Tide, Aggies deliver style, substance

Which takes longer: signing who-knows-how-many autographs while standing over a pool table … or waiting for the officials to spot the ball during the Wisconsin-Arizona State game?

As we ponder those questions, let's begin this week's BMOC.


Five things looking back on the latest Game of the Century:

1. When Bama coach Nick Saban removed his headphones and made his way toward midfield for the postgame handshake with Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, he looked like someone who had driven a car full of screaming infants all the way to Yosemite. And his team won!

His hair was disheveled. He had that grim Saban-ish expression that was a martini mix of part relief, part concern and, well, OK, the olive could be part pride. And if you looked hard enough, you could almost see his temples throb.

"You took 10 years off my life,'' said Saban to Sumlin, courtesy of the CBS microphones.

Actually, A&M's Johnny Manziel is the one who just reduced the 61-year-old Bama coach's life expectancy. From the Crimson Tide perspective, he was maddeningly brilliant and, luckily for Bama, a victim of his own incalculable self-confidence.

Manziel passed for 464 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another 98 yards. And at halftime he brushed Reveille's fur and helped elderly women to their seats at Kyle Field.

Yes, he threw two very costly interceptions. And, yes, he floated a couple of other passes that could have been/should have been intercepted or knocked down. But there's no question that Saban would be a happy man if he never has to game plan for Manziel again. His level of respect and appreciation for Manziel the football player is obvious.

Anyway, Alabama earned every bit of the 49-42 victory, but it was a survival test that makes last season's BCS National Championship against Notre Dame look like summer camp at Lake Blowout.

2. Can we run a CAT-Scan on Bama running back T.J. Yeldon's skull?

I'd love to know what part of his brain thought it was a good idea to celebrate his second-quarter touchdown run by first mocking Manziel's own silly money-squeeze gesture and then doing a double throat-slash gesture. Because, you know, the single throat slash is so 2012.

Yeldon is the same guy who told Sports Illustrated a few months ago, "I like to keep to myself, keep a low profile and then just do my thing on the field.''

Yeldon's knucklehead moment earned Alabama a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff and gave Manziel a better chance to lead the Aggies to a score in the last minute of the half. Bama's defense bailed Yeldon out, but you could have powered a train steam engine with the anger coming out of Saban's ears after the incident.

"That's not us,'' said Saban to CBS's Tracy Wolfson at halftime. "That's not our program. That's not what we do.''

I get it: Yeldon, a sophomore, got caught up in the moment. But the moment and Manziel never deserve a throat-slash gesture.

I will give Yeldon credit for walking into the Alabama sports information office on Monday and asking if he could issue a public apology for his actions. Now that's a gesture that matters.

3. As breathtaking as the speed offenses of Texas A&M, Oregon, etc., can be, Bama's old-school approach of balance and physicality won the day.

Manziel baffled Bama at times, but offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier did the same to A&M with an offense run superbly by senior quarterback AJ McCarron. The Aggies were worn down by the Tide's rushing attack (234 yards), which helped make Bama's passing attack (McCarron: 20 of 29 for 334 yards, 4 TDs, no interceptions) so much more effective. For example: the play-action TD pass that gave Bama a 49-35 lead with 2:28 remaining in the game.

4. A&M wide receiver and human mismatch Mike Evans had seven receptions against the Tide and averaged nearly 40 yards per catch. I repeat: seven catches and 279 yards against a secondary that Saban helps coach.

5. The wise guys in Vegas almost hit the spread on the number. Bama was favored by 7 ½.


Five things looking forward from the latest Game of the Century:

1. Except for the D.J. Fluker allegations (a Yahoo! Sports report detailed a payoff paper trail leading to, among others, the former Bama offensive tackle), it was a good week to be a member of the Tide's O-line.

All that hand wringing about its indifferent performance against Virginia Tech in the season opener? All the angst about losing three starters from last season's magnificent line? Gone. Or mostly gone.

Bama's work against A&M's defensive line was a seminar in people-moving. The Kouandjio brothers (Arie and Cyrus) were especially fun to watch.

Does that mean this O-line is destined for the greatness of the 2012 Bama version? Doubtful. Those guys should have their own statue. But Bama coaches woke up Sunday feeling much better about the O-line's ability to impose its will.

2. Manziel finally speaks! Out loud! To the media! Yay!

And his comments about the rest of A&M's season were spot on. He's right -- losing to Bama isn't the end of the world. He correctly pointed out how the Tide lost games and still went on to win national championships. So, he suggested, it isn't impossible for the Aggies to do the same.

Two games on A&M's regular-season schedule will determine the Aggies' fate: Oct. 12 at Ole Miss, Nov. 23 at LSU. And then they'll need Bama to somehow stumble, either before the SEC Championship or during it.

