- Chris Low, College Football
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Now that Texas A&M has dropped the hammer on Johnny Manziel and relegated him to the bench for the entire first half Saturday against Rice, The Lowdown's crystal ball for the 2013 college football season is coming into focus.
I won't bore you with predictions. We've already seen enough of those.
But I will offer up 10 things to ponder in this final season of the BCS.
More controversy: The SEC will make it eight straight national championships and will need a little help along the way. Oregon and Kansas State stumbled late last season, clearing the path for Alabama to vault back up the BCS standings, and Oklahoma State managed to lose to Iowa State in 2011, which opened the door for Alabama to score a rematch with LSU despite not even making the SEC championship game. Look for a similar scenario to play out this season and the rest of the country to blow its top. The SEC will extend its streak, but it won't be an unbeaten SEC team winning it all.
Bridgewater for Heisman: Even though he won't have a ton of marquee games (the Cardinals' schedule is softer than the NCAA right now), Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a real chance to win the Heisman Trophy. He's going to put up monster numbers, and the Cardinals are going to be a top-10 team. He made believers out of Florida last season. A couple of their defenders said Bridgewater was easily the best quarterback they faced all season, and the Gators went up against Manziel in the first SEC game a year ago.
Zero confidence: How did Wednesday's announcement that Manziel would sit for only a half-play with other athletic directors, coaches and administrators around the country? The common theme is that the NCAA has lost all credibility and needs a change in leadership. As one athletic director opined, "There's no consistency or enforcement of actual rules."
Under Will Muschamp Florida has signed 10 recruits who switched their pledges. The Gators are expecting three more in this year's class (denoted below with an *) on Wednesday's signing day.
Hold that line: It's hard to imagine Alabama having major struggles in the offensive line. But for the first time in years, there's real concern within the program that some teams might be able to exploit the Crimson Tide a little bit up front. Cyrus Kouandjio is a future first-rounder at left tackle. Anthony Steen is solid at right guard, and several guys who played in the program have told me that Ryan Kelly has a chance to be the best center ever there. But there's not a road-grader at guard who compares to Chance Warmack, and the right tackle situation is dicey at best.
Gruden-mania returns: It might not be after Butch Jones' first loss this season at Tennessee, and maybe not even after his second loss. But by his third loss (and by the third call of the Vols' postgame radio show that day), some Tennessee fan is going to mention that Jon Gruden was wearing an orange tie that week on "Monday Night Football" and owns property in East Tennessee.
Targeting: The coaches all say they're for the new targeting rule, but what they really mean is that they're for the spirit of the rule, which is to protect players. In truth, most of them can't stand the subjectivity of the rule and how what might be considered targeting by one officiating crew one week might not be called the next week by another officiating crew. Just wait until the first key player gets tossed.
Stanford wins 11 ... again: Can anybody name the only two schools from BCS conferences that have won 11 or more games each of the past three seasons? You'd have to venture out west to find them. Oregon has won 12 each of the past three seasons, while Stanford won 12 last season, 11 in 2011 and 12 in 2010. The Cardinal will extend that streak to four in a row in 2013, further validating David Shaw as one of the premier head coaches in college football.
Malcolm Mitchell: Take your pick on which player on the Georgia roster is ready to break out. Jordan Jenkins is a prime candidate on defense, although he was one of the top freshmen in the SEC last season. The Georgia coaches think the guy on the other side at outside linebacker, freshman Leonard Floyd, is also a star in the making. But the guy who goes from good to great this season is junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell. He's locked in at receiver now and is coming off a terrific preseason camp. He might not be mentioned in the same breath as Amari Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief and Mike Evans going into the season, but here's betting he will be at the end of the season.
Super sophomores: This class of true sophomores in the SEC rates up there with any in recent history. Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Alabama receiver Amari Cooper and Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon are among the top 10 or 12 players in the league. But it hardly stops there. Georgia running back Keith Marshall, Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, Florida defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., Florida middle linebacker Antonio Morrison, LSU running back Jeremy Hill, Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, South Carolina running back Mike Davis and LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander all have star potential.
Most improved: He's going to need some help, especially from his receivers, but Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is the pick among most of the coaches I've talked to in the SEC to be the most improved player in the conference this season. In fact, one of the coaches who faced Driskel last season feels like he will rank among the top five quarterbacks in the league at season's end.
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A star's softer side
We all grow weary of the seedy side of college football, and that side of the game isn't going away anytime soon.
But it's the simplest of gestures sometimes that reminds us why we flock to college campuses every Saturday in the fall.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney can't go anywhere these days without receiving rock-star treatment. Talk about living life in a fishbowl.
But Clowney also remembers his roots.
A couple of weeks ago, Clowney went to watch his old high school, South Pointe in Rock Hill, S.C, play Irmo in a game that was played just outside Columbia.
As you might imagine, his presence created quite a stir. But it didn't keep Clowney from spending a little time with 9-year-old Kyle Murphy, who made the trip from Rock Hill to see the game and just happens to play for the same youth football team (Sylvia Circle Elementary) as Clowney did back in the day.
Clowney agreed to pose for a picture with Kyle and also got the scoop on how Sylvia Circle was doing this season.
"As much attention as he gets for taking running backs' heads off, he needs to get as much attention for being generous and courteous to kids. He doesn't run from them and always has time for them," said Kyle's father, Jason Murphy, who's not necessarily a South Carolina fan but is very much a Clowney fan.
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Game within the game: Clemson-Georgia
Swann probably hasn't received the fanfare he deserves, but he's one of the best cover guys in the SEC. The Tigers will move Watkins around and are loaded at receiver, so Swann won't be on him the whole time. The other starting corner for Georgia on Saturday in its base defense will be true freshman Brendan Langley, but the Dawgs will have five defensive backs on the field most of the time.
Another true freshman, safety Tray Matthews, has been cleared to play after missing much of the preseason with a hamstring pull, but sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for this game. It goes without saying that the Dawgs need a big outing from senior safety Connor Norman.
Clemson thinks it can take advantage of Georgia's secondary and dial up some big plays. Georgia thinks it can get after Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd by bringing pressure from a number of different areas.
One thing the Dawgs will definitely do is play more people up front and try to be fresher in the second half.
Will Alabama's line hold up? Can Stanford win 11 games again? Chris Low weighs these questions and more.