Tennessee senior defensive tackle Mo Couch has been ruled ineligible for Saturday’s game at Oregon while the athletic department’s compliance staff investigates allegations that he received impermissible benefits, coach Butch Jones said on Thursday.
“Right now our compliance group is currently in the process of working through all the details and logistics of the situation,” Jones said in an interview with Nashville radio station 104.5 FM. That’s all we kind of know right now, but as of right now moving forward, he will not make the trip to Oregon.”
Yahoo Sports reported on Wednesday that Couch and former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray were among five SEC players to receive cash payments from former Alabama football player Luther Davis. The other former players were Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker along with Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, a defensive tackle, and wideout Chad Bumphis.
Davis was described as a “concierge” or intermediary between agents and financial advisers and the prospective NFL players they were trying to recruit as clients.
The Vols (2-0) play No. 2 Oregon (2-0) on Saturday (TV: WATE, 3:30 p.m.) at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. Earlier in the week, Jones had said that Couch would probably not play in the game anyway due to heat exhaustion he suffered in Tuesday’s practice.
Yahoo said it had authenticated six cash transfers from Davis to Couch and Bray, primarily in the summer of 2012. All of the alleged transfers occurred before Jones was hired as coach last December.
If the allegations are substantiated, the implications for Tennessee’s football program are unclear. If the NCAA chooses to apply a strict standard, Couch and Bray could be declared retroactively ineligible and the Vols could be forced to vacate any win in which the two players participated. The Vols went 5-7 in 2012. Couch has played in both of Tennessee’s wins in 2013.
Couch, a junior college transfer in his third season at UT and a native of Orlando, Fla., is married with one child. His wife recently wrote on Twitter that she is five months pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Bray was not selected in April’s NFL draft, but made the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster after signing a free-agent contract with the team.
Bray’s agent did not comment to Yahoo on the report. Bray did not speak to media in Kansas City on Thursday.
UT is on NCAA probation through Aug. 23, 2015. The probation was extended by two years last November after the NCAA ruled that former assistant Willie Mack Garza provided impermissible travel and lodging to a former prospect.
Couch’s absence could mean more snaps for reserves Trevarris Saulsberry and Danny O’Brien.
Saulsberry, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound sophomore, has played extensively in third down situations. O’Brien, a 6-2, 287-pound redshirt freshman, made his college debut in the opener against Austin Peay but played only sparingly last week against Western Kentucky.
Jones also said in the radio interview on Thursday that junior linebacker Curt Maggitt was unlikely to play and that freshman defensive end Corey Vereen was a week away from returning. Both players are returning from knee injuries.
Jones has said throughout the week that he expects senior defensive end Jacques Smith to make his debut on Saturday. Smith broke his thumb last month.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him on Twitter.