Of course, if A&M's defense doesn't improve, none of this schedule calculus is going to matter. Manziel can only do so much. At some point, the Aggies are going to have to stop someone when it matters.

3. If you're looking to complete your college football bucket list, a trip to Kyle Field is an absolute must. And you don't just go there on Saturday for the game, but also on Friday for the yell practice spectacle.

I say this in the best way possible, but there is almost a cultish pride by A&M students and alums when it comes to their school. It's kind of cool, actually.

Late Saturday morning, just outside the A&M student center, I saw a couple of Aggies fans walking across the grass toward one of the entrances to the building. They had ignored a sign that informed everyone that the meticulously groomed grassy area was part of a tribute dedicated to those Aggies who had given their lives in war.

Then I heard an A&M student say, in a sorrowful way, "Aw, they should know better -- they're Ags.'' And then she started to make her way toward the fans.

I know, it doesn't sound like much. But I loved how the student cared about the place.

4. All of the toughest remaining games on Bama's schedule are at home: Ole Miss on Sept. 28, Arkansas on Oct. 19, LSU on Nov. 9. But if Auburn keeps winning games, the Nov. 30 Iron Bowl at the loveliest village on the plains could be interesting.

5. If anyone knows the whereabouts of Bama wide receiver Amari Cooper and the Bama defense of old, please alert the authorities.

Cooper had only two catches for 34 yards against A&M. That's the bad news. The good news is Bama still won. And there's a very good chance Cooper won't have many 34-yard games in the future.

Meanwhile, Kirby Smart's defense got shish kabobbed by Manziel and friends. It was the most total offense Alabama has ever given up. Of course, Bama has been playing football only since 1892.

It was also the second-most passing yards allowed. And only one other opposing player has ever had more receiving yards than Evans did against the Tide.

It didn't help that senior cornerback Deion Belue, the Tide's best cover guy, left the game with a toe injury. Had he not gotten hurt (and don't be surprised if he sits against Colorado State), Blue would have spent considerable time lined up across Evans.

But right now, Bama doesn't have a lock-down cornerback in the tradition of Dee Milliner. That could change as the season moves forward, but until then, the Tide secondary is going to be challenged. Ole Miss, in particular, could make life difficult for those Bama corners and safeties.

Saban, who spends considerable practice time working with the secondary, and Smart will figure it out. They usually do. But for the moment, that semi-demoralized secondary is recovering from Manziel shock.


As compelling and riveting as last Saturday's games were, this week's matchups are as exciting as a zucchini festival. In other words, it's the perfect Thursday-Saturday to clean your crawl space.

Clemson at NC State: Can the Tigers avoid their traditional upset special?

Tennessee at Florida: The Vols, fresh off their narrow 45-point loss to Oregon, face a Gators team that bumbled around in its Sept. 7 loss at Miami.

Florida A&M at Ohio State: The halftime show will be more interesting than the game.

Florida International at Louisville: You mean we get to watch the 0-3 Conference USA team that just lost to Bethune-Cookman? Can't wait!

North Texas at Georgia: Well, at least North Texas is 2-1. Soon to be 2-2.

Idaho State at Washington: This is the first meeting between the two teams. And if Washington athletic director Scott Woodward has a soul, the last.

Maine at Northwestern: You can throw out the record books when the Black Bears and Wildcats get together. Wait, actually there is no record book. They've never played each other. Too bad we couldn't keep it that way.

Michigan State at Notre Dame: OK, I'm mildly interested.

Louisiana-Monroe at Baylor: Baylor has outscored its opponents 139-16.

Bethune-Cookman at Florida State: Another first-meeting game. At least unbeaten B-CU has some FCS pedigree.

Colorado State at Alabama: Question of the game: How easy will Saban take it on former Bama assistant Jim McElwain?

Arizona State at Stanford: Hey, an actual, real college football game, with two actual ranked teams. What new and interesting things will a Pac-12 officiating crew do this time?

SMU at Texas A&M: SMU needed a last-second TD pass to beat Montana State, so I think we all know how this one is going to go.

Texas State at Texas Tech: Why do we have to watch this? Because we didn't eat our green beans as kids.

Savannah State at Miami: Before beating Fort Valley State this past Saturday, Savannah State had lost its two previous games by a combined 143-12.

Auburn at LSU: No complaints here.

Michigan at UConn: One-win Akron last week, winless UConn this week.

New Mexico State at UCLA: Tens of people will rush to the Rose Bowl to watch the 0-3 non-A&M Aggies.


Somewhere Manny Diaz, the latest scapegoat in the saga that is Texas football, is smiling.

Diaz was sitting in the ejector seat last Sunday when Texas CEO Mack Brown pushed the button and sent the Longhorns defensive coordinator into unemployment orbit. Brown then hired special consultant Greg Robinson to take Diaz's place and not that much changed.

