Michigan State president: Post-game melee ‘unacceptable’

Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan State President Samuel Stanley publicly apologized for a “violent” skirmish in which Spartans football players appeared to attack Michigan players in a stadium tunnel after losing to the rival Wolverines.

“I’m extremely saddened by this incident and the unacceptable behavior depicted by members of our football program,” Stanley said in a statement. adding that those involved would be held responsible by coach Mel Tucker. “On behalf of Michigan State University, my heartfelt apology to the University of Michigan and the student athletes who were injured.

“There is no provocation that could justify the behavior we are seeing on the videos. Rivalries can be intense but should never be violent.”

The scuffle broke out in the Michigan Stadium tunnel after fourth-ranked Wolverines beat the Spartans 29-7 Saturday night. Social media posts showed at least three Michigan State players pushing, punching and kicking Michigan’s Ja'Den McBurrows in and near a hallway that doesn’t lead to either locker room.

McBurrows and defensive back Gemon Green went up the tunnel, walking alongside the Spartans, after the game while much of Michigan’s team was waving them off the field after beating their in-state rivals for the first time in three years.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Saturday night that one of the players, who he did not identify, might have a broken nose. A social media post on Sunday showed a Wolverine, who appears to be Green, getting roughed up by Spartans.

“Two of our players were assaulted,” Harbaugh said. “I saw on the one video. 10 on one. It was pretty bad. It needs to be investigated.”

Tucker said in a tweet Sunday that his program will cooperate with law enforcement and the Big Ten in any investigation.

“As Spartans, our program has a responsibility to uphold the highest level of sportsmanship. While emotions were very high at the conclusion of our rivalry game at Michigan Stadium, there is no excuse for behavior that puts our team or our opponents at risk,” Tucker said. “In complete cooperation with law enforcement, the Big Ten Conference and MSU and UM leadership, we will evaluate the events in Ann Arbor and take swift and appropriate action.”

University of Michigan Deputy Police Chief Melissa Overton said an investigation is underway in partnership with Michigan State police, and Michigan’s athletic department and football program.

“The investigation takes some time,” Overton said Sunday.

Stanley said the university will be cooperating with all related investigations by law enforcement and the Big Ten.

The Big Ten said in a statement: “The conference is currently gathering information, will thoroughly review the facts, and will take appropriate action.”

It was the second straight game at Michigan that included an altercation in the long, narrow tunnel that goes from the locker rooms to the field.

Earlier this month, Penn State coach James Franklin said a policy change was needed to provide a more orderly use of the tunnel.

Some heated words were exchanged, and Michigan players said Penn State players threw peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at them as the teams headed to the locker room at halftime of a close game the Wolverines ultimately won in a 41-17 rout on Oct. 15.

Harbaugh said Franklin acted as a “ringleader” and claimed the Nittany Lions stopped in the tunnel to prevent his team from accessing its locker room.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.