Three factors that will determine Miami's punishment; more mail

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So ... anything interesting going on this week?

Hey Stewart. I'm a long-time Mailbag fan and even longer-time 'Canes fan, so I have a question for you on this whole ordeal. While I don't doubt that a lot of the allegations are true, do you think there is really enough hard evidence for the insane sanctions people have been speculating? Can the NCAA really use anonymous sources reported by a news company as evidence? No former players have to cooperate right? While the impermissible recruiting can most likely be punished by interviewing the old assistants and current players, most of the other issues were further back and people involved (excepting Donna Shalala) are all gone.-- Mark, Miami

First off, you have to take into account what the NCAA considers to be its "burden of proof" in an enforcement case. Not to keep harping on it, but take USC/Reggie Bush as an example. Nearly all of the key testimony was provided by an ex-convict (Lloyd Lake) with an axe to grind -- just as the Miami case will be based primarily on the testimony of a current convict (Nevin Shapiro). The two key pieces of evidence used to determine that running backs coach Todd McNair knew of Bush's relationship with Lake, therefore resulting in a Lack of Institutional Control charge, were a picture of McNair and Lake together at a party and phone records confirming contact between the two. That's pretty much it.

Compare that with the evidence in the Yahoo! report, which, quite frankly, is astonishing. Charles Robinson's exposé is a landmark in online journalism; it not only tells a story but includes links to individual pages for every single player or coach alleged to have taken or orchestrated benefits, with the accompanying documentation. For some that means incriminating photos, for others phone records and bank statements. In nearly all cases, there's actual audio of Shaprio's testimony to federal investigators. That's a lot of hard evidence, and since Shapiro seems hell bent on bringing down The U, I assume the NCAA will have access to all of it.

It really doesn't matter if investigators get to speak with Willis McGahee, Kellen Winslow or any of the other long-gone 'Canes. I'm not sure those allegations even matter in the grand scheme of things, other than to establish how Shapiro originally got involved with Miami players. The three key factors that will determine whether this thing reaches SMU proportions are: 1) Whether the NCAA can prove administrators knew what Shapiro was doing; 2) Whether Shapiro in fact induced players to sign with the sports agency he co-owned; and 3) whether the assistant coaches mentioned in the allegations did in fact steer recruits to Shapiro. The first one will be the toughest and may well be false. The second is pretty clearly established in the article. And because the active coaches are required to cooperate with investigators, they'll either confirm or deny the third part, but they risk a career-ending unethical conduct charge if they aren't truthful.

No one can predict how an NCAA case will play out and whether or not it will ultimately result in "insane sanctions." I do know that with all the criticism the NCAA is facing right now, and considering all the tough talk in recent weeks from Mark Emmert and others about coming down harder against egregious rule-breakers, the enforcement staff will be facing significant pressure to deliver a thoroughly established set of severe allegations for the Committee on Infractions to consider. What happens from there is anyone's guess.

Hey Stewart: Why couldn't the Big 12 replace Texas A&M with Houston if the hammer falls? It makes sense geographically, the two teams are about equal talent-wise (though it'd be swapping a traditionally defensive team for an explosively offensive team), and it'd cement the Houston television market for the conference.-- Wood, Minneapolis, Minn.

Houston is my clubhouse leader. I know there's been more national sentiment toward BYU, but that might not make sense for either party. Considering Texas' TV network helped create this whole hubabaloo in the first place, it might not be in the Big 12's best interest to go out and grab another school with its own network. Granted, BYUtv doesn't have the same clout as ESPN-backed TLN, but one of the driving factors behind BYU's move to independence was to achieve more national exposure (which it's getting with its own ESPN deal) and reclaim more programming for BYUtv. Obviously a chance at a BCS auto bid might trump all that, but I'm not sure that's the direction -- geographically or philosophically -- that the Big 12 wants to head.

The Big 12 is a Texas-based conference, even more so now with the departures of Nebraska and Colorado, and it makes sense to add another Texas school. Television markets really aren't an issue here -- Texas A&M isn't providing any markets of its own as it is -- and reportedly the conference won't lose much, if any, of its ESPN dollars if it finds a "suitable replacement." (Have you noticed how often ESPN comes up in these conference realignment answers? Who's really running this sport?)

