The Johnny Football show was cancelled and the upstart Aggies were fittingly put in their place by a giant red elephant that had invaded College Station and for much of the game had made Kyle Field their own personal gigantic port-a-potty. The talented hotshot hyperactive quarterback with a penchant for finding mischief was finally being humbled by the Evil Empire of College Football- Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. After spotting the explosive Aggies two touchdowns Alabama’s machinery driven program had steamrolled through the Aggies like a freshly plowed field and seemed on their way to a convincing and soul crushing win the likes of which hadn’t been seen on Texas soil since Oklahoma spit roasts Bevo in the Texas State Fair game seemingly every year. Still, this was the Saban and the Tides chance to exorcise the Johnny Football demon once and for all and the only blemish on a perfect season a year ago. The cutaways to Saban looking at the clock as the 4th quarter began could have been almost cryptic, as if the Emperor knew something was not quite right. An uncharacteristically subdued and mostly contained John Football had thrown a pick six and the stunned masses of Aggie hopefuls were sitting on their collective hands. People may not like the antics of Manziel but his play and leadership ability in getting the Aggies off the matt in the 4th quarter probably made even the most ardent Tide fan as uncomfortable as a PETA supporter at a Sizzler Steak buffet. While he didn’t cap the afternoon with an improbable victory John Football showed America what a reigning Heisman Trophy winner looks like and certainly penciled his initials as the odds on favorite for the one they are handing out in January. The off the field antics of a 20 year old that is caught somewhere between a boy and a man as the song goes can be and will be debated by everyone. Manziel is a polarizing figure and his brash cockiness certainly grates on the nerves of opponents and college football purists. Understand one thing: Dude can ball. He dismantled one of the best defenses in college football who had a year to prepare for him. His leadership and ability to make plays and more importantly have his team believe they can make plays almost set the stage for possibly the most dramatic and improbable come from behind win on the biggest stage and against the best opponent in recent college football history. Alas, the Aggies were outplayed and outmatched for much of the game and even as electrifying as Johnny Football is – he made several mistakes that led to Tide points and ultimately the separation needed to win. Johnny Manziel is a phenomenon that college football desperately needed. Alabama Football under Saban has become a force of nature. Here you had Luke Skywalker fighting against the cold Evil Empire and it was played out before a hundred thousand folks in South Texas and countless more across the country. The game drew a 9+ share of the ratings. That may not mean much to most people, but the World Series (at night- when everyone is home and no other baseball is on television anywhere) draws 6-7 ratings. This was a midafternoon game with 100 other games being played and on television and was the highest rated college football game since 1990, before these kids were even born. The thoughts echoed by Saban and A.J.McCarron after the game toward the Aggies, Kevin Sumlin, and Manziel were typical of what you would expect of teams and coaches in the rarified air they breathe. Saban was simple and direct during the halftime interview when asked about the talented but Johnny Football like actions of running back TJ Yelton with the money and throat slashing sign after he scored the touchdown and cost his team a penalty. Saban simply said “We are Alabama and that is not what we do”. Ironically enough it was the throat slashing Yelton that fumbled at the goal line and started the improbable run of an Aggie comeback and Johnny Football leaving the realm of immature annoying talented Heisman Trophy winner to that of almost cult hero status across the nation. After the game a more mature Manziel handled questions admirably and was gracious in the loss, but also showed the leadership skills that his own coaches and team had been desperately needing and wanting from him. He let the media know that this team is far from being done. The scary thing is neither of these teams are anywhere close to being at the level they will be toward the end of November and it will be entertaining to watch the development. The common denominator for both squads is an underrated and very powerful LSU Tiger squad. The Tide has been the only team in recent years to go into Baton Rouge and escape intact, something the Aggies have to do in order to have any SEC West or National Title dreams. The LSU-Aggie game will be after the Bama game, so there could be a great deal or not nearly as much riding when these two hook up along the banks of the Mississippi in late November. Alabama meanwhile should only have one more serious test, hosting LSU in early November in what could be another highly entertaining game if both come in unblemished. For this writer I can’t wait for the playoff system to start in another year. Could you imagine how entertaining it would be to see Bama and Johnny Football hook up again this year? The working premise of that game has Johnny Football staring as Billy the Kid in the SEC’s version of Young Guns. As far as the rest of the SEC goes: LSU feeling somewhat disrespected and overlooked is on the prowl, a dangerous and one loss Georgia Bulldog team and a still questionable Florida Gator team round are involved as well. The curious team is South Carolina, which like Alabama has an incredibly favorable schedule with the prime villain remaining being a very good Clemson squad that could squash their national title aspirations as they put a serious dent into Georgia’s. The SEC is again easily the most top heavy and dominant conference that college football has to offer. Texas A&M made a brilliantly timed move entering the SEC and leaving the Longhorn Network and company to pick up the pieces of a faltering Big 12. SEC domination has become a tradition over the last decade and as much as it irritates the rest of America outside the heart of Dixie it nonetheless is a reality and by the looks of things it isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Watching the aerial assault of the Mettenberger led LSU Football Tigers seems like a thought more fitting for a science fiction or creative writing class rather than headlines after the first two weeks of the 2013 season. Have we stumbled into some alternative Big 12 pass happy offense? The Tiger’s first two weeks far more resemble the old time Florida Fun and Gun than the traditional ground and pound attack that the Mad Hatter has been known for. After watching the TCU game on television and sitting 7 rows up in the end zone against a woefully overmatched UAB I can offer a few observations two weeks into the season.
