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Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Controversy, grudges hit campus

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Week 1 is done. BMOC is just beginning.

PREGAME SPEECH

Johnny Manziel apparently doesn't do interviews anymore, unless they're with NCAA investigators.

He wasn't made available to the media Saturday after Texas A&M's 52-31 win against Rice. He hasn't been made available to the media since Aug. 4. The same thing happened during almost the entire 2012 season, when Manziel won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman.

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel threw three touchdown passes after serving his first-half suspension on Saturday.

College football's most public player (he's everywhere, with everybody, doing everything!) is also its most silent when it comes to explaining why he does what he does. And what he mostly does is innocently stupid stuff that sometimes makes you wonder if there's any padding in his helmet.

Do I care that he set an offseason record for celebrity sightings? No.

Do I care that he acts the victim on Twitter? No.

Do I believe that he signed hundreds and hundreds of items because he's Johnny Philanthropic Football? No. Not in a thousand years.

Do I get bent out of shape because he showed his inner punk during his second-half appearances against Rice? No. But at some point you can't hide behind the 140-character world of Twitter anymore. You can't expect your teammates and coaches to answer for you. One of these days -- and the sooner the better, A&M -- Manziel needs to respond to the questions he's created with his own actions.

I'm not here to beat up Manziel. He has said and done some dumb things. The confrontational Tweets? … Dumb. The autograph sessions? … Beyond dumb. The air autographing and pointing at the scoreboard? … Childishly dumb.

Who knows if the Rice players were trying to get a rise out of him. If so, it worked -- sort of.

Manziel threw three touchdowns after serving his first-half NCAA suspension. He did his silly on-field gestures and then eventually got pulled from the game after a taunting penalty.

Johnny Football can get away with that sort of knuckleheadedness because, well, it was Rice. Reveille could beat Rice these days. Same thing goes for this Saturday's opponent, Sam Houston State.

But it could cost the Aggies a ballgame against the likes of Alabama in Week 3. It could cost Manziel the respect of his teammates and coaches, if it hasn't already.

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel stayed on the sidelines after being flagged for a personal foul against Rice.

My colleague Mark Schlabach mentioned it weeks ago: How revealing it is that Manziel, the returning Heisman winner, wasn't named as one of the Aggies' team captains.

Something strange and potentially divisive is going on within the A&M program. And it isn't just Manziel's fault.

During the entire NCAA/autograph situation, A&M's public stance, and appropriately so, was to not comment on the Manziel case. It was the school's default position.

But then school chancellor John Sharp decided the default position sucked eggs and declared Manziel "innocent'' of all allegations of wrongdoing. He also lobbed a few mortar shells in the direction of ESPN.

Later came the half-game suspension by the NCAA, which was hardly a penalty at all, but suggested that Manziel wasn't completely innocent. All Manziel had to do was sit tight for the first half of the Rice game, throw some TDs in the third and fourth quarters of the win, and off we go.

Except that Manziel couldn't help himself. He earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after his third touchdown pass and A&M coach Kevin Sumlin kept him on the sidelines for the final 9:48 of the game.

PREGAME WARMUPS

I recently asked a highly respected head coach in a major conference what he would do with Manziel. His response: "I would kick his ass if I were Sumlin.''

Kevin Sumlin
Will coach Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Football see more tranquil days ahead in Aggieland?

Said another coach who oversees a perennial top-25 program: "Someone needs to step on [Manziel's] neck. He must be killing the locker room … and he's killing the program for the next 2-3 years. Why isn't anyone stopping him? Is the kid screaming out for help? He's costing himself money in the [NFL] draft. I would tell Dad to take him and his kid back home.''

Strong words, but likely shared by more than a few coaches looking at the Manziel/A&M situation from the outside. They simply can't understand how this spun out of the Aggies coaches' gravitational pull.

Then again, only Sumlin, Manziel, Manziel's family and certain A&M officials really know what's going on inside the program and inside that locker room. Everything else is conjecture.

