College crash course
Jake Shaw's college football column talks Manziel, top Tweets and irrational fans.
How many football players have viewed the season after winning the Heisman Trophy as their chance for redemption?
My under-researched answer: None. That is until Johnny Manziel came around.
Think about it. Some players have new challenges awaiting them (usually the NFL), while a select few get the chance to defend their title by playing college ball the following season.
But never before, at least not in this 34-year old's recollection, has a Heisman winner had to rewrite his legacy so soon after winning the award.
It's hard for any player to exceed the climax of winning the Heisman. You can quietly fade away (see Gino Torreta, Eric Crouch, Andre Ware, etc.), you could win rookie of the year (see Robert Griffin III), or you could win rookie of the year and then quietly fade away (see Vince Young -- prior to this preseason at least). But chances are, no matter what happens following your Heisman award, you're not looking to validate yourself in the 365 days following winning the award.
Heisman winners (save Reggie Bush) will always have that award to stand on. Manziel should, too, but let's be honest. Play the word association game with "Manziel" and you're just as likely to get an answer like "partier" as much as you would "electrifying." Fair or not, Manziel has as much reputation for his off-field antics as what he did during his ground-breaking redshirt freshman season.
The stories and photos of Manziel enjoying the off-field spotlight -- as well as the the hearsay-driven controversy of whether he accepted money for signing autographs -- will follow him this season. That is until he gives writers something else to write about. The same something else everyone wrote about until his tempestuous offseason: The way he plays football.
So long as Maniel is cleared to play, something which I fully expect, Manziel is in control again. He'll pile up yards on land and through the air; he'll lead A&M to double-digit wins; he'll continue to frustrate defenses with his sandlot style.
I don't buy the argument that SEC defenses will catch up after seeing him last year. Manziel is a rare talent; 13 games of film won't suddenly make him easy to tackle.
So if anyone writes about his offseason during the season, it will simply be the case of not letting go. The real story will be unfolding on the field. This is, of course, contingent on Manziel keeping a low profile off of it.
Beat Alabama again? Celebrate with your teammates in one of their apartments. Or enjoy a quieter dinner with your family. It's all in Manziel's control, though I would like to see head coach Kevin Sumlin assert himself, encouraging Manziel to make smarter decisions.
Will Manziel make a third straight DCTF cover (following the 2013 Winter and Summer editions) after backing up his breakout season with an even bigger sophomore campaign? Or will he constantly be on the cover page of TMZ.com?
It's all up to him. He's had to go through a rough offseason, though much of it the result of his own decisions. But he can change the narrative on his own.
Starting with the Rice game this Saturday, Manziel has the chance to make the Summer of 2013 a minor footnote in what should be a long, storied football career.
ODDS AND ENDS
> Irrational fan of the week: Let's hope Kliff Kingsbury has a better method of picking a starting quarterback than the irraiontal (albeit clever) poster named "CustersDoctor." His way of determining the starter between Michael Brewer, Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield: an old-fashioned game of rock, paper, scissors.
"CustersDoctor" posted his take on this thread on Tech's scout.com message board. There are a few more funny one-liners on the thread. But I doubt Tech fans are truly finding this quarterback uncertainty even slightly comical.
> Top Tweets: The following may be true -- ESPN does have a vested interest in UT's performance because of The Longhorn Network-- but the immediate counterargument to Brent Zwerneman's tweet below is obvious: Isn't ESPN just as cuddly, if not more so, with the SEC?
The tweet in question:
Why wouldn't Aggies think ESPN is conspiring against A&M? ESPN is cuddling in bed w/ Aggies' most bitter rival.— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) August 22, 2013
Another rebuttal: Even if Rovell truly had it out for Texas A&M, even if he for some unknown reason wanted to nefariously take down the Aggies, Rovell has a number of editors above him that would have to be in on the "conspiracy" as well. And that's just too hard to believe. I guarantee Rovell doesn't write his story and then post it to ESPN on his own. It must go through at least a couple of editors. Likely more with a story this big.
I don't think there's enough evidence to penalize Manziel. Like I mentioned in the main column, right now the investigation seems to stand only on hearsay. But it was a group of people, not just the reporter, who deemed the sources and story solid enough to print. I just can't see them printing said stories without the conviction that their evidence was airtight. Enough evidence to convict? No. But enough smoke to print.
Another tweet caught my eye on Monday morning:
Longest current FBS season opener losing streaks: Memphis & W. Mich 8; Middle Tenn 6; Akron & Miami (Ohio) 5; Rice & SJSU 4— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) August 26, 2013
Notice all those teams are the "mid-majors" of college football. Teams not in auto-BCS qualifying conferences. Aside from not getting grouped with the big boys, these programs usually have to travel to big-time programs to earn a paycheck.
