Thu August 29, 2013 11:53 pm By Jason Cohen

Yeah, we’re gonna get another hour or two or three or ten of Johnny Manziel this and Johnny Manziel that. Then he’ll finally touch the football against Rice, sometime around 2 p.m. on Saturday (the game itself, Rice at Texas A&M, kicks off at noon).

But before that, Texas Tech and SMU begin the college football season Friday night (though it apparently got underway on Thursday in odd places like Hawaii, and one of the Carolinas).

A few predictions, for both the season and the weekend, some more serious than others.

Texas A&M will beat Alabama

I did not think to this be the case last week. I did not think this to be the case last month. I did not think this to be the case in April. I did not think this to be the case in February.

Because ‘Bama wants revenge, as we learned in mid-July:

But also, the Aggies aren’t as good without offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and several players from last year’s defense. The fact that the game’s in September rather than November favors the more veteran program. Plus everybody in the SEC is now more ready for Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Football and blah blah blah blah rammer jammer ball peen hammer.

But now? After the summer Johnny Manziel had? After the NCAA drama and anti-climax? You expect me to count Johnny Football (TM) out when he has even more to prove? Or count out the 12th Man at Kyle Field, which was already going to host the biggest game in College Station history, and will now be even more hyped?

Not me. Of course A&M is gonna beat the Crimson Tide again. They’ve got Superman!

The University of Texas will have a better season than the Aggies

Just kidding.

Seriously, I didn’t do this for the headline. It was what I’d planned to write. It’s not even a controversial opinion: the bowl projectors at both ESPN and SI have the Horns going to a BCS game while A&M settles for the Outback or Chik-Fil-A. And people also think the Horns will take care of a not-great OU team this year. 

But then I changed my mind about the Aggies beating ‘Bama. If that happens, there’s no way they’ll lose more than two games (and even then, maybe not until the SEC championship).

And until UT actually beats Oklahoma, I’m not ready to declare that they’ll go 10-2: BYU, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor all loom as potential losses.

I think the Horns can still get it done, but 9-3 is just as possible as 11-1.

Lache Seastrunk won’t be in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation

The controversial Baylor running back, a transfer from the University of Oregon, has previously promised he would win the trophy. But running backs don’t win the Heisman anymore, and Baylor’s early schedule is so weak he’ll never gain momentum. One year after RGIII’s win, and one year before its move to a new stadium, the Bears are playing Wofford (a private Methodist school with 1600 students), Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe.

And, at least for now, the non-conference slate in 2014 and 2015 isn’t much better. Bears fans are understandably tired of the college football conversation in the state of Texas being all UT and A&M (especially having out-performed both schools in 2011*). But TCU is playing LSU this weekend. And Texas Tech plays Arkansas next year. To take advantage of the national stage that RGIII and coach Art Briles brought to Waco, Baylor needs to get itself a non-Big 12 game fans of other schools might actually want to watch.

The Rice MOB should still take on Johnny Football

Sadly Rice’s musical jokesters were never scheduled to visit College Station Saturday. But can you be the country’s most topical and scathing band and not take on the biggest college football story in Texas?

If they don’t work Manziel into the September 14 halftime against Kansas, how about on the road at the Alamodome against UTSA? That’s close enough to Manziel’s high school home of Kerrville.

Besides, what else are they gonna do, Larry Coker jokes? A Castro brothers gag? Doug Sahm covers?

(Yes, they should also do Doug Sahm covers.)

Houston won’t lose to Southern

Yup, UH lost to an FCS team last year. Which is exactly why the Cougars will be ready for the Jaguars at Reliant.

SMU will beat Texas Tech

The Raiders have a rookie coach, even if he is Kliff Kingsbury, and, reportedly, a walk-on true freshman starting QB.

SMU has a grizzled coach (June Jones), a semi-legendary new offensive coordinator (Hal Mumme) and a much-maligned QB who once played nearly all of a BCS championship game against Alabama (remember him?). SMU also looked great in its bowl last year, and the game’s in University Park.