I love watching Manziel play. I love watching his talent confound the very best opposing coaches in the business. You can't chart his tendencies because lots of times he doesn't have any.

Oh, wait, there is one: controversy.

FIRST QUARTER

Fans have memories that last about as long as Usain Bolt's 100-meter times. Just ask Gene Chizik, who won a national championship at Auburn, but is now regarded in some circles as the worst coach ever to hoist a crystal BCS trophy.

Bret Bielema averaged nearly 10 wins a year during his seven-season tenure at Wisconsin and led the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls. For this, Wiscy fans think of him as arrogant and a traitor of sorts.

Bielema has a certain swagger and he isn't afraid to speak his mind. Since when is that a character flaw?

Bret Bielema
Bret Bielema pointed the Hogs to a win in his first game on the Fayetteville sidelines.

But he ditched Madison for Arkansas and a healthy pay raise, which is why Wisconsin followers will be rooting hard for whatever team faces the Razorbacks each week.

It wasn't just that he left, but how he left: Without warning, to a program perceived as a lateral move, and done, in part, because of money. Of course, it's not as simple as that, but fans aren't big on nuance.

Depending on whom you talk to at Madison, Bielema never truly connected with the fans there. I don't know how you measure that, but I do know a Rose Bowl victory would have helped.

Or maybe it's as simple as this: After seven seasons anywhere, it's time to think about rotating to another program, which is what Bielema did.

In his place is Gary Andersen, who in some ways, is the anti-Bielema. Andersen is as understated as a pinstripe. Observant Badger followers noticed that Andersen was the last person to run out of the Camp Randall Stadium tunnel before the start of Saturday's opener against UMass. That wasn't an accident.

"It's not about me,'' Andersen said in a recent interview.

Bielema, who won his Arkansas opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, is a good coach who was replaced by another good coach. That's how the business works. Bielema got his raise, an improved salary pool for his assistants and the challenge of the SEC. Wisconsin got a low-key guy who might be a better personality fit for that program now.

Bielema was 68-24 at Wisconsin. Andersen is 1-0. Maybe it's time for those upset Wiscy fans to quit holding a grudge.

SECOND QUARTER

The Image Rehab Tour bus made stops in Nashville and Louisville this past weekend.

Bobby Petrino
With a win over the Vols, Bobby Petrino can start his WKU tenure with two victories against the SEC.

Bobby Petrino, whose well-documented personal scandal cost him a sweetheart coaching job at Arkansas, made his Western Kentucky debut and beat the SEC's Kentucky in Music City. Nothing new there; the Hilltoppers beat UK last year too.

But this time it was Petrino on the sidelines. Who knows how long he'll stay in Bowling Green -- a year … two years, tops? -- but he'll make an impact. He's done his share of wormy things, but the guy can coach.

This Saturday he returns to Tennessee, but this time to Knoxville, where WKU faces the Volunteers.

And as if Louisville didn't have enough offense, it unveiled transfer running back Michael Dyer, who has caromed from one program (Auburn) to the next (Arkansas Stae) because of off-field issues.

Dyer, the offensive player of the game in the 2011 BCS National Championship, had only four carries in Louisville's blowout win against Ohio. But one of those runs was a 46-yard touchdown. Is that any good?

Louisville coach Charlie Strong read Dyer the riot act before he took him in. Here's hoping Dyer paid attention.

HALFTIME SPEECH

If I were granted Ivan Maisel-like superpowers and allowed to invoke an early season rule, it would be this: Shut up, already, about the Heisman.

You can click on the video at the top of this page or this link for the full Heisman rant.

THIRD QUARTER

Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney would fit the Atlanta Falcons' need for an impact pass-rusher.

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney needs me to defend him like Steve Spurrier needs to go shirtless at practice. But the amount of hot air expended over Clowney's Game 1 performance amuses me.

I think we can all agree that Clowney looked like he needed an oxygen tent at times. He did the hands-on-the-hip thing. He did the I'm-going-to-act-like-I'm-sort-of-trying-when-I'm-really-not thing.

