NCF Nation: Texas A&M Aggies

Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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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%
  •  
    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.

Video: Aggies silent on Manziel's status

August, 28, 2013
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ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy has the latest on the NCAA's investigation into Johnny Manziel and whether Texas A&M will play him on Saturday.
1. The Johnny Manziel autograph sessions in Florida may put to rest the argument that student-athletes violate NCAA restrictions against taking money because they are on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum. As Wright Thompson wrote last week, Manziel comes from oil money. If he took a five-figure payment to sign hundreds of items, as multiple sources told OTL, Manziel didn’t do it because he needed the cash. He did it because he wanted the cash.

2. In the 60 seasons from 1948 through 2007, no program led the league in total defense (yards allowed per game) for more than two consecutive seasons. That includes Bobby Dodd’s stingy Georgia Tech defenses in the ‘50s, Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide defenses through his 25 seasons, and Pat Dye’s physical defenses at Auburn in the ‘80s. Fast forward to today: Alabama has led the SEC in total defense for five straight seasons (shared first place with Tennessee in 2008). That’s defensive dominance.

3. It didn’t take long to figure out how Kliff Kingsbury’s relative youth (33) would work to his advantage at Texas Tech. It’s hard to imagine another head coach in the Big 12 -- or anywhere else in the BCS, for that matter -- who would bring in a DJ for the first team meeting of the season. As The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported, the impromptu karaoke served as a bonding agent for a young team. That’s a pretty shrewd move by a pretty shrewd young coach.
The Manning Award is going all sabermetric, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information's new Total Quarterback Rating (QBR).

The award announced its 30-man watch list on Thursday, basing the list on the top 30 returning quarterbacks according to the QBR.

The list includes four Pac-12 quarterbacks: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion

The winner will still be selected by a voting panel, which includes national media and each of the Mannings, after the bowls.

Total QBR measures a quarterback’s contributions to scoring on each play (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, and penalties) accounting for game context (down, distance, yard line, time remaining, and score) and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average.

“Total QBR uses all of a quarterback’s plays and accounts for the context of the game and quality of the defenses faced,” ESPN Stats & Information Sr. Director Jeff Bennett said in a statement. “We are excited to bring a more complete rating system to the fans to allow for fairer comparisons of quarterbacks who play in different types of systems and face various levels of competition. We’re pleased that a national award like the Manning Award has seen the value of our new Total QBR for college.”

The Pac-12 blog chatted with Bennett last week, and he had some numbers that would interest Pac-12 fans.

First, Mariota ranked second in the nation in QBR behind only Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Second, recall the controversy over the Pac-12 blog ranking former Arizona quarterback Matt Scott No. 4 in our postseason top-25 players list?

Consider it no longer a controversy. Consider the Pac-12 blog correct and the Scott critics incorrect.

Scott ranked second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation in QBR. Case closed.

Winning!

The same could be said over the controversy over Matt Barkley at No. 14, though perhaps not as strongly. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation in QBR.

So you can now retract all those bad things you said about the Pac-12 blog. And it was Kevin's fault we didn't include Desmond Trufant.

Oh, and here's the Manning Watch List.

1. Reinforcing my belief that offensive linemen are the best interviews in football, Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews did his best to grab attention away from his more famous quarterback at SEC Media Days. Matthews, with tongue in cheek, thought out loud that he needed a nickname and suggested that it be “Jake Football.” As the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Packers star Clay Matthews, someone asked about the First Family of Football. “That’s what we like to tell ourselves,” Jake said.

2. One thing I learned here is that Texas A&M is overrated in the top 10. The losses in the defensive front, both in numbers and experience, are simply too large to overcome. Head coach Kevin Sumlin said one reason the Aggies signed 31 players last February is to create depth. “They are going to be great players,” Sumlin said. “We just need them to be great players here in two months.” You can’t win in the SEC with 18-year-olds playing 21-year-olds on the line of scrimmage.

3. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday he would be perfectly happy if college football reverted to the pre-BCS days and allowed for two national champions. He worried that playoffs will take precedence over end-of-season rivalries like the Egg Bowl. “What makes college football great is the passion and the tradition,” Mullen said. The powers that be believe a four-team playoff won’t tamper with the sanctity of the regular season. Hey, go for it. But I hope guys like Mullen keep speaking out.
1. Penn State did what the smart programs do. If the NCAA bans you from the postseason, create your own “bowl.” Alabama and USC both played at Hawaii during their probations last decade. The Nittany Lions one-upped them by agreeing to play Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, to open the 2014 season. It’s the only “bowl” that Penn State will play during its four-year probation, though the Nittany Lions still list the Big Ten Championship Game on their schedule for the next three seasons. That’s optimism.