The Mustangs aren’t favored. Ford Stadium’s first-ever sell-out (really?) is almost surely due to fans from Lubbock. But SMU has got to win this game if they intend to have a decent season

And so does Tech, of course.

Rice will be up 10-7 on the Ags at halftime

Much better story that way. I mean, if A&M leads 35-0, isn’t it bad sportsmanship to even put in JFF for the third quarter?

TCU fans will be outnumbered in Arlington

No shame in it: it’s just a numbers game. And LSU fans travel crazy. But it’s too bad: the 20th-ranked Horned Frogs have a real shot against the 12th-ranked Tigers, and home-field could have helped. Instead, they’ll lose in overtime.

I won’t watch UT play on Saturday

Was seriously planning to stay home and flip between the Horns and TCU. But, y’know: Longhorn Network. (Though let me tell you, if I could switch from Time Warner to AT&T or Grande, oh, how I would! And not because of football.)

Update: Time-Warner, Longhorn Network reach deal. (I’m still not taking back that second sentence though).

Baylor will cover the spread against Wofford

It’s as high as 30.5 points, depending on the source. Here’s an in-depth breakdown of this match-up. 

Also playing:

Idaho at North Texas, Texas State at Southern Miss, UTSA at New Mexico. 

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)


*(correction in comments below.)

Tue June 18, 2013 12:31 pm By Jason Cohen

I don’t find Johnny Manziel to be all that interesting on Twitter for the same reason that I don’t find Justin Bieber all that interesting on Twitter, or tens of thousands of anonymous college students interesting on Twitter. His feed is basically inane, a social media reminder that “Bros will be Bros”–even if Manziel’s bros include rappers and other famous athletes. 

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I wrote a post called “Breaking: Johnny Football is a College Student,” earlier this year, and it’s practically refreshing to see this is still the case, even as the Heisman winner and his fellow Aggies generated an estimated $37 million in media exposure for the university.

So can you put a price on this? Saturday night, Manziel started another Twitter fire:

(Screenshot by Larry Brown Sports)

He deleted that, but offered up an explanation:

I was on Twitter at the time, and didn’t think the tweet was that inflammatory (though the Bum Steer nomination has been duly noted). Many fans in Aggieland, such as the folks at Good Bull Hunting, barely mustered up enough outrage for a jokey hashtag.

Not so Sean Lester of A&M’s student newspaper The Battalion.

“It’s time to send Johnny Football down the proverbial one-year hallway in the house that is Texas A&M and straight out the front door,” he wrote

Johnny Football wants out and as a selfish observer, I want him out as well….

I want to know if he can succeed in his second season, trying to live up to the hype. From there I want to see if he can be the latest Aggie taken in the NFL draft. I’m interested to see what Manziel can do as a professional quarterback….

But most importantly I want to see how Kevin Sumlin and the other 100 players on the Texas A&M roster prove that all of this wasn’t just the Johnny Manziel show and that A&M as a program can contend for years to come….

But this is also part of the new Texas A&M. There are gonna be more players who are not enamored with the town. But they’ll keep coming to play football.

Spencer Hall of Everyday Should Be Saturday was on the QB’s side, passionately:

College towns – memories of happy memories and not having more than five bills aside – are designed as opportunistic money sucks hooked directly to the universities that host them. Alternately, the universities are giant parasites living happily off the hardworking small towns that tolerate them….

I remember leaving beautiful Gainesville, Fla. – a place where you can live in reasonable comfort on three dollars a day and a smidgen of insane hope – and thinking I never want to see this place again. That was me, with an English degree, no discernible work or social skills and no hope for anything like being able to feed himself with money earned from a job. That’s just what people want to do at 20. They want to be somewhere else and usually it’s in a careless, haphazard hurry.

