Jake Shaw on Johnny Football, Tweet of the Week, coaching carousel and more.
Rice and SMU picked up bowl bids on the last possible day of the season. Baylor did the same after knocking off the No. 1 team in the country two weeks ago, then overcoming a two-touchdown deficit to beat Texas Tech on Saurday.
TCU scored a huge win for the program, beating Texas in Austin on Thanksgiving night in a defensive performance that ranks among the school's best under Gary Patterson. UTEP is starting a crucial coaching search after the retirement of Mike Price. And UTSA ended a storybook first FBS season beating rival Texas State (allowing QB Eric Soza to propose marriage to his girlfriend in storybook fashion).
But there's one story I can't turn away from -- the most important current story from the Texas college landscape.
Six weeks ago, I opined in the "Buy/Sell" section of this very column that a Texas college football player eventually would play himself into the Heisman picture. I named several players I thought would get that consideration. None of the names I listed were Johnny Manziel. But here we are, on the brink of the calendar flipping over to December, and Manziel is not just a contender, he's the favorite according to a guy who usually doesn't miss on these things.
If Manziel wins, it won't be by virtue of other players dropping out of the race. Sure, Collin Klein took a slide when his KSU team was thrashed by Baylor. And yes, Oregon RB Kenjon Barner had the chance to take the race over after Klein's loss, but his team fell to Stanford a mere hour later.
Manziel has been excellent from Day 1, when -- for at least one half -- he had the eventual No. 4 team in the country on its toes, making plays with his arms and legs that you don't even see in video games. From there, Manziel transformed from a novelty to a leader, a player that could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (the win at Ole Miss), a player that could slay giants (winning at Alabama), and a player that had to overcome some off-field issues and win his coach over just in order to play.
Texas A&M and Baylor will never be confused as friends. The two don't play each other anymore, but that doesn't mean they get along. Yet the Aggies should offer a bit of thanks to Baylor. Robert Griffin III blazed a trail for many a future Heisman winner. Voters truly went outside the box with their 2011 vote, giving the award to a player from a team that lost three games, a player that didn't compete for a conference championship (not to speak of a national title), and a player from a program never listed among college football's blue bloods. Not even close.
RGIII opened the door for all kinds of candidates. Voters sent a message that it doesn't matter where the player comes from or who surrounds him. If the numbers and eyeball test don't lie, you have to vote for that player, even if it strays from the norm. Why should the norm or tradition be our guide anyway? To paraphrase one of my favorite bands (Built to Spill), why do we embrace conventional wisdom in a world that's just so unconventional?
Last year's group of Heisman finalists, in an indirect way, also make a strong case for Manziel. Stanford isn't that much different without Andrew Luck, the runner-up to RGIII. The Cardinal is one win away from another BCS appearance. LSU only dropped off slightly after losing the Honeybadger. And Alabama is in a very similar position (on the verge of playing for a title) even thought Trent Richardson is in the NFL.
But Baylor, even with its recent run, is markedly different without Griffin. The value he had to the Bears is even more noticeable now that he's gone. Likewise with Texas A&M. The Aggies were a 6-6 team last year and lost their quarterback to the first round of the NFL draft, yet they have vastly improved with Manziel at the helm, even in playing against (arguably) tougher competition in the SEC.
Take Manziel off the roster, and does A&M upset Alabama? Does it win 10 games? Does it even make a bowl game? This is a Top 10 team across the board, but it has become a special team mostly because of Manziel's consistent ability to make plays like few other quarterbacks can.
His 4,327 total yards in a single season are more than any SEC player has ever produced. He led the Aggies to a perfect 6-0 record away from home. He almost singlehandedly validated Texas A&M's decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, where everyone thought A&M would go to the bottom of the pile.
The irony of Manziel's ascension to Hesiman favorite isn't lost on me. For years, the Aggie faithful have pegged Heisman hopes on numerous players, from Stephen McGee to Jorvorskie Lane to Reggie McNeal to Jerrod Johnson to Ryan Tannehill. And that's just in the past 4-5 years. None of them even sniffed a ballot.
But then comes 2012, a year where the starting quarterback was a freshman, named the starter just before the season started. There was no indication Manziel would be a Heisman candidate. The Aggies can be a zealous bunch, but anyone backing Manziel for college football's top award just two months ago would deerve the "certifiable" label.
Here he is, though, just two weeks away from becoming the first freshman to ever win the award, in the process delivering the second Heisman to Texas A&M in school history.
I thought all along a Texan would factor into the voting for this award. I never imagined it would be a freshman. But there may never have been a more deserving first-year player than Johnny Football.
ODDS AND ENDS
> Irrational fan of the week: If the FBI ever needed some dirt on me, they could just check the emails/texts I exchange with friends during games involving our alma mater. It's amazing how an intense game of football can so easily influence a person to write some, well, passionate stuff in the heat of the moment.
Because of that, anybody prone to over-reacting during a game (like me) should refrain from posting on message boards. Unlike texts and emails, comments on message boards are forever accessible to the public. "Bears92" learned that the hard way when he posted this thread, titled "Back to no bowl season", when Baylor was down 21-7 early in the eventual win over Texas Tech:
"Thank you RGIII for the short reprieve from ineptitude"
Patience certainly is a virtue lacking in the sports world these days. These days, fans want players benched after a bad quarter, coaches fired midway through a season, and they give up on games well before halftime.
