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The committee announced Thursday it had overturned a penalty that would have forced Tech to wipe six seasons' results and accomplishments from the record books. The Yellow Jackets can still call themselves 1998 ACC football champions a title they share with Florida State and they can still hang signs commemorating their appearance in bowl games following the 19982002 and 2004 seasons.


What they can't do is have the normal Division IA total of 85 scholarship football players this fall or in 2007. The appeals committee upheld a penalty that limits Tech to 79 scholarship players in both seasons. The result will be a smallerthannormal signing class next February and depth issues that might not fully work their way through the program until 2010.


Tech admitted to playing 17 academically ineligible athletes, 11 of them football players. The NCAA enforcement staff agreed those violations were inadvertent. But the NCAA infractions committee decided the school's selfimposed sanctions reducing the 2005 and 2006 signing classes six players below the normal 25player limit weren't enough.


The Yellow Jackets appealed the additional penalties, claiming they were excessive because the NCAA didn't follow its statute of limitations and the penalties were out of line with precedents. The appeals committee cited precedents in its decision to throw out the historical penalties, which would have required Tech to "vacate" records. But it rejected Tech's statute of limitations claim on grounds that the school never raised that issue before the infractions committee.


Whose fault was that? Tech's? Its law firm, Bond, Schoeneck King?


"I wouldn't place responsibility on our legal representation," said senior associate athletics director Paul Griffin, Tech's point man on the case since the retirement of former athletics director Dave Braine. "I would place responsibility on the NCAA enforcement staff."


The case started out as a cooperative investigation by the NCAA enforcement staff and Tech. "In that spirit, we provided everything we were asked to," Griffin said, including academic records of athletes who might have been beyond the scope of the NCAA's statute of limitations. That statute is four years, but the question "Four years from when?" often isn't easy to answer. In the end, Griffin said, Tech might have paid for being too cooperative.


"We need to not look at the NCAA staff as our partners but as our adversaries," Griffin said. "If any institution is ever confronted with these type of allegations, the first call is to legal representation, like Bond, Schoeneck King, and listen to them."


"I know one thing, that everybody here was doing the job the best they could with the information that they had," said Dan Radakovich, who became Tech's athletics director in April and was not involved in the NCAA case. "You could take this [situation] to five different schools, and they could do it five different ways."


Tech football coach Chan Gailey said it's too early to say how Thursday's ruling will affect his next signing class. That will depend on how many of this fall's scholarship players return in 2007, a number that could be influenced by graduations, transfers, injuries and other forms of attrition.


"I hoped [the appeals committee would overturn the scholarship limitations], but to say I expected it, no," Gailey said. "I plan for the worst and plan for the best, and anything that happens between is OK.


"It doesn't affect us playing in bowl games or for the ACC championship or playing on TV."


Tech President Wayne Clough, Gailey, Radakovich and Griffin all expressed joy about one thing: The case is over.


I know there's no sure way to determine the pecking order of all the IA conferences, especially as there are always so many changes from what we expect to what actually transpires during the season. Case in point: Last season, Tennessee and Texas A stunk and West Virginia and Central Florida shined. Regardless, I'm sticking to my proverbial guns for this week's list: Best conferences.


My ranking system: I've projected every team in the conference as heavyweight (a top15 type team); cruiserweights (1525); light heavyweights (2540); middleweights (4075); lightweights (75100) or flyweights Authentic Eric Fisher Jersey (beyond 100). Heavyweights count for six points, cruiserweights get five, light heavies get four and so on. Again, this is based on my expectations for 2006, not strictly off '05. For instance, Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Capital One Bowl, 2410, but I'm much more enthusiastic about the Tigers' prospects this season than I am the Badgers'.


1. SEC (Team Rating Average: 4.17): Four heavyweights (LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida), and that doesn't account for Tennessee, which I have as a cruiserweight, along with Alabama although I have a hard time believing the Vols still don't have the stuff of a heavyweight. (Note to my legion of AntiFulmer readers: That was not an invitation for you to chime in to the mailbag with your best oneliner. Honest.) Anyhow, I also bumped Arkansas up to a light heavyweight thanks to all the young talent that started to emerge late last season. Sidney Rice's presence notwithstanding, I'm not totally sold on South Carolina this season and decided against putting it as a cruiserweight.


The good: The league is loaded with a handful of tailbacks with firstround talent, led by Auburn's Kenny Irons.


The bad: The SEC still gets dogged for soft outofconference scheduling, but the league does have games against Michigan, Cal, USC, WV and FSU. Also, anyone who's critical of the scheduling needs to look at what the Gators have ahead of them. They play Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State on the road, Georgia in Jacksonville, and Alabama, LSU and South Carolina in Gainesville. I don't care if they also had games against Brown and Marist worked in there, that's a brutal slate.