While Houston has never had a national breakthrough season like TCU or Boise State, it's been consistently successful on the mid-major level for nearly a decade now, and it spent two decads (1976-95) in the same conference with Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. Fan support would be a concern (average attendance last season: 31,728), as it would with SMU (23,515), another contender. I don't know what the deciding factor would be if it came down to those two, only that Houston is slightly more established right now.

I feel like you're one of the only national media members who doesn't enjoy conference realignment talk. To me, it's made the past two offseasons much more enjoyable than they would have been without it. Why don't you like it?-- Josh, Omaha, Neb.

Is it that obvious?

I get why fans eat up this stuff. It's like a trade-deadline for college football ... if the trades in question possibly impacted 15 different teams. I'm sure debating all the potential scenarios is a whole lot of fun. But I don't think you'll find too many media members who "enjoy" covering what is essentially an endless charade of propaganda, misinformation and wild speculation that all blends together into one big gossip party on Twitter, changing by the hour.

Case in point: ESPN last weekend ran as "news" on its ticker a "report" from radio host/basketball analyst Doug Gottleib that A&M was "headed to the SEC" and that Clemson, Missouri and Florida State were "likely to follow." That was basically gossip disguised as news, but ESPN legitimized it by running it front and center, thus forcing all those schools to have to respond. (And unfortunately, I'm no better. I contributed to the misinformation last weekend when I hastily read the SEC's statement from Bernie Machen, naively took the first part about being "satisfied" too literally and rushed out a mistaken tweet that the SEC had "passed" on A&M, which promptly got retweeted a zillion times.)

You would think we all would have learned a lesson from last summer, when Texas leaving for the Pac-10 was a "done deal" right up until the moment it wasn't. But we haven't. And far be it for me to deprive everyone of enjoying the closest thing we have to a trade deadline.

Why do announcers continue to speak about USC as if it is already feeling the effects of probation? Other than missing out on last year's bowl game they have not lost anything yet. They will lose the first of 30 scholarships in the next recruiting class.-- Joe Fennessey, Orlando

That's a good point. For the most part, USC has not yet begun to feel the effects of its sanctions, which will really kick in over the next three years. After this year, it's entirely possible the Trojans won't have a full 85-man roster again for another six or seven years. But I would argue that USC has already felt the effects in one area. Several upperclassmen who took advantage of the exemption allowing them to transfer without sitting out a year -- including defensive lineman Malik Jackson (Tennessee), running back D.J. Shoemate (Connecticut) and tight end Blake Ayles (Miami) -- have either started or are projected to start for their new schools. Two others, linebackers Jarvis Jones (Georgia) and Uona Kaveinga (BYU), were underclassmen who may have transferred anyway. And remember, offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson opted to sign with Miami instead because of the sanctions. That's a whole lot of guys who could have either started or provided key depth for the Trojans this season.

But for the most part, these "announcers" you speak of are probably mixing together the sanctions with the flat-out recruiting neglect at several positions toward the end of Pete Carroll's tenure. That most notably impacted the offensive line, where the Trojans are so woefully thin that Lane Kiffin signed a couple guys this year mostly for the purpose of serving as warm bodies. I still expect USC will be better this season than last, and maybe even better next season (it's way too early to tell) before the bottom falls out in 2013-14.

I saw your note about the "funky" nonconference matchup between Cal and Colorado this year. Here's something equally funky. Colorado and Nebraska, formerly playing for a traditional Orange Bowl invite in the old Big 8, could theoretically both end up in the Rose Bowl as respective champs of the Pac-12 and Big Ten.-- John, Long Beach, Calif.

Someone at the Tournament of Roses offices in Pasadena is reading this right now and popping an Advil.

Not a question, more of a statement of worthless trivia that struck me. The Huskers play (I believe) every D-1 "UW" school this year, and consecutively ... University of Washington (9/17), University of Wyoming (9/24), and the University of Wisconsin (10/1).-- Matt Glasrud, Sioux Falls, S.D.

That IS funky. Now if only we could have gotten them to open up with Wake Forest and West Virginia, I'd have to believe that would crush any previous "W" streak.

