Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
8:00
AM CT
In Week 1, Oklahoma State and West Virginia will try to pull off monumental upsets against the nation’s top two teams; Iowa State and Kansas State will look to avoid back-to-back disastrous openers; TCU and Texas Tech will also attempt to take care of business against the FCS; Texas will kick off the Charlie Strong era; Oklahoma will try to keep its Sugar Bowl level; and Baylor will introduce a new stadium.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch this week in the Big 12:

Saturday

North Dakota State at Iowa State, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): The Cyclones will attempt to avoid opening with a loss to an FCS opponent for the second straight year. That won’t be easy. The Bison have captured three straight FCS national championships. This will also be the Iowa State debut of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who last week tabbed Sam B. Richardson to be the Cyclones’ starting quarterback.

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT (ABC or ESPN2): The Mountaineers are the biggest underdog of any Power 5 conference team this weekend. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games of last season, but won back-to-back national championships before that. This, however, appears to be the deepest and most experienced team Dana Holgorsen has had at West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.

Samford at TCU, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): TCU coach Gary Patterson hasn’t indicated whether Trevone Boykin or Matt Joeckel will get the start at quarterback in the Horned Frogs’ new offense. Samford coach Pat Sullivan, who won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 and coached at TCU form 1992-97, won’t be making the trip to Fort Worth with his team because of complications after offseason neck surgery.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh is back as the Oklahoma State starting quarterback, and he has a huge challenge waiting for him in the opener.
Central Arkansas at Texas Tech, 6 p.m. CT (FSN regional): This could be an interesting test for Tech’s defense, which will be relying on a host of junior-college transfers along the defensive line and a sophomore-and-under defensive backfield. The Bears return 10 starters from an offense that averaged more than 450 yards per game last year.

Louisiana Tech at No. 4 Oklahoma, 6 p.m. CT (PPV): The Bulldogs will be bringing former Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with them to Norman. Diaz’s track record against the Sooners wasn’t good. With Diaz manning the defense, Texas allowed 63 points to Oklahoma two years ago and 55 the year before that. Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who will be making just his sixth career start, most recently shredding Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State, 6 p.m. CT: The Wildcats dropped last year’s season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. But Stephen F. Austin, which won only three games last year, is a far cry from North Dakota State. The Wildcats are also settled at quarterback this time around with Jake Waters, who struggled as the part-time quarterback in last year’s opener, but surged during the second half of the season.

North Texas at Texas, 7 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): Charlie Strong will finally make his debut as coach of the Longhorns. This game will also mark the return of quarterback David Ash after he missed most of last year with a concussion, and then the spring with a fractured foot. North Texas is coming off a nine-win season but is 9-67 lifetime against Big 12 programs, including 0-9 against Texas.

Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC): No Power 5 conference team returns fewer starters than the Cowboys, who also graduated 28 players. The Seminoles, meanwhile, bring back the reigning Heisman winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State will start out with J.W. Walsh at quarterback. Walsh led the Big 12 in QBR two years ago. But last year in Big 12 play, Oklahoma State averaged 6.2 yards per play with Clint Chelf at quarterback and only 4.8 with Walsh, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sunday

SMU at No. 10 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Bears will christen the $260 million McLane Stadium, as Baylor will go from having the worst stadium in the Big 12 to one of the best. The celebration in Waco could begin early, too. Last year, Baylor had an average halftime lead of three touchdowns and enters this game as almost five-touchdown favorites over the Mustangs.

Kingsbury rewarded for exciting Tech

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
9:52
PM CT
Athletic director Kirby Hocutt declared that there’s “never been a more exciting time” within the Texas Tech football program.

And that is precisely why the Red Raiders elected to make a huge investment in their 35-year-old head coach.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsKliff Kingsbury's contract extension is due in big part to the excitement that he has generated at Texas Tech.
Kliff Kingsbury agreed to a contract extension Friday that will make him the fourth-highest paid coach in the Big 12. Tech will play Kingsbury $3.1 million in 2015, with a $200,0000 raise each year to $4.1 million through 2020.

Tech isn’t necessarily rewarding Kingsbury solely for the mere eight wins he’s brought the Red Raiders last season.

