Alabama-A&M: the Tale of the Tape

8 Comments

Game of the Century?  Try Game of the Millennium.

While that may be overhyping it a little — hell, it’s overhyping it by a wide margin — Alabama-Texas A&M still has all the makings of an instant classic.

The defending BCS champions coming to town seeking revenge for its lone loss in 2012?  Check.

Johnny Manziel attempting an upset repeat — UA’s an eight-point favorite — coming off a controversy-filled offseason? Check.

Two teams ranked in the Top Six holding very realistic title aspirations, with the winner coming out with a clear path to the SEC championship game and thus a BCS title shot?  Check.

The Johnny Cam may be over the top, but the coverage dedicated to the game leading up to it is not.  Even for the third week of the regular season, a game featuring two SEC West heavyweights is indeed that important — and that’s armed with the knowledge the Tide still managed to win its division… and its conference… and the BCS title despite the loss to the Aggies in 2012.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a position-by-position look, after the jump, at how the two gridiron gladiators matchup:

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks
Alabama: AJ McCarron is not the electrifying on-field presence his counterpart on the opposing sidelines is — nor the lightning rod off of it — but all the senior has done is play a big part in guiding the Tide to back-to-back BCS titles, a big chunk of which is his disdain for handing the ball back to the opposition — he’s thrown just nine interceptions in 665 pass attempts the past two-plus seasons.  Sleep on McCarron’s underrated passing ability at your own peril, though; the past two seasons, he’s thrown 46 touchdowns for the run-happy Tide.

Texas A&M: Coming off a season in which his team won 11 games in its first season in the SEC and he took home the Heisman, Johnny Manziel‘s offseason was one negative headline after the other, culminating in a half-game suspension for the opener.  Make no mistake, though, Johnny Football, despite the off-field distractions, is still one of the most dynamic run/pass talents at the quarterback position in the country.  He will prove to be one of the stiffest offensive tests for the Tide all season.

Advantage: Texas A&M

Running backs
Alabama: Go four-deep — hell, maybe even five-deep — on the Tide’s depth chart at this position, and you’ll find backups who could start for scores of other FBS programs in the country.  In just a little over a season at the FBS level, sophomore T.J. Yeldon has turned into one of the top backs in the country and a dark-horse Heisman contender.  Yes, the Tide is loaded in the backfield on paper, and they’re not afraid to use that talent on the field.  Perhaps the only thing that could hold back the deep stable of backs?  An offensive line still trying to find itself.

Texas A&M: While not exactly ‘Bama deep, the Aggies, with Ben Molina and Tra Carson and others, are not exactly bereft of playmakers in the backfield.  With a sizable chunk of a defense’s focus on Manziel’s ability to not only make plays in the passing game but also hurt you with his legs, the opportunities could be there for A&M backs to cause some damage.

Advantage: Alabama

Receivers
Alabama: With so much attention paid to the quarterback… and the running backs… and the defense, this group might very well be the most underrated aspect of the 2013 Crimson Tide.  Amari Cooper and Christion Jones provide a formidable one-two punch in the passing game and will test a weakened Aggies defense that will be without a starting safety.  Provided McCarron can be kept upright, of course.

Texas A&M: Talent-wise, you could argue that the Aggie side of the ledger trumps what the Tide offers.  Add in experience, though, and outside of Mike Evans, the Aggies and Manziel are still trying to identify some reliability and dependability at the position.  Ryan Swope (11-111-1 vs. Tide last year) will be missed, but his departure also presents an opportunity for a young player — Ricky Seals-Jones? — to burst into the national consciousness.

Advantage: Alabama

Offensive line
Alabama: Normally a bastion of reliability and stability and outstanding play, the Tide’ line struggled mightily in the season opener, especially in the run game.  Late last month against Virginia Tech, the Tide ran for 96 yards on 38 carries, a paltry average of 2.5 yards per carry; last season, Alabama’s 5.6 ypc was tied for fourth in the country.  Replacing three starters from that 2012 group, it was known it would take time for the new unit to come together.  With the road game against the Aggies on tap, the Tide needs to hope that the bye week was the perfect elixir to expedite the gelling process.

Texas A&M: Despite the loss of Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall NFL draft pick), the Aggies still possess one of the top lines in not only the SEC, but in all of college football.  All five of A&M’s starters are considered potential NFL draft picks, with starting left tackle Jake Matthews a likely first-round selection next year.  There may be question marks when it comes to the Aggies, but this unit isn’t even remotely close to being one of them.

