See ya, Sooners: A&M, Manziel roll Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl

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It’s been a busy few weeks for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Trips to the late night talk show circuit, meeting celebrities and finally coming out of A&M’s media shell could have been enough to distract the redshirt freshman from Friday night’s Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.

Instead, showing maturity beyond his years, Manziel looked just like the player that earned the Heisman the month before. Manziel accounted for 287 passing yards, 229 rushing yards (a bowl record for a quarterback) and four touchdowns as the No. 10 Aggies handed No. 12 Oklahoma a Texas-sized beating in the Cotton Bowl, 41-13.

But it wasn’t just Manziel who had a big day. Senior receiver Ryan Swope finished with 104 yards and a score, playing the second half after apparently rolling his ankle. And, of course, A&M’s offensive line deserves credit for giving its quarterback ample time to throw, and when there were simply no opportunities downfield, run. The Sooners had no answer for any of it.

O-line play was a major reason A&M finished with 633 yards, a Cotton Bowl record. The Aggies concluded the 2012 season as the first SEC team with over 7,000 yards of offense and Manziel finished with over 5,000 yards. It won’t get as much attention as the offense, but A&M’s defense held too when it mattered most. Oklahoma had two early chances to score touchdowns inside the 10-yard line and had to settle for field goals both times.

Not bad for the SEC rookies.

The Cotton Bowl win brings to mind A&M’s first appearance during SEC media days this summer. First-year coach Kevin Sumlin was asked repeatedly about what he thought life was going to be like in the SEC with an undertone indicating that the Aggies would be in for a bloody debacle resulting, at absolute best, in five or six wins.

How’d that work out? A&M has surpassed just about every expectation this year except its own. Then, the Aggies came back and beat the co-champions of their former conference. It’s a disappointing end for the career of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones and another tough bowl loss for Bob Stoops, once known for his record in big games.

Although too much is often made of bowl games for better or worse, the Aggies will undoubtedly be near the top of a few more preseason polls heading into the 2013 season and Manziel will be an early favorite to repeat as Heisman winner.

That’s a good eight months away and plenty can happen in a year. For one, A&M’s O-line — the same one that allowed Manziel to do anything he wanted tonight — will be replacing key starters, but the talent and the coaching is there. With some good fortune,  A&M will have the chance to eye bigger goals.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.