NCF Nation: LSU football

A year ago, things were much different for Johnny Manziel and college football as a whole. The country hadn't yet figured out who he was. And neither had he. Johnny Football hadn't yet been born.

The breathtaking plays, the otherworldly athleticism, the Sharpie-saturated scandal -- none of it had begun to devour College Station midway through fall camp in 2012. We were still wondering how Texas A&M would adjust to the SEC, not the other way around.

It felt like the league had finally caught its breath from Cam Newton's unexpected romp through the conference when Manziel came along, first winning the Aggies' starting quarterback job and then the Heisman Trophy. His ascension was as swift as it was unpredictable. He didn't look the part of a superstar, but he could sure play it. At 6-foot in stilettos, Manziel was a ballroom dancer on the football field, only no one else could figure out the steps.

Can anyone catch on to his act this year? No one knows.

Can anyone duplicate his success? Maybe.

With that in mind, here's a look at some sleeper candidates to pull off a Manziel-like rise from a no-name commodity to a player on the tip of everyone's tongue:

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Curtis Wilson/USA TODAY SportsAfter averaging 5.3 yards a carry in spot duty last season, and with a huge line in front of him, Gamecocks running back Mike Davis is poised for a big year.
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Steve Spurrier put it best when he went on the ESPN airwaves and told the "First Take" desk, "You don't know much about Mike Davis, but watch him play this year." The 5-foot-9, 215-pound sophomore filled in admirably for Marcus Lattimore when he went down, rushing for 5.3 yards per carry. With a mammoth offensive line -- the smallest of the projected starters coming in at 314 pounds -- South Carolina has to feel good about Davis' potential.

Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree got all the attention, but Jenkins was a quiet force on the Georgia defense as a freshman last season. At 6-3 and 246 pounds and with the speed of a safety, Jenkins aims to improve on his five sacks and set his sights on the school's single-season sack record of 14.5 that Jones set a year ago. If he reaches that goal and Georgia is in the SEC championship game again, Bulldogs fans will know who to thank.

Brandon Williams, RB, Texas A&M: Watch the Aggies long enough this season and your attention will inevitably be turned in two directions: to Manziel and his speedy tailback. Williams, a transfer from Oklahoma, hasn't won the starting job just yet, but give him time. With his burst, he'll be a threat to score every time he touches the football.

Tre'Davious White, DB, LSU: He's just a true freshman, but White is the type of cornerback LSU has become known for. Big, athletic and physical, he has the upside of former Tigers great Morris Claiborne. And like Claiborne, White came out of Shreveport, La., and knows a thing or two about playing with an edge.

Denzel Devall, LB, Alabama: Alabama has been something like Linebacker U in recent years, with Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw starring at the position. And though C.J. Mosley certainly fits the bill of an All-American talent, he's not as physically imposing as his predecessors. Devall is. At a solid 6-2 and 250 pounds, Devall has the size and the talent to be a force at linebacker for the Tide this season.

Nick Marshall or Jeremy Johnson, QBs, Auburn: It's down to either Marshall or Johnson, and whomever Auburn ends up with will have the talent to make plays in Gus Malzahn's offense. Johnson has an NFL arm, according to the new coach. Marshall brings more of a running flair to his game, a former Georgia cornerback who went the junior college route to end up on The Plains. Both are raw, but with some polishing they could be playmakers in the SEC.

Matt Jones, RB, Florida: If Will Muschamp's revitalization of power football really is complete in Gainesville, then Jones will be looked on as the final piece to the puzzle. A bowling ball of a runner, Jones brings a north-south style of play to a Gators backfield that has too long gone sideline to sideline. Up to 226 pounds after backing up Mike Gillislee last year, Jones has the size to shoulder the load and a coaching staff willing to let him do it.

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennesee: He may be a year off, but Dobbs is the type of quarterback who could revitalize the Tennessee fan base with his ability to make big plays with his arm and his feet. Though a true freshman, he has a leg up on his competition in that he's not a typical pro-style passer recruited by coaches from bygone eras. First-year coach Butch Jones is looking for a fresh start at Tennessee, and he could be tempted to dive in head-first with Dobbs, who has the size and athleticism that's perfect for his up-tempo scheme.

LSU's defense steps up at Arkansas

November, 23, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- There was a time, not long ago, when LSU relied on its defense to bail out a struggling offense.

Those days were back Friday -- sort of.

LSU's defense was hardly dominant in its 20-13 victory against Arkansas that allowed the seventh-ranked Tigers to finish the regular season with their third consecutive 10-win season (10-2) and a shot at a BCS bowl appearance, depending on what happens in Saturday's games.

Arkansas gained 462 yards, a yard short of the most LSU has allowed all season, which came last week against Ole Miss.

