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Risdon's Scoop: Truth On Cushing, JaMarcus And NCAA Realignment
Authored by Jeff Risdon - 12th May, 2010 - 11:08 am

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--Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words...

That is reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing, from his days at USC in the textbook definition of before-and-after comparative photography. If you haven?t heard--and you may not have because the NFL wisely buried it by announcing it late Friday afternoon--Cushing has been suspended 4 games for violating the league?s ban on performance enhancing drugs. Sadly, this revelation caught almost nobody off-guard.

Some of that stems from the fact that Cushing and the league knew about this since September. Normally, the appeals process is fairly swift and so is the punishment, but in Cushing?s case the league dragged it out well beyond what can be considered an acceptable time range. It should not take 8 months to re-test the same incriminating sample or deal with the results. Texans owner Bob McNair expressed his displeasure with the clandestine process, as he claims ignorance of the exact nature until the suspension was announced. Had the team known about the specifics, perhaps they might have accelerated the issue and let Cushing serve the punishment in 2009, when the playoffs were already out of reach. Now he will miss the first 4 games of 2010, a season where the Texans are expected to contend for their first-ever playoff spot. For that to happen, a strong start is imperative, and now they must do that without their best player.

There have been loud whispers about Cushing and PEDs for a long time, as the above photo dates back a few years. Cushing and his USC brethren have vocally and vehemently denied these allegations, but those rumors die hard in NFL circles. Several teams were scared away from drafting Cushing because of fears of PED use, but also because he has suffered numerous soft tissue injuries. Those are the types of injuries normally associated with over-training but also with PED usage, notably HGH and steroidal compounds. It?s the reason why I listed Cushing amongst my predictions for pre-draft ?busts?, and it?s also why many noted NFL pundits openly questioned the Texans taking such a risk on him.

--The Big Ten has allegedly extended expansion offers to Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Rutgers. Fox Sports has now reported that the offer to Missouri is official, and several outlets are openly speculating that Nebraska has received an official offer as well.

You can find loads of opinions about what potential havoc this will wreak upon college football. Before I give you my best guesstimate about the fallout, consider the fact that these moves impact all sports, not just football and basketball. As much revenue as the newly realigned mega-conferences will bring in with those two sports, the travel expenses for ?minor? sports like volleyball, field hockey, and baseball. Spreading out geographically means already lean budgets must be stretched further, and I predict we?ll see a major decline in varsity-level men?s sports far beyond the devastation of the hypocritical misapplication of Title IX.

My quick outline of the conference changes that came to me in a Vicodin-induced vision:

Big Ten: adds Missouri, Nebraska, and Rutgers but not Notre Dame

SEC: adds Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, South Florida, and Louisville

PAC-10: adds Colorado, Utah, Texas, and Oklahoma

ACC: adds West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Charlotte, which is adding D-I football in 2012

Big East: done as a football conference

Big 12: the remaining schools (Kansas, KSU, OKSU, Baylor, ISU, TTU) merge into the Mountain West, which sheds its lesser programs and takes over the Big East?s automatic BCS bid

--The Rams and Cowboys agreed to a trade of disappointing former 1st round picks, with Dallas sending LB Bobby Carpenter to St. Louis for tackle Alex Barron. I?m a strong advocate of trades such as this, giving a fresh start to a player with obvious potential that just hasn?t worked out for whatever reason. Dallas gets an experienced right tackle that has flashed being a very good pass blocker when his head is on straight; St. Louis picks up a backer better suited for their 4-3 scheme, and he will also add to their special teams. This makes so much more sense than the all-around embarrassment of cutting such a high draft pick and getting nothing in return. More deals like this, please, even though fans of both teams should not expect much. At least for Dallas, Barron will keep the flame of maddening false start penalties burning bright even with Flozell Adams gone.

--The Baltimore Ravens have made ?The Blind Side? a prophetic book, moving Michael Oher from the right side to left tackle. This move has more to do with the player he?s deposing, however. Jared Gaither has been the subject of all sorts of trade rumors this offseason, and he did not help his Ravens future by missing most of the early OTAs. Oher played reasonably well as a rookie and should acclimate well to his new spot.

The bigger question is, what happens to Gaither? Only 24 and with two seasons of strong starting experience, he clearly isn?t eye to eye with his coaches in Baltimore. Yet the Ravens have not received any acceptable offers according to GM Ozzie Newsome, which indicates there is something about Gaither that is scaring off potential suitors even in this tackle-starved league. The Ravens have never been shy about spitting out entrenched starters if they aren?t up to snuff, and right now Gaither appears to be at the bottom of the Mountain Dew can.

--Pittsburgh suffered another blow to the depth chart at WR when Limas Sweed tore his Achilles tendon last week. He was placed on IR and is out for the season. Even though Sweed has not met expectations, there was optimism for the former 2nd round pick this offseason. Rookie Emmanuel Sanders will get first crack at the job, though they couldn?t be more physically different and still play the same position.

--It happens every year, and this year the unlucky victim in former USC corner Kevin Thomas. The Colts 3rd round pick was lost for the season on the first day of rookie minicamp, a not-insignificant blow to a team that let their #2 and #3 CBs leave this offseason. Last year it was 2nd rounder Cody Brown, 3rd rounder Robert Brewster, and 4th rounder Stanley Arnoux all lost before preseason started. Here?s hoping your team isn?t the next one, though it should be noted that the teams that drafted those players last year (Cardinals, Cowboys, and Saints respectively) all won at least one playoff game without them.

--Where will JaMarcus Russell wind up? One NFL.com blogger suggests the Cincinnati Bengals, which makes sense on many levels. Cincy has become the warehouse of reclamation projects, though Russell has yet to be arrested for anything so he doesn?t make a perfect fit. The Bengals do need a backup QB and a long-term potential replacement for Carson Palmer should he continue his mediocre ways. I spoke with a current ESPN football talking head over the weekend, and his off-the-record guess for a final destination for Russell was Chicago, while Warren Sapp of NFL.com has expressed repeatedly that Russell will be a 49er. Read that as: nobody really knows much yet, including Russell himself.