NCF Nation: Texas A&M Aggies

Jim HarbaughGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has his work cut out for him at Michigan, which just went 5-7.

Back in October and November, before Michigan officially had an opening for a head coach, its fans already started daydreaming about the possibility of prying Jim Harbaugh from the NFL.

The evolution of fantasy to reality of Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor, each day providing additional drama, ended up being one of the more fascinating coaching storylines of 2014.

In a new AT&T commercial, Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, sitting around watching the new College Football Playoff on ESPN, try to tease Joe Montana about his not winning the bronze statue. Montana seems duly impressed.

"What an accomplishment," he says. Only he raises his hand to his face, and it features four Super Bowl rings and a ring for the 1977 national title he won at Notre Dame.

#winning!

When it comes to team sports, particularly in this country, winning championships trumps eye-popping statistics and individual accomplishments. That's why no one ranks Dan Marino ahead of Montana on lists of all-time great quarterbacks, even though Marino was a better pure passer.

This is an important sports cultural note because we are on the cusp of potentially making a huge distinction. If Oregon beats Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12, Marcus Mariota will have a strong case for the greatest quarterback in college football history. He'll have the Heisman, eye-popping numbers over three brilliant seasons and, most important, that championship. It would further boost his case that Oregon's first Heisman winner also led it to its first football national title, the Ducks then being the first first-time national title winner since Florida in 1996.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Jae C. HongMarcus Mariota's passing efficiency numbers are among the best in college football history.
Ah, Florida. It can counter with two legitimate entrants to the discussion of best quarterback in college football history: Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Both put up huge numbers over multiple seasons and won Heismans. And both won national titles.

By those measures, you'd also have to include USC's Matt Leinart in the discussion. He won the 2004 Heisman and finished sixth in 2003 and third in 2005. While his overall numbers aren't as sparkly as Mariota's, Weurffel's or Tebow's, he went 37-2 as a starter and nearly won three consecutive national titles.

If winning is our primary measure, how can QBs like Tommie Frazier and Vince Young be overlooked? Frazier and Young each finished second in Heisman voting, but Frazier won consecutive national titles at Nebraska (1994 and 1995) without losing a game -- that 1995 team ranks among the best in the history of the sport -- while Young resurrected the Longhorns and won the 2005 national title.

Our old-timers are reminding us that college football is more than a few decades old. Any discussion of all-time greats needs to include TCU's Sammy Baugh, who was slinging the ball around well before passing was a significant part of the game, and the Horned Frogs claimed a national title in 1935 with Baugh behind center. The two-time All-American had 39 career TD passes and also ended up an NFL Hall of Famer.

So what is Mariota's case should he prevail against the Buckeyes? The CFP, in itself, would be a good Point A: His winning a national title will rate a bigger accomplishment than those of his predecessors because he will have to win consecutive games against highly ranked, top-four foes in order to earn that final No. 1 ranking. Those who won BCS or pre-BCS titles didn't have the added rigor of the CFP.

As for numbers, both this season and career, Mariota's case is strong. He leads the nation in Total QBR, ESPN.com's advanced metric for measuring a QB's efficiency and overall effectiveness, by a wide margin, and his 91.7 rating is third best since 2004. He finished ranked second in QBR the previous two seasons to Heisman winners Jameis Winston of Florida State and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Those QBR numbers rank 10th and 17th of all time, making him the only QB since 2004 to have three seasons ranked in the top 20.

The same lofty measures hold true with standard QB efficiency ratings. Mariota is No. 1 this season after ranking seventh in 2013 and 2012. Those ratings rank 6th, 55th and 97th all-time (since 1956). His career efficiency rating ranks second all-time behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford.

Mariota has been responsible for more touchdowns (134) and racked up more yards of total offense (12,661) than any other player in Pac-12 history. He has thrown a touchdown pass in all 40 career starts, the second-longest streak in FBS history. He is on pace to set the FBS record for career interception percentage, as only 13 of his 1,130 career attempts have been picked off (1.15 percent).

With any subjective measure, as this undoubtedly is, you can highlight or downplay aspects to suit an argument. Leinart and Frazier led dynastic runs of sustained excellence but were hardly one-star constellations for college football superpowers. Young completed an outstanding 2005 season -- second to Reggie Bush in Heisman voting -- with a tour de force performance in a thrilling victory over Leinart, Bush and USC in the national title game. Tebow finished first, third and fifth in Heisman voting, was a significant part of a second national title team, had 145 career TDs and put up strong efficiency numbers.