1. Mettenberger through two weeks is the best Quarterback the Tigers have put on the field since Matt not Damon Flynn. His throws and timing with the receivers have been incredibly precise and his decision making is remarkably improved over his inaugural season in Red Stick. Credit Cam Cameron, Les Miles, Zach, the receiver, or whomever, but the guy has become the quarterback you saw against Alabama last year.
2. The offensive line is better than advertised. Against a good TCU defense (without their best pass rusher) and UAB they gave Mettenberger more than adequate time to pinpoint receivers and the big plays just piled up. Perhaps the hat has discovered the secret to the Red Zone woes: score from further out?
3. The receivers are good: really, really, really good. Beckham Jr. has to be on the early Heisman watch list as he impacts the game in so many ways and Landry is one of the best receivers in the land. Mettenberger’s ability to seemingly get them the ball this group could be fun to watch develop and it should be interesting to see them against SEC defenses.
4. Jeremy Hill will be in the backfield- a lot. Legal woes be damned the traditional strength of the Tigers has been the pound it out style on the ground. Thus far it hasn’t been nearly as effective as what the Hat would have liked. LSU has a stable of running backs, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but really only one guy sticks out and for reasons on and off the field. Hill gives LSU a legitimate running game between the tackles and with the way the passing game has performed so far the power running game gives the Tigers something similar to what the Flynn led Tigers won the National Title with, or in recent years the last two Crimson Tide teams took home the crowns with.
5. The biggest question for LSU amazingly enough is the defense. Gaping losses to the NFL and a lot of new but extremely talented players that must continue to develop (and quickly) for the Tigers to push to the very top. Thus far the propensity to give up big plays has to dramatically decrease especially as they turn to SEC play and much better teams if these Tigers want to play at the highest level, which it is becoming more evident each week that they very well may be able to. The defensive backs are big and physical, which has long been standard operating procedure and should be the strength of the defense. The simply line up and are better than the receivers. They took TCU’s receivers out of the game for the most part, allowing the defensive front and linebackers to narrow their focus. What gives teams with defensive schemes like LSU and Alabama problems is an agile and mobile quarterback. Boykin from TCU brought TCU back from the dead and although the Frogs didn’t pull off the upset they certainly provided a blueprint of what it could take. Holden from Clemson, Manziel from A&M, etc. all possess the ability to be a dual threat and that in itself puts added pressure on both the defensive backs and everyone else on the defensive side of the ball. If there is a plan to knock off the Tigers and Tide- that seems to be the way that has had the most success.
Summarizing the first two weeks the Tigers are predictably 2-0 and although TCU gave them a test they are exactly where they thought they would be. The offense with Cam is well ahead of schedule and if Mettenberger, the O Line and the receiving corps keep clicking and Jeremy Hill can give them the dominant back they are missing so far the offense will provide them a SEC-National Title worthy arsenal of weapons. Chavis has proven to be the Zen Master of the Defense in his time in Baton Rouge and if the young guys can develop and grow up quickly the Tigers will rapidly rise in the polls given their schedule. Auburn at home should be a good test prior to their first real showdown of the year between the hedges in Georgia. The Hat, Saban, Urban and every other Title winning Coach knows- in order to be a championship team you have to win on the road and that is where most teams fail. Don’t be delusional- some exceptional teams have failed on the road in the SEC. Ever wonder why the BCS Title games are so easy ? The luck, wisdom, or conspiracy of the SEC schedule makers have given the Tigers a daunting task in terms of a schedule. The reward lies in knowing that if you run the table there is gold at the end of the rainbow and there isn’t a Irish Leprechaun from Notre Dame attempting to guard it. It’s more likely a Buckeye headed by former chomper Urban Meyer, but that is not even on the horizon yet. This group of Tigers has a lot of fall left before that discussion even starts taking place. One thing for sure after two weeks however is that the demise of the 2013 Tigers that had been eagerly anticipated by many may have been seriously exaggerated. This group of Tigers could be just a whole lot better than many of the pundits and their fellow SEC foes ever considered.
