Here is this week’s mailbag. As always, you can send questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:
From @Crespilot67: do u believe Teo was duped??? I sure do not believe that after reading the SI article.
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Here is what I struggle to get around: Manti Te’o went into intimate detail about a very personal relationship to pretty much any media outlet that would listen. Let's say he was in fact duped in this hoax. How does a grown man in his 20s talk about such a connection with the "love of his life" the way he did so often and to so many people without having spent any time actually with her?
Again, this isn’t a case of a relationship with someone in a foreign country or between someone locked up somewhere. Te’o is two hours from the Chicago airport. Also, if his girlfriend was battling this horrible recovery and was, as he told SI, in a coma and then when she came out of that coma, she went to another hospital, he never would’ve found a way to visit her and spend some time with her in person? That’s a lot to get past.
And then there is the part where Te’o kept going with the story even after, according to Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, he started to realize something was really off about his relationship when he received the mysterious call from the same number as his dead girlfriend and heard her voice again. If Te’o was as unnerved as Notre Dame says he was, he certainly didn’t seem so later that weekend, when he had multiple sittings with the media at the Heisman. Also, it is curious that he only seemed to play up the story even after learning rather than trying to diminish it.
As the site Awful Announcing detailed here, Te’o was very open in discussing her two days later at the Heisman. Te'o even is the one bringing her up. He also referenced her several times in media sessions in New York at the Heisman.
Chris Fowler: There were a lot of cameras around you this year, there was so much public sharing of very private moments, which shared moment will you never forget above the others?
Manti Te'o: I think I’ll never forget the time when I found out that, you know, my girlfriend passed away and the first person to run to my aid was my defensive coordinator, Coach [Bob] Diaco, and you know he said something very profound to me, he said ‘this is where your faith is tested.’ Right after that, I ran into the players’ lounge and I got on the phone with my parents – and I opened my eyes and my head coach was sitting right there. And so, you know, there are a hundred-plus people on our team and the defensive coordinator and our head coach took time to just go get one [of those players]. You know I think that was the most meaningful to me.
The account Sports Illustrated published Thursday of Pete Thamel’s reporting for the SI cover story on Te’o was fascinating to read. (Full disclosure: I am friends with Thamel.) Te’o only actually answers about half the questions he was asked. In hindsight, there are so many red flags that sprout up. The part about them never actually spending time in person now jumps out at you. Thamel pointed out, "Why would you ask someone if he'd actually met his girlfriend who recently died?"
Note Te'o’s response when he is asked about when and how they met:
SI: How did you meet her?
TE'O: We met just, ummmm, just she knew my cousin. And kind of saw me there so. Just kind of regular.
SI: How long were you dating? I know that can be a complicated question.
TE'O: Oct. 15 was the official date. Of last year. I've known her for four years. So we've been friends.
SI: So you dated for about a year.
Honestly, I don't know exactly where this thing is headed or what to make of it yet. I do think given all that we've already been told that it's no stretch to be very skeptical.
From @trcchris: Is it your opinion that Notre Dame was unethical in letting the story continue through the title game?
This is an interesting question because it relates to something some PR folks I know had been wondering about, which is, since Te’o is moving on from the program, what was ND’s responsibility to have that press conference with the AD the night the story blew up?
Notre Dame’s involvement, beyond just its allegiance to Te’o as a player and member of its community, comes into more focus because the school said it had investigated the matter starting about two weeks before the BCS title game. That triggers more questions. How the school could’ve broken the news before the game without it being a massive distraction is beyond me, though.
In fairness to them, realistically, it couldn’t have. And let’s remember, what we’re talking about wasn’t something that was jeopardizing anyone's immediate safety. It appears to be more of an embarrassing hoax. Still, how the school was working with Te’o in the days leading up to the title game with all of the media obligations, especially knowing that a big storyline would be the impact of losing "the love of his life" had on him and their season, is an interesting point. After all, he was on the cover of SI and was the subject of a long College GameDay feature talking about it in such intimate detail. How diligent was the school in trying to downplay that angle going forward? I don’t know. It wasn’t a storyline I was pursuing, but it was one that was brought up several times in media sessions.
A few years ago, Cam Newton and his father’s alleged involvement with a booster was a hot storyline going into Auburn’s match-up with Oregon. Clearly, Auburn didn’t want that subject broached or at least played up, but the school knew Newton had some availability that he had to take part in. He and the Tigers' staff were short with it in their answers, and the story didn’t grow any further really than where it already was.