Instead, the school is rewarding Kingsbury for the excitement he’s brought to the program. And the news Tech revealed earlier in the day was proof of that excitement.

Just hours before they disclosed Kingsbury’s extension, the Red Raiders held a press conference announcing the launch of a capital campaign to raise $185 million to construct an indoor practice facility and build 30 suites as part of a renovation of the Jones AT&T Stadium south end zone.

The school would not have fashioned such a project had Kingsbury not filled up the stadium last season. Nor would Tech have raised the $75 million it already has committed for the project without the buzz Kingsbury has generated for the program.

“We are very fortunate that we have 85 suites in Jones AT&T Stadium and they're all at capacity right now,” Hocutt said. “There is a wait list for folks who have requested those seats.”

Kingsbury’s return to Lubbock spearheaded the formation for that demand.

Bucking a national trend of declining student attendance, Tech actually set a student season-attendance record in Kingsbury’s first season. This summer, Tech sold out its season-ticket allotment for the first time in school history, shattering the previous record by roughly 7,000.

Hocutt attributes all of the above to a “new pride” in Tech football. And Kingsbury, who was Mike Leach’s first great quarterback for the Red Raiders when he played from 1999-2002, is the one flying the banner.

And he's the one who has unified what previously was a fractured fan base.

Sure, the Red Raiders still have a ways to go on the field. Another November swoon last season underscored that. But before that, Tech started out 7-0 and reached its first top 10 ranking in five years despite rotating through a pair of true freshman quarterbacks. And even after the late-season losing streak, the Red Raiders bounced back to throttle Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Going into this season, Tech appears to have one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in sophomore Davis Webb. And the Red Raiders have been going toe-to-toe with prominent programs for blue-chip talent. Tech already has landed commitments from a trio of ESPN 300 recruits including Jarrett Stidham, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.

There’s plenty of excitement for where the Tech football program is.

But plenty more for where Kingsbury is taking it.

Walsh looking to solidify OSU QB job

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
2:30
PM CT
STILLWATER, Okla. -- It’s no wonder why J.W. Walsh will start at quarterback for Oklahoma State on Saturday when the Cowboys face the defending national champion Seminoles.

Walsh is always the last to leave the practice field. And the first to arrive in the film room. And he climbs stadium steps faster than any player on the team.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Tyler EvertJ.W. Walsh has been a leader for the Cowboys, but he'll need to produce to stay on the field this fall.
 “He’s gained the respect of the team,” said linebacker Ryan Simmons. “Everyone trusts him because he’s shown he wants what’s best for this team.

“He’s our quarterback. ... We’re pulling for him and we’re going to depend on him.”

Walsh didn’t earn that trust overnight.

In his first career start two years ago, he showed he was a gamer, totaling 357 yards while nearly leading the Cowboys to a fourth-quarter victory over then 12th-ranked Texas.

Two games later, he validated his toughness, throwing for 415 yards against Iowa State while playing through a serious knee injury.

Then in the opener last year against Mississippi State, Walsh displayed his determination, essentially willing a sluggish Oklahoma State offense to a 21-3 victory.

“He’s the leader of this team,” guard Zac Veatch said of Walsh, who's been off limits to the media this preseason. “People follow him.”

But the biggest question for an Oklahoma State team long on youth and short on experience is not whether Walsh can finally lead the Cowboys as their full-time quarterback.

“He feels the urgency,” Veatch said.

Two years ago, Walsh lost a three-way battle for the starting job to true freshman Wes Lunt. Walsh stepped in after Lunt suffered a knee injury of his own. But Walsh was relegated to operating the Cowboys’ short-yardage package behind Clint Chelf after returning later in the season from his knee injury.

Last season, Walsh took over the offense three series into the Mississippi State game. But after finishing 15th nationally in QBR in 2012, Walsh struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013. And after several games with the offense sputtering with him at quarterback, the Cowboys turned back to Chelf, who became just the second Oklahoma State quarterback ever to earn first- or second-team all-conference honors.

This offseason, Walsh found himself in another three-way battle with true freshman Mason Rudolph and former walk-on Daxx Garman. But even though neither Rudolph nor Garman had ever taken a college snap, coach Mike Gundy waited until this week before finally indicating that Walsh would start against the Seminoles. Gundy also previously suggested that Garman could get 10-15 snaps Saturday.

