Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Tractor Beam

August.

Practices. Position battles. School resuming. Tickets bought. Scrimmages. Schedule analyzed. (We will DEFINITELY win that game!) Preseason rankings. ESPN commercials. Freshmen.

When we have nothing to do but dream. When baseball hasn’t quite hit the stretch run, basketball is still a few months away, and the secondary sports really have nothing to offer.

When we talk ourselves into Louisiana Tech being a relatively easy win, no matter how well they played last year, no matter how young the quarterback is, no matter how big the game right after it is.

When we take even the most simple of video tours of a weight room, and glorify it as the football program’s arrival to the upper tier of athletics.

When we really haven’t the slightest idea of how our team is going to perform this year, yet we keep telling ourselves the transition won’t be too rough.

When we tend to forget that our football team has severely disappointed us within the last 12 months, but looking at the past just isn’t much fun, is it?

When we hang on every word that comes from the new coach’s mouth, as if this “energy” will mask the fact that he has never coached in our new conference, which happens to be the toughest in all of America.

When we circle the dates in our calendar, when we book the RV, when we buy the tickets, when absolutely nothing can possibly go wrong.

August.

I tell myself every year to not get too high on Aggie football. (The QB has never even taken a snap! The running back has ended the last two seasons on crutches! We are playing in the freaking SEC West!) I try to be objective, to not set my expectations at an unreasonable level, to look at our team like everyone else in the country does.

But I can’t help it. Maybe it’s just part of who we are as the 12th Man. We dream.

We long for the Wrecking Crew, yet we know a defense like that, these days, just ain’t gonna happen. We still scream “Toooooooooooooooombs” every time those great teams get shown on the video board, like the beastly running back/freight train from Kilgore was the one that just punched in the touchdown in the north end zone.

And you know what? That’s what makes August great. We have to dream, because that’s all we have right now. Let the heartbreak come when it may, but right now, we have the same record as Alabama, LSU, and Florida.

I can tell myself to not get sucked in every year. But it’s going to happen. There is too much to like about this program, right now, to not get sucked in.

Bring it on, Florida.

Midnight Yell GameDay Commericial


My quick thought... I am sure a large portion of the "I bleed maroon" Aggies will pick this video apart and complain about how "it didn't make Midnight Yell look as awesome as it is" or "thanks again for doing this on a random summer evening" or "this doesn't pump me up enough" or whatever else anyone can come up with.

But, guess what? Texas A&M won a furious online voting battle to bring the GameDay crew to College Station. And now we have a free marketing campaign via the great sports monster that is ESPN.

That is awesome. Really, really awesome.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thanks a Million, Isaac

As you may have heard, Thursday's game against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport has been postponed to Saturday, October 13 due to the *massive* number of people evacuating from the gulf coast to escape the wrath of Level 1 Hurricane Isaac.

To be clear, this decision has enormous implications for the Aggies, including:

- The Florida game will be the Aggies' first live action of the season.

- The bye week before the LSU game is now gone.

- Starting on Oct. 6 in Oxford against Ole Miss, the Aggies play 5 of 6 games on the road, including two trips to the state of Alabama.

- The starting QB's first career pass attempt will come against an SEC defense led by Will Muschamp, in a game featured on ESPN's College Gameday on national television.

- Players suspended for the first game of the season now most likely miss the Florida game, rather than Louisiana Tech.

Take a deep breath, yell as loud as you can for 5 seconds, take another deep breath, and read on.

This isn't all bad news here. Yes, we would all like to watch our team play on Thursday night, we would all like our team to play a game against a relatively easy opponent before jumping into SEC action, and we would rather a hurricane not be bearing down on a battered region near and dear to a lot of us.

But there are some silver linings here:

- Christine Michael gets nine more days to strengthen that knee.

- Manziel gets nine more days of practice reps.

- The secondary gets more time to get sorted out.

- The coaching staff gets three extra days to prepare for Florida.

- The Florida coaching staff will now have absolutely no tape of Sumlin's Aggies to work with, while the Aggies have Florida's game against Bowling Green to watch.

- The team avoids a potential pitfall in Shreveport. Make no doubt about it, Louisiana Tech is not a bad team. Losing to them in the first game would have been disastrous. I am quite sure our expectations against Florida will be lower than against Louisiana Tech.