But where LSU's offense had to score late to produce the game-winner in a 41-35 shootout against the Rebels, it was the defense on the field at the end that held off a last-ditch Razorbacks drive. That drive ended at the Tigers 18-yard line when Tyler Wilson's pass into the end zone floated over the head of Arkansas receiver Mekale McKay.

"A win is a win no matter how you write it up," LSU safety Eric Reid said.

To read the full story, click here.

Inside the Program: LSU DB Reid

October, 30, 2012
Eric Reid has been hearing the question all week and he'll keep hearing it until Saturday when Alabama rolls into LSU's Tiger Stadium.

"AJ McCarron has not thrown an interception this season," the questioner will say. "How do you expect to change that?"

And the LSU free safety does what he's trained to do and what's probably the respectable thing to do. He compliments the Crimson Tide quarterback whose numbers -- 18 touchdowns vs. no interceptions -- have him being mentioned in the Heisman Trophy race.

"He's doing a great job this season," Reid will answer. "He's very efficient. He takes care of the ball for his team. That's what you want from your quarterback."

Reid knows as well as anybody that McCarron, and Alabama in general, can be forced into turnovers. In last year's 9-6 LSU overtime win over the Tide in the regular season, LSU had two interceptions, including Morris Claiborne's interception of McCarron.

But it was Reid's spectacular pick of a Marquis Maze pass on a wide receiver reverse that was the play of the game in the Tigers' 9-6 overtime win over Alabama last season in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

With Alabama driving at the LSU 28-yard-line in the fourth quarter, Maze's deep heave looked like a catch at the goal line when Reid ripped it out of the hands of Alabama receiver Michael Williams as both men reached up over their heads for the ball.

It was a momentum-changing play that many saw as the season's signature play until the season unraveled with the 21-0 loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game rematch.

"I was just able to make a play to help my team out in a big part of the game" Reid said. "That play isn't going to affect this game in the game at all. It's in the past."

But he said plays like it will have to be made for LSU to win the rematch Saturday.

"In big games," he said, "big plays have to be made."

Reid, as much as any Tiger, knows the feeling of making them against the Crimson Tide.

Instant analysis: LSU 24, Texas A&M 19

October, 20, 2012
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Maybe Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies aren't quite ready for their SEC coming out.

Even in a game they dominated.

Two second-quarter turnovers led to two touchdowns and helped No. 6 LSU erase a 12-point second-quarter deficit for a 24-19 SEC win at Kyle Field Saturday. Despite a 410-316 yardage edge for the Aggies, No. 18 Texas A&M had five turnovers, including three interceptions for Manziel, who completed 29 of 56 passes for 276 yards.

It was over when: LSU running back Jeremy Hill took a power run 47 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 left. The play was eerily similar to his 50-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 23-21 win over South Carolina last week. Manziel was intercepted by LSU's Tharold Simon on the play before -- Manziel's third of the game -- doubling his season total.

Game ball goes to: Hill, the LSU true freshman running back who rambled for 127 yards on 18 carries, again breaking out the big run when the game was on the line.

Key stat: 5-0. The turnover margin. After LSU gave up a first-quarter touchdown drive and a field goal drive, the Tigers figured out A&M's spread offense, harassed the slippery Manziel and forced turnovers. Texas A&M jumped to a 9-0 first-quarter lead that increased to 12-0 in the second quarter, but did not score another touchdown until the game's final two minutes.

Key play: Zach Mettenberger's 29-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone with 11 seconds left in the first half. After the Aggies had dominated the half, Boone made a nice double move, then a diving catch to give LSU a shocking 14-12 halftime lead.
The touchdown was set up by a Ben Malena fumble, forced by Ronald Martin and recovered by Lamin Barrow.

What it means: Ready or not, LSU (7-1, 3-1) has its showdown with No. 1 Alabama in two weeks and the Tigers will have a lot to work on during its off week. The Tigers had triple-digit penalty yards and, as has often been the case, could not consistently move the chains.

Texas A&M (4-2, 2-2) is now 0-2 against the SEC powers, both close losses at home. The Aggies have shown they belong, but maybe aren't quite ready for prime time.

LSU's offense starts slow, defense steps up

September, 16, 2012
BATON ROUGE, La. -- In the annals of LSU football history, the Tigers' 63-14 win against Idaho on Saturday will look like a blowout in which the superior team dominated the winless small-conference opponent.

What will be forgotten are the times Tigers' defenders bailed LSU out of what was, at times, a sluggish performance by a team caught between a big nonconference win over Washington and an SEC opener at Auburn.

Four interceptions of Idaho's Dominique Blackman turned what might have been an upset alert game into a laugher.

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