2013 presents a new challenge for A&M’s Johnny Manziel

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Everything about Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel caught the rest of the college football world off guard in 2012. With a new coach — Kevin Sumlin — and a new conference — the SEC West — the Aggies weren’t predicted by some *ahem* to even go bowling, much less finish 11-2 with perhaps the best individual victory of the season on the road against Alabama last November.

Meanwhile, the stars aligned perfectly for Manziel. The redshirt freshman emerged from an offseason quarterback battle where he was presumed to play the role of backup and ended up as one of the most exciting players in the country — not to mention the first ever freshman, redshirt or otherwise, to win the Heisman.

Neither Manziel nor A&M will have the element of surprise on their side in 2013. Nevertheless, the expectations in College Station are as high as they’ve ever been. The Aggies begin spring practice on Saturday, the first steps toward what the Aggie faithful feels could be a season even more special than the last.

As it should be, Sumlin’s fear is complacency. When asked what his Heisman trophy winning quarterback can improve upon this year, Sumlin replied “his footwork, his mechanics, his thought process and overall knowledge of the offense.”

Coachspeak at its finest? Sure, but understand this: 12 opposing teams now have tape on Manziel.

What has helped Manziel, and what will continue to help him, are his improvisation skills that seem better suited for Second City in Chicago than a football field. First glance tells you there’s simply no defensive scheme that will contain this:

Manziel’s “roll outta bed and ball” game is terrifying, but there are habits, tendencies, weaknesses in it. They just have to be found, and there’s plenty of time between now and the start of the 2013 season for opposing coaches to find them. Great mechanics and the ability to understand defenses are qualities every quarterback should rely on; the extra mobility Manziel displays should be a compliment to that, not a substitute.

Then there’s the issue of A&M’s offensive line. The last time we saw it collectively as one unit, it was giving Manziel an eternity to throw in a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. Can it hold up similarly in 2013? Although Luke Joeckel is gone — perhaps as the first pick in this year’s draft — Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi are back, so turnover along the O-line isn’t as bad as it could be.

Still, and even with his improvisational skills, Manziel had it made in 2012. Add in a pair of new coordinators with the departure of Kliff KIngsbury to Texas Tech, and the situation isn’t quite the same for Manziel in 2013.

But will he, and A&M, be as successful? Manziel showed he can handle the spotlight in the post-Heisman craze, but now comes the task of improving his game. That’s where the next several months factor in.

UMass adds Florida State, Pitt, Auburn and others to future schedules beyond 2021

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It’s apparently a big week on the schedule front for FBS independents.

While UConn and Maryland announced a new home-and-home series in what is always going to be known as the Randy Edsall bowl, fellow New England independent UMass had a number of dates added to their calendar this week too.

According to the school, the Minutemen have confirmed several dates and games against Power Five opponents as well as a host of other smaller programs being added to the team’s future docket including:

  • at Pitt on Sept. 4, 2021
  • at Florida State on Oct. 23, 2021
  • at Auburn on Sept. 2, 2023

In addition, FCS foes like Merrimack (Nov. 4, 2023) and Wagner (Sept. 21, 2024) were scheduled. Two other contests were moved as well, including a game against Boston College from Sept. 2022 to Sept. 6, 2025. A game against New Mexico State was shifted up into Week 0 and is now set for Aug. 26, 2023 as well.

The moves give UMass five of their 12 games for 2021-2024 while there’s even more work left to be done beyond that.

“We’ve been hard at work over the last nine months building competitive future schedules that will allow our Independent program to grow and be challenged,” AD Ryan Bamford said in a release. “We are pleased with our scheduling progress and ability to secure agreements with a mix of Power Five, Group of Five and regional FCS opponents.”

The Minutemen host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and have notable games coming up against Army, Northwestern and BYU down the stretch in 2019.