Again, this sucks. I was just as excited as you to watch the game on Thursday, and break it down first thing Friday morning. Alas, it will have to wait.

Which begs the question, have we ever had a bigger game to officially start a season?

Bring it on.

Hurricane Season


It’s here.  Wait, maybe not.  Football season is back (or is it?).  The only thing lacking is the actual kickoff.


This was going to be the first of what will hopefully be a weekly installment here at Aggie Rundown.  What is UP and DOWN in Aggieland!

But guess what… there is one and only one HUGE downer in Aggie land right now… Hurricane Isaac.

We will likely continue the introduction to this new installment in the near future.  But for now… all I can think about is how I was robbed of opening kickoff.  Ironically, I had started off with Hurricane Isaac being a downer… and this is what I had up until I received the bad news.  

Down – Hurricane Isaac… please go away.  Nothing would be worse than cancelling (or rescheduling) the opening game in Shreveport (check mate).   My patience is dwindling; I need the much acclaimed drug known as football in my life and this is where it starts.  Reports say the game is likely a go (false hope).  I don’t want to make light of the actual dangers the hurricane presents, but my Thursday night (and hopefully a week of good spirits) is in limbo as of now.  

Check that, totally ruined.

Down – Hurricane Isaac… again.  I have to touch on whether the impending weather (it will obviously be a factor) will positively or negatively affect the Aggies.  I want to say that the wind and the rain will limit both teams’ air attacks (the calling card for both squads) and force the game to the ground where A&M’s overall size and athletic ability would tilt the game in their favor… BUT I am not 100% confident in that notion.  This game could turn into a sloppy mess… and very little good comes out of a sloppy mess.  Turnovers will be key, and that doesn’t bode well for a team breaking in a new quarterback AND a new offensive system.  Keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

Well I guess the silver lining in this situation is the postponing of the game undoubtedly works in the Aggie’s favor when the rematch occurs.  A&M will be a bit more comfortable and should be able to handle LA Tech.

This does not make me feel any better about the upcoming Florida game… but I will hold those thoughts for another day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Johnny Manziel: What should we expect?


As you may know by now, Kevin Sumlin named redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel his starting quarterback for next week’s game in Shreveport against Louisiana Tech. Jameill Showers is still nipping at Manziel’s heels for the starting job, so by no means should Manziel be comfortable. Sumlin has said as much.

But for now, let’s assume Manziel is the Aggies’ starting quarterback for the entire 2012 season. (By the way, I really hope Manziel succeeds and squashes any possibility for a quarterback controversy. A situation like that is the last thing this team needs in their first swim through the SEC West.)

How have other quarterbacks fared in their first year in the SEC? Specifically, how have other young quarterbacks fared in their first year in the SEC?

To find out, I pulled stats from ESPN from 2005-2011, filtered out any upperclassmen, and used the magic of Microsoft Excel to produce some handy charts. (Yay charts! If your eyes are glazed over from your desk job, do yourself a favor. Go grab a beer from the fridge, forget about work, and then come back to this post.)

The list of quarterbacks that qualified for this ‘study’ were: 2005 – Brandon Cox (Auburn), Andre Woodson (Kentucky), Blake Mitchell (South Carolina); 2006 – John Parker Wilson (Alabama), Brent Schaeffer (Ole Miss), Matthew Stafford (Georgia), Chris Nickson (Vanderbilt); 2007 – Wesley Carroll (Mississippi State), Tim Tebow (Florida); 2008 – Jarrett Lee (LSU), Jevan Snead (Ole Miss), Mike Hartline (Kentucky); 2009 – Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Jordan Jefferson (LSU), Stephen Garcia (South Carolina), Larry Smith (Vanderbilt); 2010 – Aaron Murray (Georgia), Tyler Bray (Tennessee); 2011 – AJ McCarron (Alabama), Connor Shaw (South Carolina).

All told, that is 20 quarterback seasons, with 9 being from the SEC West. My reason for beginning in 2005 was simple and subjective: that seemed about the time that college football really embraced the spread offense. The SEC is definitely not an offensive league, but it’s important to note that certain schools (Arkansas) run a high-octane offense similar in style to Texas A&M’s.