Advantage: Texas A&M

DEFENSE

Defensive line
Alabama: As much concern as there is with the offensive line, there’s little or none on the other side of the ball. Sure, there were some hiccups in the opener against Tech — 153 yards allowed on the ground, albeit for less than five yards per carry (4.6) — as the Tide worked in new full-time starters, but the talent is among the best in the country along the defensive front.  Manziel and his offensive line, though, will provide a true test of just how talented and, with their fast-paced offense, deep this unit truly is.

Texas A&M: Like ‘Bama, A&M was forced to replace a couple of veteran and productive members of this unit.  Unlike their Saturday opposition, they don’t have nearly the quality depth, at least not at the moment.  Starting defensive end Gavin Stansbury was suspended for the first two games of the season while starting nose tackle Kirby Ennis was suspended for the opener; both are back, which will obviously help going up against the Tide’s stable of backs.  The Hokies in the opener gave the Aggies the blueprint for making McCarron uncomfortable in the pocket.  Any lessons learned from that could play a significant role in the outcome.

Advantage: Alabama

Linebackers
Alabama: After losing just Nico Johnson following the 2012 season, the starters in this group are among the most experienced and talented of any team the Aggies will face.  One of the returnees, C.J. Mosley, is expected to be Manziel’s shadow Saturday, taking over spy duties on the Heisman winner.  How well the future first-round draft pick gets his CIA on could go a long way in determining how big of an impact Manziel has on the game — and which side heads off the Kyle Field turf with arms held high in victory instead of head hung low in defeat.

Texas A&M: Steven Jenkins is one of the most underrated players at his position in college football.  Outside of Jenkins, and this early in the season, there are question marks in the middle third of A&M’s defense.  The defense in general and this unit in particular have been subpar through two games — 899 total yards allowed to Rice and Sam Houston State — but that could be attributed in large part to suspensions and injuries to the defense as a whole.

Advantage: Alabama

Secondary
Alabama: If you’re looking for a weakness in the Tide defense… you won’t find it here, either.  Losing quality players like Dee Milliner and Robert Lester would be a significant blow to most defenses; as is the case at several positions, the Tide simply reloads with experienced vets — John FultonVinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix included — mixed in with young four- and five-star talents.  Veteran Deion Belue will likely be charged with sticking to Mike Evans, although help should be at his disposal if needed.

Texas A&M: The Aggies have exceptional talent in this group, especially at the cornerback position — Deshazor Everett (game-saving INT vs. Bama) and De’Vante Harris.  The loss of Floyd Raven to a broken collarbone will hurt, as will the fact that, due to various injuries and suspensions, this unit has not had a whole lot of time together on the field this season.  Keep an eye on Raven’s replacement (Clay Honeycutt?) and if McCarron/Cooper/Jones attempts to test him and Howard Matthews in the deep passing game early on.

Advantage: Alabama

Special teams
Alabama: Christion Jones returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in the opener.  Cade Foster did not attempt a field goal in the opener, but connected on just four of nine attempts last season as the Tide’s long-range kicker; if this game is close and comes down to Foster’s leg, Tide fans wouldn’t be wrong in being concerned.  Cody Mandell averaged just over 44 yards a punt last season, and is at just over 46 yards after one game.

Texas A&M: As individually impressive as the Tide’s Jones was in the opener, the Aggies can match that with quantity.  While Drew Kaser has punted just four times, he’s averaged 54.8 per boot, including a long of 76 in the opener.  Despite his youth — this is his first season as the Aggies’ regular punter — he has the leg to help shift field position.  As is the case with the Tide, the confidence is not there quite yet in Taylor Bertolet (no relation), who hit on just 59-percent of his 22 field goal attempts last season; this year he’s missed one of three attempts.

Advantage:  Push

Coaching
Alabama: Lemme see, four BCS championships, three of which have come at Alabama; five SEC championships, three of which have come at Alabama; 68 wins during the last five seasons in Tuscaloosa heading into 2013, with 61 of them coming the past four years; the No. 1 Rivals.com recruiting class five of the past six years.  Alabama is the football program by which all others are measured, and Nick Saban is the gold standard for every other head coach at the FBS level.