“Each one of those guys has come a long way since the spring,” Gundy said. “They’ve come along and they’re doing better. If they’re out there in a crucial situation, we’d like to be able to use those guys when we want to use them, not when someone else determines when we use them.”

Because of his experience and leadership, the Cowboys would probably prefer to use Walsh.

Garman has the bigger arm, which seems to be the better fit for an offense stocked with capable receivers. Rudolph, the gem of February’s signing class, has the higher ceiling.

But Walsh has the team.

“He’s the leader of the team,” said cornerback Kevin Peterson. “In workouts, he’s always going to be first. His work ethic is really great. I have all the confidence in J-Dub. If I want to pick anybody, it’s going to be J-Dub, because he shows all the leadership attributes.”

Walsh, however, will have to demonstrate more than merely leadership to keep the job. He’ll have to complete passes at a better rate than the 59 percent he did in 2013.

He’ll have to avoid the costly interceptions, the last of which in the red zone against TCU last fall finally cost him the job.

And he’ll have to flash more of the big-play ability -- both with his wheels and his arm -- he did two seasons ago as a freshman.

The Cowboys want Walsh on the field. But they also want the best quarterback, too.

“Him having the experience and being the veteran is great,” Veatch said. “And him being the veteran and having the experience is going to help him be the guy that plays.

“But whoever is the best guy is going to play.”

Walsh has already proven he’s Oklahoma State’s leader.

Saturday night against the No. 1 team in the country, he’ll have the chance to prove the Cowboys can depend on him to be their quarterback, too.

Texas Tech to build suites, indoor facility

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
10:40
AM CT
Texas Tech announced on Friday that it has launched a campaign initiative to raise $185 million, part of which will go to the construction of an indoor football training facility and the renovation of the Jones AT&T Stadium south end zone. The school already has $75 million committed to go toward the project. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the project will include the construction of 30 new suites in the south end zone. The school hasn't set a completion date yet.

"We as a Red Raider nation believe we have a bold future," athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement. "We embrace the rising expectations we have for ourselves. With that we believe we have the ability to experience unprecedented success as an athletics program as we move forward. The Campaign for Fearless Champions, obviously, is one of the components of our plan as to how we are going to achieve national success. It's the right time for us to look at and prepare for our future. Our time is now to continue to elevate Texas Tech athletics to the top nationally."

Here are a couple renderings Tech released of the proposed project:

Texas A&M celebrates big win in style

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
10:15
AM CT
After routing South Carolina, the Aggies had some fun in the locker room. What?

The exchange started with a silly (or stupid) joke about football, but not the kind that will be played in college stadiums around the country this weekend.

After Germany blasted FIFA World Cup host Brazil 7-1 on July 8, I joked on Twitter that the Brazilians must have hired former Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a defensive consultant.

Within an hour, Diaz sent me a direct message on Twitter, asking me to call him the next day.

Our conversation the following day was cordial, and I thanked Diaz for reaching out. I apologized for the inconsiderate joke and told him it wasn't anything personal. I could have used a handful of coaches as the butt of the not-so-funny joke, but, for whatever reason, Diaz popped into my head.

The last time college football fans saw a Diaz-coached defense on the field, the Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Then-Texas coach Mack Brown fired Diaz the next day.

After largely spending the rest of the 2013 season in isolation, Diaz will return to the sideline as Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesOn Saturday, Manny Diaz will coach his first game since being fired after Texas' loss to BYU last September.
For Diaz, it's his first shot at redemption, albeit against what is expected to be one of the country’s most prolific offenses.

"Everybody in this profession is at heart a competitor," Diaz said. "I'm super, super excited about the opportunity to get back out there and go at it again."

Diaz's fall from grace was nearly as stunning as his meteoric rise through the college coaching ranks. A former ESPN production assistant, Diaz started as a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998 and was a defensive coordinator at an FBS school within eight years.

After spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-09, Diaz transformed Mississippi State’s defense into one of the country’s best in 2010. In 2011, Brown hired him to turn around Texas' defense.

The early results at Texas were good: The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense in his first season. In 2012, the Longhorns allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 despite losing star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks to injuries.