The graphs are below:



In total, the average underclassman starting his first season in the SEC typically throws 16 TD and 9 INT, with a QB rating of 131.8. (I neglected to include yardage in this study, as Sumlin’s offense puts up heaps of yards that wouldn’t historically have a comparison in the SEC).

I admit that this is a very small sample size, I have never seen Johnny Manziel play, and I really don’t have a grasp for Kevin Sumlin’s offense, other than the fact that Case Keenum put up video game stats on the likes of Southern Miss every week. So I really don’t know what to expect.

But I expect more than 16 TD from Manziel in 2012.

We do, however, need to lower our targets just a bit.

Look, I would love for Johnny Manziel to go in there this season and light the world on fire. I would absolutely like watching him put up a dream line of 400 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT every week. But the reality is that it’s probably not going to happen.

Bona fide studs like Matthew Stafford encountered enormous difficulties in their first season as an SEC quarterback. For reference, Stafford was the #1 recruit in 2005 and went on to become the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. In his first season at Georgia, Stafford threw 7 TD and 13 INT. Manziel was not the #1 recruit. He will not be the #1 pick. There will be significant growing pains for Manziel.

Luckily for him (and us), Manziel isn’t playing in a pro-style offense like many teams in the SEC use. He gets to enjoy a ‘system’.

If the line can (and they should) protect him, if Christine Michael can stay healthy and pound the ball on the ground, and if the experienced receiving corps can get open, Manziel should experience at least a little bit of success. That’s the nature of Sumlin’s offense. (Think Texas Tech – they plug any QB in, and the offense doesn’t skip a beat. It’s the offense that is the machine, rather than one player. Call it the Anti-Cam Newton.)

I’m not worried about Louisiana Tech. Next Thursday will be a chance for Manziel to get a taste of Division I college football. September 8, though, will be a whole different beast. I look at Florida and see Judgment Day.

Look for Manziel to be better than the average young newcomer to the SEC has been in the past. Sumlin’s offense will take care of that. The highs will be there. The lows will too. The key will be limiting turnovers and crucial mistakes.

In Johnny we trust.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Is Texas A&M Ready for the SEC? (Part III)

Click for Part I and Part II.

We covered the administration and the fan base in earlier posts, and as I told you this would be a 3-pronged attack, that leaves the final installment: the football team. Are they ready for the SEC?

I basically said the administration wasn't ready, and then they went and threw down some cash like a teenager with his first paycheck on various billboards around the state proclaiming "this is SEC territory." Well done, Jason Cook. I see what you did there, and I like it. But it's August. The billboards have epic failure potential, but the administration of Texas A&M is nothing if not brazen. After all, Governor Rick Perry is pulling the strings behind the scenes here. (See: failed Republican presidential nomination attempt for further reference.)

I believe the fan base is ready for the SEC, but not without significant reservations. The Florida game is the acid test for the 12th man. We'll talk then.

The football team has been progressing nicely throughout fall camp. Those with opinions I trust at least say so. (Which reminds me, if you are into the Aggie football subscription website thing, I recommend gigem247.com. Best bang for your buck.) From all accounts, Coach Sumlin has this program energized and fired up.

Good.

Nobody would argue that the Aggies are bigger, faster, and more talented than their SEC west opponents. The fact of the matter is this team was recruited to play in the smaller, offense-minded Big 12. Sumlin is doing what he can with what he was given. That's not to say I don't think the Aggies are strong at certain positions, because they are. But this team isn't going to beat many teams on talent alone.

But before we talk about them being 'ready', ask yourself this question: "What should the expectations be for this team in 2012?"

Keep in mind, Mississippi State was ranked in the early going of 2011, had the talent to compete, has an offensive coach in Dan Mullen, and went 6-6. (Sounds similar to A&M, eh?)

To be honest, I don't think the Aggies are ready for the SEC. But all things considered, Kevin Sumlin has done one hell of a job getting this team prepared. No team can be truly ready for this big of a change in this short of a time period. Practice and workouts only go so far. The actual games are what will get this team ready... For 2013.