A further complication in this debate is blocking out how these quarterbacks were evaluated by the NFL and then produced as professionals. The only aforementioned QB who succeeded in the NFL was Baugh. Wuerffel and Tebow were widely doubted by NFL scouts in advance of the draft. Injuries ended Frazier's career before he could play on Sundays. Leinart and Young were top-10 picks in 2006, but they both flopped in the NFL.

Mariota is expected to be a top-10 pick this spring and could go No. 1 overall. In terms of NFL prospects, he's decisively better than Wuerffel and Tebow, and it's already clear he has a superior arm compared to Leinart and is far more advanced mechanically than Young. In terms of pure QB ability and talent as it would translate to the NFL, Mariota is the best prospect of the bunch, even before you factor in his ability as a runner.

Of course, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer can do his old QB Tebow a favor in this debate. If the Buckeyes triumph over the Ducks, Mariota won't get to flash a championship ring, a prerequisite for inclusion in our "best ever" conversation.

Watch: Ref ticked at getting turned around

October, 4, 2014
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During the first quarter of Saturday's Texas A&M-Mississippi State showdown, head referee Ken Williamson forgot which side the press box was on and made an announcement with his back turned.

He realized it ... and was not happy with himself. So he spun around and made the call again.

Keys to Texas A&M-Mississippi State 

October, 2, 2014
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Kenny Hill and Dak Prescott USA TODAY SportsQuarterbacks Kenny Hill and Dak Prescott will duke it out at Davis Wade Stadium this weekend.
While there are a multitude of stellar Week 6 matchups, for me one clearly stands out as being the most intriguing: Texas A&M at Mississippi State.

Simply put, these two programs could not be more different.

The Aggies, often characterized as flashy, are the hottest program in the state of Texas (if not the country). Kevin Sumlin is known as "Coach Swag," arguably the coolest coach in college football (he's known to attend rap concerts and make dramatic entrances via helicopter on the recruiting trail). The roster is filled with some of the country's top recruits, and quarterback Kenny "Trill" Hill's family trademarked his nickname just as Johnny Football's did last year. Most consider the Aggies a finesse team with elite athleticism.

On the other hand, Mississippi State is the self-proclaimed "band of misfits" who see themselves as blue-collar -- tough players who were under-recruited and are looking for respect. They're led by coach Dan Mullen, who calls himself a "Yankee" in the South. Most consider the Bulldogs a tough, physical team.

Which one of these contrasting styles will come out on top and continue its quest for the SEC West crown? After studying both clubs, here's a look at three keys that will determine whether the Aggies or Bulldogs win on Saturday.







1. Can the Aggies contain QB Dak Prescott?

The Aggies have to limit Prescott to less than 100 yards rushing in order to win.

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SEC West: Matchups to watch

September, 30, 2014
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper will match up against a stingy Ole Miss pass defense.
The SEC West has been dominant in the first month of the season. Consider these stats:
  • The SEC West is 25-0 against teams not in the SEC West and has won those games by an average of 34.1 points.
  • Six of the top 15 teams in The Associated Press poll hail from the SEC West -- more than the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC have in the top 15 combined.
  • All seven teams from the SEC West rank in the top 20 of the Football Power Index, including the top three teams in the rankings: Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.
  • The SEC West has five undefeated teams, which is two more than any other conference in the FBS (the Pac-12 and Big 12 each has three).

Given the quality of the division, it’s no surprise that six of the 10 toughest remaining schedules belong to teams in the SEC West.

This week will be the first real conference test for many of the SEC West’s top teams. Three of the weekend's best games (and perhaps the three best, period) -- Alabama at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Mississippi State and LSU at Auburn -- all involve SEC West teams. Below is one matchup to watch in each of these games.

Alabama at Ole Miss
Matchup to Watch: WR Amari Cooper vs. Ole Miss pass defense
Amari Cooper is averaging an FBS-high 163.8 receiving yards per game and has the longest active streak of 100-yard receiving games in the nation (six). Ole Miss, on the other hand, is allowing 133.5 passing yards per game and has not allowed a receiver to crack the 100-yard mark this season.

Cooper has accounted for 49 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards and has 41 more targets than any other Alabama receiver. He has more yards after the catch (320) and more receptions of 20 yards or longer (10) than Ole Miss has allowed this year.