Then, the wheels fell off at the start of the 2013 season. Nearly a year later, Diaz is reluctant to talk about what transpired at Texas. He has never criticized Brown or the decision to replace him with Greg Robinson only two games into the season.

"There's nothing to me that matters about what happened," Diaz said. "The issues there were multifaceted, and I think everybody involved, if they had a chance to go back, would change some things."

In the end, firing Diaz didn’t accomplish much. The Longhorns lost to Ole Miss 44-23 the next week before winning six games in a row, including a 36-20 upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma. But the Longhorns lost three of their last four games, allowing 38 points against Oklahoma State, 30 against Baylor and 30 against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Brown was forced to resign and coached the Longhorns for the final time in the bowl game. Brown, who had a 158-48 record in 16 seasons with the Longhorns and guided them to the 2005 national championship, now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Diaz, 40, spent much of last season coaching his sons' football teams. He consulted with a few teams but declined to name them because "Twitter would blow up."

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz called him in January and offered him a job. Holtz wouldn't have had to go far to find out what really happened to Diaz at Texas last season. His son, Trey, is a sophomore walk-on quarterback with the Longhorns.

"I think Skip had an intimate knowledge of what was really happening behind the doors," Diaz said.

Diaz isn't the only coordinator looking for redemption this season. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who resigned amid allegations that he abused his players, is Iowa State's new offensive coordinator. New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's past two college coaching stops, as Georgia Southern's head coach and then Auburn's defensive coordinator, were far from spectacular. New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense at Georgia allowed a school-record 377 points last season.

But perhaps no coach has fallen as hard or fast as Diaz, who went from a wonder boy to, well, the butt of jokes in a matter of a couple of games.

"I think it's the nature of this profession," Diaz said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think the game is more volatile than ever."

Diaz's career rehab will start near the bottom of FBS football. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-8 in Holtz's first season. Louisiana Tech's victories came against FCS foe Lamar and FBS opponents UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss, which combined to win four games in 2013. The Bulldogs lost consecutive games against Tulane, Kansas (which ended a 22-game losing streak to FBS foes) and Army in September.

Holtz hired Diaz to do what he did at every one of his previous stops -- make the defense better.

"I think Coach Diaz has done a phenomenal job with this defense and the things he has put in," Holtz said. "I think he makes it very complicated, but yet, at the same time, it is very simple for them to learn. It appears complicated, but I think he has really simplified it in terms of being user-friendly for the players to take it and embrace it."

The Bulldogs' first challenge is a daunting one, trying to slow down OU's high-powered attack. The Sooners had their way against Diaz's defenses in two previous meetings, outscoring the Longhorns 118-38 in victories in 2011 and '12.

"It's a program I have a lot of respect for," Diaz said. "They challenge the bond of your team. When I got here and found out we were playing Oklahoma, that's the first thing I told our players. It's what they do with their style of play and tempo. If you drop your gloves, they'll pound you."

The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator knows all too well about being knocked down. Will Diaz get back up?

SEC morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
8:00
AM CT
1. Raise your hand if you saw that coming from Texas A&M last night? Nobody? That's OK, I didn't and neither did my SEC colleagues, as evidenced by our Week 1 predictions. The Aggies coming out of Columbia, South Carolina with a win wasn't far-fetched but absolutely dominating? That was unexpected. Especially for the College Station-area Ashley Furniture store. Ashley promised customers free furniture if the Aggies beat the Gamecocks by 10 or more points. The result? More than $1 million in free furniture given away. The Aggies themselves were pretty fired up, evidenced by this celebration video involving Kevin Sumlin and the team. But the biggest story on Thursday night was none other than quarterback Kenny Hill, who -- in his first career start -- broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school record for passing yards and completions. Hill proved that the Aggies are far from a one-trick pony.

2. There's some good and some not so good to take away from Ole Miss' win against Boise State on Thursday night. The good is the defense was stout. The not so good was that quarterback Bo Wallace wasn't as consistent as you'd like a senior quarterback and third-year starter to be, throwing three interceptions and four touchdowns. Those are two of the three things we learned from the Rebels 35-13 win over the Broncos. Robert Nkemdiche was certainly pleased with the defensive effort. Here's a look at some of the plays that changed the game for the Rebels.