2. Big Ten Eric Fisher Youth Jersey (Team Rating Average: 4.09): The resurgence of Penn State gives the league four bona fide powerhouses (with OSU, Michigan and Iowa). I think Wisconsin might take a little step back this season, and Purdue should be a little better. Michigan State (I'm giving the Spartans light heavyweight status this season primarily because Drew Stanton is so tough) might be the only program more inconsistent than NC State.


The good: Forget the 3yardsandacloudofdust. This is a quarterbacks league now. The Big Ten returns five QBs among the nation's top 22 in passing efficiency: OSU's Troy Smith (fourth); MSU's Stanton (10th); Wisky's John Stocco (14th); Iowa's Drew Tate (21st) and Minnesota's Bryan Cupito (22nd). And don't forget Michigan's Chad Henne, a guy who started the '05 Chiefs Eric Fisher Jersey season touted as an eventual No. 1 pick. I'm expecting Henne to shine in '06. QBs who are that good in their first year as starters, especially as true freshmen, don't stink.


The bad: Expect even more points because the league lost a ton of stars on defense. Ron Zook and Terry Hoeppner are just beginning to wrestle with major rebuilding projects.


3. ACC (Team Rating Average: 4.00): Yes, the league cranked out way more firstrounders than any other league and that's emblematic of the ACC's profile right now: More potential than production. NC State had three firstrounders and won six games. FSU had four (although CB Antonio Cromartie didn't play in '05), and the Noles lost five games. The perception is that most people just don't fear the league's heavyweights (Miami, FSU and Virginia Tech) anymore, and there's some merit to that. All three are still very dangerous and, when they get motivated, could thump anyone, but all of them especially Miami and FSU have gotten pretty used to losing to average teams. Georgia Tech's blistering at the hands of the Mountain West's Utah, by four TDs in the bowl game, wasn't a great thing for the league, either.


The good: Led by Clemson's Gaines Adams, the ACC still has a lot of defenders who have NFL scouts salivating.


The bad: Maybe all the stud defenders have scared off all the bigplay guys because once again, the league has very little star power on offense. The closest to established top quarterbacks are Miami's Kyle Wright and FSU's Drew Weatherford, both of whom are looking for breakout years, and the league's marquee guy is Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, who is coming off a disastrous bowl loss in which he was completely stifled by Utah's Eric Weddle, the MWC's best defender. Maybe that's why the league's heavyweights don't seem that, well, heavy anymore.


4. Big 12 (Team Rating Average: 3.83): The Big 12 is coming off a great bowl season. Texas knocked off USC. Young OU beat a oneloss Oregon team, and Nebraska beat Michigan. All good stuff. I think OU is poised for a big bounceback, and Texas, even without Vince Young, is still loaded. If A hadn't taken two steps back last season, I think you would've been able to make a case for the Big 12 as the secondbest league, but the Aggies' D was a complete mess. Maybe the 425 will be the answer. I have them as a light heavyweight the same as Iowa State, which I hear many people are high on. I don't feel that way because the Cyclones' road schedule is nasty. I wouldn't be shocked if they went 0for5, losing at Texas, OU, Iowa, KState and Colorado. At best, I think they will come out of that at 23.


The good: Looking for big, athletic receivers? Try this conference. The Big 12 has five supersized wideouts who could be firstday picks: Iowa State's Todd Blythe; Texas Tech's Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani; Texas' Limas Sweed; and OU's rising star Malcolm Kelly. Also, the Mike Leach offense is coming to Baylor. That should be interesting to watch, although I still have the Bears as a lightweight.


The bad: Almost everywhere you look, you have teams breaking in new starting QBs. Most notably: Texas; plus A Tech, Mizzou and CU.


5. Pac10 (Team Rating Average: 3.80): Turbulence or not, USC still has enough AllAmerican talent to consistently be a topfive program. I'm high on ASU and bumped the Sun Devils up to heavyweight status. It came down to either them or Cal, and I like the ASU QB situation much better. I like 'Zona too, but there are too many lightweights in the mix right now with Washington, Washington State, Oregon State and Stanford all struggling.


The biggest thing hurting the perception of the Pac10 nationally is that the top dog, USC, always seems to be flying solo. A couple of years ago, Cal was a very good oneloss team. People out west felt as though Cal got screwed when Texas got the BCS bid over the Bears, who promptly went out and gave up a ton of points to Texas Tech and lost. A similar situation happened last season to oneloss Oregon, which lost to Oklahoma in a lowscoring game. It almost invalidates those teams the next year and the conference to a certain extent because most people need to see it to believe it. The thinking is "Oh, that's just another puffedup Pac10 team." I'm not sure it's fair, but it is what it is. The Ducks do get another big shot to give the conference a major boost if they can beat OU at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 16.

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