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April 22, 2011

Mailbag: Which has been the dirtiest program?

SMU once violated rules with such frequency and nonchalance that the NCAA gave the Mustangs the "death penalty" in 1987.

Since then, the Mustangs have remained relatively clean. Oh, there was a misstep regarding extra benefits and academic fraud in 2000 that resulted in two years' probation, but SMU has been otherwise obedient.

So, if SMU no longer is the most frequent violator of NCAA rules, what program is? That's the question to be answered in this week's mailbag.

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Let's check it out

Probably as a result of so many programs getting in trouble this year, many fans have been online making allegations on which football program is the "dirtiest in the nation" by equating dirty to the teams that have had the most violations in recent history. Which programs have had the most infractions during the past 20 years?
David in Salem, Ore.

Mudslinging seemingly has become the second favorite offseason activity for college football. It appears to rank just behind recruiting, but it's gaining fast.

The primary targets this year have been Auburn, Ohio State and Oregon, though sights always are set on USC and Alabama, too.

Frankly, I try to avoid the mudslinging and withhold opinion. In fact, that's what I'm going to do here because every argument always has a counterpoint.

That doesn't mean I won't answer the question. But rather than offer an opinion, I'd rather deal with documented facts to determine which football programs most often have been cited for major rules violations over the past 20 years.

On the NCAA Web site under "Legislation and Major Infractions Cases," I found that since Jan. 1, 1991, there have been 47 schools guilty of what the NCAA called major violations.

Eight programs were listed more than once, with Alabama leading the way with three.

Alabama's issues:

In 2009: "Impermissible benefits obtained by student-athletes through misuse of the institution's textbook distribution program." That resulted in three years' probation.

In 2002: "Athletics representatives engaged in violations of recruiting and extra-benefit legislation with prospective student-athletes and provided impermissible recruiting inducements through high school coaches. Numerous secondary violations." That resulted in a two-year postseason ban and five years' probation.

In 1995: "Extra benefits: $24,000 in impermissible banks loans made to a student-athlete; institution did not obtain appropriate records. Lack of institutional control in the investigation into and report of information regarding the amateur status of student-athletes." That resulted in a one-year postseason ban and two years' probation.

The programs listed twice were Colorado, Florida International, Florida State, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, USC and Washington.

The other programs that have been found guilty of one major violation since Jan. 1, 1991: Arizona State, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Ball State, Baylor, California, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Marshall, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ole Miss, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, San Diego State, South Carolina, SMU, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCF, UTEP, Virginia, Washington State and Wisconsin.

Work to do

I'm one of the biggest Miami fans you will ever meet. My question: What will it take for my 'Canes to be BCS title contenders?
Chaz in Tallahassee

Settling on a quarterback would be a great start. Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris came out of spring drills in a dead heat. Their competition for the starting job likely will extend into late August, perhaps even longer.

Whomever emerges as the starter must dramatically reduce his interceptions total. Miami ranked 119th with 36 turnovers last season. Of those, 27 were interceptions �" the highest total in the nation. Harris and Morris threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. National championship contenders don't have poor quarterback play.

In addition, the Hurricanes must bolster their run defense. The Hurricanes ranked 84th in the nation in run defense last season, allowing 172.7 rushing yards per game. In its six losses, Miami allowed an average of 207.6 rushing yards.

Compare those stats to the past three national champions. Auburn, Alabama and Florida allowed fewer than 110 rushing yards per game in their championship seasons. They also threw seven or fewer interceptions and committed no more than 17 turnovers.

Miami also must dramatically reduce its penalty yardage. A year ago, the Hurricanes ranked 117th in the country in penalties per game.

Quarterback question

Who do you think will be the top quarterback this season?
Jonathan in Argyle, Tenn.

If you mean the top quarterback in the country, I'll go with Andrew Luck of Stanford. He was the runner-up in the Heisman voting after completing more than 70 percent of his attempts for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

And that was just in his second year as a starter. It's my belief that college quarterbacks often make significant improvement between their sophomore and junior seasons, so Luck could be even better �" if that's possible. Barring injury, he'll be the first player selected in the 2012 NFL draft.

I see that you live in Tennessee, and if you're asking about the top quarterback in the SEC, that's quite another matter. The pick here would be Georgia's Aaron Murray, who passed for more than 3,000 yards as a freshman last season. But he won't have A.J. Green this season and that will hurt.

Finally, if you were asking who would be the top quarterback at Tennessee, I would think sophomore Tyler Bray will remain the starter over Matt Simms even though Bray was just 5-of-30 in the Vols' spring game.

Legendary status

Does Joe Paterno need to have a successful season �" two or fewer losses seems reasonable �" to keep his job? Or will his legend be enough to keep him working with Penn State for the next 20 years?
Luke in Norman, Okla.

Paterno wasn't replaced after a 3-9 finish in '03 and a 4-7 record in '04, so he's not in much trouble one year removed from back-to-back 11-win seasons.

There is no question that Paterno is a legend and the Penn State administration appears willing to let him end his career on his terms. Still, I would not anticipate Paterno coaching the Nits at age 104, which is how old he will be in 20 years.

MWC power!

Put the winner of TCU and Boise State against the best of the SEC, and the SEC team will look like a high school team playing a pro team. No school in the nation �" and that includes Alabama and Oklahoma �" have been able to stand up to the best of the Mountain West and they won't be able to now. TCU is supposed to be in a rebuilding year and Texas Tech is still scared to play them. TCU will field the best team it has ever had this year.
Tom in Schertz, Texas

Lay off the Shiner Bock, Tom.

Alabama and Oklahoma won't look like "high school teams," no matter who they are playing. In fact, the last time TCU played Oklahoma, the Sooners prevailed 35-10 in 2008.

TCU and Boise State have my utmost respect, and those teams could beat anybody on any given day. A good example is last season's Rose Bowl, in which TCU beat Wisconsin 21-19.

But when watching that game, at no time did Wisconsin resemble a high school team. Nor did TCU look like a professional team.

Obviously, Gary Patterson has his program rolling in Fort Worth. The Frogs have posted at least 10 wins in seven of the past nine seasons and at least 11 wins in five of the past six.

That's impressive in any league.

Frankly, I doubt TCU will be as good as it was last season. Although Patterson previously has continued to have successful seasons even when great players completed their eligibility, I just can't see how the Frogs can lose QB Andy Dalton, WR Jeremy Kerley, OT Marcus Cannon, WR Jimmy Young and FS Tejay Johnson, among others, and expect to be stronger.

By the same token, I question the idea that Boise State will be better without WRs Austin Pettis and Titus Young and DE Ryan Winterswyk.

We'll see.

What's unfortunate is that teams such as TCU and Boise State are dismissed from the championship picture just because they don't play in a Big Six conference.

Last season, Ohio State president Gordon Gee said TCU did not deserve to compete for the national championship because they play "Little Sisters of the Poor." That blatant disrespect obviously didn't sit well with TCU fans. So, it seems distasteful to me that a TCU fan would be similarly disrespectful and nonsensical.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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