Mailbag: SEC QB drama; UCLA a BCS threat and new DC under the gun

Here is the Weekend Mailbag. As always, send your questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:

From @RollTideGaby: Lots of people saying AJ took shots at Manziel. Unfair. What'd you think of it?

What a difference a week makes. Or at least that sure seems to be the case if you've listened to AJ McCarron Thursday at SEC Media Days.

Last Friday at the Manning Passing Academy media day, the Alabama QB referred to Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel as "his boy" and spoke in some detail of his friendship with the Heisman Trophy winner. But since then there's been this whole subplot about the circumstances of Manziel's departure from the camp which sound ridiculous given how much banter it spawned, and it makes you feel like we have spent too much time in the echo chamber that has become the current media culture. (Nutshell: It unfolded during the slowest news week of the season in sports and ties football's resident "IT" dude to the first family of football, the Mannings. Beyond that, the story has taken on a life of its own in a farcical way like there was a Congressional hearing on "Did or didn't someone wake up another guy at a summer camp?")

It was interesting to listen to McCarron's 30-minute session in the main ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel with reporters Thursday. He told a few poignant stories about his development as a leader, a cousin's battle against breast cancer and his hope to raise awareness, and the perception that he's just a game manager. What he clearly did not want to talk about was Johnny Manziel . . . well, at least by name:

“I can’t answer on Johnny Manziel’s part,’’ McCarron said when asked about the events at the Manning camp. “My name’s AJ. He’s his own man. I’m not going to speak on another man’s business. That’s how I was raised.’’

There were a few McCarron responses where many read between the lines. For example, McCarron was asked if he'd made a decision to enjoy the fame since he'd driven the pace car at NASCAR's Talladega race and thrown out the first pitch at a minor-league baseball game.

"I've turned down 10 times the amount of stuff that I've done," he said. "The only two things that I've done is NASCAR because I've been a NASCAR fan my whole life and (throwing out) the first pitch at the Bay Bears because that's my hometown. I've turned down unlimited stuff. I could've been out doing all types of stuff. But that's not me. That's not what I want to be. I don't need to do that. My job's playing football. Not being a celebrity off the field."

Asked about living in a fishbowl of sorts: "You can't be a normal 22-year-old kid. Every 22-year old is not doing what I'm doing and I'm not able to do what they can do. I can't go out and act a fool in public. I can't go out and drink excessively and be wild and stuff. I can't do that. I'm not saying that I want to, but I want kids to have a role model."

Asked how he'd like to be remembered: "A guy that won and did everything right and that I was supposed to do," he said. "One thing I think you can never bash me for is I never brought any negative spotlight on my last name, my university, my coach's name or my teammates. I've always done it how it was supposed to be done. I don't want to be remember as some off-the-wall type guy and doing all this crazy stuff. That's not me."

Were those veiled references to Manziel or more the image of the celeb football star? McCarron took to Twitter on Friday to try to clear up any of those perceptions about him taking shots at his friend:

"people have lost their mind if they think I dissed JM in any way. I said I wouldn't comment on another mans life. I told them I was AJ. Then I told them how I act and how I live my life. Never said anything on JM and how he should live his life. Y'all can't believe all u hear"

Thing is, some of that skepticism grew from a tweet McCarron sent Wednesday night about the same time Manziel was rubbing shoulders with celebs out in Hollywood during the ESPY's:

“Your right I’m not at the espy’s! I don’t have to be at a award show to know what my team did. I’m back at school working to get another #16.’’

McCarron deleted that tweet, but by then Deadspin had a story up about it, which was a hot topic among much of the media in Alabama for SEC media days.

Asked about the tweet, McCarron told me: "You know, everybody is a grammar teacher when it comes to Twitter," he said, perhaps explaining his reasoning for deleting it. "I know when I step out of the door, especially in the state of Alabama, I'm always going to be watched. I feel like I've always handled myself in a first-class way. That's the way my second dad, Coach Saban, and my coaches have taught me. That's my thought process behind everything. I never want to bring any bad attention on anybody that's close to me.

"In the world we live in nowadays everything is about social media and what type of fame you can get off of that and spotlight and everything. And that's just not the way I am. I don't need the spotlight. I'm happy in my own skin. I just try to represent everybody in a good way."

So was he taking a swipe at (the other SEC player flown out to the ESPYs) Jadeveon Clowney, joked one media member?

The one sure thing we can take from listening to Manziel and McCarron and everyone else this week is that the football season can't get here soon enough. These guys are tired of talking about it and everyone around them is tired of reading about it.

From @rmbrill21: could ucla be bcs bowl bound?

Yes. The Bruins have a gifted young QB who is a budding star, an improving O-line and a fast D led by two great linebackers. If their skill guys can take some pressure off Brett Hundley and their line continues to blossom, UCLA can play with anyone in the conference. I like their chances to win the Pac-12 South, but my pick to win the conference is Stanford.

From @PaulPabst: Finish this statement: If A&M/Manziel beat Alabama again...

He'll be a hero to football fans in 49 other states and will send sports marketing folks' minds into overdrive.

From @ChrisSedenka: If you're Jadeveon Clowney and are already the number one pick, why on Earth would you even play this year?

We asked him this a few times at the SEC media days. His answer: "I love the game too much."

From @TlttRomney: who goes higher in the 2014 Draft? Dri Archer or De'Anthony Thomas?

My hunch is both will clock sub 4.35 40s in the lead-up to the draft, but Thomas playing tougher competition will compel personnel people to go for him ahead of a similar style player in Archer.

From @PTNetherton: Which new coordinator has the most pressure on him this year? (Has to be Spavital, right?)

Clarence McKinney will actually be the new play-caller for Texas A&M, not Jake Spavital, the Aggies new QB coach and co-offensive coordinator. No doubt there's pressure there, but McKinney responded well in his first game running the show at A&M against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, where he added some speed option to the attack.

The new coordinator who I think is under the most pressure is USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. He inherits some talent, especially in the defensive front, but the Trojans have under-achieved on defense recently and are shaky at corner. Beyond that, if the former Cal DC and his new 5-2 scheme can't get USC better than No. 60 in the country in defense, Lane Kiffin may lose his job in 2013. No doubt, Kiffin is on the hot seat after last year, when his team, the preseason No. 1 pick, flopped and finished 7-6.

From @ohhsoDIRTY: is there any chance WVU's defense will improve from last year?

It has to. It's almost impossible for it to be any worse. Having a more experienced coordinator (Keith Patterson) running the defense should help quite a bit as should a more seasoned secondary in a pass-happy league.

From @Govols2016: how many wins for Tennessee this fall?

I like the Vols' big and experienced O-line, but they have close to the worst skill talent in the SEC right now. There just aren't any difference-makers at RB or WR, and the QB is going to be new. Meanwhile, the defense is basically average at best. Worse still, the schedule is nasty.

The Vols probably will face five opponents that will be in the preseason Top 10 and three of those matchups are on the road: at Oregon, at Florida and at Alabama. There's a very good chance they'll be 3-5 going into November. To me, winning six games given their skill talent and experience at QB, coupled with that schedule, seems overly optimistic. I'll say 5-7.

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