But if he was getting over a stomach virus -- as has been reported -- then maybe it's OK to give him a pass. And by the way, it was miserably sticky and hot that night in Columbia.

Yes, I know, his teammates didn't phone it in. Fair point. But Clowney doesn't have a history of jaking it, so I'm going to write his Game 1 effort off as a blip that we'll all laugh about later in the year.

Actually, I don't think the Georgia offensive line is going to be laughing much when Clowney and the Gamecocks' D-line comes to Athens on Saturday. First of all, Clowney is going to be motivated after a week's worth of national abuse. Second, he saw Clemson's defense sack UGA quarterback Aaron Murray four times.

Uh, oh.

FOURTH QUARTER

You have to love the gamesmanship going on between Michigan and Notre Dame.

During his weekly in-season Sunday session with the media, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly characterized the long-standing series between the two programs, which ends after next season's meeting at South Bend, as "a big regional game.''

Kelly also said: "Well, I really haven't seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries. I've seen it as just a great football game that Notre Dame has played.''

Notre Dame/Michigan
The Fighting Irish and Wolverines will face off for the 41st time on Saturday.

Yes, well, that "regional,'' non-historic, non-traditional Michigan-Notre Dame game was first played in 1887. And it has been played, almost continuously, from 1978 to now. In all, the two programs have met 40 times, with just two more to go.

That's because Notre Dame last year exercised its option to end the "regional,'' non-historic, non-traditional rivalry so it could pursue other scheduling options. Like the ACC.

That's fine. That's business. But it's also a shame.

Kelly, who just signed a new five-year deal with Notre Dame, can't truly believe Michigan is a non-rivalry, can he? Or is he just gigging the Michigan men.

Michigan and Notre Dame are the two winningest programs (by percentage) in the history of college football. Only Michigan and Texas have won more games than Notre Dame.

Back in May, Michigan coach Brady Hoke didn't say Notre Dame opted out of the "regional,'' non-historic, non-traditional rivalry. Instead, he said Notre Dame "chickened out.''

Somewhere, Bo Schemechler smiled.

Saturday's game between the Wolverines and Irish will be the last one played at the Big House in the foreseeable future. I understand the reasons, sort of, but I'll never understand how you can say it's not one of college football's great rivalries.

Then again, Michigan has won five of the past seven meetings and leads the series, 23-16-1.

FIFTH QUARTER

Two liners:

Craig Bohl
Walking over FBS competition is nothing new for Craig Bohl and the North Dakota State Bison.

• Maybe it's time North Dakota State thought about commissioning a statue in honor of Craig Bohl, whose team has won consecutive FCS national championships and has upset an FBS program in each of the past four years (Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State and most recently, Kansas State). K-State unveiled an 11½-foot statue of Bill Snyder the day before the loss. Snyder's statue, as the Wall Street Journal noted, is 2½-feet taller than the statue of Alabama's Nick Saban, who has won four BCS championships, including three for the Crimson Tide.

• If you stay away from woodchippers and crazed kidnappers, Fargo, N.D., home of NDSU, is a lovely place. But given the annual coaching turnover, here's guessing Bohl has moved onto the shorts lists of FBS athletic directors who might be in the market for a new head coach in 2014.

• Weird stat alert: Wisconsin went 1,170 games without having three Badgers running backs gain at least 100 yards each in the same game. Now it's happened twice in the past three games (last season's Big Ten title game and this year's opener).

• I've never quite understood the leaping chest bump thing (it's as cliché as The Wave), and now Georgia coach Mark Richt doesn't understand it, either. It just cost him the Bulldogs' leading wide receiver from 2012, Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL after landing awkwardly while celebrating Todd Gurley's long TD run against Clemson.

• Texas State beat Southern Miss in Week 1, which now means the Golden Eagles haven't won a game since Dec. 4, 2011. Southern Miss has a record nobody wants: longest active losing streak.

