE VANDERBILT

Having a game in hand on the rest of the SEC certainly helps, but Vanderbilt currently leads the league by averaging 512.5 total yards while ranking third in scoring at 52.5 points.

Vanderbilt has scored 105 points, which it didn’t reach until the second quarter of its eighth game last season. The Commodores have scored 42 points in consecutive games for the first time since 2005.

Third-year quarterback Mike Wright, named the starter at SEC media days in July, has been a big key. He already has combined for 10 touchdowns, topping the nine he scored last season.

SMENDA’S RETURN

Smenda didn’t play last week because he was serving a one-game suspension after picking up his third targeting call last year in the Gator Bowl win against Rutgers. The fifth-year linebacker will make his season debut in this one and entered the year as the team’s leading career tackler (238).

STREAKING DORES

Lea’s specialty before being hired by his alma mater was defense, and the Commodores have notched at least one takeaway in 11 straight games going back to last season. They now have 12 interceptions with six recovered fumbles in that span. Three fumbles have been recovered combined over the first two games.

PENALTY WATCH

Clawson was clearly irritated by the “awful” penalties from the opener against VMI, which included flags that negated an offensive and defensive touchdown. Wake Forest finished with seven penalties for 69 yards.

“In a lot of ways it’s an ideal opener,” Clawson said of the win against the Keydets of the Championship Subdivision. “We won the game and we got to play a lot of different people. And yet there were a lot of teachable moments that we have to get corrected as we step up the level of play.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.