Texas A&M: In my opinion, and I felt very strongly about this prior to his arrival in College Station, Kevin Sumlin is one of the top young coaches in the game.  He went out and proved it right out of the gate in 2012, leading the Aggies to an 11-win season and a woodshedding of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in A&M’s first season in the SEC.  If Sumlin stays at the collegiate level, he could be one of the best the game has ever seen; right now, though, he’s not Saban.

Advantage: Alabama

Intangibles
Alabama:  There’s the revenge angle, with the Tide looking to avenge their only loss last season.  There’s the prep angle, with Saban and his coaching staff having, unlike last year, an entire offseason to study and prepare for A&M’s unique offensive attack. And then there’s this: going back to his time at LSU, Saban is 15-2 against teams that beat him in their previous meeting.

Texas A&M: Take your pick for the Aggies.  The Kyle Field homefield advantage, with the 12th Man in full throat amidst what will reportedly be just a few thousand Crimson Tide fans who were able to secure tickets.  The confidence of having been there, done that in beating Alabama last season — in Tuscaloosa no less.  And Johnny Football, who can singlehandedly take over a game whenever his team needs it.

Advantage: Push

PREDICTION: For my prediction of the game, as well as that of Chris Huston and Kevin McGuire, click HERE.

Top seven remains the same in latest CFP rankings

Getty Images
7 Comments

The third edition of the 2019 College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday, and the top seven teams remained the same from last week’s rankings. This means, as expected, Alabama remained No. 5 following the devastating loss of Tua Tagovailoa.

Minnesota remained in striking distance following their loss to Iowa (now at No. 17) at No. 10, with No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State (potentially) still on their schedule. Oklahoma and Penn State moved one spot apiece, keeping the Top 10 stagnant.

Auburn fell three spots to No. 15, one spot behind No. 14 Baylor, who will spend the week wondering how high they would’ve climbed if the rankings were taken at halftime on Saturday night.

Memphis swapped spots with Cincinnati as the highest-rated Group of 5 team at No. 18; the Tigers and Bearcats SMU rejoined the rankings after falling out last week. They were joined by Iowa State at No. 22, who replaced then-No. 19 Texas, and USC at No. 23.

The full rankings:

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Georgia
5. Alabama
6. Oregon
7. Utah
8. Penn State
9. Oklahoma
10. Minnesota
11. Florida
12. Wisconsin
13. Michigan
14. Baylor
15. Auburn
16. Notre Dame
17. Iowa
18. Memphis
19. Cincinnati
20. Boise State
21. Oklahoma State
22. Iowa State
23. USC
24. Appalachian State
25. SMU

Georgia photographer hospitalized by Brian Herrian shares final photo before collision

Getty Images
1 Comment

It’ll be a fun story to share for years to come, and thank God for that. Because at the time it looked so much worse.

Late in the first half of No. 4 Georgia’s 21-14 win over No. 12 Auburn, Georgia running back Brian Herrien ran into a photographer on the sideline. The photographer’s identity was not immediately known, but the game stopped for several minutes as she laid motionless on the Jordan-Hare Stadium sideline before she was eventually carted out of the stadium.

She was later identified as Chamberlain Smith, an intern in the UGA sports information department. Smith was taken to the East Alabama Medical Center in nearby Opelika, where she was diagnosed with a concussion, an eye bruise and a cut above her right eye, presumably from when her camera forcefully collided wither her head.

“I haven’t had a chance to respond to everyone, but I just wanted to say thank you all so much for the overwhelming outpouring of support in the form of kind comments, messages & prayers!! .. last night was very scary, but I’m so glad to be walking away with nothing more than a concussion & some bruises,” Smith tweeted Sunday. “I will be home resting & recovering for the next several days, but I’m looking forward to being back on the sidelines soon!”

Smith is recovering in her Ringgold, Ga., home recovering, and on Tuesday she tweeted the photo she paid such a price for.

Herrien retweeted the image with a message of support.

Smith, thankfully, will make a full recovery, and now she’ll have a photo to hang on her wall and a heckuva thousand words to go with it.

Mark Dantonio to return in 2020, per Mark Dantonio

Getty Images
3 Comments

From 2010-15, Michigan State was one of the very best programs in all of college football. Mark Dantonio‘s Spartans won 11 or more games five times in those six years, with Big Ten titles in 2010, ’13 and ’15. They finished in the AP Top 6 from 2013-15, and in ’13 and ’15 they knocked off undefeated teams in the Big Ten Championship — Ohio State in 2013, thereby knocking the Buckeyes out of the final BCS title game, and Iowa in 2015, knocking the Hawkeyes out of the College Football Playoff and lifting themselves in. The 2013 team finished 13-1, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in both polls, the program’s best season since 1966.