3. Nick Saban hasn't publicly named Alabama's starting quarterback, but reading into his commentary during his radio show on Thursday night, but it certainly sounds like Blake Sims might take the first snap. Saban dropped a few hints into his thought process Thursday and one report claims that Sims will indeed start, citing a source. Saban lauded Sims' experience, something Jacob Coker lacks after arriving in Tuscaloosa, Alabama just this summer. "Here's the thing everybody needs to understand that people don't understand," Saban said. "We have a guy playing quarterback who has been in the system for a long time and really has a really good understanding, very confident in what he's doing. I know he didn't play very well in the spring game and that's how a lot of people evaluate him. But he has done very well this fall and he did very well last spring and he has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge."

More from around the SEC
Tweets of the day

Big 12 morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
7:00
AM CT
Happy Friday, everybody. Just one more day of work until the best three-day weekend of your year (until next weekend). Hang in there.
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal went long on Bill Snyder's legacy in a package -- entitled "Manhattan Project" -- that you're gonna want to check out. Here's the main piece by Ken Corbitt, and Kevin Haskin came up with a fun list of what-ifs when you think back on Snyder's tenure. One observation from Corbitt's piece that stands out: Had Snyder not come along and rescued the Wildcats, might they have been kicked out of the Big Eight? That's how dire the situation Snyder inherited was becoming. Everything he's achieved in the 25 years since has been flat-out stunning.
  • Texas finally released its depth chart on Thursday. The big news? True freshman Jason Hall is slated to start at strong safety, making him the Longhorns' first opening-day true freshman starter since Blake Gideon in 2008. Hall is one of 10 freshmen who made the depth chart. Another key decision came on the offensive line. With Desmond Harrison suspended for the opener, Texas moved Kennedy Estelle back to right tackle and promoted Marcus Hutchins to left tackle. The former scout-team defensive tackle has never started a game. That makeshift line is going to have to keep David Ash clean against North Texas.
  • Who is Texas Tech's fastest player? Might seem like a silly question, but Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal wisely points out that the number of speedsters the Red Raiders have had has been on the uptick in recent years. I'd put my money on receiver Jakeem Grant, who told the paper he sees speed becoming a real advantage for Tech's offense this year. Its receiving corps is full of guys you'd want in on the fastest-man race. Newcomers Justin Stockton and Mike Mitchell are also getting talked up for their legit speed. If the perception is true, and Tech does have that much speed at each receiver spot, Davis Webb is going to have some fun throwing deep.
  • One team we have admittedly not written about much this week is Kansas. For the second year in a row, the Jayhawks open their season with a bye. The weekend off does provide a strategic advantage for Charlie Weis: He got to watch Week 2 opponent Southeast Missouri State play its season opener last night, a 77-0 win over Missouri Baptist. The week gave KU more time to address its running back situation, and Weis says freshman Corey Avery and juco transfer De'Andre Mann are "1 and 1A."
  • Lastly, I enjoyed this story by Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman on what goes into the groundskeeping crew's efforts to prepare Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for a ballgame. Bob Stoops, he of so many hot offseason takes, argues grass fields are the best. I don't have a strong feeling either way on that one, but I must say I did not know a field requires up to 300 gallons of paint in one weekend.

Sumlin's system keeps creating QB stars

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
12:10
AM CT
video
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Maybe the whole Johnny Manziel phenomenon was a bit overblown.

That’s not to diss Johnny Football. Few players in the SEC have been more entertaining or transcendent. No, it’s more a validation that the other guy rocking the visor, the guy with the “good negotiator” and $5 million salary, knows what he’s doing.

Manziel, Case Keenum, Kenny Hill

It obviously doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback for Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. His offenses are going to put up points, and lots of them.

The Aggies left little doubt Thursday night that they’re going to be just fine without Manziel -- especially if they can straighten out some bugs in the secondary -- by slicing through a helpless South Carolina defense in a 52-28 declawing of the No. 9-ranked Gamecocks before a stunned crowd of 82,847 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Quite frankly, there was a chip on our shoulder. Basically, nobody gave us a chance in this game,” Sumlin said. “What we did tonight kind of shows that we’re not a one-trick pony. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be, but we’re not going anywhere any time soon.”