2013 is what we need to set our sights on. This year, let's enjoy the ride, and hope for the best. Lower you expectations a bit (for this year), and revel in the good surprises when they do come. Relish our underdog status, show the chip on your shoulder, and wait for the respect to come. It may take time, but this program will earn that respect.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Manziel Madness

With the big news of Johnny Manziel being named the Aggie starting Quarterback, Ben and Scott couldn't help but to exchange some emails and dissect the happenings!

Scott: Big news coming out of Aggie land on Wednesday. Johnny Manziel was named QB#1. How does this make you feel Ben? I will go ahead and start with this... for the 2012 season... I am ALL IN with Johnny Manziel. As for 2013 and beyond... well we can touch on that later in this conversation.

Nothing about Showers got me excited for the upcoming football season. I merely viewed him as a stop gap until a more talented player could arise (and it looks like that player is already Manziel). Manziel definitely represents the higher ceiling, and he represents a more potent threat when running with the ball. Those are the two largest sticking points for me. Now don't get me wrong, I have never seen Manziel play football beyond highlight videos (and he sure better look awesome in those), but he seems to bring a good deal of speed and athleticism to the table. What do you see in Manziel? What is your gut feeling?

Now I definitely don't want to blow too much smoke up Manziel's butt, cause after all he will be a redshirt freshmen QB going into uncharted SEC territory. That statement scares me. One thing I am thankful for. From this moment on, Johnny Manziel is QB#1. That means he will be expected to step up as a leader, and more important than that, he will be treated like one. And I think this will be most crucial in the fact that majority of the practice snaps are now his. Repetition in a new offensive system is crucial. And now he will get as many reps as possible.

How do you feel today Ben?

Ben: The thing that is sticking on my mind is how impressed I have been so far with Coach Sumlin. It seems like years ago (rather than 8 months) that every Aggie was having to talk themselves off the cliff after the Sherman firing fiasco (ps - it's been real, Bill Byrne! Enjoy retirement!). From Day 1, Kevin Sumlin has embraced his role as head coach of the lone SEC member in the football-crazy state of Texas.

The quote that jumped off the page for me was, "my policy is simple really, the best player is going to play." This is HUGE. Remember the extended suffering we had to endure when Sherman stubbornly left Jerrod Johnson on the field, only to throw flapping ducks that made for easy interceptions, all while Ryan Tannehill was on the bench? Sumlin's insertion of Manziel in the starting lineup over locker room leader Showers is a statement to the rest of the team. If you think Sumlin holds reputation or feelings in higher regard than results, you are kidding yourself.

This is exactly the kind of energy that has been lacking over the past, I don't know, DECADE. Ever since Slocum was run off the field, there has always seemed to be a lack of urgency and passion among the players. Sumlin has completely flipped that attitude before a game has been played.

Look, I feel for Showers. A guy doesn't earn the respect and trust of a major college football team by being a dud. He is obviously talented and possesses the necessary leadership skills, but right now, the head coach thinks Manziel is better suited to run the Aggie offense. Tough break. It happens. Get better, wait for your opportunity, then make the most of it.

As for Manziel, holy cow. Where to begin? The dude was responsible for over 5,000 yards of offense and 75 touchdowns as a senior at Kerrville Tivy, while earning Parade All-America honors. The talent is there. By all accounts, so is the heart. The question, obviously, is whether he is mature enough to handle the pressure of being an SEC quarterback. The task ahead is daunting.

Exactly two weeks from tonight, we will begin to find out.

What next, Scott? Want to discuss Manziel's gold cleats? His arrest over the summer, which makes for a pretty good "overcoming obstacles" story line? The ridiculousness of comparing Manziel to Bucky Richardson, as some have already begun to do? The weather?

This email chain is our oyster, my friend.

Scott: First thing, don't you bring up Jerrod on this email chain.

Second thing, Kerrville Tivy, they are that other new team in the SEC West right? Oh, they aren't? They are 4A high school in Texas... breathtaking.

Sorry, I had to take a shot at your otherworldy stat vomit. Listen, I want my quarterbacks to have had successful high school careers, it definitely shows you something, but lets not kid ourselves, the talent gap between great high school players and the rest of them is extraordinary. That gap diminishes greatly in College, and then even more so in the NFL.