But it’s not 2013 anymore.

After going 65-16 (41-9 Big Ten) from 2010-15, Michigan State has slunk to 24-24 (15-19 Big Ten) from 2016 on, including a 4-6 mark to date this season. The Spartans went just 7-6 in 2018, causing Mark Dantonio to play musical chairs in his offensive staff room in hopes of fixing an offense that finished 126th nationally in scoring. The move hasn’t worked; this year’s team is 110th. Don’t ask him about it, though, because Dantonio doesn’t like talking about that move.

All of this has cumulated in speculation that, rather than hit the reset button heading into Year 14 in East Lansing, Dantonio would call it quits. That thought never reached Dantonio’s mind.

On Tuesday, the 63-year-old told local media he plans to remain the Spartans’ coach in 2020.

Asked bluntly if he plans to lead the team onto the field for their 2020 opener against Northwestern, Dantonio responded bluntly. “Yes,” he said.

“My intentions are to be the head football coach here. I’ve always said I live in the present. I’ve always said that. There’s certain things that you have control of, there’s certain things you don’t have control of. I can’t control anything, but my intentions are there, yeah, absolutely,” he said, via the Detroit Free Press.

“My father always talked to me complete the circle, complete the circle. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

With that question, the conversation now turns to whether his shuffling-of-the-deck-chairs offensive staff can survive another sunk season.

“I don’t make decisions on that until I weigh out everything to the best that I can,” Dantonio told MLive. “Because probably I have the most knowledge in terms of what’s going on within our football team as to who did what in terms of was that a player, structure, coaching, officiating, all the underlying things that go along with that.”

The tipping point of this conversation seems to be Michigan. After going 7-1 against the Wolverines from 2008-15, Dantonio is now 1-3 since, including the 44-10 whipping in Ann Arbor that led many to openly wonder if the game has passed Dantonio by.

At 4-6, Michigan State will need to sweep Rutgers and Maryland (combined Big Ten record: 1-13) to avoid missing a bowl game for just the second time of his 13-year tenure… and the second time in the past four seasons.

City of San Diego entering negotiations for San Diego State to purchase Qualcomm Stadium site

Getty Images
3 Comments

You are reading the words of a person who cares not one lick about most of the creature comforts we have convinced ourselves are now necessary features of the modern football stadium. You’re there to watch a football game, after all. What more do you need besides a bleacher seat, maybe some popcorn, and a restroom close enough that will let you return to your seat before the second half kickoff? In my mind, the best place in the world to watch a football game is the Cotton Bowl — no, not AT&T Stadium during the Cotton Bowl Classic, the actual Cotton Bowl.

That said, I’m also not someone who believes that the past was always better, just because it was the past.

So, with all that said, Qualcomm Stadium is the worst football venue these eyes have ever seen. The upper decks might as well be in space, and if you’re sitting in the corner of the end zone, game action taking place just yards away is completely obstructed from view.

That’s why it’s a good thing that, according to the Times of San Diego, the San Diego city council on Monday authorized the city’s negotiators to proceed with discussing the sale of Qualcomm Stadium — sorry, SDCCU Stadium — to San Diego State.

The school originally offered to purchase the stadium site for $68.2 million back in 2017, but the city now has an offer for $86.2 million.

“The city currently spends about $11 million a year to maintain and operate the Mission Valley stadium site,” City Councilwoman Barbara Bry told the paper. “That’s over $30,000 a day in taxpayer money every day that we delay this transaction with San Diego State. We can’t afford not to move the project along in a timely manner.”

Negotiations are expected to begin in earnest in January, with closing happening by the end of the year. Once San Diego State takes possession of the site, the school would raze SDCCU Stadium and replace it with a 35,000-seat stadium that will serve as the anchor to what will be known as SDSU Mission Valley, home to a satellite campus, a park and commercial and residential space.

“The project is about the transformation of a community and the revitalization of public land,” San Diego State president Adela de la Torre said. “With your support, this can go down in history as one of the most meaningful San Diego milestones of the 21st century.”

The new SDSU stadium would be expected to open in time for the Aztecs’ 2022 stadium. Not one moment too soon.