They are a pair of walking NCAA violations, cement overcoats on the football programs they professed to love. If Edward Rife and Nevin Shapiro made a friendly wager on Saturday night's Miami-Ohio State game (let's call it the How the Mighty Have Fallen Bowl), what might they bet?
Shapiro, the vest-pocket con man and Miami booster who, when it's all said and done, could set the 'Canes program back a decade, doesn't have much to offer: The Feds are auctioning pretty much everything he owns to reimburse investors he ripped off. But maybe they'll overlook the Miami helmet, autographed by Larry Coker and Dennis Erickson. Rife would like that.
Rife, a convicted drug dealer and the owner of Fine Line Ink Tattoos and Body Piercings in Columbus, is the man most responsible for sending his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes to the lower reaches of the Top 20. Should his team lose, he could send Shapiro a gift certificate for a free tattoo. May we suggest "Little Luther"?
For a pair of programs hemorrhaging relevance -- their downward trajectories accelerated by these dueling felons -- here is a chance to stop the bleeding. The Hurricanes in particular are starved for good news, having lost their only game of the season at Maryland on September 6. The 'Canes, losers of four straight dating back to last season, haven't lost five in a row since the pre-Schnellenberger days of 1977-78. First-year head coach Al Golden, who must be feeling nostalgic for Temple these days -- think about that: nostalgic for Temple! -- played nine true freshmen against the Terps. He'll field a far more seasoned team against Ohio State, not because the 'Canes have taken such great strides since that loss, but because eight players, including five starters, will be returning from one-game suspensions meted out in the aftermath of Yahoo.com's Shapiro bombshell.
The return of quarterback Jacory Harris, linebacker Sean Spence, wide out Travis Benjamin and defensive linemen Adewale Ojomo and Marcus Forston improved Miami's chances against the visitors, even as it raised bitter questions among Ohio State faithful: How come the Buckeyes ensnared in TatGate got five games and the Miami players only sat out one?
And the answer, of course, is: the NCAA doesn't have to make sense, and mocks your attempt to find logic in its rulings.
The quartet of Ohio State players suspended for their involvement with Rife (which includes last year's leading rusher Boom Herron, starting offensive tackle Mike Adams and leading returning receiver DeVier Posey in addition to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who entered the NFL's supplemental draft) are not to be confused with the three Ohio State players recently suspended for taking $200 at a charity event. That trio, which includes running back Jordan Hall and cornerback Travis Howard, both preseason starters, also returns for Saturday night's game. It is a telling measure of the state of both programs that Miami fans come into this game boasting:
We're getting eight suspended guys back and they're only getting three back!
It's not abundantly clear that the return of Harris will be a huge help. Against Ohio State a year ago, he threw four interceptions (although two of them were the result of bad plays by his intended receiver). Harris has had a feast or famine college career, tossing 50 touchdown passes against 39 interceptions. After missing the final three games of 2010 with a concussion, he started in the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame, but was benched early in the second quarter after throwing his third pick. Harris will be helped by the absence of gifted weakside pass-rusher Nathan Williams, who on Wednesday underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
The Buckeyes are also unsettled at quarterback. While Pryor's people were pleading his case with NFL commish Roger Goodell (who'd suspended him for the first five games of the NFL season), his Columbus successor wasn't meeting with great success. Senior and former walk-on Joe Bauserman was booed at the Horseshoe while completing 16 of his 30 passes for just 189 yards and one touchdown in Ohio State's close-shave win over Toledo last week. (When it comes fans booing college students, I agree with this take.)
As Justin Zwick warmed the position for eventual Heisman winner Troy Smith and as Todd Boeckman had no real chance of holding off Pryor in '09, Bauserman is destined to give way to the much more dynamic, dual-threat Braxton Miller, the freshman from Huber Heights, Ohio. The only question, it seems, is when first-year head coach Luke Fickell will make the switch. After keeping Miller out of that unexpectedly close game against the Rockets, Fickell has said Miller will get considerable time against Miami. Plenty of people believe the freshman will be the starter by the time the Buckeyes begin their Big Ten schedule October 1 against Michigan State.
True, Bauserman is susceptible to spraying the ball, and isn't one to keep a play alive with his feet. The best that can be said of him is that he does a nice, capable job of "managing" the game. Of course, Craig Krenzel fell into that category of conservative signal-callers, and he quarterbacked Ohio State to its last national championship -- against the Hurricanes, in fact.
But that was 10 years and a lot of suspensions ago.