Texas (1-2) still lost another game, this time at home to Ole Miss. Texas still gave up 44 points (one Ole Miss TD came on a punt return). Texas still gave up lots of yards, 449 yards, to be exact (272 rushing yards).

Now the Longhorns face Kansas State, the same program that has beaten Texas the past three years in a row. Granted, the Wildcats no longer have quarterback Colin Klein, but K-State coach Bill Snyder is still there.

Brown has a lot of equity at Texas, especially, it appears, with the Texas administration. But Longhorns fans aren't as understanding.

The uproar will subside if Texas beats K-State on Saturday and then Iowa State on Oct. 3. But then comes the Red River Rivalry, otherwise known as "Bevo Needs A Hug.''

OU has defeated Texas by a combined 118-38 the past two seasons. And the year before that, OU won 28-20. As you can imagine, this goes over really well in Austin.

If Brown loses big to the Sooners again, he'll need the Space Shuttle heat tiles to protect him from the fan blowback. And he's running out of assistant coaches to fire.

Of course, it doesn't get easier after the OU game. The Longhorns will still have to face, among others, TCU at Fort Worth, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor at Waco.

I'm not saying Brown should or could get fired/forced out/encouraged to resign if the Longhorns lose a fourth consecutive game to OU. But I am saying that if you think Brown's future is a topic of discussion right now, just wait if he has to congratulate Bob Stoops after the Oct. 12 game.

And just to make things more interesting, Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune recently asked the question: Would Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, who has been romanced in the past by the likes of Michigan, bolt Evanston for another program?

Greenstein singled out two potential places that might, just might, convince Fitzgerald to leave: USC and Texas.


I spent a little time at Nebraska earlier last week, and it was obvious that the Cornhuskers wanted not only to avenge last year's loss to UCLA, but to also make a statement about this year's team.

Instead: UCLA 2, Statements 0.

It wasn't just that UCLA won 41-21 or scored 38 unanswered points, or that Brett Hundley continues to impress (16-of-24 for 294 yards and 3 TDs). It was the way the Bruins came back from an 18-point deficit that matters.

They did it on the road, they did it with an offense that ran and passed the Blackshirts into exhaustion and then submission. The Bruins shut out Nebraska's offense in the second half, which meant way too many three-and-outs for the Cornhuskers and way too much time on the field for the Big Red D.

That's the football part of it. The other part had to do with channeling their grief and honoring a fallen teammate.

Six days earlier, UCLA walk-on wide receiver Nick Pasquale was struck and killed by a car while walking down a street in his hometown of San Clemente, Calif. The Bruins wore No. 36 (Pasquale's uniform number) on their jerseys, and the always-classy Nebraska program had its players wear No. 36 decals on the back of the Cornhuskers helmets.

UCLA played with a heavy heart (Pasquale's parents and brother, A.J., had addressed the team before the Bruins left for Nebraska last Friday), but it also played with purpose and emotion. It did what it had hoped to do: honor Pasquale with its effort.

And given the difficult circumstances of the week, this hardly seems worth mentioning. But remember, this was an 11 a.m. Central Time start -- 9 a.m. Pacific Time. So UCLA not only overcame a 21-3 second-quarter hole, but the Bruins overcame the early-morning body-clock kickoff.

Anyway, there is no coaching manual on how to handle the death of someone so young. But Bruins coach Jim Mora and his team did Pasquale's memory proud with their effort.


I have a confession to make: On occasion, I click on CoachesHotSeat.com.

The website is devoted to somehow calculating and ranking the coaches who are in the biggest danger of losing their jobs. The fact that such a website exists should tell you all you need to know about the fragile nature of coaching an FBS program these days.

Coaches used to get five years to build a program. Then four. Then three. Then two. And in some cases, one.

The pressures on coaches are immense. So are the rewards if you start winning games.

Somewhere along the coaching timeline, the hot seat appeared. For better or worse (mostly worse), it is now part of the college football DNA.

My video take: click here.


Everybody asks the question if the ACC can overtake the SEC, but the conference to fear might be the Pac-12.

Tennessee isn't very good, but I'm not sure anybody on the Vols' coaching staff thought UT was going to lose at Oregon by 45 points. The line was 27 ½ points, so not even the wise guys thought there was going to be that kind of scoring carnage. Anyway, nobody is in a hurry to play the Ducks.

UCLA spotted the Big Red an 18-point lead, drove over to Starbucks, got caffeinated and then blew out the Huskers.

What with the time change from Pacific to Eastern, Stanford had what amounted to a 9 a.m. kickoff at Army and still managed a semi-comfortable 34-20 victory.

Lane Kiffin slightly quieted his many critics with USC's 35-7 win against Boston College.