I agree with you on Sumlin, I love his personality. He is charismatic and personable, yet he rules with an iron fist. I wanted a leader who demanded he be heard. None of this passive leadership, I want the vocal riot. As I mentioned before I am glad he made this decision now (granted I would not have been glad if the decision was made in Showers favor). The responsibility and the reps Manziel will have from now to LA Tech are crucial.

A new topic I want to dissect. What this means for the future. I am going to go ahead and eliminate the possibility that Manziel stumbles enough for Showers to step in and take the job convincingly (this definitely could happen, but for the sake of this argument I am saying it won't). Did we just find out who will be leading the Aggie offense for the NEXT FOUR YEARS? If so, this is a pretty huge moment. It is not often that a redshirt freshmen quarterback wins the job, and if so, that would make potentially four potential seasons as a starter. What does this mean for Matt Davis? I mean this is all pending on Manziel success (which the Aggie faithful will no doubt predict), but there is no way Matt Davis can catch home if Manziel has a year up on him. What does this mean for Kohl Stewart and Kenny Hill? They would be redshirted next year for sure, then eventually compete (although I bet one transfers) for two years of being a starter in 2016 and 2017... that is assuming Matt Davis isn't even in the big picture.

Forgive me for not enjoying the present. But I just couldn't contain those thoughts and questions...

Ben: I KNEW YOU WOULD FOCUS ON MATT DAVIS.

To be fair, I thought the same thing. As hyped as Davis/Stewart/Hill are, that's the way these things go. At the end of the day, this is a great problem to have. The situation you just outlined implies that within the next two years, the Aggies could potentially have not one, not two, but FIVE talented guys competing for the starting QB job. Do you realize how long it has been since the Aggies have had such an abundance of riches at the game's most important position? I do - like ever.

Granted, this is all hypothetical, and none of the five aforementioned players have even started a game in college. We are purely speculating based on hype/high school careers. But wow, what a great problem to have.

Having multiple impact guys at one position is a sign that this program is improving. As everyone should know by now, Mike Sherman did a lot for this program that didn't show up in his winning percentage. That man laid the foundation for what I believe could be an explosion in the SEC West. Major college programs have more than one stud at a certain position. Having that level of talent promotes competition and results in the athletes pushing each other to work harder and get better.

I wish we had 3 talented guys competing at every position. By no means is Manziel the permanent starter. Don't count out Matt Davis, Scott. There's still hope for your Aggie man crush.

Something else that this decision and the resulting statements revealed to me is that Sumlin is not going to be afraid to play the young guys. He simply believes that the best player should play. 

By that logic, are we saying adios to Ben Malena, and bonjour to Trey Williams? Later Dustin Harris, hello De'vante Harris?

Now I have you going... Let the games begin!

Scott: As my Dad likes to say, everybody is undefeated in the off season! The future is bright (and that future pretty much completely hangs on Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel).

As for the youngsters? Bring 'em on down. Ben Malena will become an afterthought (especially when Brandon Williams becomes eligible). Trey Williams is going to be dynamite, while I am usually against the notion of running backs changing the fortunes of teams, Trey has that electric ability. Beyond the quarterback situation, Trey Williams is definitely the Aggie I am most looking forward to watching.

And De'Vante Harris is my main man. He is the unofficial spokesperson and future ambassador for Aggie Rundown. With that being said, I am incredibly excited about all the positive information being passed along in regards to De'Vante and his "pure cover skills".

Next on the frosh list... Thomas Johnson. While Sabian Holmes got all the pub early on, Johnson has returned to 100% and asserted himself as a possible starter. Sabian Holmes could be the next Ryan Swope with his quickness and natural receiver savvy, but Thomas Johnson could become what Jeff Fuller was destined to become, but never really did. 

Goodness, I get all mushy when I talk about the youngsters. Cheers to Ryan Swope, Christine Michael, Luke Joeckel, and Jake Matthews for being absolute studs. Studs in the Big 12, studs in the SEC, studs anywhere. I sure do hope they like "Johnny Football" (that is the only time I will say that).

A big day in Aggie land. That is for sure. Your closing thoughts Ben?

Ben: August 30 can't get here soon enough. Let's take this thing one game at a time and hope for the best.