Mac Engel of the Star-Telegram had no problem with Manziel’s original tweet, but took exception to the tone-deaf follow-up. 

There is likely not a soul alive who wouldn’t love to walk in Johnny Manziel’s shoes for one hour, forget one full day. When do you think the last time was he paid for anything? VIP access to everything up to and including a parade of hot coeds lined up at your door because you are Johnny Manziel, Heisman winning quarterback. Forget an hour. Most of us would take 15 minutes…

Like a lot of celebrities, Manziel has forgotten there was a time in his life when things weren’t handed to him and his best friend wasn’t a rap star named Wale. Yes, JF must sacrifice the many trappings and ease of anonymity but in return he receives red carpet treatment in a way the rest of us dregs will never enjoy.

I’ll admit that for a second there, I thought Engel had confused Wale with Drake. In fact, I had forgotten: Manziel is buds with both!

So sure, he’s definitely lost perspective. My guess is, he was probably trying to quote TI and Usher’s “My Life, Your Entertainment.”

“My life, your entertainment

You watch it while I live it (live it)

I walk they follow (ay)

I talk they holla (ay)…

Well shorty ‘til you walk a mile in my shoes…”

According to Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports, “a coach approached Manziel to make sure that everything was OK and that Manziel understands the strength of his words, according to the source.”

Meanwhile, rumor has it the tweet was over a parking ticket, which means that Manziel could have just as easily vented his frustration by referencing a famous NWA song. Then everyone would have accused him of being pro-violence and anti-law enforcement. 

Sun June 2, 2013 7:20 pm By Jason Cohen

Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News had a big Sunday read on the state of University of Texas athletics, kind of the 2013 counter-measure to Sam Gwynne’s 2008 Texas Monthly cover story.

“Money doesn’t buy wins for UT” is the headline on the piece, which outlines the struggles of not just Mack Brown’s football program, but men’s basketball and baseball too, even as UT athletics generated $163.3 million in revenue in 2012—the most of any school for the fourth straight year.

Finger’s piece draws heavily on quotes from San Antonio booster B.J. “Red” McCombs, who offers up a gentle version of prevailing message board and blogger sentiment. “The coaches who are there have earned their right to be there,” said McCombs, referring to Brown, Rick Barnes, and Augie Garrido. “But that’s only going to last so long. How long? I don’t know.”

The piece is accompanied by an entertaining interview with San Antonio native and current MMA fighter Eryk Anders. Why? Because Anders is also the man who took away the Longhorns’ final chance to win the 2009 BCS championship, a game that Alabama won, 37-21. 

Writes Finger:

Yes, he was the Alabama linebacker who at the Rose Bowl 31/2 years ago slammed into Garrett Gilbert from behind, sacking the UT quarterback and forcing the fumble that ended the Longhorns’ hopes of winning the national title game.

And yes, that play marked the precise moment when UT transformed from a college football superpower into a bumbling, inept program that could do nothing right. But Anders insists there’s no blood on his hands.

“Texas didn’t go down because of me,” said Anders, a former Smithson Valley High School standout. “I seriously doubt that play put a curse on them or anything. They weren’t going to score on us anyway.”

That, of course, is debatable. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that if Anders had been a step or two slower in getting to Gilbert, UT football might look much differently today.

Alabama, which had led the game 24-6 at halftime, was up 24-21 at that point. UT had the ball on its own seventeen-yard line with 3:08 to go. Gilbert, a highly touted, largely unused back-up who came in after Colt McCoy was injured on UT’s fifth offensive play, had thrown two first-half interceptions, but then struck for a pair of touchdowns in the second half.

He’d “proven himself capable,” Finger writes. “Even if he couldn’t reach the end zone again, all he needed was 50 yards to put UT within Hunter Lawrence’s field-goal range to force overtime.”

