Alabama, Texas A&M and the Heisman

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Beyond all the national implications of Saturday’s huge Alabama-Texas A&M showdown, there is the matter of how it will affect the race for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

Last season’s 29-24 upset win by the Aggies over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa helped propel Johnny Manziel to an improbable Heisman. His 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns was remarkable, but his performance against Alabama assured he would become the first freshman to take home the trophy.

Almost one year later, the situation has changed. Manziel is well-established as the premier player in college football, but the obstacles in place between him and another Heisman are many.

It’s no coincidence that there’s only been one two-time Heisman winner, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, who captured the trophy in 1974 and 1975. But almost 40 years of perspective hints to us that Griffin’s repeat was probably a matter of happenstance, a case of the Heisman electorate temporarily falling asleep at the wheel

Think of some of the amazing players who had a chance to pull it off but couldn’t: Doc Blanchard of Army, Doak Walker of SMU, Roger Staubach of Navy, Billy Sims of Oklahoma, Ty Detmer of BYU, Matt Leinart of USC and Tim Tebow of Florida.  The failure of these players to win that second trophy raised the bar for future players attempting a shot at it. After all, the next player to match Griffin’s feat will have to be put on the short list of all-time college football legends, right? The Heisman electorate went against normal convention and selected a freshman last time around.  Casually doling out two Heismans is another story.

Add to that the matter of Manziel’s off-season, off-field antics, and the chances of him repeating are remote.

But if Manziel is going to be the one to defy history and take his place in that pantheon of all-time greats, it all starts with what he does on Saturday. A prolific performances against the Tide would give him plenty of momentum in the race and probably assure that he at least gets a return invite to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Playing poorly in a loss to Alabama means his Heisman hopes will be officially vanquished. He’ll have to be satisfied with his one trophy.

But Manziel isn’t the only Heisman candidate in this game. There’s also A.J. McCarron, the Tide’s senior quarterback. He led the nation in passing efficiency last season while guiding his team to its second-straight national title. While he’s off to a slow start so far, he has a chance to do what no other quarterback has ever done — win three straight titles. If he plays well in leading Bama to a victory over the Aggies, he’ll be in the Heisman conversation and have a chance to get to New York if he finishes the season strong. But if Alabama loses, you can probably kiss his Heisman hopes goodbye.

When these two teams last met, the Heisman race was a mess and waiting for a player to take control. Manziel did that. But this season they meet in the early stages of the race, with several strong contenders still vying for the trophy. It’s unlikely that the outcome of this game will have the same positive impact it had last year, unless we see another legendary performance take place.

Knowing Manziel and McCarron, it could happen.

UCF’s 25-game winning streak now longest in all of college football

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When we say a streak, a stat, a side of the ball is the best in college football, typically it’s implied such a statement applies only to FBS. The game’s highest division gobbles up 99.9 percent of the attention, and with good reason — that’s where 99.9 percent of the best players live.

But when we say UCF’s 25-game winning streak is now the longest in college football, it’s actually true now.

Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) knocked off Mount Union (Ohio) 24-16 in the Division III National Championship on Friday night, in the process ending the Purple Raiders’ 29-game winning streak and handing UCF the crown.

According to a CFT study, half of the nation’s 10 longest winning streaks reside in the FBS, and with good reason. While the other divisions funnel all their best teams into one bracket in order to find the very best team, FBS puts only four teams in its tournament, allowing UCF to put together two straight unbeaten seasons (minus one game) without competing for the national championship.

Top 10 College Football Winning Streaks
1. UCF — 25 games
2. North Dakota State (FCS) — 20
3(t). Alabama — 15
3(t). Mary Hardin-Baylor (Division III) — 15
3(t). Morningside (NAIA) — 15
3(t). Valdosta State (Division II) — 15
7(t). Clemson — 13
7(t). Notre Dame — 13
9. Princeton (FCS) — 10
10. Army — 8

Certainly the Knights would trade their 25-game winning streak for a shot at Alabama, Clemson and the like, but their consolation prize is the longest winning streak in all of college football — for as long as they keep winning.

Oregon lands commitment from nation’s No. 2 player

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Mario Cristobal got the biggest win of his Oregon head coaching tenure on Saturday, the Ducks don’t play again until New Year’s Eve.

