Alabama, Texas A&M and the Heisman

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Beyond all the national implications of Saturday’s huge Alabama-Texas A&M showdown, there is the matter of how it will affect the race for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

Last season’s 29-24 upset win by the Aggies over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa helped propel Johnny Manziel to an improbable Heisman. His 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns was remarkable, but his performance against Alabama assured he would become the first freshman to take home the trophy.

Almost one year later, the situation has changed. Manziel is well-established as the premier player in college football, but the obstacles in place between him and another Heisman are many.

It’s no coincidence that there’s only been one two-time Heisman winner, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, who captured the trophy in 1974 and 1975. But almost 40 years of perspective hints to us that Griffin’s repeat was probably a matter of happenstance, a case of the Heisman electorate temporarily falling asleep at the wheel

Think of some of the amazing players who had a chance to pull it off but couldn’t: Doc Blanchard of Army, Doak Walker of SMU, Roger Staubach of Navy, Billy Sims of Oklahoma, Ty Detmer of BYU, Matt Leinart of USC and Tim Tebow of Florida.  The failure of these players to win that second trophy raised the bar for future players attempting a shot at it. After all, the next player to match Griffin’s feat will have to be put on the short list of all-time college football legends, right? The Heisman electorate went against normal convention and selected a freshman last time around.  Casually doling out two Heismans is another story.

Add to that the matter of Manziel’s off-season, off-field antics, and the chances of him repeating are remote.

But if Manziel is going to be the one to defy history and take his place in that pantheon of all-time greats, it all starts with what he does on Saturday. A prolific performances against the Tide would give him plenty of momentum in the race and probably assure that he at least gets a return invite to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Playing poorly in a loss to Alabama means his Heisman hopes will be officially vanquished. He’ll have to be satisfied with his one trophy.

But Manziel isn’t the only Heisman candidate in this game. There’s also A.J. McCarron, the Tide’s senior quarterback. He led the nation in passing efficiency last season while guiding his team to its second-straight national title. While he’s off to a slow start so far, he has a chance to do what no other quarterback has ever done — win three straight titles. If he plays well in leading Bama to a victory over the Aggies, he’ll be in the Heisman conversation and have a chance to get to New York if he finishes the season strong. But if Alabama loses, you can probably kiss his Heisman hopes goodbye.

When these two teams last met, the Heisman race was a mess and waiting for a player to take control. Manziel did that. But this season they meet in the early stages of the race, with several strong contenders still vying for the trophy. It’s unlikely that the outcome of this game will have the same positive impact it had last year, unless we see another legendary performance take place.

Knowing Manziel and McCarron, it could happen.

There is a solar eclipse tomorrow, but Nick Saban has work to do

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Stores may be sold out of special solar eclipse glasses for what some are dubbing the Great American Eclipse on Monday, but Alabama head coach Nick Saban may be more likely to be found in his office preparing for a mega matchup to open the season next week.

Besides, Saban has seen how an eclipse works already because he is a devoted fan of The Weather Channel.

“I watch the Weather Channel every day,” Saban said Saturday, according to AL.com. “They’re already saying what it’s going to look like in every city in America. So, what’s going to be significant? Watch the Weather Channel and you’ll see what it’s going to be like in Portland, Oregon.”

That Saban sure is a curmudgeon, isn’t he? But that’s part of the legacy of Saban. Unless the eclipse can help Alabama win a game against Florida State in Atlanta next week, Saban has little time to worry about such nonsense. Otherwise, it is business as usual for Saban and Alabama. However, Saban will allow his players to take advantage of what is, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We’ll set it up so if the players want to go out there and get some sunglasses, I guess they can,” Saban said.

The eclipse is having a slight impact on some football practices around the country, including in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans, for example, have modified their practice schedule for Monday due to the eclipse and will organize a team party around the event.

“I thought what a cool thing to do, but then I thought I’d like them to finish practice and give them time to put the glasses on and really enjoy the experience,” Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said (per ESPN.com). “I wanted to be on the field when it happened, as a team, I thought it’d be a neat memory for these guys.”

Clearly, Mularkey is not watching the Weather Channel on a daily basis.

Kansas surprised four walk-ons with scholarships at Royals-Indians game

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There has been no shortage of videos and stories about walk-ons at various college football programs receiving scholarships by surprise. It is an annual tradition around college football during the offseason, and the fun and pure joy of the moment never gets old.

The Kansas Jayhawks took the game to a whole new level, and a whole new playing field this weekend.

Kansas took its football team out on Friday night to enjoy a Major League Baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. During the course of the game, four walk-on players — defensive end Mazin Aqi, offensive lineman Beau Lawrence, punter Cole Moos, and running back Reese Randall — were shown sitting next to each other on the video screen in Kauffman Stadium. As they were shown on the screen, a message popped up congratulating them on being awarded a scholarship.

Video of the players soaking in the moment and realizing they had just had their lives changed was captured by the Royals.

It sure beats the heck out of a stadium proposal.

Shane Buechele is almost Facebook official as starting Texas QB

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The college football season officially gets underway this week, but Tom Herman has another week to make some decisions about the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. If he had to make that call right now, Shane Buechele would be getting the starting nod in Austin.

“I’ve said over and over again that if we played a game tomorrow Shane Buechele would start,” Herman told reporters on Saturday, seemingly a bit frustrated with the question once again being asked, according to The Dallas Morning News. “We’ll get a depth chart to make it Facebook official, I guess. Is that what we’ve got to do?”

It is expected Herman will make a decision on his starting quarterback within the next week ahead of Texas’ season opener at home against Maryland of the Big Ten. Buechele was the full-time starter for the Longhorns last season, but a new coach taking over at a program tends to wipe the slate clean to start from scratch. Buechele has faced his stiffest competition for the job from freshman Sam Ehlinger, who enrolled in January and was able to work with the team in the spring.

Whatever his decision ends up being, Herman has not been overly optimistic about his offense. Instead, Herman has been praising the defense as the key to the upcoming season. For a team that allowed 448.3 yards per game last season to rank seventh in the Big 12 in total defense, and 31.5 points per game (8th in the Big 12 ahead of only Kansas and Texas Tech), Herman is either suggesting the defense has taken some strides in practices this year or the offense really does have a long way to go.

It should probably not come as a great surprise Texas may be better off on defense, given the brief Charlie Strong tenure. Strong was always known more for his defense so the seeds for a reputable defense may have been planted in Austin prior to Herman’s hiring. Now it is up to Herman to get the offense in gear.

Miami wideout Ahmmon Richards sits out Hurricanes’ scrimmage with pulled hamstring

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The focus in Miami’s preseason camp has been on the budding battle to be the starting quarterback but Mark Richt might have bigger concerns after an injury to another star offensive player.

The Hurricanes head coach confirmed to reporters on Saturday that receiver Ahmmon Richards missed the practice after he pulled his hamstring earlier in the week. Safe to say that’s not the kind of injury you want a burner like that to suffer right before the season starts.

The Palm Beach Post reports that senior Braxton Berrios stepped up in Richards’ absence during the scrimmage with six catches for 107 yards but things figure to be a little different against real opposing defenses this fall if his running mate can’t go full blast down the field like he potentially could.

Richards averaged 19 yards a catch last season and racked up nearly 1,000 yards through the air as a true freshman. He was expected to play a pivotal role in an offense that is breaking in a new signal-caller but, given the tricky nature of hamstring pulls and wide receivers, it could be a few weeks into the year before he trots out onto the field for the ‘Canes.