2. Kentucky tailback Josh Clemons hasn’t played since the middle of 2011, his freshman year, because of a knee injury. He came back this spring and looked good. But now an Achilles tendon injury will force Clemons to miss a second consecutive season. Clemons brings to mind former Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro, who made a legendary touchdown catch against Southern Mississippi in 2005 shortly before suffering a career-ending injury. Here’s hoping Clemons’ 87-yard touchdown run against Central Michigan isn’t his last big play.

3. Just wanted to let everyone know that, despite what you may have read about SEC Media Days, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Alabama head coach Nick Saban are not the only two people scheduled to appear over the next three days. The hoopla over both is a great example of how SEC Media Days has become more like Super Bowl Media Day and less like a working event. I’m all for embracing the hype, as long as no one confuses the next three days with actual news gathering.
2013 may be the season of the quarterback in college football, because a lot of good ones are coming back.

In the SEC, there's Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and Clemson offers Tajh Boyd. In the Pac-12, there's UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelley.

But the best one coming back is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

How so? Well, for one, that was the assignment: Make a case for the best quarterback in your conference being the best in the nation.

But it's not too difficult to make Mariota's case.

As a redshirt freshman, he ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He threw a touchdown pass in every game and one interception in his final seven games. He was named MVP in the Fiesta Bowl after leading a blowout win over Big 12 champion Kansas State, which capped a 12-1 season and a final No. 2 ranking for the Ducks.

He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in total offense (537.4 YPG). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see his 86- and 77-yard runs last season. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He tied a school record with six touchdown passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State.

Of course, his 2012 numbers aren't mind-blowing. A lot of that isn't his fault. Oregon blew out so many opponents -- average halftime score of 31-9 -- that it didn't require many plays from behind center after the break. For the season, Mariota threw just 24 passes and rushed eight times in the fourth quarter, compared to 227 passes and 71 rushes in the first half.

Manziel, for the sake of comparison, threw 62 passes and rushed 33 times in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater threw 86 passes and rushed 13 times in the fourth.

The good news is folks are probably going to see a lot more of Mariota this season. With running back Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, the Ducks might skew more toward the passing game after being run-centric under Chip Kelly. New coach Mark Helfrich, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year, is expected to throw the ball around more because he has an experienced quarterback and a strong, experienced crew of receivers.

That means more numbers for Mariota as he leads a team in the national title hunt. The potential combination of stats and wins might be enough to get Mariota to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

How Manziel can duplicate 2012 in 2013

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
3:00
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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel looks to repeat his 2012 Heisman-winning campaign this season.
The 2013 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the greatest quarterback classes ever. Eight of the top 10 teams in last year’s final AP Poll return their starting quarterbacks, and every conference except the Big 12 returns either their first- or second-team quarterbacks from last season.

In preparation for the 2013 season, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. The list is built off of Phil Steele’s list of top quarterback units. On Wednesday, we look at the top returning quarterback, Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel.

A Look Back at 2012

Manziel took the CFB world by storm last season, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel set the SEC record for total yards in a season while accounting for more than 70 percent of the Texas A&M Aggies' total yards. He also had seven games with at least two pass and two rush touchdowns, the most by any player in one season since 2000.

Manziel had an uncanny ability to make plays happen when things broke down. He scrambled for 857 yards and 38 first downs on 86 scramble attempts, including an FBS-high 22 first downs on third down.

In terms of passing, Manziel completed 68 percent of his passes, which ranked ninth in FBS. He put his receivers in positions to run after the catch, which is why Texas A&M ranked sixth among colleges in AQ conferences in yards after the catch.

All of these factors resulted in Manziel ranking first last season in ESPN’s new Total QBR metric, which will be unveiled for college football this fall.

What’s Ahead for 2013?

The biggest question for Manziel heading into the 2013 CFB season is whether he can repeat his performance from a year ago. Recent history has proven that some of the top freshman quarterbacks have been able to repeat their successes even after the spotlight has been shined upon them.

Since 2006, there have been four quarterbacks who ranked in the top 10 in non-clutch weighted Total QBR during their freshman seasons –- Andrew Luck, Terrelle Pryor, Sam Bradford and Colin Kaepernick. Luck and Bradford went on to lead the nation in Total QBR in their sophomore seasons, and all four players ranked in the top 12 in QBR again before leaving for the NFL.

Pryor, in particular, can be used as a model to show that players can replicate strong scrambling seasons. After scrambling for 357 yards in 2009, Pryor went on to scramble for 356 yards and average 9.9 yards per scramble in 2010.

One area in which Manziel can improve heading into next season is his downfield accuracy. He completed less than 42 percent of his passes thrown more than 15 yards downfield, which ranked 40th out of 108 qualified BCS-AQ quarterbacks.

If Manziel's sessions with “quarterback guru” George Whitfield Jr. can improve his downfield precision, a second Heisman trophy may not be far from his grasp.

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