Dallas Colleges: Taylor McHargue
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M held its regularly scheduled weekly news conference on Tuesday in advance of its season opener against Rice on Saturday. While many wonder about the status of quarterback Johnny Manziel, there are other things to keep an eye on. Here are five storylines facing the Aggies as they await the Owls at Kyle Field:
1. Will Manziel play?
That's what Texas A&M fans and much of the college football wants to know: will Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel start on Saturday for Texas A&M? The question remains unanswered officially. Athletic director Eric Hyman released a statement on Monday evening indicated that he instructed the coaching staff and players to not comment on Manziel's status. When Kevin Sumlin was asked about it on Tuesday he said "We're not discussing that....I can't talk about how that decision is going to be made and what goes into that decision. I said from day one, the first day [of training camp], that there will be a lot of people involved in that decision. So what goes into how that decision's made, obviously I can't discuss." So for now, the wait continues.
2. What if Manziel doesn't play?
At this point, the Aggies turn to either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill. Both received praise from coaches and teammates alike on Tuesday. Senior running back Ben Malena said he believes the team will be comfortable with whoever is taking snaps on Saturday. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said offensively, the Aggies would still remain the same. Joeckel brings the presence of a pocket passer who has already spent a year learning the offense while Hill is a dual threat who can run and throw and has had to learn the offense quickly. But on Tuesday, the Aggies appeared confident in both of them should either be pressed into duty.
3. New faces
Sumlin advised fans attending Saturday's game to "buy a program or bring a flip card," because of how many newcomers will see time on the field. Of the 31 players who signed with the Aggies in February, Sumlin said he expects at least 10 to play a role this season, and perhaps as many as 15. Some of the notable newcomers to look for on Saturday include freshmen receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, tight end Cameron Clear, who was a juco transfer, linebacker Tommy Sanders -- also a juco transfer -- and true freshman linebacker Shaan Washington. Look for even more newcomers to get looks on special teams, including some of the aforementioned names.
4. Missing personnel
There are suspensions facing three defensive players: senior defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, junior cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior safety Floyd Raven, all three of whom had off-the-field legal trouble this offseason. Ennis and Raven will miss the entire game; Everett will miss a half. Ennis is a starter, so that means you could see a true freshman -- either Isaiah Golden or Hardreck Walker -- in his place when the Aggies go to four defensive linemen. In place of Everett, also a starter, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that the Aggies will rotate cornerbacks. Expect to see a heavy dose of Tramain Jacobs but possibly some freshmen such as Alex Sezer, Victor Davis or Tavares Garner as possibilities.Raven isn't listed as the starter at free safety like he was coming out of spring football. Instead, it's junior Clay Honeycutt, who Snyder was complimentary of on Tuesday. Honeycutt, a former high school quarterback at Dickinson (Texas) High, has come a long way according to Snyder and has earned himself the start against Rice.
Also of note, running back Brandon Williams [foot surgery] might be limited. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said "I wouldn't expect to see a lot from Brandon on Saturday."
5. Familiar foes
The Aggies and Owls haven't met on the field since the Southwest Conference folded in 1995, as both teams were part of the now-defunct league, but the coaching staffs do have recent history. David Bailiff is in his seventh season at Rice, a rival of Houston, where Sumlin was the head coach for four seasons (2008-2011). Snyder also stood on a sideline opposite Bailiff when Snyder was the head coach at Marshall from 2005-09. Sumlin's staff also recruited Rice starting quarterback Taylor McHargue when Sumlin was with the Cougars. So there is plenty of familiarity, at least in terms of coaching staffs, between the two squads.
In a day dominated by backup quarterbacks, Rice took down Air Force 33-14 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl thanks to 26 unanswered points in the second half. It was Rice's first bowl appearance since the Owls beat Western Michigan 38-14 in the 2008 Texas Bowl.
It was over when: Rice junior safety Paul Porras intercepted Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson's pass at the Falcons' 36-yard line with Rice leading 27-14 with 3:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. Rice scored four plays later to make it 33-14.
Game ball goes to: Rice backup quarterback Driphus Jackson took over for starter Taylor McHargue late in the first half after McHargue suffered a head injury from a hit by Air Force's Steffon Batts. Jackson went on to complete 15 of 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat of the game: Air Force entered the game averaging 435.9 yards of offense per game but was outgained 503-214 Saturday. That was a season low for the Falcons. Rice also registered 24 first downs to Air Force's 12. The Falcons recorded just two first downs in the second half.
Stat of the game 2: The Falcons owned the nation's No. 2 rushing attack, averaging 328.8 yards per game, but registered only 166 yards against the Owls, which were allowing nearly 200 rushing yards per game. Rice's rush defense stepped up in the second half, as the Owls allowed just 24 rushing yards in the final two quarters.
Unsung hero of the game: Jackson gave the Owls a nice spark in the second half, but he also got a lot of help from wide receiver Jordan Taylor, who caught nine passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns.
What it means for Rice: The Owls finished the season winning six of their final seven games and claimed its first bowl win since its last postseason appearance in 2008. It was only the second bowl win for Rice in the past 57 years.
What it means for Air Force: The Falcons ended the season losing four of their final five games, turning the ball over 17 times during that span. Air Force has lost two straight bowl games. For the first time since 2005, it lost to Army and Navy, lost its bowl game and had a losing season.