The Rebels must limit Cooper downfield, after the catch and on third down. QB Blake Sims is 9-of-10 with seven first downs when targeting Cooper on third down, which is a big reason Sims leads the nation in third-down QBR.

Ole Miss leads the SEC in most major passing categories on defense and has eight more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed, the highest margin in the country. To continue this success, the Rebels must contain Cooper, who statistically has been the best wide receiver in the nation this season.

Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Matchup to Watch: Texas A&M receivers vs. Mississippi State secondary
Texas A&M is averaging more than 400 passing yards per game and has an FBS-high 27 completions of 20 yards or longer this season. It will face a Mississippi State defense that has allowed the most passing yards per game in the SEC and has had trouble stopping big passing plays.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs will need to limit Texas A&M's receivers after the catch. The Aggies have 340 more yards after the catch than any other SEC team and are averaging 8 yards after the catch per reception (fourth in SEC).

Determining which receiver to try to shut down may be a challenge. The Aggies have seven receivers with at least 100 receiving yards this season (tied for second-most in the FBS) and have an FBS-high nine players with a receiving touchdown.

LSU at Auburn
Matchup to Watch: Auburn’s run game vs. LSU run defense
Since Gus Malzahn took over as coach, Auburn has run on 69 percent of its plays and ranks third in the FBS in rushing yards per game, behind two triple-option offenses. Auburn is 13-0 in the last two seasons when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-2 when it does not.

One of those losses came at LSU last season, when Auburn was limited to 213 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per rush. LSU forced Auburn to pass on 40 percent of its plays, Auburn’s second-highest percentage in a game last season.

Without DT Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, however, LSU has not had the same rushing defense as the one the slowed Auburn in 2013. LSU is allowing the third-most rushing yards per game in the SEC and has allowed two opponents to rush for at least 250 yards. LSU did not allow any team to reach that mark in 2013.

LSU has allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the nation to opposing quarterbacks, which is not a good sign considering Auburn's Nick Marshall ranks third among active quarterbacks with 1,341 rushing yards since the start of last season. Nonetheless, if LSU can follow the blueprint that it set in 2013 -- and that Kansas State followed in 2014 -- by limiting Auburn’s run game and forcing Marshall to pass, it might hand Auburn its first loss of the season for a second straight year.
 

After inheriting an Ole Miss program that won two games in 2011 and had suffered 14 consecutive losses against SEC opponents, coach Hugh Freeze guided the Rebels to a 7-6 record in his first season in 2012.

In February 2013, Ole Miss signed the country's No. 5-ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, and landed several blue-chip prospects, including defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and safety Tony Conner.

With those freshmen playing significant roles, the Rebels went 8-5 in 2013, upsetting then-No. 6 LSU 27-24 along the way, and won a bowl game for the second season in a row.

Yet, as Ole Miss entered Freeze's third season in August, it was still staring up at Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Such is life in the rugged SEC West.

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesHugh Freeze's Rebels are 3-0, but they have a difficult schedule filled with SEC West opponents in coming weeks.
 "I'm probably the only coach that speaks the truth about that," Freeze said. "I don't know if our fans like it or not, but there are times you feel like it's insurmountable. The confidence you have is that you know in your heart that you've closed the gap from what it was, and that on a given day, you're good enough to beat them."

We're about to find out how much the upstarts have closed the gap on the recent heavyweights in college football's best division. Heading into this weekend's games, six of the seven SEC West teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll: No. 3 Alabama, No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 10 Ole Miss, No. 14 Mississippi State and No. 17 LSU.

The other team, Arkansas, lost to defending SEC champion Auburn 45-21 in its opener, but then won its next three games by an average of 42 points.

"I can't remember a time when there were that many good teams in one division," said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, who guided the Crimson Tide to the 1992 national championship. "Texas A&M probably wishes it was on the other side. It's a really strong division right now."

Consider the strength of the SEC West through the first month of the 2014 season:

• SEC West teams are 22-0 against teams not in the division and are winning those games by an average margin of 34 points. SEC West teams are a combined 24-2, with the only losses coming against each other. Along with Auburn's victory over Arkansas, Mississippi State upset LSU 34-29 on the road last week.

• The SEC West has a 99.3 rating on a 0-100 scale in ESPN's division power rankings, which is 33 points higher than any other division in college football.

• Each of the SEC West teams rank in the top 20 of ESPN's Football Power Index, which is more teams than the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC have combined. The top three teams in the FPI are from the SEC West: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Texas A&M and No. 3 Auburn.

