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.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.