Oregon landed the commitment of 5-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on Saturday, a 6-foot-4, 239-pound defensive end out of Oaks Christian in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thibodeaux announced his pledge on ESPN during halftime of Utah State’s New Mexico Bowl drubbing of North Texas.

Thibodeaux is rated the No. 1 player in ESPN’s rankings and No. 10 by Rivals and 247Sports. Those rankings put him at No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, trailing only IMG Academy defensive end Nolan Smith, a Georgia commit.

Oregon beat out Alabama, Florida and Florida State for Thibodeaux’s services.

“There were a lot of reasons why I chose Oregon,” Thibodeaux said, via 247Sports. “I have a great comfort level with the coaching staff and I know I can go in there and get developed. I’ve known coach (Keith) Heyward since I was just a freshman and I really like coach Joe (Salave’a, DL coach) a lot. He’s a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country and I can’t wait to learn from him.

Thibodeaux will be only the third 247Sports Composite top-2 player to sign with a Pac-12 school in the past decade, following USC’s Matt Barkley in 2009 and UCLA’s Jalean Phillips in 2017. As a cautionary tale for all in Eugene, neither player really lived up to his respective billing. Barkely did not lead USC back to the elite of college football and has thrown just 174 passes as a mid-round NFL draft pick, while Phillips is reportedly leaving the team after two seasons at UCLA.

With Thibodeaux now in the fold, Oregon’s 2019 class now ranks No. 5 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, a 20-man class that includes 11 4-stars and now a 12th blue chip player in Thibodeaux.

Morningside College claims first NAIA national title

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A 16-yard touchdown pass from Trent Solsma to Connor Niles with 1:29 remaining handed Morningside College its first NAIA national championship on Saturday, capping a 35-28 win over Benedictine in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Morningside College is located Sioux City, Iowa, while Benedictine College is in Atchison, Kan.

The Solsma-to-Niles connection was massive for Morningside. Solsma completed 19-of-36 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions, with the bulk of the damage going to Niles, who caught seven passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns.

The game started with a Shaefer Schuetz 26-yard touchdown pass for Benedictine, as the Ravens held leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 20-14 — all in the first half. But the Morningside defense stepped up in the second half, allowing the Mustangs to take control of the game with two Solsma touchdown passes, the first an 80-yarder to Niles, then a 19-yard score to Reid Jurgensmeier, putting Morningside in front 28-20 at the 9:53 mark of the third quarter.

Benedictine forged the game’s third tie with a 1-yard Frank Trent rush with 5:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, then had a chance to take the lead again after forcing a Morningside punt, but a holding call killed the Ravens’ drive and then disaster struck when a botched punt snap handed Morningside the ball at the Benedictine 18-yard line with two minutes remaining. On a 3rd-and-8 from the 16, Solsma found Niles for the winning score.

“It was going to him no matter what,” Solsma said. “He’s made big plays his entire career. This was no different.”

Niles’ catch, the last of his career, saw him finish with 6,175 career receiving yards, the most in NAIA history.

“I just remember catching it and then going to my knees,” Niles said. “After that, it was all cameras and teammates mobbing me. This is absolutely amazing.”

Morningside had been on the cusp of their first national title for the majority of the decade; the Mustangs lost the NAIA title game in 2012 and then fell in the NAIA semifinals in four of the past five seasons. The semifinal round saw Morningside avenge its 2016 and ’17 playoff losses to the University of Saint Francis — who would go on to win those seasons’ national titles — in a 34-28 overtime thriller.

“I’ve been motivated to not let this season end,” Morningside head coach Steve Ryan said. “The toughest part for me was that, at the end of the night, the year would be over. I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished. It ended the way we were hoping … I’m ecstatic.”

Report: Former No. 1 recruit Jaelan Phillips leaves team at UCLA

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UCLA linebacker Jaelan Phillips has left the team and is unlikely to return, according to a report from BruinReportOnline.

Phillips, a Redlands, Calif., native, was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He enrolled in January of that year but has yet to make an impact one would expect of the top overall player in his class. He started his first game as a Bruin as well as three more in 2017 and finished the year with 21 tackles, seven TFLs and 3.5 sacks.

He appeared in just four games as a sophomore, posting 20 tackles with one sack, while battling a number of injuries.

According to the report, Phillips is considering quitting football altogether, but if he does transfer and play elsewhere — he would have two years of eligibility remaining — it would be at a school that offers a music production/technology degree, which UCLA does not.