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.

Shea Patterson talks transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan, confident he’ll be eligible to play in 2018

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One of the bigger player personnel moves of the 2018 offseason has already gone down in the midst of the 2017 bowl season, with Shea Patterson announcing earlier this week that he would be transferring to Michigan from Ole Miss.  The touted quarterback’s decision was seemingly triggered by not only Hugh Freeze‘s firing as head coach, but an additional one-year bowl ban tagged on to the Rebels football program.

In his first interview since the move, Patterson, who was born in Toledo and lived in the city until he was 11, told Kyle Rowland of the Toledo Blade that (surprise!!!) the off-field rancor in Oxford indeed led him to Ann Arbor.

“I’m really not one to jump ship on anything,” the sophomore signal-caller told the Blade. “But I’m really big on setting goals and achieving them. I did that throughout high school. One of the main goals was to win a national championship. At Ole Miss, I didn’t have an opportunity to do that. Things didn’t shake out the way I planned — coach got fired, the two-year bowl ban.

“I couldn’t look back on it after college and say I never got an opportunity to play for something like that.”

As part of the latest bowl ban, any Ole Miss player entering his final season of eligibility is free to transfer to another program without being forced to sit out a year.  While players like Patterson saw Ole Miss roll back the restrictions placed by the university on a transfer destination, it has been thought that those Rebel players with more than a year of eligibility remaining would still have to sit out the NCAA-mandated transfer year.

Patterson is confident, though, that, because of his former school’s issues, he will receive a waiver from The Association that would allow him to play immediately in 2018 at his new school.

“From what I’m hearing, I’m pretty sure that I will win that and be able to play next year,” Patterson said according to the newspaper.

A consensus five-star 2016 recruit, Patterson was rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 4 player overall on its composite board.  After starting the last three games of his true freshman season, Patterson started the first seven games of 2017 before going down with a season-ending knee injury.

If Patterson does get the waiver, he’d compete with redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, a four-star 2016 signee who took over the starting job in late October, and true freshman Dylan McCaffrey, a four-star 2017 signee who took a redshirt this season, for the starting job.

Status of Wyoming QB Josh Allen for bowl game up in the air

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Josh Allen won’t be Fournetting or McCaffreying his team’s bowl game this season, but it’s still undetermined whether or not he’ll be able to play in it.

Allen has been dealing with an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder that kept him out of Wyoming’s last two games of the regular season. While he’s been practicing with his teammates in preparation for the Dec. 22 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl matchup with Central Michigan, his status for the postseason game is up in the air.

It appears though, that, one way or another, a decision on the quarterback’s availability will be made over the next several days.

“I’m still getting better day by day,” Allen said according to the Laramie Boomerang. “It is still not where I think it needs to be or want it to be, but things are progressively getting better. Throwing is becoming a lot easier, more effortless. I am on the right track, but we will be needing to know an answer (if I’m playing) in the coming days.

“I will be in the training room 24/7, trying to get back on the field, trust me.”

It’s believed that the junior is playing his final season with the Cowboys as he’s projected to be one of the first three or four quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL draft if he leaves early. In fact, he was introduced with Wyoming’s seniors on Senior Day late in the regular season, a clear sign that he’s all but out the door.

Players such as Allen have until mid-January to officially declare for the April draft.

Last season, Allen completed exactly 56 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Through 10 games this season, and with less of a supporting cast around him, the 6-5, 240-pound redshirt junior has hit on 56.2 percent of his attempts for 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. His yards per attempt have gone down from 8.59 in 2016 to 6.61 in 2017, although he’s thrown a pick in every 42 attempts this season compared to one every 25 last season.

James Madison signs head coach Mike Houston to 10-year extension

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This won’t stop bigger programs from sniffing around its head coach, but James Madison is doing its best to show its commitment to the man.

The FCS powerhouse announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement on a 10-year contract extension with Mike Houston. The new deal would technically keep Houston with the Dukes through the 2027 season.

Houston’s old contract had him signed through the 2021 season.

“Mike Houston has proven to be the perfect fit as football coach at James Madison University, and we are thrilled that the Houston family has found JMU to be its perfect home,” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said in a statement. “While Mike’s accomplishments on the field speak loudly, his most valuable role is guiding the student-athletes in our program, teaching them about leadership and about life, helping them to succeed in the classroom and building a culture of genuine care and compassion for each other. We look forward to many more victories on and off the field with Mike Houston at James Madison.”

Houston is in the midst of his second season as the sideline boss of the football program. In those two years, the Dukes have gone 27-1, with the lone loss coming to North Carolina in the third game of the 2016 season. He is 26-0 vs. FCS teams, capping his first season with a national championship by beating five-time defending champion North Dakota State.

JMU has also won 25 straight games, the second-longest winning streak in FCS history, behind only NDSU’s 33-game streak from 2012 through 2014.

Houston has the Dukes zeroing in on back-to-back titles, with top-seed JMU facing fifth-seed South Dakota State Saturday afternoon in one of the two FCS semifinal matchups.

“James Madison is a special place. Amanda, our boys and I want to be here and consider this home,” Houston said. “JMU approached me in the second half of the regular season to discuss an extended contract. During negotiations, there was significant interest from multiple FBS programs. Throughout the process, JMU was proactive in wanting to make a long-term commitment while ensuring that our staff could remain intact. I’ve turned down opportunities at the FBS level, and I did it because I believe in James Madison University. I believe in the leadership of Jeff Bourne, Senior Vice President Charlie King and President Jonathan Alger. I believe in their vision for our university and our athletics programs. I also believe in our student-athletes, everyone in athletics who supports us and the passionate fan base that cheers for us. I am committed to ensuring that the JMU football program is one that is a reflection of our outstanding institution. I’m committed to staying here because JMU is different.”

Georgia’s Latavious Brini arrested on felony forgery charge

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For the third time since winning the SEC championship nearly two weeks ago, a member of the Georgia football program has found himself on the wrong side of the law.

The Macon Telegraph and Rivals.com are both reporting Tuesday night that Latavious Brini has been arrested on a first-degree felony charge of forgery.  Brini was arrested shortly after six local time earlier today and released from the Athens-Clarke County (Ga.) Jail a couple of hours later after posting a $5,700 bond.

No details of what led to the arrest and charge have been released.

Brini was a three-star member of UGA’s 2017 recruiting class.  The linebacker hasn’t played a down for the Bulldogs as a true freshman.

Earlier this month, Natrez Patrick and Jayson Stanley were arrested on marijuana-related charges.