Washington had a nice road win against an improved Illinois team.

Arizona State, thanks in part to a bizarre final play, defeated Wisconsin at home.

Plus, Washington State beat Southern Utah (big whoop) and Arizona beat Texas-San Antonio (double big whoop). So with the exception of Cal's loss to Ohio State, it was a big day for the league against nonconference opponents.


Minnesota coach Jerry Kill suffers from epilepsy -- a by-product of his successful battle against kidney cancer. It isn't a secret. It's never been a secret.

"We've dealt with the situation straight up," said Kill when he visited with us at ESPN shortly before the season began. "I wouldn't cheat the university. I've maybe missed five days of work [because of the condition]."

OK, make it six or seven after Kill suffered a seizure during halftime of Saturday's game against Western Illinois. He was taken to a local Minneapolis hospital and later was released so he could rest at home.

This isn't his first epileptic seizure and it won't be his last. But as the number of seizures slowly grow, so do the delicate questions about his future at Minnesota. In short, should he resign?

The answer, of course, is no. And Monday, Minnesota officials gave Kill what Kill has given to Minnesota: its all. Golden Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague made it Waterford crystal clear when he said, "Jerry is our coach, and we are 100 percent behind him. I am 100 percent behind him."

The Minnesota administration has been supportive of Kill throughout these episodes. It is doing the right thing by judging Kill not by his epilepsy, but by his record, the quality of his work and his ability to graduate players.

Kill is a really good football coach. The occasional seizure doesn't change that fact and never will.

His doctor is one of the leading epileptic specialists in the world. Kill, in his third season at Minnesota, is eating better, sleeping longer, exercising more. Meanwhile, his treatment team continues to tinker with the doses and types of meds used to suppress the epilepsy.

"I've been able to deal with it pretty good," said Kill.

To suggest that he should quit because of the condition goes against everything he teaches his own players. Kill is fighting something he can't see, something he wouldn't wish on anybody. But he fights it without complaint and without asking for pity. It is a lesson in daily perseverance.

Someone once called him "a freak" in an email. Think about that: a freak -- as if the epilepsy were a choice, as if epilepsy gave someone the right to mock and criticize.

Minnesota is 3-0 this season. The program is headed in the right direction.

"I think we've laid the foundation to our program," Kill said back in August. "Now we're framing the house."

Kill is a grinder, a fighter and, if given the chance, a winner.


Two liners:

• With all due respect to Akron and Purdue, it was obvious that Michigan and Notre Dame suffered some post-non-rivalry-game letdown. Akron was 4 yards and one completion away from beating the Wolverines (final score: Michigan 28, Akron 24), while Notre Dame trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter (final score: ND 31, Purdue 24).

• So after Wisconsin lost to Arizona State late Saturday night, Jen Bielema, the wife of former Badgers coach Bret Bielema (now at Arkansas), tweeted, "#Karma.'' Needless to say, the responses weren't positive, with one person rooting for Bret Bielema to suffer some sort of sideline-related leg injury.

• By the way, I think everyone (hello, Geno!) underestimated Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. And overestimated the Notre Dame defense.

• Like many of you, I'm concerned about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's completion percentage. After three incompletions against Nevada, his percentage is all the way down to 88.9.

• Rutgers is writing the manual on how to turn tragedy into a positive. Not only did the school retire the number of Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed while playing for the Scarlet Knights in 2010, but it has worked closely with the former defensive tackle to raise money for paralysis research.

Kenny Guiton isn't Braxton Miller. But after watching parts of Ohio State's win at Cal, Guiton could start for my team any day.


From the home office in Wheaton, Ill., comes this week's version of a four-team BCS playoff format. If only it was 2014, when the actual playoff kicks in.

No. 1 seed Oregon vs. No. 4 seed Clemson. The Ducks have played the Mare Island Marines (1917; they lost) and the Chemawa Indians (5-0 all time), but never Clemson. So there's a little historical tidbit for you.

No. 2 seed Alabama vs. No. 3 seed LSU. I'll take a double dose of Saban versus The Hatter anytime.

On the bubble:

5. Texas A&M: I know the Aggies lost by seven at home against Bama. So? Is there anybody listed below that you don't think Johnny Football could beat?

6. Stanford: We'll learn more about the Tree in the next three weeks: Arizona State, at Washington State and Washington.

7. Georgia: The Bulldogs got a much-needed week of rest after games against Clemson and South Carolina. They'll try to act interested against North Texas before turning their attention to the Sept. 28 game against LSU.

8. Ohio State: I always give extra credit to teams that go on the road (cross-country, no less) and win convincingly with a backup quarterback.

9. Florida State: I'm sort of a believer.

10. Oklahoma State: Anything going on at Stillwater these days?

Close, but not quite: UCLA, Louisville, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington