What We Learned: McCarron's no 'manager,' Manziel in Heisman race
In a classic game, AJ McCarron proves he's more than a game manager and Johnny Football jumps back in the Heisman race.
I know it's early, but for drama it's going to be hard to top that afternoon in College Station. And before the close of business on Saturday we learned a lot:
McCarron is NOT only a 'game manager'
AJ McCarron is a great quarterback, period, and he showed it yet again on Saturday. Here is an example of why:
For two weeks people had been beating up on his offense line after a subpar performance in the opener vs. Virginia Tech. But late last week McCarron, who already has two national championship rings, told his offensive line not to be concerned. I'm paraphrasing, but he basically told them "Hey, guys, give me what you gave in practice this week and we'll make enough plays to win the game."
The offensive line played very well and McCarron did what he promised, completing 20 of 29 passes for 334 yards, four touchdowns, and again no interceptions.
More than any game during his four years at Alabama, the coaches gave him almost absolute freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage. The last touchdown, a 5-yard bootleg pass to Jalston Fowler, was McCarron's call.
This suggestion that he is simply some kind of caretaker of the offense is absurd. He is the leader of this team, and with Johnny Manziel on the other side setting the world on fire, McCarron calmly led his team back from a 14-0 deficit on the road in the most hostile of conditions.
After the game, Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder found Kirby Smart, his counterpart at Alabama.
"Your quarterback sure did play great," Snyder said.
"So did yours," Smart answered.
Which brings us to:
Manziel changes my mind
When the season started, I thought it was impossible for Johnny Manziel to win another Heisman Trophy. I had two very practical reasons:
1: It's just hard to do. There is a reason why Archie Griffin (1974-75) is the only player who has done it.
2: I was convinced that Johnny's off-field shenanigans would not play well with the 900-plus Heisman voters, who tend to be an older crowd.
But Saturday's performance has me taking another look at Johnny Football. I still believe that it is more likely that another quarterback will win the award this season. McCarron, Marcus Mariota, Aaron Murray, Tajh Boyd, Braxton Miller and Teddy Bridgewater all are putting up incredible numbers.
But after watching him in person, Manziel's performance could just overwhelm the skeptics to the point that they have to give it him. So he's got a shot.
Hard to see Brown turning Texas around
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I've known Mack Brown since he was a 32-year-old head coach at Appalachian State in 1983.
He has done an extraordinary job Texas. When he got there in 1998, Texas was in the wilderness, just like Alabama was before Nick Saban arrived in 2007. Brown made the Longhorns into a national power again, winning a national championship in 2005 and playing for another (against Alabama) in 2009. The man has averaged 10 wins a year for 15 years at Texas. He has made a ton of money for that university and received a very handsome paycheck ($5 million per year) himself.
Having said all that, it's hard to see how Mack gets it out of the ditch this season because the defense is horrible and you don't fix that within a season.
Saturday night's 44-23 loss to Ole Miss, coming on the heels of a 41-30 loss to BYU may simply be too much for Brown to overcome. As much as he has done for Texas, sometimes the numbers start catching up with you:
• Texas only had 100 total yards in the second half against Ole Miss. But to be fair the Longhorns were playing without injured quarterback David Ash.
• Texas is 11-10 in its past 21 home games.
• Texas has lost seven straight games to ranked opponents.
According to several media reports, during Saturday night's game at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, Brown actually got booed when he appeared on the video screen doing a prerecorded PSA for at-risk children.
Brown is now holding out hope that Texas can get this turned around by winning the Big 12. Conference play begins Saturday with a visit from Kansas State.
We'll be watching the Pac-12, a lot
You already know about Oregon and Stanford. You know what RichRod is doing at Arizona. At Washington State the Pirate (Mike Leach) knocked off USC and almost beat Auburn at Auburn. Washington, with QB Keith Price and RB Bishop Sankey, is making some noise. Sonny Dykes is running almost 100 plays a game at California.
This is going to be a thoroughly entertaining conference race. Just a few dates for your calendars:
• Saturday: Arizona State at Stanford
• Sept. 28: California at Oregon
• Oct. 5: Washington at Stanford
• Oct. 12: Oregon at Washington
• Oct. 19: UCLA at Stanford
• Nov. 7:Oregon at Stanford
There are a bunch of these matchups. I'm not saying that the Pac-12 is the best conference in college football. But it is the most entertaining conference -- by a wide margin.
UCF over Penn State was not an upset
I put you guys on alert to this last Friday in my Top 10. This is probably George O'Leary's best team at UCF. In Blake Bortels (20 of 27, 288 yards vs. Penn State), UCF has the best quarterback you've probably never heard of. He is quickly moving up the draft boards for a lot of people.
UCF never trailed, jumping to a 21-7 lead by simply pounding the ball against the Nittany Lions. UCF gave up a cheap touchdown late or it would have been a double-digit victory. The Knights finished with 507 total yards. UCF was the better football team.
"They beat us tonight fair and square," said Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who lost to his former mentor.
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