It’s hard to know where to start when heaping praise on the Aggies, who had outgained the Gamecocks 142 yards to 1 at one point in the first quarter en route to scoring the most points against South Carolina on its home field in the Steve Spurrier era. The only other time an opponent had hung 50-plus on South Carolina in Williams-Brice with Spurrier on the sideline was when Tim Tebow came to town in 2007 on his Heisman Trophy march.

As fate would have it, Tebow was in the house Thursday as part of the SEC Network’s coverage and witnessed a Heisman Trophy-like performance.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesIt took just one game for Texas A&M's Kenny Hill to break Johnny Manziel's school record for most passing yards in a game.
"Give Texas A&M and their coaches and players credit. It was a mismatch tonight," Spurrier said. "I don't know what else you can say. If we played them again, they'd be a three-touchdown favorite. We tried everything we could to slow them down."

Hill, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore, broke Manziel’s Texas A&M single-game passing record in his first start. He finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns and was the essence of composure. He spread the ball around, got rid of the ball quickly and leaned on an impressive array of receivers.

And up front, it was a total mismatch. The Aggies’ offensive line manhandled the Gamecocks in rolling up a staggering 99 offensive plays and 680 yards of total offense – the most ever gained against any South Carolina team.

Hill joked that he was more nervous meeting with the media than he ever was on the field.

“I was more excited than nervous,” Hill said. “I was ready to go. I’ve been ready for this my whole life. Everybody was doubting us, and we were just ready to go and prove everybody wrong and that we could be good without Johnny.”

Hill wasn’t quite ready to take on a nickname yet, although he was asked about it.

“I don’t really like Kenny Football. That’s sort of played out,” he said to a round of laughter.

If you’re wondering, Manziel was 23-of-30 for 173 yards and no touchdown passes in his first career start in 2012, a 20-17 home loss to Florida.

“It’s the reason I came to Texas A&M, to replace Johnny,” said Hill, whose record night sent the Gamecocks to their first home loss after 18 consecutive wins.

The Texas A&M players were almost nonchalant about Hill’s performance. They didn’t necessarily see a record performance coming in his debut, but they knew following in Manziel’s footsteps wasn’t too big for him.

“He’s a pocket passer. He’s going to stay in the pocket,” said Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy, who caught 14 passes for 137 yards. “If you stay on your routes, he’s going to put it right there.”

For Sumlin, this was especially sweet, although he did his best to downplay it afterward.

Spurrier, in vintage form, had taken a few shots at the Aggies’ nonconference schedule and how they rolled up a lot of their big numbers against smaller teams last season. He also quipped during the SEC Media Days that Sumlin had a good negotiator after Sumlin received a raise to $5 million annually when the University of Southern California showed interest in him.

The truth is that Spurrier and Sumlin are friends and even went to Ireland together to play golf two summers ago. Spurrier visited the Texas A&M locker room after the game. Even so, Sumlin made it clear that he wasn’t a big fan of some of the things said about his program during the offseason.

“I heard somebody say we made a bunch of yards against the little teams, but we also made a few yards tonight,” Sumlin cracked.

Granted, it was just one game, but he was genuinely peeved that anybody would suggest he and his staff would suddenly forget how to coach just because Manziel was gone. All offseason he was bombarded with questions about life without Manziel.

Sumlin’s public response was that the Aggies had recruited extremely well to a system they believed in. Privately, he couldn’t wait for the opportunity to fleece a few more SEC defenses with a system that has a way of bringing a defense to its knees no matter who’s playing quarterback.

On Thursday, the Gamecocks were on their heels from the Aggies’ first possession and never recovered. Just a thought: Maybe Jadeveon Clowney had a little bigger impact on that South Carolina defense than some people gave him credit for a year ago.

Either way, it’s clear that Texas A&M has recovered much better without its departed star than South Carolina has without its departed star.

Here’s another thought: The entire complexion of the Western Division race all of a sudden looks a little different, and we’re only a game into the season. If you’re going to beat the Aggies, you'd better be able to score.

The same goes for the Eastern Division race. South Carolina has two weeks to shake off this nightmare and find something that works on defense before Georgia visits.

In the meantime, looks like they’re not going to cancel the season in College Station after all.