• Five SEC West teams (Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M) rank in the Top 25 among FBS teams in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Texas A&M is No. 2 in scoring offense (55.3 points per game) and No. 8 in scoring defense (11.8 points). Arkansas is No. 3 in scoring offense (48.8 points), and the Razorbacks and Aggies are on pace to break the SEC scoring record set by Florida (46.6 points) in 1996.

A month into the season, the weight of the SEC seems to have shifted dramatically back to the West. Every SEC East team has already suffered at least one loss, including defending division champion Missouri and preseason favorites Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. SEC East teams are 0-3 against SEC West foes.

"I think these things kind of run in cycles," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They run in cycles from team to team and they run in cycles from division to division. I just think this happens to be one of those years where it seems like the West has a lot of really good teams. I think our league is just really, really strong from top to bottom. There's a lot of balance, and I just think our side of it seems to be especially strong this year."

Starting this weekend, the SEC West teams will start to cannibalize themselves. Texas A&M plays Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, and then plays three consecutive games against ranked opponents from the SEC West. After hosting Memphis on Saturday, Ole Miss plays four ranked SEC West foes in its next five games, and the Razorbacks will face ranked opponents in six of their next seven games.


Auburn might play the most arduous schedule of anyone, with six consecutive games against ranked SEC opponents after Saturday's home game against Louisiana Tech. After playing that murderer's row, the Tigers close the regular season with a home game against FCS foe Samford on Nov. 22 before a road trip to Alabama for the Iron Bowl the next week.

How difficult will the stretch run be in the SEC West? ESPN Insider's Brian Fremeau, who created the Fremeau Efficiency Index, gives each of the five remaining undefeated SEC West teams less than a 5 percent chance of finishing the regular season unbeaten. Fremeau predicts defending national champion Florida State has a 41.8 percent chance of finishing undefeated, with Oregon (18.2 percent) and Oklahoma (13.2 percent) having the best opportunities to go unbeaten among the other Power 5 conference teams.

According to FPI projections, there's a 56 percent chance the SEC champion will have at least two losses. The Big 12 and ACC champions are each projected to have one or fewer losses.

"If you're going to win and be in the playoff, you've got to be a good football team anyway," Stallings said. "The bad thing is they're going to knock each other off. I don't know who's choosing the teams for the playoff, but the [SEC West] teams could lose two games by a couple of points and still be a better team than an undefeated or one-loss team from another league."

Over the next 10 weeks, the SEC West will separate the contenders from the pretenders. Over the next few weeks, we'll start to learn whether an upstart like Arkansas, Ole Miss or Mississippi State is ready to take a stand against Alabama and Auburn.

"We've made progress," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "We've done certain things better. I think, without a doubt, our guys have a lot more confidence than they maybe had a year ago. But until you've done it on a big stage and against a quality opponent like we're going to see Saturday, it's really just talk."
To say Reveille is a revered dog at Texas A&M is putting it lightly. "Miss Rev," as she's affectionately called by Aggies fans, even had an entire commercial made about her recently.

So when an SMU's Der'rikk Thompson came charging toward her after an incomplete pass near the end zone in Saturday's game, it is no surprise a member of A&M Corps of Cadets delivered a heck of a block to protect her from being trampled.

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Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.
1. The SEC released Monday its schedule rotation for nondivisional conference opponents, laying out in stark terms the cost of playing only eight conference games a year. For instance, Texas A&M players who enroll this fall will play UCLA twice (2016-17) and never play Georgia or Vanderbilt (the fifth-year guys will get Kentucky in 2018). Or this: Missouri plays at Kyle Field this fall, and the Tigers won’t return to College Station before 2026, when this year’s first-graders will enroll in college. That’s conference play?

2. I can’t recommend highly enough the breakdown of Big Ten balance sheets that my colleague Matt Fortuna began Monday in a four-part series. The numbers are staggering, yes, but the explanation of expenditures by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis provides depth and detail to the amount of resources afforded to scholarship student-athletes. I’m for giving them full cost of attendance, but as Fortuna highlighted, the increase in services provided by schools over the last decade is staggering.

3. At the Tulane commencement Saturday, Wynton Marsalis used words and his horn to give graduates a compelling message. But the best moment came when university president Scott Cowen singled out former Green Wave defensive back Devon Walker, paralyzed in a game two years ago. When Cowen asked spectators and Walker’s fellow graduates “to show our love and our respect for this incredible young man,” they responded with a 40-second standing ovation.

