Punishment coming for Michigan football, Jim Harbaugh? Plus Lincoln Riley on USC’s change

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I’m Manny Navarro, and I’m filling in at quarterback today for Jayna Bardahl. We could enter the disciplinary phase of the Michigan in-person scouting and sign-stealing scandal as early as midweek.

Here’s what’s happening in college football Until Saturday …

More on Michigan

Does legal battle loom?

Our Nicole Auerbach and Austin Meek reported yesterday evening that Michigan received a formal notification letter of potential disciplinary action from the Big Ten during the weekend, and league sources have said a suspension of coach Jim Harbaugh is among the possibilities.

Michigan will have time to respond before any punishment is imposed, but it’s clear the school’s leaders want the conference to defer to the NCAA investigation, and Michigan likely will take legal action if the Big Ten attempts to suspend its coach.

The Wolverines, ranked third in the first College Football Playoff rankings last week, are 4.5-point favorites on Saturday at No. 11 Penn State and still the favorites to win the national title, according to BetMGM.

Call me tainted, but I can’t bring myself to put Michigan in my top four knowing it may have had an unfair advantage during its successful run the past 2 1/2 years (and that’s on top of this year’s weak strength of schedule).

Familiar Heisman Leader

Is it Michael Penix Jr.’s to lose?

There’s a familiar face on top of this week’s Heisman Trophy straw poll voted on by The Athletic staff: Penix, the Washington quarterback who led three of the previous four weeks, was voted first on 17 of the 33 ballots to overtake Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

Here’s the rest of the top five:

3. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

4. Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

(tie) Ollie Gordon II, RB, Oklahoma State

Penix, BetMGM’s favorite, didn’t put up huge numbers (73.3 completion rate, 256 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) in a 52-42 shootout win over USC and Caleb Williams. But he still leads the country in passing yardage and has the fifth-ranked Huskies in position to win the Pac-12 and make the Playoff.

He has a tough schedule the rest of the way: vs. No. 18 Utah, at No. 16 Oregon State and vs. rival Washington State, along with a potential rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

Full disclosure: I bumped Penix into the top spot ahead of Harrison this week and picked him to win the Heisman in the preseason.

If the Huskies win out, is Penix a lock? We asked Mitch Light, who has had Penix atop his ballot since our straw poll began after Week 4.

“Yes, I’d definitely say it’s his to lose,” said Light, our national recruiting editor and Stars Matter podcast host. “There’s a good chance the Heisman will come down to Penix versus Nix in the Pac-12 title game. The winner of that game would likely get my vote — unless both of them struggle and Harrison has a monster game in an Ohio State win over Michigan.

“The only time I strongly considered bumping Penix from the top spot was after his lackluster performance against Arizona State. While his team didn’t play great the following week at Stanford, Penix threw for 369 yards (on a 10.0 yards-per-attempt average) and four touchdowns.

“And then on Saturday, his numbers weren’t necessarily gaudy (for him), but he was terrific in the Huskies’ win at USC. There are sound arguments for others at this point — most notably Nix — but Penix has been consistently outstanding all season.”

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Lincoln Riley is 18-6 as USC’s coach in his second season. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

USC Firing Explained

Lincoln Riley deserves blame

USC’s coach said he re-watched the Trojans’ loss to Washington and slept on it before deciding his team wasn’t making the kind of progress it needed to on defense before firing coordinator Alex Grinch.

“Nothing will trump getting the right person in here because we’re going to play great defense here. Period,” Riley said in his news conference Monday. “It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen soon. There’s no reason in the world why it can’t.”

The decision to fire Grinch reminded me of a story Bruce Feldman wrote in June about what it’s like to be the defensive coordinator for a team that employs the Air Raid offense. Grinch told Feldman he’s fortunate because Riley has been committed to running the ball through the years, which helps a defense.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but as Riley became less committed to the run, Grinch’s defenses got progressively worse in the five seasons they worked together.

  • In 2019, Oklahoma averaged 40 rushing attempts per game (47th), and Grinch’s defense allowed 27.3 points per game (64th).
  • In 2020, the Sooners ran it 38 times per game (61st) and finished 21st in scoring defense (21.7).
  • In 2021, the Sooners ran it 34 times per game (98th), and Grinch’s defense allowed 25.8 points per game (58th).
  • Last year at USC, the Trojans ran it 33 times per game (94th), and Grinch’s defense allowed 29.2 points per game (93rd).
  • This season, USC is averaging 29.6 runs per game (121st), and its scoring defense (34.5) is ranked 124th.

Quick Snaps

The Until Saturday podcast crew of Max Olson and Sam Khan invited Austin on to discuss the Michigan in-person scouting story and preview Saturday’s big Penn State game. Max and Sam also reviewed their preseason predictions in their “we were right/wrong” segment.

As Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti gears up to hand out some form of punishment to Michigan, the NCAA is investigating if former Michigan staffer Connor Stalions was on Central Michigan’s sideline for a September game against Michigan State.

Should they stay or should they go? NFL Draft analyst Nick Baumgardner sized up nine underclassmen playing quarterback not named Caleb Williams or Drake Maye and their looming draft decisions.

So what are the next young great arms up to as they roll toward the state high school playoffs? Grace Raynor has an update on Ohio State commit Air Noland, who hit the 10,000-yard passing mark.

Georgia lost a key starter in its win Saturday when linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson went down with an arm injury. Seth Emerson provided an update on his situation and that of tight end Brock Bowers.

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(Top photo of Jim Harbaugh: Aaron J. Thornton / Getty Images)

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