• Apparently the NCAA is going to wait until Notre Dame joins the Big Sky Conference before handing down a ruling on the Miami case. The important thing is, it was able to speed read through the Manziel case.

• Two quotes from Miami coach Al Golden, whose administration has already self-imposed bowl bans the past two seasons: "The greatest sanction of all is the sanction of uncertainty,'' and, "Given the expectations that are the University of Miami, the toxicity we've been exposed to is incalculable.'' Golden says schools should cut out "the middleman'' and have the NCAA replace university in-house compliance personnel with NCAA compliance personnel.

• Purdue's Darrell Hazell, who was an assistant on Jim Tressel's staff at Ohio State, said this of the former Buckeyes coach: "He will be back … I would want my son to play for him.'' Tressel remains under an NCAA show-cause order, but actually could be a serious future candidate for the president's position at the University of Akron, where he serves as vice president for student success and also teaches a class in coaching.

• Mike London begins the year on the Virginia hot seat, but I like his attitude when he says, "If you want to have a dream season, you have to have a dream schedule.'' UVA beat BYU on Saturday and now faces the nightmare that is Oregon in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

Taylor Martinez
Taylor Martinez ran for 80 yards and threw three TD passes in Week 1 against Wyoming.

• Fun QB matchup in a couple of Saturdays: Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and UCLA's Brett Hundley. I've made no secret of my football man crush on Hundley's game, but I've got a soft spot for Martinez's perseverance and talent.

• Huskers' coach Bo Pelini on Martinez, sort of a Manziel-kind of player, but without all the drama: "He hasn't come near what his potential is.'' Martinez played solidly enough in the opening win against Wyoming, but Pelini says, "I think there's another level in his game."

• Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas has a gruesome 1.9 Total QBR, the worst (through Saturday's games) of any FBS quarterback (he was 5-of-26 for 59 yards and one interception). In his defense, Va Tech's receivers were equally dreadful against Alabama.

• Cool quote, courtesy of David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, from Penn State offensive tackle Garry Gilliam on true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who made his first college start Saturday: "Actually, before the game started, he came up to me and said, 'If I get spaced out or anything just, like, give me a little dog-smack and bring me back.' I said, 'I got ya.''' Hackenberg, who remained committed to Penn State despite those crippling NCAA sanctions, helped lead the Nittany Lions to win against Syracuse.

• I like Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's style. He put principle over a W by suspending star wide receiver Allen Robinson for the first two quarters of a game that was expected to be close.

POSTGAME

If we took a time machine to 2014, the first year of a four-team playoff:

No. 1 seed Clemson vs. No. 4 seed LSU. Hey, everybody, it's last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl, but without mor chikin. By the way, Clemson won that one, 25-24.

No. 2 seed Alabama vs. No. 3 seed Oregon. The only thing better -- and this has nothing to do with the well-regarded, but first-year Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich -- is if it were Nick Saban matching X's and O's with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly. But like I said, Helfrich, De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, etc., will do just fine. Angels would sing if we could get this matchup.

On the bubble:

5. Stanford: The Trees are pacing themselves. Stanford doesn't open its season until Saturday against San Jose State and quarterback David Fales.

6. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have two extra days to rest and prepare for Georgia, which has lots of bruise marks after loss at Clemson.

7. Ohio State: The Buckeyes led by just 10 over Buffalo early in the third quarter. Bored, or first-game rust deposits?

8. Texas A&M: Don't know if you noticed (I guarantee you defensive coordinator Mark Snyder did), but the Aggies gave up 509 yards against Rice.

9. Louisville: The University of Teddy will pile on the points and hope nobody notices its soft-as-knee-pad schedule.

10. Georgia: Yes, I know it lost to Clemson and other teams (Florida, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, etc.) are 1-0. I also know that if not for a bad snap on a chip-shot field goal, Georgia might have won the road game in OT. I also know that, right now, I'd take Georgia head-to-head against Florida, OU or Notre Dame.