Johnny Manziel, Aggies blocking Missouri’s path to Atlanta

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The last time Missouri won a conference championship the nation was still in awe over Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to walk on the moon. Just two months after Armstrong took one giant step for man and one giant leap for mankind, Missouri opened the 1969 season with a 19-17 victory over Air Force. It was the first of nine wins for the Tigers that season, which ended with a Big 8 championship and a loss in the Orange Bowl against Penn State and Joe Paterno, in his fourth season as a head coach in State College. That is how long it has been since Missouri enjoyed a conference championship. It has been a long time to come for the school, and a victory on Saturday will present an opportunity to celebrate a conference championship generations in the making.

All that is standing in the way, for now, is Texas A&M and their 2012 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. Get by the Aggies and then a date with Alabama or Auburn will await them in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

Missouri needs to win this game in order to make a trip to Atlanta. A loss by Missouri will send South Carolina back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since the 2010 season. South Carolina has already wrapped up their SEC schedule for the year — the Gamecocks host in-state rival Clemson, of the ACC, this weekend — and they own the tiebreaker with Missouri thanks to a head-to-head overtime victory on October 26 at Missouri. Missouri should be feeling good about their chances against Texas A&M after going on the road and welcoming back quarterback James Franklin to the field. Franklin completed 12 of 19 passes for 142 yards at Ole Miss in his first game back after missing time due to a shoulder injury. Maty Mauk filled in admirably in his place, giving Missouri head coach Gary Pinkell a little extra confidence in knowing his team can keep moving forward in the face of adversity.

Texas A&M is coming off a 34-10 loss at LSU last weekend. It was a game that forced many to suggest Manziel fell out of the Heisman Trophy race. To be fair, it was Manziel’s worst performance as a starting quarterback over the past two seasons, with the 2012 Heisman winner completing just 16 of 41 pass attempts for 224 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions. Manziel did not get much support though, with the Aggies getting gashed for 517 yards by LSU’s offense, including 324 yards on the ground. That will serve as the blueprint for Missouri this weekend as well, and should work out well. Missouri has the SEC’s second-leading rushing offense behind Auburn, averaging 238.0 yards per game. The Aggies have allowed a SEC worst 221.0 rushing yards per game. If Missouri sticks to the game plan and lets Henry Josey control the tempo with steady carries mixed in with some complimentary Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, the Tigers should be able to have their way with Texas A&M at home.

The key to utilizing the running game to their advantage will be keeping Manziel and Mike Evans, the SEC’s best wide receiver, off the field as much as possible. The Aggies have quick-strike ability any time that duo is on the field, but Missouri will counter with one of the SEC’s more turnover-happy pass defenses. Missouri gives up a lot of passing yards, so Manziel should be able to rack up some good numbers in his regular season finale. Missouri also leads the conference in interceptions, with 18 to 14 touchdowns allowed, so Missouri will also likely come up with some Manziel passes at times. Capitalizing on them will be important as much as running as much clock as possible.

Missouri may not want to get in to a shootout with Manziel and the Aggies, but Texas A&M has come up short  in a pair of high-scoring games this season already s it should not be something Missouri fears.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.

Third ex-Vandy football player sentenced to 15 years for rape

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A third former Vanderbilt football player will spend a sizable portion of his adult life behind bars.

In June of this year, Brandon Banks was found guilty on one count each of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery related to a 2013 gang rape of an unconscious woman. Friday, Banks was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In July of last year, one of Banks’ former teammates, Cory Batey, was sentenced to 15 years after being found guilty of aggravated rape. Four months later, another former Vandy football player, Brandon Vandenburg, was sentenced to 17 years after being found guilty of the same charge as Batey. The judge gave Vandenburg a longer sentence than Batey because the former was the leader in the attack and betrayed the woman’s trust.

Banks, Vandenburg, Batey and another ex-Vandy football player, Jaborian ‘Tip’ McKenziewere initially charged Aug. 9, 2013, with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery each after a police investigation determined that the four had raped an unconscious woman.

On June 28 of 2013, Vanderbilt announced that four unnamed players had been indefinitely suspended amid reports that the players were connected to an alleged sex crimes case.  The next day, Vandy officials further clarified the players’ statuses, releasing a statement announcing the dismissals of the four.  That release further added that none of the four will be permitted to return to campus without permission from the office of student conduct and academic integrity.

McKenzie has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.  He has agreed to testify against his former teammates in exchange for what he hopes is a lighter sentence.

Georgia Tech dismisses leading rusher Dedrick Mills

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I believe this one would qualify as a significant development.

In a very brief press release, Georgia Tech announced Friday afternoon that Dedrick Mills has been dismissed by Paul Johnson from the football team.  The only reason given was an unspecified violation of Tech athletics department rules.

The head coach is expected to meet with the media following practice later on this afternoon.

Regardless of the specific reason for the dismissal, Mills’ departure serves as yet another blow for the run-heavy Yellow Jackets.

Last season, Mills’ 771 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns led all Tech ball carriers.  169 of those yards came in the bowl win over Kentucky.  Mills put up all of those numbers as a true freshman despite being suspended on two different occasions for a total of three games.

Mills’ dismissal is the second huge blow to their 2017 running game as Marcus Marshall, who was second on the team last season with 624 yards, announced in late November that he would be transferring from Tech.  Less than a month later, he moved on to James Madison.

With those twin departures, Clinton Lynch‘s 415 yards last season makes him the team’s leading returning rusher.