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.

Receiving star of Western Kentucky’s spring game enters NCAA transfer database

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As one of five wide receivers signed as part of Western Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class, Manny Allen was a breakout star during the Hilltoppers’ spring game earlier this offseason. Now, it appears the receiver is seriously considering plying his football wares elsewhere.

According to 247Sports.com, Allen’s name is now listed in the NCAA transfer database, a move that allows other football programs to contact the player without receiving permission from WKU. Allen, of course, could also pull his name from the portal and remain with the Hilltoppers.

Conversely, the university can pull Allen’s scholarship during the semester in which he entered the portal.

Allen was a three-star member of WKU’s most recent recruiting class who put pen to paper during the December early signing period, which allowed him to participate in spring practice with his new teammates. Prior to signing with WKU, Allen, who at one point was rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports.com, had committed to Louisville (August of 2017), Nebraska (April of 2017) and USC (January of 2017).

A native of California, Allen was the highest-rated of the five receivers signed by the Hilltoppers this cycle.

During WKU’s spring game, Allen was on the receiving end of a pair of touchdown passes.

Status of Southern Miss’ leading receiver still up in the air

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Whether Southern Miss has a very key cog in its passing attack remains, at least for now, very much undecided.

In late January, it was reported that Quez Watkins had been forced to withdraw from Southern Miss and enroll at a junior college in an effort to get his academic house in order. According to Patrick Magee of the Biloxi Sun Herald, there is some positive news on the Watkins front as he writes that the wide receiver “is back on campus and taking classes at USM this summer.”

Magee adds that, “[i]f the redshirt junior hits all his marks in the classroom, he’ll be ready to take the field for the 2019 season.”

That said, the football program is still awaiting official word on Watkins’ status for the 2019 season, word that may not come until, at its outer reaches, sometime in August.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Watkins led the Golden Eagles in receptions (72), receiving yards (889) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Watkins’ nine scores accounted for nearly half of the team’s 19 touchdowns through the air.

BREAKING! Baker Mayfield still not a fan of Texas Longhorn football — or UT QB Sam Ehlinger

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We’ve reached that point of the college football offseason where a former college football player spitting vitriol in the general direction of a former college football rival is a prominent part of the news cycle.

Or, put another way: You can take the player out of college football, but you can’t take the rivalry out of the player.

As a Heisman-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Baker Mayfield went 3-0 as the starter under center against OU’s hated rival Texas. Even after his collegiate career culminated with a Heisman Trophy, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft wasn’t averse to throwing up a Horns Down gesture at the Longhorns…

In the here and now, Mayfield is set to enter his first full season as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Also in the here and now, Mayfield is also/still not averse to teaching impressionable and aspiring young football players the proper permutations of a perfectly-executed Horns Down.

Doubling down on that Horns Down lifestyle a week later, Mayfield, during an interview with a Norman radio station Wednesday, scoffed in the general direction of the “Texas is back” sentiment that surfaced following UT’s win over Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

“They said that when they beat Notre Dame a couple years ago [in 2016] and they won two or three games after that. I’m sick of that crap,” Mayfield, a Lake Travis High School product, said, before going on to excoriate UT starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a product of Lake Travis rival Westlake who has been a previous target of the Heisman winner’s jabs.

“He couldn’t even beat Lake Travis, so I don’t really care. His opinion on anything winning [doesn’t matter],” Mayfield said of Ehlinger during the interview. “Westlake is a great program, but the two best quarterbacks to come out of there are Drew Brees and Nick Foles. Sam can stay down there in Texas.”

“That will stir the pot. He doesn’t like me and I hope he knows I don’t like him either,” Mayfield added.

For those keeping score at home, the Ehlinger-led Texas Longhorns will face the Mayfield-less Oklahoma Sooners Oct. 12 in the 115th renewal of the Red River Shootout this season.  That next day, Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns will play host to the Seattle Seahawks, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the Horns Down agitator at the State Fair of Texas that weekend.

Probably.

Three-star 2019 Michigan State signee signs MLB contract

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Michigan State has become the latest FBS program to lose a player, albeit not through what’s become the standard portal exit.

In December of last year, Jase Bowen signed on as a member of MSU’s 2019 recruiting class and had intended to play both football and baseball for the Spartans.  Earlier this month, however, Brown was selected with the 334th overall pick (11th round) by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Major League Baseball draft.

On his Twitter account Wednesday evening, Bowen, a shortstop in the stick-and-ball sport, indicated that he has signed with the MLB club and will be, at least for now, eschewing a collegiate football career.

“Michigan State will always hold a special place in my heart, but today a childhood dream of mine came true,” Bowen wrote as he shared photos of himself signing his professional baseball contract.

Coming out of high school in Toledo, Bowen, who had been committed to play baseball at Notre Dame before interest in him as a football prospect ratcheted up, was a three-star recruit who was rated as the No. 25 football player at any position in the state of Ohio.  Bowen was the lowest-rated of the three receivers MSU added in the most recent signing cycle.

It should be noted that, should Bowen’s MLB career not play out in the manner in which he hopes, he could always return to the collegiate level and play football, at either MSU or elsewhere.