Longtime instate rivals Texas and Texas A&M haven't faced each other on the football field since the Aggies bolted for the SEC in 2012. That, however, hasn't stopped the two sides from trading barbs on Twitter.

With the NFL draft coming up, new Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford riled up Texas A&M fans with his Twitter views on the pro prospects of former Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Bedford started out general then he got specific:



Seriously, what do we do to get the Longhorns and the Aggies on the same field again?

The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

Big 12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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After 16 years, the BCS era is finally over. Next season, college football will have a playoff instead.

With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:

Offense

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Scott Clarke/Getty ImagesWith Vince Young at the helm, Texas won a national title and Rose Bowl.
QB: Vince Young, Texas (2003-05) -- Young led Texas to its first national title in 35 years with an unforgettable performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. The Heisman runner-up also became the first QB in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season.

RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).

RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.

WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.

TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.

OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.

OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.

OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.

OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.

C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.

APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.

Defense

DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.

DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.

LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.

LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.

LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWest Virginia receiver and returner Tavon Austin had a huge 2012 season.
CB: Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002) -- Newman was a solid player for Bill Snyder his first three seasons, then broke out as a senior. Newman was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and the Thorpe winner, given to college football’s top defensive back.

CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.

S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.

S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.

Special teams

K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.

KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.

PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.

All six finalists have made Heisman case

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State fans have made their pick, but Jameis Winston is just one of six Heisman finalists.
Six Heisman Trophy finalists will head to New York for Saturday’s ceremony, the most that have received invites to the ceremony since 1994, when there were also six. The last time there were more was in 1988, with eight.

Although the favorite entering the ceremony is Florida State QB Jameis Winston, all six have made a solid case for why they are the best player in the country this season.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Although Northern Illinois' bid to be a BCS buster was ended in the MAC championship game, Lynch’s dual-threat ability kept the Huskies in it all season. He had 321 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history, breaking his own record of 316 set earlier in the year against Central Michigan.

Lynch ended the season with 1,881 rushing yards, also an FBS record for a quarterback.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s bid to join Archie Griffin as the only other multiple Heisman winner saw a transformation of his game. While his 2012 season was built more on his legs, his 2013 campaign saw him develop as a passer.

Manziel added a yard to his yards per attempt (from 8.5 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013). His touchdown percentage also increased from 6.0 percent in 2012 to 8.4 percent this year. Also in 2013, 63 percent of his completions this season have gone for a first down or a touchdown, compared to 57.6 percent last year.

RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Even after a 1,000-yard rushing season last year, Mason wasn't on the short list of Heisman contenders until he finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including 304 against Missouri in the SEC championship game, the fifth-highest total all-time in an SEC game.

Mason’s 2,137 all-purpose yards this season broke the Auburn school record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Mason’s 22 rushing TDs this season also set a school record.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
This is McCarron’s third season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and he’s improved every season. His opponent-adjusted QBR was 76.7 in 2011, 81.5 in 2012 and 83.5 this season.

He was even better against SEC competition. In conference games, McCarron had an 86.4 opponent-adjusted QBR, tied for the best in the conference. Fellow Heisman candidate Manziel was third (85.5).

RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This season, Williams became just the 16th player in FBS history to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season, and the first since Donald Brown did so for Connecticut in 2008.

Williams also showed big-play ability. He had 26 runs of at least 20 yards, the most by an FBS player since Kevin Smith had 26 in 2007. His 11 touchdowns on such runs are the most for any player in the last 10 seasons.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the clubhouse leader for the Heisman, and as the FBS leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.9), he has good reason to be. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Manziel last year.

Winston has also showed a clutch presence on the field throughout the year. On third downs, Winston has a 98.9 Total QBR, leading all FBS quarterbacks. Over the last 10 seasons, the highest third-down Total QBR in a completed season was also 98.9, by Andrew Luck in 2010.

Johnny Football: Better in 2012 or 2013?

October, 17, 2013
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Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel has been a better downfield passer in 2013.
Johnny Manziel became the first freshman (redshirt) to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, leading Texas A&M to an 11-2 record.

His signature moment came when he led the Aggies to an upset victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

So far in 2013, Manziel is second in ESPN’s latest Heisman Watch. Despite losing to Alabama this time around, Manziel has the Aggies at 5-1 and ranked seventh in the latest AP Poll.

Let’s dive into the numbers and compare Manziel in 2012 to the 2013 version of Johnny Football.