The Bald Truth
Clemson’s Hollywood style entrance into the SC version of Death Valley was worthy of one of the best games we will see all year. I have to admit I really wasn’t a Dabo Sweeney or Clemson believer before the game but I must tell you folks the Tigers are for real. The game was slam full of future NFL players and including several Heisman front runners from both Clemson and Georgia.
The Bald Truth
Clemson’s Hollywood style entrance into the SC version of Death Valley was worthy of one of the best games we will see all year. I have to admit I really wasn’t a Dabo Sweeney or Clemson believer before the game but I must tell you folks the Tigers are for real. The game was slam full of future NFL players and including several Heisman front runners from both Clemson and Georgia. Looking more like an SEC juggernaut than an ACC team Clemson held on and defeated the Bulldogs and that should propel them into the top 5 in the country. Clemson has pulled off a rarity in knocking off 2 of the SEC powerhouses (LSU in the Chick Fila Bowl and starting the season edging Georgia). With a relatively manageable schedule including possibly only 2 real tests (hosting Florida State and traveling to the Ole Ball Coach and South Carolina late in the Year) Dabo has a great shot to be California dreaming for the swan song of the antiquated BCS National Championship. Georgia has a much tougher road including next week against South Carolina, then LSU, Florida and then a possible rematch with Alabama in the SEC Title game BEFORE even getting to a title game. If the Bulldogs lose to South Carolina next week their title hopes are done and it is still 100 degrees outside.
TCU served notice not only to LSU, but to the Big 12 that they are for real. Gary Patterson has done a masterful job of taking the Frogs from BCS little guy to standing toe to toe with the biggest players in the sport in a decade. Last night’s game at Jerry World told us a couple things about both teams. First, TCU is a real threat to win the watered down Big 12. They are a scrappy bunch who were within a play several times of knocking off a clearly superior talent laden LSU squad. If I were OU and UT I would fear the Killer Frogs. LSU was an interesting study. Last year’s LSU team would have lost that game as they simply could not have scored enough points to keep up with the fast paced and opportunistic Frogs. The Quarterback play was markedly improved from last year and Mettenberger looked poised and comfortable and did a very nice job managing the game and handling pressure situations for much of the game with very few mistakes. The LSU running game was not its typical dominating pounding self, but with the reinstatement at some point of Jeremy Hill that may take care of itself and the ground and pound style could be a great compliment to a resilient LSU air attack which hasn’t looked as efficient since Matt Damon, err, Matt Flynn was taking snaps some years back. The Tigers have some holes to cover and a schedule that is unusually brutal including road games at Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, while hosting Johnny Football and the ole ball coach and Auburn. The Tigers arguably have the toughest schedule in America and If the Tigers run the table (which is a very tall order) whomever they play in the National title game won’t be nearly as good as several of the teams they have faced along the way.
I watched ranked Oklahoma State highly vaunted up tempo offense virtually shut down by a mediocre Mississippi State team whose offense made the LSU offense of 2013 look like Oregon versus one of the nobody’s they seem to usually play. Keeping the toothpicks in my eyes to stay awake the Cowboys slugged their way to a 21-3 victory that made soccer seem exciting. A couple take aways: OSU does not have a quarterback issue as the backup who came in the game after two series is clearly better than the starter. The starter’s brother apparently didn’t appreciate Coach Mike Gundy’s benching of his brother suggesting Gundy was full of chicken excrement on Twitter prior to removing it after the game. For the record: Gundy made the right call, otherwise we would be into the 500th overtime of a scoreless game. Second: OSU has a much better defense than previously thought: Either that or the Mississippi State offense is that bad. Perhaps a combination of both. OSU isn’t better than TCU or Oklahoma. Looks like the Alamo Bowl for Stillwater despite the lofty predictions of Big 12 supremacy this year.
Ohio State and Buffalo was quite the shootout with the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer winning a squeaker by 20 plus. The Bucks by virtue of an anemic schedule both in the Big 10 and out of the Big 10 will almost certainly go undefeated and reach the promised land of BCS glory in California in January. The toughest Buckeye opponents look to be when they host both Wisconsin (#22) and their open date. The Buckeyes ever wary of their weak conference and looking to establish themselves as worthy and playing quality non-conference competition to cement their # 2 standing have scheduled traditional powers such as Florida A&M and San Diego State to cement themselves in the voters’ minds as legitimate. I can’t fault the Buckeyes as they are playing the system. If the Bucks trip up and lose to Wisconsin, Michigan or perhaps their toughest opponent- Open Date- this may trigger a meltdown the which Buckeye nation has never seen. My money: the Bucks are heavy favorites to be in Cali come January.