Designs released for UAB’s future stadium in downtown Birmingham

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It’s truly been remarkable how far UAB has come since the program was shuttered just a few years ago but the next major step in the rebirth of the Blazers came on Wednesday as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex unveiled the latest plans for the upcoming $175 million football stadium that the CUSA program will soon call home.

You can check out the latest renderings here.

The 45,000 seat venue is designed to host a number of different events once completed in 2021 but the primary purpose each fall will be UAB home games. As you would expect, all the modern design elements for a stadium nowadays are incorporated, such as suites, open concourses, a large press box and a hefty number of restrooms (including nearly double the number for women than men).

The price tag for everything is set at right around $175 million for the project, with bids going out sometime later this fall and an estimated date of completion prior to the 2021 season starting in late August.

The biggest question left about the stadium now might be not whether it will actually get built but what the Blazers will be playing on in terms of the surface. The school has reportedly expressed interest in having turf but the area trying to attract major soccer matchups could mean the venue has a grass field instead.

Either way, UAB remarkable turnaround on the gridiron took another big step this week and is poised to make a giant leap come 2021.

QB Artur Sitkowski to start for Rutgers against Boston College with McLane Carter not cleared from concussion

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Boston College’s bid to avoid losing to both Kansas and Rutgers in the same season may have received a slight boost thanks to the quarterback situation this week with the Scarlet Knights.

Speaking to the media on Thursday after practice, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed that starting signal-caller Carter McLane remains in the school’s concussion protocol and will not play on Saturday against the Eagles. That means the job falls on last year’s starter in Artur Sitkowski for the Scarlet Knights.

“(Carter) is still day-to-day (and) hasn’t practiced so he won’t be cleared to play,” Ash said according to NJ.com. “I’ve got nothing but 100 percent confidence and belief in Art. We talked all through training camp about the battle between the two. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference. The biggest one was just at the moment McLane was a fifth-year player and had a little bit more experience. But Art had a tremendous training camp, and the players, the coaches, everybody has nothing but 100 percent faith and trust in him to go out and lead the team. And we’re excited for him to do that.”

Carter, a grad transfer from Texas Tech, started the opener against UMass but was knocked out of last week’s shutout loss to Iowa after a hard hit in the first half. Sitkowski replaced him the rest of the way and will now make his first start of 2019.

A former four-star out of IMG Academy, Sitkowski was handed the reigns of the team as a true freshman last season and made 11 starts at Rutgers… with things not exactly going well under center considering he threw for just over 1,100 yards with four touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He’ll have a chance for redemption on Saturday against Boston College, which leads the ACC in interceptions but did give up a number of big passing plays in their shocking loss to Kansas last week.

Interestingly enough, the move to elevate Sitkowski in the wake of McLane’s concussion means that former Eagles quarterback Johnny Langan will now be the No. 2 QB for Rutgers in the game against his old team.

Lane Kiffin thinks UCF should be in top 10: ‘They looked just like an ACC or SEC team’

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Lane Kiffin is a believer… in a newsworthy in-state rival.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports, the always talkative Florida Atlantic head coach threw his weight behind UCF being a top 10 team this season and even a College Football Playoff contender had they been starting veteran QB McKenzie Milton. 

“They looked just like an ACC or SEC team,” said Kiffin. “Not Alabama or Clemson, but one of the top teams in both of those conferences. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting. They have skill. Normally in the Group of Five they have skill players but not the [size on] the lines, well UCF has long and good-looking linemen.”

Kiffin would know having seen the Knights up close each of the past two seasons, including a 48-14 blowout by the defending AAC champions down in Boca Raton earlier in September. A former offensive coordinator in the SEC, he also got a good look at one of this season’s elite programs too considering FAU opened the year with a 45-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus.

Though Kiffin doesn’t have a vote in the weekly Coaches Poll, he did add he’d rank UCF as high as No. 5 but certainly in the top 10, blaming the name on the front of the Knights’ jersey as much as anything for why they’re not being taken seriously nationally.