Rushing
One could say that Johnny Football "ran away" with the Heisman in 2012, as he led all SEC players with 1,410 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns.

Manziel also led the SEC in rushing yards per attempt (7.0) and rushes of 20 or more yards (22). He was one of five FBS quarterbacks to average over 100 yards per game on the ground.

So far this season, the production hasn't been at the same level, as Manziel is averaging four fewer rush attempts and 35 less rushing yards per game than he did a year ago. If he plays 13 games this season, he would run for just 11 touchdowns based on his current pace.

Advantage: 2012

Downfield Passing
Big plays and precise downfield passing have been trademarks of Johnny Football in 2013.

His 32 completions of at least 20 yards ranks fifth among FBS quarterbacks this season. He was seventh among FBS quarterbacks with 54 such completions a year ago.

Manziel is completing 64 percent of his passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield in 2013. Last week against Ole Miss, Manziel went five-of-six on such pass attempts, his highest career single-game completion percentage on such throws. In 2012, Manziel completed only 41 percent of such pass attempts.

Advantage: 2013

Making plays outside the pocket
Johnny Football burst onto the scene in 2012 partly due to his playmaking outside the pocket and on scrambles.
SportsNation

Which version of Johnny Manziel is the better QB?

  •  
    23%
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    77%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,807)


Manziel led all BCS AQ quarterbacks with 805 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on scrambles last season. He was one of only two players from BCS AQ schools to have more than two touchdowns on scrambles for the season. Manziel is first among AQ quarterbacks in yards (316) and touchdowns (3) on scrambles once again in 2013, but is on pace to fall short of his numbers from a year ago.

On throws outside the pocket, Manziel had a 62.8 completion percentage and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt in 2012. In 2013 on such throws, those numbers are down to a 54.8 completion percentage and 7.7 yards per attempt.

Advantage: 2012

Third-down Passing
Johnny Football has been at his best on third down this season, posting a FBS-high 99.6 Total QBR.

Texas A&M is converting 63.3 percent of third down passing plays with Manziel at quarterback in 2013, the best rate in the FBS. Manziel is averaging 14.7 yards per attempt and completing 81.5 percent of his passes on third down, both second among qualified FBS quarterbacks.

Manziel also led FBS quarterbacks in third-down Total QBR (98.5) last season, and the Aggies converted on passing plays a FBS-high 51.7 percent of the time. Manziel ranked third among qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt (9.8) and completion percentage (67.9%) on third down in 2012.

The difference so far in 2013 is that Manziel has not committed a turnover on third down, after throwing five interceptions in those situations a year ago.

Advantage: 2013

Conclusion
Manziel might not be as flashy with his legs in 2013 as he was in 2012, but his passing has improved.

When looking at ESPN’s new metric, opponent-adjusted QBR, Manziel had a slightly higher rating in 2012 (90.5) than so far in in 2013 (88.3).

So after looking at the numbers, which version of Johnny Football do you think is better? Vote and share your thoughts in the comments.
1. The last unbeaten team in the SEC East is Missouri, and who saw that coming? As much as I have made of head coach Gary Pinkel revamping his team’s practice and training methods, I missed another big reason for the Tigers’ success. In its 41-26 victory at No. 7 Georgia, Missouri started 11 seniors, eight of them fifth-years. That’s how Auburn won the BCS in 2010. It’s a simple plan for success. The hard part is signing the right guys, developing them, keeping them healthy and contributing, and not losing them to the NFL.

2. Think about the most recent round of realignment. In most cases, conferences took teams that, based on history, would struggle to compete against their new opponents. Utah and Colorado in the Pac-12? Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC? But look at what has happened. Utah just beat No. 5 Stanford. Missouri and Texas A&M have played better in the SEC than they did in the Big 12. No, it’s not because the Big 12 is tougher. Those programs, infused with new income and a new incentive to compete, have stepped up their games. Sue me -- even Colorado is better.

3. We pointed out last week that as well as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has played, he hasn’t played with a game on the line, because the No. 2 Ducks have been too dominant. Through five games, Mariota hadn’t even thrown a pass in the fourth quarter. At No. 16 Washington on Saturday, Oregon began the fourth quarter with a 31-24 lead. From that point on, Mariota went 5-for-6 for 75 yards and a touchdown, and rushed five times for 33 yards and a score. Oregon won, 45-24. He has been the best player in college football over the first half of the season.

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