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When a football player comes along who's both captivating and unique, it's admittedly clichéd to say we'll never see another one quite like him.
In the case of Johnny Manziel, it's not a cliché. It's gospel.
As the Texas A&M quarterback completes his quasi-farewell tour in two big games on the road against No. 22 LSU and No. 8 Missouri, my advice is to sit back and enjoy him.
He's truly one of a kind.
"You really can't compare him to a lot of guys," said LSU senior linebacker Lamin Barrow, who was part of the last defense to hold Manziel without a touchdown (rushing or passing), last season in the Tigers' 24-19 win over the Aggies.
"He just makes plays -- a lot of times with his feet -- that you can't prepare for. You think you've got him for a loss, and he spins out and throws the ball 40 yards down the field. It's not just one time, but he does it over and over again.
But when you start talking about somebody who athletically and individually can just step out there and beat you, Manziel's right up there in the top three, in my opinion, along with [Cam] Newton and [Michael] Vick." -- Auburn defensive coordinator
"You watch him sometimes, and it's like he's back playing in the park and just out there by himself."
Perhaps the ultimate compliment paid to Manziel came earlier this season from the man who has written the book, at least in this era of college football, on devising plans to bewilder an offense.
But it's Alabama coach Nick Saban who remains bewildered at Manziel's unconventional brilliance.
"You can't prepare for him because he makes so many plays when you've got him on the run and everything else breaks down," Saban said. "And then you think, 'OK, we're going to make him throw the ball from the pocket,' and he has a lot stronger arm and is a lot more accurate than anybody gives him credit for. He made some damn good throws against us the last two years.
"His instincts, though, are what make him so difficult to defend. It's like he has eyes in the back of his head."
Manziel and the Aggies have two losses, to No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn, by a total of 11 points. In those games, Manziel totaled 1,064 yards of offense and 10 touchdowns. He has thrown 17 touchdowns in his past four games and enters Saturday's game at LSU with 31 touchdown passes on the season. He had 26 a year ago in his Heisman Trophy campaign.
He also has 11 interceptions, one of the things his critics point to as maybe the biggest reason he shouldn't join Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners of the Heisman Trophy.
The knock on Manziel is that he'll throw it to you if you give him a chance.
But he's also one of those rare players who's always going to give his team a chance no matter how poorly his defense is playing or how far behind his team falls in a game.
Listen, this isn't meant as a dig at Texas A&M's defense, which has been shredded this season, but what would this team's record be right now without Manziel?
At least two coaches in this league have told me they think the Aggies would be a borderline bowl team without No. 2 pulling the trigger.
With him, the Aggies still have a chance to get to a BCS bowl.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has been coaching for 38 years and has done so at four SEC schools, not counting a brief stopover at Arkansas. Of the quarterbacks he has coached against, there are only two he would put in the same class as Manziel: Cam Newton and Michael Vick.
|Defensive coaches and players rave about Johnny Manziel's playmaking abilities.|
"I've coached against a lot of great ones -- Brett Favre, Tom Brady, both Mannings, Donovan McNabb, Russell Wilson, Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, and I hope I didn't leave anybody out," Johnson said. "But when you start talking about somebody who athletically and individually can just step out there and beat you, Manziel's right up there in the top three, in my opinion, along with Newton and Vick.
"Now, those three are all different style quarterbacks than Favre, Manning and some of those other guys. But they're three you just don't have a lot of answers for because they can do so many things."
For the record, if Johnson had to choose one of the three he would least like to go against, it would be Newton.
"I can say that now because I know Manziel ain't coming back," Johnson said laughing. "Cam was everything Manziel was at about 250 pounds. There was no stopping Cam on third down. It just didn't happen."
Pound for pound, though, Johnson said Manziel might be as tough a quarterback as he has coached against after seeing the way Manziel gutted it out last month in Auburn's 45-41 win at Texas A&M.
"We separated his shoulder, and he could have canned it," Johnson said. "But he went in, got shot, came back out there and threw a back-shoulder fade to get them down there for another score. We beat that boy to death physically, but he wasn't about to stay down.
"He's something. He really is, and he's also a lot smarter than people think he is."
Sometimes, coaches are the ones who have the hardest time enjoying their own players -- even those players as entertaining as Manziel -- because they're so wrapped up in coaching their team.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin didn't necessarily realize what he had in Manziel until six or seven games into the season a year ago. Keep in mind, too, that Manziel wasn't even named the starter until preseason camp.
"We enjoy it a little bit better now that we understand what we have," Sumlin conceded.
Manziel burst onto the scene so quickly last year that it almost seems surreal to be talking about what will certainly be the final few games of his college football career.
It's been one hell of a ride with a quarterback who lives as hard as he plays, and the refreshing thing about Manziel is that he doesn't have an on-off switch.
