Alabama-A&M: the Tale of the Tape

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Game of the Century?  Try Game of the Millennium.

While that may be overhyping it a little — hell, it’s overhyping it by a wide margin — Alabama-Texas A&M still has all the makings of an instant classic.

The defending BCS champions coming to town seeking revenge for its lone loss in 2012?  Check.

Johnny Manziel attempting an upset repeat — UA’s an eight-point favorite — coming off a controversy-filled offseason? Check.

Two teams ranked in the Top Six holding very realistic title aspirations, with the winner coming out with a clear path to the SEC championship game and thus a BCS title shot?  Check.

The Johnny Cam may be over the top, but the coverage dedicated to the game leading up to it is not.  Even for the third week of the regular season, a game featuring two SEC West heavyweights is indeed that important — and that’s armed with the knowledge the Tide still managed to win its division… and its conference… and the BCS title despite the loss to the Aggies in 2012.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a position-by-position look, after the jump, at how the two gridiron gladiators matchup:

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks
Alabama: AJ McCarron is not the electrifying on-field presence his counterpart on the opposing sidelines is — nor the lightning rod off of it — but all the senior has done is play a big part in guiding the Tide to back-to-back BCS titles, a big chunk of which is his disdain for handing the ball back to the opposition — he’s thrown just nine interceptions in 665 pass attempts the past two-plus seasons.  Sleep on McCarron’s underrated passing ability at your own peril, though; the past two seasons, he’s thrown 46 touchdowns for the run-happy Tide.

Texas A&M: Coming off a season in which his team won 11 games in its first season in the SEC and he took home the Heisman, Johnny Manziel‘s offseason was one negative headline after the other, culminating in a half-game suspension for the opener.  Make no mistake, though, Johnny Football, despite the off-field distractions, is still one of the most dynamic run/pass talents at the quarterback position in the country.  He will prove to be one of the stiffest offensive tests for the Tide all season.

Advantage: Texas A&M

Running backs
Alabama: Go four-deep — hell, maybe even five-deep — on the Tide’s depth chart at this position, and you’ll find backups who could start for scores of other FBS programs in the country.  In just a little over a season at the FBS level, sophomore T.J. Yeldon has turned into one of the top backs in the country and a dark-horse Heisman contender.  Yes, the Tide is loaded in the backfield on paper, and they’re not afraid to use that talent on the field.  Perhaps the only thing that could hold back the deep stable of backs?  An offensive line still trying to find itself.

Texas A&M: While not exactly ‘Bama deep, the Aggies, with Ben Molina and Tra Carson and others, are not exactly bereft of playmakers in the backfield.  With a sizable chunk of a defense’s focus on Manziel’s ability to not only make plays in the passing game but also hurt you with his legs, the opportunities could be there for A&M backs to cause some damage.

Advantage: Alabama

Receivers
Alabama: With so much attention paid to the quarterback… and the running backs… and the defense, this group might very well be the most underrated aspect of the 2013 Crimson Tide.  Amari Cooper and Christion Jones provide a formidable one-two punch in the passing game and will test a weakened Aggies defense that will be without a starting safety.  Provided McCarron can be kept upright, of course.

Texas A&M: Talent-wise, you could argue that the Aggie side of the ledger trumps what the Tide offers.  Add in experience, though, and outside of Mike Evans, the Aggies and Manziel are still trying to identify some reliability and dependability at the position.  Ryan Swope (11-111-1 vs. Tide last year) will be missed, but his departure also presents an opportunity for a young player — Ricky Seals-Jones? — to burst into the national consciousness.

Advantage: Alabama

Offensive line
Alabama: Normally a bastion of reliability and stability and outstanding play, the Tide’ line struggled mightily in the season opener, especially in the run game.  Late last month against Virginia Tech, the Tide ran for 96 yards on 38 carries, a paltry average of 2.5 yards per carry; last season, Alabama’s 5.6 ypc was tied for fourth in the country.  Replacing three starters from that 2012 group, it was known it would take time for the new unit to come together.  With the road game against the Aggies on tap, the Tide needs to hope that the bye week was the perfect elixir to expedite the gelling process.

Texas A&M: Despite the loss of Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall NFL draft pick), the Aggies still possess one of the top lines in not only the SEC, but in all of college football.  All five of A&M’s starters are considered potential NFL draft picks, with starting left tackle Jake Matthews a likely first-round selection next year.  There may be question marks when it comes to the Aggies, but this unit isn’t even remotely close to being one of them.

Advantage: Texas A&M

DEFENSE

Defensive line
Alabama: As much concern as there is with the offensive line, there’s little or none on the other side of the ball. Sure, there were some hiccups in the opener against Tech — 153 yards allowed on the ground, albeit for less than five yards per carry (4.6) — as the Tide worked in new full-time starters, but the talent is among the best in the country along the defensive front.  Manziel and his offensive line, though, will provide a true test of just how talented and, with their fast-paced offense, deep this unit truly is.

Texas A&M: Like ‘Bama, A&M was forced to replace a couple of veteran and productive members of this unit.  Unlike their Saturday opposition, they don’t have nearly the quality depth, at least not at the moment.  Starting defensive end Gavin Stansbury was suspended for the first two games of the season while starting nose tackle Kirby Ennis was suspended for the opener; both are back, which will obviously help going up against the Tide’s stable of backs.  The Hokies in the opener gave the Aggies the blueprint for making McCarron uncomfortable in the pocket.  Any lessons learned from that could play a significant role in the outcome.

Advantage: Alabama

Linebackers
Alabama: After losing just Nico Johnson following the 2012 season, the starters in this group are among the most experienced and talented of any team the Aggies will face.  One of the returnees, C.J. Mosley, is expected to be Manziel’s shadow Saturday, taking over spy duties on the Heisman winner.  How well the future first-round draft pick gets his CIA on could go a long way in determining how big of an impact Manziel has on the game — and which side heads off the Kyle Field turf with arms held high in victory instead of head hung low in defeat.