Oregon and Stanford and the Pac 56 boys: Ever since the USC/Reggie Bush salary cap rule was put into effect the Pac 56 has been and remains largely overrated. In a high scoring but vastly mediocre league that has become the Western version of the Big 12 Oregon has become the leader of the pack. Despite all the hype, an unbelievably favorable schedule of games each year the Ducks seem to find a way to botch enough games to save themselves the embarrassment of being the sacrificial lamb of whichever SEC team happens to come out of the fray. While they are a lot of fun to watch Chip Kelley took the Pete Carroll get out of town before the NCAA cracks down on us ticket to the NFL last year and left the Ducks holding the bag. Stanford is perhaps the most complete program in the Pac 56 with a system that more resembles the SEC and power football. With a highly efficient coach and equally adept team Stanford could easily run the table and come out the mix from the West coast. As far as USC goes Lane Kiffin has a very attractive wife.
Texas A&M has become everyone’s favorite team to hate because of one John Football. More on him in a later column. The Aggies gave up 30 plus to a Rice team that was both energetic and opportunistic before reality set in yesterday. If Rice, yes Rice can get under the skin of JFB what is going to happen when he ventures into the unfriendly confines of Baton Rouge, Gainesville and other non-hospitable SEC destinations who got plenty of practice hating on quarterbacks from Tebow through Cam Newton ? Judging only by yesterday JFB and the Aggies have a long way to go. The defense looked very shaky against Rice and the offense is going to have to develop a continuity that doesn’t involve JFB scrambling for his life on every possession, because at some point one of the NFL bound SEC defenders is going to lower the boom on one Johnny Football if that continues. Aggies are #3 in the SEC West- at best.
I will close with quick analysis of last year’s national title game participants, Alabama and Notre Dame. The Tide looked very average in a complete demolition of Virginia Tech yesterday. The offensive line has been the best in America the last couple years and was decimated by graduation to the NFL has a long way to go to give the Tide the separation they have enjoyed over most teams not named LSU or Texas A&M the last couple years. Good news for the Tuscaloosa Pachyderms is they have a schedule that is incredibly favorable with a road game against Texas A&M in 2 weeks and an annual showdown against LSU being the only two games they can possibly lose prior to the SEC title tilt in Atlanta. The Tide doesn’t have to match up against top 10 SEC opponents Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia. There order is still a substantial one with LSU and the Aggies, but certainly manageable. Notre Dame on the other hand got to the National Title game last season with arguably the worst undefeated team in recent memory having beaten very few teams of value, with the notable exception of the beat down of Oklahoma in Norman. Stoops gets a chance to return the favor in South Bend and this is a pretty pivotal year for the Sooners if they hope to either continue or even establish themselves as a continuing player among the elite in college football. The Irish finish with Stanford in California, which should end with a Cardinal beat down as the “luck of the Irish” ends, Notre Dame returns to normal and some mid-range bowl waits.
Other Bald awards go to Big 12 perennial Kansas State for losing to my new favorite team North Dakota State, whose formerly biggest victories in the history of the school had always happened on the ice. Nice job NDSU! Don’t worry K State- as crappy as the Big 12 is you can always bounce back and win the league. Other Bald awards go to Eastern Washington and their thrashing of a curiously ranked Oregon State team. Personally Vanderbilt, Ole Miss or Louisiana Tech, or ULM would have arguments to be ranked ahead of the Beavers, but alas the red field owning Eastern Washington squad mercifully ended the Beavers short lived trip into the Top 25 and made them but a trivia answer on the last BCS school to lose to a non BCS school.
Football is here and it’s bigger and better than ever. The SEC looks dominant again, although from week one it doesn’t appear that the dynasties may be quite as dominant as they may have been in the past giving pause to the schools, pundits and others from outside SEC country who would love to know what it’s like to have a chance to hoist the crystal ball that has become the exclusive property of the SEC in most of the last decade. Good news is that the schedule favors Ohio State and even possibly Clemson, Florida State and even possibly a Big 12 team could slide in. The bad news is that Alabama has the weakest schedule they have ever had and is an odds on favorite to be in Cali again. Love him or hate him Johnny Football will captivate the country in a couple weeks as everyone that has a dog in the fight will be pulling for the Ags to knock off the fighting Sabans for the second time in two years. Vegas odds say no, but then again, that’s why we play the game. Till next time, that’s the Bald Truth.