When he's on that field, he's always on.
|Urban Meyer was all smiles when the BCS worked in his favor.|
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Ohio State coach Urban Meyer referred to the BCS as a "flawed system" earlier this week, and it's easy to understand his frustration. His Buckeyes have won 22 straight games dating back to last season. But, unless Alabama or Florida State loses in these next few weeks, Ohio State is going to be squeezed out of the Vizio BCS National Championship picture. To be fair, Meyer's memory might be a bit short.
That "flawed system" helped him win a pair of national championships when he was at Florida. The Gators won in 2006 and 2008 and had losses each year. In fact, they leapfrogged a one-loss Michigan team into the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings in 2006 and vaulted over a one-loss Texas team in 2008 to claim one of the top two spots. It might still work out for the Buckeyes this season. After all, who saw No. 2 USC being upset by unranked UCLA the final weekend of the regular season in 2006, clearing the way for Florida to make its move up the BCS standings? And, come to think of it, I don't remember hearing any talk from Meyer of a flawed system that year or two years later in 2008.
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|Against Arizona, UCLA's Myles Jack rushed for 120 yards on six carries on offense and finished with eight tackles and a fumble recovery on defense.|
About the only thing UCLA freshman Myles Jack hasn't done this season is spray-paint the Rose Bowl end zones. He has scored five touchdowns in his past two games -- four last Friday in the 41-31 win over Washington -- and he's one of the best freshman linebackers in college football.
With the Bruins facing a crucial Pac-12 showdown with Arizona State this Saturday, Jack isn't necessarily lobbying to become a full-time running back. He insists he's a linebacker first and foremost, but he also has emerged as one of the most productive offensive weapons UCLA has. The trick, according to coach Jim Mora Jr., is finding the right balance.
"It's kind of a dance," Mora said. "You have to decide how much you can use him without hampering his ability to be effective." Six-foot-1, 225-pound Jack has the natural ability to shed tacklers. He's a bruising short-yardage runner but was also a track athlete in high school. "We're going to continue to use him," Mora promised.
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Just a hunch, but it sure sounds as if Sumlin grew increasingly tired this week of answering questions about what LSU did last season to shut down Manziel and that Texas A&M offense. Since that 24-19 loss, the Aggies have scored more than 40 points in 14 of their 16 games, including every game this season. Sumlin's take on what went down a year ago against LSU is pretty simple and should only spice things up for Saturday's rematch in Tiger Stadium.
"LSU was extremely effective, and a lot of those players aren't playing in this game on Saturday," said Sumlin, referencing the seven defensive players the Tigers lost to the NFL draft a year ago.
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|Ed Orgeron's intensity didn't always serve him well in his first stint as a head coach.|
The Ed Orgeron bandwagon is growing by the day at USC. The latest to hop on is none other than Lane Kiffin, who said it should be an "easy" decision for the Trojans to replace him permanently with Orgeron. Something says USC athletic director Pat Haden isn't going to consult with Kiffin before making the hire, but there's a ton of support right now in SoCal for Orgeron. The players have obviously responded to him. The fans love the product they see on the field now that the Trojans have won five of their past six games, including a huge upset over Stanford in Week 12, and it's a softer, gentler version of Orgeron than what we saw at Ole Miss in his first rodeo as a head coach.
As Orgeron himself has admitted, he simply wasn't ready to wear all the hats he needed to wear during that 2005-07 stint as a head coach. There was zero finesse, either, in anything he did. He was a bull in a china shop 24/7. But, in talking to several people in and around that USC program last week during my visit to the West Coast, there's no question that Orgeron has changed and is much better equipped to handle a head-coaching job now. He's not going to be at the top of Haden's list, but he has at least coached his way into the picture.
If you go back to his three years at Ole Miss, Orgeron recruited extremely well and has always been well-respected as a position coach. He was just a disaster when it came to managing the entire program. Second chances come sometimes when you least expect them. Maybe this will be Orgeron's second chance. The job he has done in turning around this team, which has no depth to speak of, thanks to injuries and NCAA sanctions, is worthy of coach of the year honors. It just so happens that Orgeron was named this week as one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Coach of the Year Award.
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Baylor is on track to shatter FBS records for points per game and yards per game. The Bears are averaging 61.2 points and 684.8 yards per game. The record for points per game is held by Army (56) and goes all the way back to 1944. Baylor's assault of that record hasn't come solely on offense. The Bears have scored seven non-offensive touchdowns this season, which is tied for most in the FBS.
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What happened a year ago or 40 years ago, for that matter, isn't supposed to matter in a team's next game. But history sure seems to be on the side of Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Baylor hasn't beaten Oklahoma State in Stillwater since 1939. Not only that, but the Bears have lost 36 straight road games to opponents ranked nationally in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. It's a drought that stretches back to 1991.