Thu Sep 02 08:09pm EDT
Alabama was already down its best offensive player, reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram, for Saturday's opener against San Jose State, and almost certainly for the far more serious visit from Penn State a week later, as well. As of tonight, the Tide will also be down arguably their best defensive player BCS Championship MVP Marcell Dareus, who's alleged South Beach antics this spring will cost him both games and a healthy chunk of change for running afoul of NCAA rules on "preferential treatment and agent benefits":
Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus has been suspended for two games following an investigation into not one but two spring trips that might have involved improper contact with agents.
He also must pay $1,787.17 of benefits to a charity of his choice, the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff has ruled in a decision announced tonight.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said on his radio show tonight that Alabama will appeal the decision in hopes of getting the suspension reduced to one game.
Any appeal will probably hinge on the university's claim that Dareus has been honest with investigators about being duped (or "shanghaied," to use Saban's term) into taking the trips by his friend, North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who reportedly paid for Dareus' airfare to Miami and a hotel room while keeping Dareus in the dark about any connections to agents. A "source close to the Dareus family" told the Birmingham News in July that Dareus paid Austin back for at least one flight, received a receipt and never used the hotel room before returning to Alabama to tend to the death of his mother.
Austin, of course, isn't looking the most reliable cohort at the moment as he endures a suspension of his own, with no end or get-out-of-jail fee in sight. A second trip, however, is news, and the original source of the $1,787 (and 17 cents) remains a mystery, even if Dareus' check is almost certainly to be made out to charity.
Whatever the circumstances, his absence will leave the nation's No. 1 team without two of its most celebrated talents – Ingram and Dareus are both considered future first-rounders – for an early showdown with a perennial top-20 power. And ... well, it's probably going to be fine, actually, as long as the Nittany Lions are planning to come to Tuscaloosa with a true freshman quarterback at the helm on Sept. 11. Chalk one up to depth and timing: As long as they're at full strength at Arkansas on Sept. 25, two weeks after Dareus is set to return and well beyond the expected window for Ingram's injury, everything should be ... just fine. But they're certainly not making this any easier.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.