For all the offseason storylines. In 12 months, Johnny Manziel went from message board meme, to hero, to jet-setting socialite, to social impolosion tale, to potential amateurism casualty and now to known commodity. He’s defiant. He gives precisely zero f*cks. Like the Miami Hurricanes teams of decades past, how we interpret Johnny Manziel will depend on his on-field performance.
The refrain throughout the summer of Johnny was “wait for Sept. 15.” That “game of the millennium,” “national semifinal” or just much anticipated interaction between two prominent teams is here. Now, we find out whether the offseason hubbub about Mr. Effing Football was worthwhile.
What we know is Alabama should improve on offense over week one. Virginia Tech has what may be a top 10/15 level defense. Texas A&M? Not so much. The Aggies are 98th in yards allowed per play, after playing Rice and Sam Houston State. They rank 115th in yards allowed per carry. Being kind, their rebuilt defensive line has been unconvincing.
Alabama should be able to run the ball with Yeldon and understudies. That opens the play-action passing game and takes pressure off the pass protection, which was a liability against the Hokies.
The mystery is whether Nick Saban, perhaps the sport’s greatest defensive mind, has figured out how to stop, or at least contain Manziel. Texas A&M shredded Nick Saban’s customary up tempo spread counter last year. Chris Brown broke down how that happened for SB Nation. Maybe that’s something in the playbook. Maybe that’s something entirely new. Maybe it’s not even really that relevant, at least for Alabama.
Manziel was awesome last year. He made some absurd plays to win that game. But Alabama was the better team. They lost because they didn’t execute. It was the football golden rule – don’t turn the bleeping ball over – that foiled them. A.J. McCarron threw an early pick in his own half that led to a short touchdown drive. Two of their final three drives, both sustained advances into Texas A&M territory, ended with turnovers.
Alabama can overcome Manziel having an efficient passing day, running for nearly 100 yards and posting a few touchdowns. What they can’t do is beat themselves. There’s a reason Nick Saban had that game on repeat in the weight room, and it’s not (entirely) Johnny Manziel. Pick: Alabama -8, though not with our own money.
UCLA at Nebraska is your best bet among the noon games. Perhaps Louisville at Kentucky if you need your Bridgewater fix. Second screen during Bama vs. A&M is probably Oregon beating down Tennessee or USC vs. Boston College if that devolves into a Kiffining. Ole Miss vs. Texas is on the Longhorn Network. So most of you will be watching Ohio State vs. Cal or Vanderbilt at South Carolina at 7:00. Wisconsin vs. Arizona State should be a fun nightcap.
UCLA (+4) at Nebraska: Take the points in a shootout. Bet against the worst unit on the field. Nebraska’s defense has been dismal for quite some time. In fact, that’s short-selling it. They have been apocalyptic. They can’t stop the pass. They can’t stop the run. They have been foiled by mobile quarterbacks. UCLA presents all three of those threats.
Cal (+15.5) vs. Ohio State: Ohio State may be starting its backup QB on the road. That wasn’t an issue last week, but SDSU stinks. Big Ten teams tend not to travel well to the West Coast. Up tempo offense. This is a “just don’t screw up and leave with a win” situation. There are yards to be had through the air against this OSU defense. Smelling a back door cover.
Army (+30) vs. Stanford: Stanford travels cross-country for a 9am PT kickoff. They face a look-ahead with ASU the following week and a unique offense with Army’s triple option. Expect the Cardinal to smother the ball with the run game, limit possessions and potential for mistakes and win comfortably, but not by 30.
Kentucky (+13.5) vs. Louisville: Home underdog in a rivalry game. Kentucky’s offense has put up nearly identical numbers to Louisville through the first two weeks of the season, with more balance. The Wildcats aren’t ready to compete in the SEC, but neither are Louisville. They keep this in range at home.
Vanderbilt (+14) at South Carolina: South Carolina’s defense is not what we anticipated. Vanderbilt should be able to pass against the Gamecocks. Their defense should be good enough to hold South Carolina in check. SC wins, but I’m not sure it’s pretty.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]