Stewart, I can't remember ever seeing a high school football player as astonishing as Jadeveon Clowney (first highlight running down that running back from behind is surreal). Not only was he the consensus No. 1 recruit last year, but he was by a wide margin. What are the expectations for him this year and do you see him living up to those expectations?-- Joe T., St. Louis

It's rare that highly touted defensive players make as immediate and noticeable an impact as, say, a freshman running back (Adrian Peterson) or receiver (A.J. Green). But it certainly sounds like Clowney will be the exception. Steve Spurrier has done nothing to temper the expectations. He talked him up at SEC Media Days before he'd even gotten to see him on the practice field. After the Gamecocks' first practice, Spurrrier facetiously lamented that Clowney was "playing too fast" and not giving his quarterbacks enough time to throw. Clowney was credited with two sacks in South Carolina's first scrimmage, and the coaches flat-out said their offensive linemen can't block him. That can't bode well for the rest of the league.

Even the most skilled freshman can't get by on athleticism alone, and Clowney will need to master his assignments and take care of business on plays run away from him. But he's got all the makings of an elite pass-rusher, and it will be interesting to see just how big a difference he can make on an already talented South Carolina squad.

I personally feel that excellent offensive and defensive line play can turn a team from good to great. Missouri has four senior o-linemen and arguably a top five defensive line, and this is assuming minimal production from the long awaited "Big Shell" (Sheldon Richardson). Any chance MU finds its way to a BCS game this year?-- Nick D, St. Louis

I agree with everything Nick wrote. Unfortunately, he wrote it before the best of those senior offensive lineman, left tackle Elvis Fisher -- a 40-game starter -- suffered a season-ending knee injury Monday, a potentially crushing blow for the Tigers' BCS chances.

But the main reason I tabbed Mizzou to finish second in the Big 12 (behind Oklahoma) wasn't its offense, but its defense. Gary Pinkel's team very quietly produced the nation's sixth-ranked scoring defense last season (16.1 points per game allowed) in notching its third 10-win season in the past four years. It was easy to dismiss the Tigers as pretenders back in the Chase Daniel/Jeremy Maclin days when Mizzou, like so many Big 12 teams, just tried to outscore the competition. Now, behind big-time defensive linemen like Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith, Mizzou can shut down other teams' quarterbacks. It had 39 sacks last season (No. 9 nationally).

The Tigers' season will largely depend on the success of new quarterback James Franklin (and, now, replacing Fisher), but he's got plenty to work with -- that line, veteran receiver T.J. Moe and prolific pass-catching tight end Michael Egnew. I expect Mizzou to contend with everyone this side of Oklahoma in the Big 12, so that Sept. 9 date at Arizona State could be the key to getting over the hump and into a BCS game.

I have marked it down and you will hear from me again when we reach that point in the season when Arkansas cannot finish 10 spots ahead of LSU. I will expect an admission that it might have been your opinion, but it wasn't a very good one for a guy who makes his living writing about college football.-- Paul Spillman, St. Francisville, La.

Of course the day after I wrote that, Arkansas' star running back, Knile Davis, went down for the season. I think I could rightfully ask for a mulligan -- but I won't.

You are out of your mind if you think Ohio State will lose five games this year. Who on their schedule is capable of beating them? I will give you Nebraska and Wisconsin. Other than that, you are really reaching. I can't wait to remind you of this ridiculous prediction when OSU is contending for the Big Ten Championship, as they always do. Six in a row is not a coincidence.-- Nick, Charlotte

Florida lost five games last year without its coach resigning (at least until after the season) or its star players serving five-game suspensions. Texas lost seven. Really think it's that much of a "reach?"

Did you finally use the ridiculous Big Ten division names in your Big Ten preview article? I should have known you wouldn't hold out. You were the staunchest opponent to the FBS/FCS thing when that originally came out, but you caved on that one too. You owe us, the fans, a new Mailbag Crush as a penance.-- Brent, Longmont, Colo.

I can't make a blanket promise that the names won't be used in things like conference previews or, during the season, College Football Overtime. They're part of the lexicon now whether we like it or not. All I ever pledged was to keep them out of the Mailbag, and so far I've held true to that.

Though I will say that if, like me, you've been watching the outstanding season of Louie, you've undoubtedly noticed Louis CK's co-star and on-air crush, Pamela Adlon. And if you haven't ... well, consider it my gift to you.