I'm actually more curious about how the school saw its exit strategy in when the hoax was going to be revealed after the game. It took more than a week after the Notre Dame loss to Alabama for this story to break. I'm not sure just how much control over this story ND ever had, thinking back to some of the comments Te'o's father had made in addition to all that his son said. But the further things went from the day the school began investigating it (Dec. 26), the thornier it was getting. Just like, the longer it takes before Te'o actually faces questions about this, the muddier things get.
From @Jayson75: Is the Manti Te’o story the craziest story that you’ve ever covered?
By far. This is the most bizarre college football story I’ve heard in almost 20 years on the beat. The Harvey Updyke story connected to the Alabama-Auburn rivalry was creepy and strange, but Updyke was so far off the college radar and the most fringe character possible, you can chalk it up to "There’s a lot of unstable folks out there," and this one just allegedly did something so outlandish that was connected to the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, it became college football news.
Before the Te’o story blew up, I’d say the craziest college football story I heard was the one about the impostor playing for the Texas football team in the mid ‘90s -- Ron McKelvey a.k.a Ron Weaver. The 30-year-old Weaver was a special teamer for the Longhorns whose real story was revealed on the eve of the Sugar Bowl. A few years after it happened, long-time UT sports information director John Bianco told me the backstory of how that thing really got out. I remember standing at night in a parking lot with him listening for like an hour riveted as he explained how it unfolded and him trying to break the news to then-coach John Mackovic. For a shorter version of it, you can read this account from SI.
This Te’o story trumps it 100 fold because that centered around a UT special teamer. This is about a Notre Dame middle linebacker who almost won the Heisman Trophy and was, by far, the most high-profile player on the most high-profile program in the midst of a BCS title game appearance. Literally, every major media outlet in the country and many smaller ones, too, had a bite at the proverbial apple. And then to hear SportsCenter leading with "Deadspin.com has ... " and see the fallout going all the way up to hard-news programs and it becoming a punch line of late night comedy shows like The Daily Show underscores the depths this story reached. And, of course, the story is not going away anytime soon. It’ll really heat up again when Te’o eventually does try to explain some of the numerous questions hanging out there in the wake of the Deadspin bombshell and subsequent Swarbrick press conference.
From @BruCam87: UCLA has a much more difficult schedule next year. Will they be a better team next year yet with possibly a worse record?
I think UCLA should be better. The young, promising O-line, which started three freshmen and a sophomore, and obviously, a gifted, young, dynamic QB in Brett Hundley, are the biggest reasons. Also, getting stud OLB Anthony Barr (21 1/2 tackles for a loss) and leading tackler Eric Kendricks (149 tackles) back to spark the defense is big. The middle of the defense also is back. The secondary, though, is a concern.
The Bruins will also really miss standout RB Johnathan Franklin and big TE Joe Fauria. I’m told watch out for redshirt freshman RB Paul Perkins, a former sprinter from Arizona. "He’s the real deal," one Bruin source told me this week. Shaq Evans blossomed this season and had almost 900 yards of receiving, and there are some other good young wideouts in the program.
Beyond the personnel, I think you have to factor in the added time spent with the Jim Mora regime by a program that has been energized by youth. Last year, at one point, the Bruins were starting nine freshmen, which, along with Mora’s regime’s more competitive persona, speaks to the new foundation in Westwood.
From @MachinistDuck: how does chip's departure affect the preseason top 10?
Chip Kelly had proven to be a great coach. No matter who Oregon hires -- even if it does promote from within -- there figures to be some learning curve as the program adjusts.
The Ducks still have top-five talent led by Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas and many more, but Kelly was a masterful game-planner and play-caller and he will be missed. The experts in Vegas dropped Oregon from a 4-1 pick to win the 2014 BCS title to 7-1 hours after word got out that he was going to the Eagles. I’m pretty sure I’ll still have Oregon in my top eight, but I’d like to see how much turnover there is with the new staff.
From @Mclowdus1: What would it take for M Richt to lose his job at UGA next year?
Barring some unheard of issue off-the-field, it’d take a disastrous record for him to be forced out after a decade plus of very solid football. Remember, the guy has won 75 percent of his games at Georgia, is very well-respected within that community by all accounts and just led the Dawgs to a top-five finish. No one can say the program has no momentum. The back-to-back seasons being unranked in 2009-10 have been followed up by a top-20 finish and a top-five finish. Even if the Dawgs, somehow, end up 5-7 next year, Richt has built up too much equity to get fired after one bad year.