Top stats to know: Hill's epic debut

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
11:14
PM CT
The precedent has been set for Texas A&M to do big things in 2014.
Kenny Hill made Texas A&M fans turn the page from Johnny Manziel with a debut to remember on Thursday night.

Hill completed 44 passes for 511 yards, both school records. Texas A&M gained 680 yards, the most by any team against South Carolina in school history as it ended the Gamecocks' 18-game home winning streak. The 52 points A&M scored are also the most ever scored by a road team against a Steve Spurrier-coached team and fourth-most overall.

We take you inside the numbers on this record-setting night in Columbia.

Don’t blitz
South Carolina attempted to blitz Hill on over 40 percent of his dropbacks on Thursday night, but Hill was not rattled by the pressure. He completed 72 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns when facing added pressure compared to 74 percent and one touchdown against no blitz.

Johnny who?
Hill’s debut far surpassed Manziel’s debut against Florida in 2012. Manziel passed for 173 yards and no touchdowns in a 20-17 loss. Manziel did rush for 60 yards and a touchdown in that game.



Catch and run
The Aggies gained 278 of their 511 passing yards after the catch Thursday, including 106 by Malcome Kennedy. Last season, Texas A&M averaged an SEC-high 179.8 yards after the catch per game.

Curtains for South Carolina?
Despite tonight’s big loss for the Gamecocks, their season is far from over. Four teams have reached the SEC championship game after losing their season opener and six teams have done so after losing their SEC opener.

The most recent team to do both was Georgia in 2011, which reached the SEC title game after losing its opener to Boise State and its SEC opener to South Carolina.

Tags:

NCF

Plays that changed the game: Texas A&M

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
10:01
PM CT
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was never comfortable talking about all the players he lost. Throughout the offseason, he was peppered with questions about replacing Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Each time, he'd bite his lip, say what he needed to say and move on.

Now we know why. In spite of losing so many stars, Sumlin's offense hasn't missed a beat. On Thursday night, Texas A&M's retooled offense outdueled Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, rolling up the Gamecocks 52-28 on the road.

1. Welcome to the show, Kenny Hill

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The sophomore didn’t appear the least bit worried about living up to the legend of Manziel on Texas A&M’s opening drive. He calmly marched the Aggies down the field, spreading the ball around to his receivers. The best of his throws was this 22-yard, third-down strike over the middle to redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones that nearly went for a touchdown. Hill stayed calm in a stressful pocket and stepped into the throw beautifully. Tra Carson would ultimately go between the tackles for the 1-yard touchdown, giving Texas A&M the first points of the game. But Hill was the star of the drive, announcing himself to the college football world as a quarterback worthy of succeeding Johnny Football.

2. This Seals-Jones fella can play, can’t he?

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South Carolina’s defensive backs were helpless to stop him. He was too big, too fast, way too athletic. Sound familiar? It should. In many ways, he’s Mike Evans 2.0. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt freshman can’t be covered. On this 3-yard touchdown grab, he showed off his burst, getting into his break quickly. After getting a step on the defensive back, all he had to do was hold onto the football, which came on another perfect strike from Hill. On a side note, look at the pocket. The pressure from South Carolina’s defensive line was almost nonexistent.

3. Hill can run the read-option, too

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With the game still in reach, South Carolina had the chance to stone Texas A&M on third-and-goal, but Hill was having none of it. Instead of picking apart the Gamecocks secondary with his arm, he used his feet and instincts to get the defense to commit before pitching the ball off to Carson, who had an easy path to the end zone. If Hill can keep executing the Aggies offense like this, the SEC West is going to be really, really interesting.

4. Spurrier had to roll the dice

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By this point, South Carolina's defense had shown nothing. The defensive line wasn't getting any pressure. The secondary wasn’t making any plays, either. So why not try the onside kick? Down 17 points, it was worth a shot, and Landon Ard executed it almost perfectly. But Texas A&M secured the kick and promptly went 42 yards in 2:27 for another touchdown. South Carolina nearly got back in the game toward the end of the third quarter, but Dylan Thompson put too much air on a deep throw and watched helplessly as Armani Watts came away with the game-sealing interception. What could have been a 10-point game heading into the fourth quarter instead turned into a runaway rout.