Such is the case for Rice, which opens 2013 at top 10 Texas A&M. Rice's last four season openers: 2009 at UAB (44-24 loss), 2010 vs Texas (34-17 loss), 2011 at Texas (34-9 loss), 2012 vs UCLA (49-24 loss).
The UAB game was the lone exception; thought still a loss, it was a conference game to open the season. Rice made up for it by playing Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt the next three weeks -- all of them losses.
It's a tough way to make a living. Sure, the money is better with a loaded non-conference schedule, but it puts Rice behind the eight ball early in the season. Rice recovered last year. This year it won't be quite the same challenge. After the Aggies, Rice only plays one other auto-BCS team, Kansas, and they get those Big 12 cellar-dwellers at home.
"The System" is the best college football book in years. And its details are going to cause a stir. http://t.co/uLbIXxpaie— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) August 27, 2013
I know I'm going to read this book, but I kinda don't want to. I'm afraid I'm going to lose some love for college football when I'm further exposed to the very dark underbelly of the sport. This book, from the excerpts I've read, covers a lot of ground -- from the role of "hostesses" colleges use to guide recruits on visits to the recruitment of individual players. There's apparently a chapter on A&M freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, whose father claims at least one program offered him six figures, plus benefits (as if the six figures wasn't enough), for his son's signature. Wow.
> Buy/Sell: These are some bleak facts to point out on the brink of the season opener:
> This program has had three winning seasons in the last 18 years;
> This program has beaten just eight FBS teams that finished their seasons with a winning record;
> 41 of this program's 70 wins in the last 18 years have come against FCS teams;
What a downer.
But such is the recent history at North Texas, as a fan writing under the name "KingDL1" pointed out in this thread on the GoMeanGreen.com message board.
But in all this mess, the poster did say he expects a winning record in Denton this year. I'm going to sell on UNT winning seven games in the regular season, but I do think a winning season is still possible. That may not make sense, but hear me out.
With nine starters back offensively and seven on defense, I think UNT will mature from last year's disappointing 4-8 season and finish 6-6 in 2013 (DCTF magazine officially picked UNT to go 5-7, FYI). With bowl invitations handed out like Halloween candy, 6-6 could be enough to get the Mean Green in the postseason. Win that bowl game, and UNT has its fourth winning season since moving up from the FCS ranks 18 years ago.
So I'll sell on the winning regular season, but not on the overall chance of getting above .500 by season's end.
> Leftovers …
Johnny Manziel is the biggest story in Texas right now, but I almost made the bulk of today's column a joint piece on Manzeil and TCU's Casey Pachall. Though they've had far different off-field transgressions, they do have some commonalities. Firstly, I think they're easily the two best quarterbacks in the state, at least at this moment in time. More obvious is that both quarterbacks have their personal lives talked about just as much as their football lives. Like Manziel, Pachall has a chance to win back some fans and convince the critics the the present and future will be different from the past. …
You could probably find 40 different preseason bowl projections online. For brevity's sake, I'll just analyze the picks by SI.com's Stewart Mandel, a guy I respect, not only because he shares the name of my first-born son. His Texas-related picks:
> Houston vs Vanderbilt, January 4, BBVA Compass Bowl. Disagree. I would like to see UH recover from last year's 5-7 mark, but I don't see six games that I fully expect UH to win. That leaves little margin for error.
> Texas vs Boise State, January 1, Fiesta Bowl. Disagree. Texas is getting a lot of love, and I think the 'Horns will be good. But I see two expected losses on their schedule (at TCU and at Baylor), and any more might knock them out of the Big 12 title race. I'd replace Texas with OSU, which -- despite playing at Texas -- otherwise has the more favorable schedule.
> Texas A&M vs Michigan, January 1, Capital One Bowl. Agree. Don't see the Aggies going back to the Cotton, and I also don't think they'll knock off Alabama to reach a BCS game.
> TCU vs Arizona State, December 30, Alamo Bowl. Agree. Don't necessarily agree with Mandel's predicted Big 12 order of finish, but I could see TCU ending up as the Big 12's third bowl pick.
> Baylor vs Northwestern, December 28, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Agree. This slot has Baylor finishing 5th in the Big 12. I think the Bears are more than capable of finishing higher, but this is a safe projection.
> Texas Tech vs Central Florida, December 28, Pinstripe Bowl. Agree. I think Texas Tech gets to six wins. But no more. The reward: A trip to chilly NYC. Hey, it's better than staying at home.
> Rice vs San Diego State, December 24, Hawaii Bowl. Agree. As noted above, Rice's schedule is far more forgiving this year. It's far safer than usual to pick Rice to make a bowl game.
One team not mentioned, North Texas, has a chance (in my opinion) to make bowl. But I don't see any other Texas teams making a postsason run. …
Final word: It's great to be back at DCTF. Haven't written for the site since the bowl season, and I'm honored to be back writing about college football this season. My email address is linked below -- feel free to holler anytime.
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com. Contact him by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.