Texas A&M: Steven Jenkins is one of the most underrated players at his position in college football.  Outside of Jenkins, and this early in the season, there are question marks in the middle third of A&M’s defense.  The defense in general and this unit in particular have been subpar through two games — 899 total yards allowed to Rice and Sam Houston State — but that could be attributed in large part to suspensions and injuries to the defense as a whole.

Advantage: Alabama

Secondary
Alabama: If you’re looking for a weakness in the Tide defense… you won’t find it here, either.  Losing quality players like Dee Milliner and Robert Lester would be a significant blow to most defenses; as is the case at several positions, the Tide simply reloads with experienced vets — John FultonVinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix included — mixed in with young four- and five-star talents.  Veteran Deion Belue will likely be charged with sticking to Mike Evans, although help should be at his disposal if needed.

Texas A&M: The Aggies have exceptional talent in this group, especially at the cornerback position — Deshazor Everett (game-saving INT vs. Bama) and De’Vante Harris.  The loss of Floyd Raven to a broken collarbone will hurt, as will the fact that, due to various injuries and suspensions, this unit has not had a whole lot of time together on the field this season.  Keep an eye on Raven’s replacement (Clay Honeycutt?) and if McCarron/Cooper/Jones attempts to test him and Howard Matthews in the deep passing game early on.

Advantage: Alabama

Special teams
Alabama: Christion Jones returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in the opener.  Cade Foster did not attempt a field goal in the opener, but connected on just four of nine attempts last season as the Tide’s long-range kicker; if this game is close and comes down to Foster’s leg, Tide fans wouldn’t be wrong in being concerned.  Cody Mandell averaged just over 44 yards a punt last season, and is at just over 46 yards after one game.

Texas A&M: As individually impressive as the Tide’s Jones was in the opener, the Aggies can match that with quantity.  While Drew Kaser has punted just four times, he’s averaged 54.8 per boot, including a long of 76 in the opener.  Despite his youth — this is his first season as the Aggies’ regular punter — he has the leg to help shift field position.  As is the case with the Tide, the confidence is not there quite yet in Taylor Bertolet (no relation), who hit on just 59-percent of his 22 field goal attempts last season; this year he’s missed one of three attempts.

Advantage:  Push

Coaching
Alabama: Lemme see, four BCS championships, three of which have come at Alabama; five SEC championships, three of which have come at Alabama; 68 wins during the last five seasons in Tuscaloosa heading into 2013, with 61 of them coming the past four years; the No. 1 Rivals.com recruiting class five of the past six years.  Alabama is the football program by which all others are measured, and Nick Saban is the gold standard for every other head coach at the FBS level.

Texas A&M: In my opinion, and I felt very strongly about this prior to his arrival in College Station, Kevin Sumlin is one of the top young coaches in the game.  He went out and proved it right out of the gate in 2012, leading the Aggies to an 11-win season and a woodshedding of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in A&M’s first season in the SEC.  If Sumlin stays at the collegiate level, he could be one of the best the game has ever seen; right now, though, he’s not Saban.

Advantage: Alabama

Intangibles
Alabama:  There’s the revenge angle, with the Tide looking to avenge their only loss last season.  There’s the prep angle, with Saban and his coaching staff having, unlike last year, an entire offseason to study and prepare for A&M’s unique offensive attack. And then there’s this: going back to his time at LSU, Saban is 15-2 against teams that beat him in their previous meeting.

Texas A&M: Take your pick for the Aggies.  The Kyle Field homefield advantage, with the 12th Man in full throat amidst what will reportedly be just a few thousand Crimson Tide fans who were able to secure tickets.  The confidence of having been there, done that in beating Alabama last season — in Tuscaloosa no less.  And Johnny Football, who can singlehandedly take over a game whenever his team needs it.

Advantage: Push

PREDICTION: For my prediction of the game, as well as that of Chris Huston and Kevin McGuire, click HERE.

BYU wearing special patch in honor of LaVell Edwards

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BYU got the summer media day fun started on Friday with their football media day. BYU tends to pull out all the stops on its media day with coach and player interviews, alumni returning, and a handful of announcements about the future of the program. In addition to news about their relationship with ESPN, BYU also announced the football team will be sporting a patch this season in honor of the late LaVell Edwards.

In addition to players wearing the patch on their jerseys, BYU coaches will also wear the patch on their sleeves.

Edwards passed away in December at the age of 86. The BYU coaching legend spent 29 seasons on the sidelines in Provo and accumulated 257 wins along the way. Among those was a national championship season in 1984, which remains the most recent national championship to be claimed by a program not currently in a power conference. Edwards took 22 BYU teams to a bowl game.

Now if we can just keep getting BYU to stick to that lighter shade of blue as their main home uniform, we’ll be in great shape.

Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks found guilty of rape

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Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was convicted by a jury on Friday for rape of a female Vanderbilt student. Following 15 hours of jury deliberations, the verdict of guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery was in.

”He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, said after the verdict. ”We have some really good issues to raise.”

Part of Banks’ defense was built on succumbing to peer pressure, suggesting he feared he may be beaten up by teammates if he did not participate in the scandalous activity. The jury, having reviewed videos and photos from the incident, some of which were shot by Banks, determined that was not a viable defense.

”Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said in closing arguments, according to the Associated Press. ”But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.”’

Banks will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison. One count of aggravated rape has a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Other former Vanderbilt players had previously been convicted for their roles in the 2013 rape. Cory Batey was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to 15-25 years in prison in April 2016. Brandon Vandenbeurg was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.