Big 12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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The College Football Playoff isn’t the only thing new for the Big 12 this year. The league will welcome new bowl tie-ins, as well as old bowl tie-ins with new names. The playoff is obviously new. The Russell Athletic Bowl and AutoZone Liberty Bowl are new to the league, as well. The Cactus Bowl is the old Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (which before that was the Insight Bowl). Next year, the Champions Bowl, which will pit top teams from the Big 12 and SEC, will jump into the rotation as well.

But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7

Eventful Midnight Yell for A&M in Columbia

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Texas A&M's "Midnight Yell" is one of the Aggies' longest-running traditions, and on the eve of the team's season opener at South Carolina, thousands of Texas A&M faithful gathered at the South Carolina State House for yell practice.

Not all South Carolina fans were so welcoming.

As evidenced by reports via social media, A&M's yell practice became rather eventful and testy at times as South Carolina fans came to shout the Aggies down. The Aggies hold Midnight Yell at Kyle Field before home games, and for road games they choose a spot in or near the opponent's hometown. In this case, it happened to be roughly a couple miles from Williams-Brice Stadium.

Here's video from the scene last night, via TheState.com:

 

And here are a few tweets from last night's scene:

 

Poll: Team most on upset alert?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Last year, North Dakota State marched into Manhattan, Kansas and then marched down Bill Snyder Family Stadium in the fourth quarter with a game-winning touchdown drive to stun Kansas State.

The good news for the Wildcats is they open with a far less frightening opponent this weekend in Stephen F. Austin. While North Dakota State was capturing a third consecutive FCS national title, Stephen F. Austin was going 3-9 in the Southland Standings.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 team should be on upset alert Saturday?

  •  
    64%
  •  
    8%
  •  
    4%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,537)

 Who in the Big 12 should most be on upset watch Saturday?

Iowa State is certainly a candidate. The Cyclones play the same Bison team that toppled K-State last fall. Sure, North Dakota State lost its head coach to Wyoming and the quarterback who engineered the game-winning drive to beat the Wildcats. The Bison, however, have reloaded before. And just last season, Iowa State fell in the opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa.

North Dakota State, however, isn’t the only capable FCS team coming to Big 12 country this weekend. Central Arkansas, which travels to Texas Tech, received votes in the FCS Top 25 after winning seven games in 2013. So did TCU’s opponent, Samford, which finished in a tie for first with Chattanooga and Furman in the Southern standings. The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, will be debuting a new offense without a clear-cut starting quarterback. Texas Tech has the clear-cut starter at quarterback in Davis Webb, but it will be starting four underclassmen in its secondary.

The two traditional powers in the Big 12 both have curious games, as well. North Texas, which will head to Austin, went 9-4 last season. The Longhorns are still big favorites, but this will be just the fourth start quarterback David Ash has made since the 2012 season.

Oklahoma too is a heavy favorite to dispose of Louisiana Tech. The Sooners are riding high after taking down Alabama their last time out. But Oklahoma has a tradition under Bob Stoops of sputtering at times in openers. And while the Bulldogs struggled last season, they are only two years removed from going 9-3 and taking Texas A&M to the wire in a 59-57 shootout.

Now, we put it to you in our weekly Big 12 poll: Of these five teams, pick one to put on upset alert for this weekend.

Big 12 Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
9:00
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Why Alabama will win: The Crimson Tide don't have a quarterback with a career start, but that seems to be the only question with this team. The losses to Auburn and Oklahoma are fresh on everyone's mind, but before those two games, Alabama had allowed an FBS-low 9.3 points per game last season. Coach Nick Saban's defense will be formidable again. Though the Mountaineers feature several intriguing skill players, it's unlikely they will be able to move the ball the way the Tigers and Sooners did. -- Jake Trotter

Why Florida State will win: Last week, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy called Florida State the best team he had ever faced as a player or a coach. The Seminoles are loaded, headlined by the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will be fielding almost a completely new squad after losing 28 seniors and returning the fewest starters among any program in a Power 5 conference. Those factors do not equal a recipe for an upset. -- Jake Trotter

More consensus picks: Iowa State over North Dakota State; TCU over Samford; Texas Tech over Central Arkansas; Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin; Texas over North Texas; Baylor over SMU.

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