The thread did take an entertaining turn, however, as fellow Baylor fans roasted "Bears92" for his premature pessimism, posting photos, videos and GIF images (like this one), making fun of the guy for giving up on his team way too early.
Think before you post, dear readers.
> Week's Top Tweets: Yeah, I've donated a lot of column inches to Johnny "Football" Manziel, but it's just such an interesting topic. His numbers are amazing, and the fact that he did this in the SEC probably gives him more legitimacy than he would've gotten if Texas A&M stayed in the Big 12. And that's unfair as Yahoo! national columnist Pat Forde points out in his reply to a reader's original tweet:
Could not agree more. Exceptional offensive players in the Big 12 are often discredited because of the "lack of defense" in the conference -- even though the SEC has just one more defense in the top 50 than the Big 12, six to five.
This tweet also caught my attention:
Brian Kelly on Te'o: "If a guy like Manti is not gonna win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) November 25, 2012
First of all, a coach is going to campaign for his own player. He should do that. But Kelly does have a good point. If arguably the best defensive player in the country on the No. 1 team in the country playing for a school with so much tradition can't win the Heisman, then defensive players should just assume they're never going to win another award again unless they contribute on special teams or have an occasional cameo offensively.
> My Power Poll ballot
This is what I turned into the DCTF offices for the latest edition of the Power Poll.
1. Texas A&M — Less than two weeks until the Ags find out if Johnny Football made history.
2. TCU — The Frogs are seemingly at their best when everyone counts them out.
3. Baylor — This program has learned how to win in November.
4. Texas — Is it Connor Brewer's team next year?
5. Texas Tech — Good thing the Red Raiders wrapped up a bowl spot early. They didn't earn it down the stretch.
6. Rice — The Owls are Exhibit A for the defense of keeping a high number of bowls. They deserve a postseason game.
7. SMU — June Jones might've secured his job with that win over Tulsa.
8. UTSA — Beating Texas State culminates an excellent UTSA entrance to the world of college football.
9. Houston — That season-opening loss will always be remembered when thinking of the 2012 season.
10. North Texas — Hopefully this was just a sophomore slump for Dan McCarney.
11. UTEP — Let the coaching search begin.
12. Texas State — The Bobcats need to beat NMSU, or this season really will have slipped away.
> Buy/Sell: I truly believe Manziel (there's that name again) will win the Heisman. The amount of momentum he has reminds me of what Robert Griffin III earned this time last year. Unlike Manziel, Griffin had to overcome a huge favorite, Andrew Luck, to win the award. Manziel is the favorite in a year where all the other favorites faded away, leaving one of the more wide-open races in recent history. But I'm going to sell the thought Manziel will be the only major award winner from this state.
In fact, I think one of his teammates should take home another piece of hardware. Having seen the amount of time Manziel gets to pass every game, Aggie offensive tackle Luke Joeckel would get my vote for the Outland Trophy.
But a player every bit as deserving for an award as Manziel is for the Heisman is Baylor WR Terrance Williams. One of the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award -- given to the top receiver in the country -- Williams leads the nation with 1,693 yards (with one game to play), has the best yards-per-reception average of the finalists with 19.02, and averages a national best 153.9 receiving yards per game. About the only criticism of Williams is his 12 touchdowns, ranking him seventh nationally, but Baylor has so many other targets that Williams has to fight off some talented players to get the ball in the end zone.
> Leftovers …
If I'm a decision maker at UTEP, I want to hire a head coach with experience, yet also somebody who's young and inventive. My first look would go to this guy. He still has a lot of coaching in him, he's got the experience of making a non-traditional power a successful program, and, well, he's used to coaching in a mountainous area, if that counts for anything. My second phone call goes to the agent of Sam Houston State's head coach, Willie Fritz, who has been a smashing success wherever he's been. Three years in Huntsville also gives him Texas recruiting connections. Heck, any school with an opening would be wise to call either of these coaches. …
Speaking of small school successes, have you looked at the top of the standings in the WAC, Sun Belt and MAC? The top three teams from the WAC are a combined 29-7; the Sun Belt's top three are 24-10; and the MAC's three best are 31-5. The two best from that last conference, Kent State and Northern Illinois, play Friday night and the winner could very well bump Oklahoma out of a BCS appearance. …
The conference with the best teams in the country has to be the SEC. With six teams in the top 10, that's inarguable. But the Big 12 has the Southeastern Conference beaten when it comes to depth. Wins by Baylor and West Virginia on Saturday clinched bowl spots for nine of the conference's 10 teams. Only Kansas will be left home this postseason. What makes the achievement even more credible is that Big 12 teams only play three non-conference games, unlike the SEC, which plays four. Assuming every Big 12 program beats Kansas (which they did), that means each conference had to beat at least two bowl-bound teams in conference play to make it to the postseason. …
I stick to the FBS ranks in this column, but it's playoff time in the FCS ranks right now, which means Sam Houston State will try to finish one game better than it did last year, when the Bearkats lost in the championship game. SHSU had a bye in the first round and will open the playoffs at home against Cal-Poly. The game will be broadcast on espn3.
Contact Jake Shaw by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com