Of course, this is all still science-fiction, kind of like the article I wrote about what would have happened if the Aggies hadn’t joined the SEC. If Anders doesn’t make that tackle, maybe UT moves the ball, or maybe not. The next play could have been a touchdown or an interception (Gilbert threw two more on the Longhorns’ last two futile drives). Or maybe Lawrence makes it 24-24 with fifty seconds left, only to see his Alabama counterpart respond as time expired. 

In any case, the loss became the flashpoint for the current cynicism about Brown, who as Finger writes, let the blowback from that loss unnerve him (and, clearly, Garrett Gilbert) for the entire 2010 season. What many fans have also always thought, however, is that UT wins the game with Colt McCoy.

“Texas played without its best player for nearly 56 minutes. There’s an asterisk,” wrote ESPN’s Ivan Maisel at the time. Though given what the Horns (22-16 since then), the Crimson Tide (two more BCS titles), and the SEC (now up to eight straight BCS titles) have done since then, I’d say that asterisk has disappeared.

Personally, I always felt the fourteen points the Alabama defense gave up to UT (and zero points the Alabama offense scored until the final minutes) came in part due to a mindset that the game was over. Gilbert and UT had nothing to lose, while Alabama had good reason to lose focus. With 3:08 to go, that changed, and Alabama once again became the better team. Similarly, with Colt McCoy, UT surely would have played a better sixty minutes, but Alabama probably would have too.

Fri May 3, 2013 2:08 am By Jason Cohen

Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel’s latest mailbag highlights a less-discussed aspect of the upcoming college football playoff system, and the Cotton Bowl’s place in its hierarchy.

While the game at Jerry World will host the championship or semi-final of the College Football Playoff (its official name) two of every three years, because the Cotton isn’t anchored to a major conference like the Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls, it will feature one team from the so-called “Group of Five”–the less glamorous American Athletic (formerly Big East), Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences–every third year. (This season is the last year of the BCS, and thus also the last one in which the Cotton will match up two lesser SEC and Big 12 teams.)

“Is the Cotton Bowl a “loser” in the bowl pairings given that it is guaranteed to end up with the Group of Five automatic qualifier in years three, six, nine and 12?,” wrote, “Matt M.” of Chicago, to which Mandel replied:

The Cotton Bowl is thrilled just to return to the elite tier of bowl games after a nearly two-decade absence, so officials there probably aren’t looking to lodge any complaints. But yes, the way the rotation breaks, in year three of each cycle, the Fiesta and Chick-fil-A will host semifinals and the Rose, Sugar and Orange will have their regular matchups, leaving the Cotton as the only available landing spot for the Group of Five (American, Mountain West, C-USA, et al.) participant. Cotton Bowl organizers better hope SMU goes on a tear really soon.

Obviously, Mandel is correct. It’s more than worth the trade-off. And while the national press may sneer at the thought of teams like Cincinnati or Boise State in a big bowl (even though the other team would surely be selected from a power conference), it’s a heck of a nice carrot not just for SMU, but all eight Texas schools in “Group of Five” conferences: the Mustangs and Houston (American), UTEP, Rice, UTSA and North Texas (Conference USA) and Texas State and UT-Arlington (Sun Belt). The extent to which those schools have been affected by both realignment and the pending playoff tends to be overlooked, but there’s no reason why they can’t aspire to be another (Mountain West-era) TCU, given all the players in the state. Only one team will ever make it from the five, so it is still a longshot for most teams (especially if Boise State remains so good), but that automatic qualifying spot has to got to be the goal. 

Correction: While UT-Arlington is joining the Sun Belt conference for the coming season, it is not a football member, having been without a team since 1985 (though the dream remains alive).


Fri April 12, 2013 1:16 pm By Mickey Herskowitz

(Editor’s Note: Former Houston Post, Houston Press and Houston Chronicle columnist Mickey Herskowitz covered Jack Pardee–Texas A&M “Junction Boy,” NFL linebacker and former Houston Gamblers, University of Houston and Houston Oilers coach–at nearly every stop. They also had a personal connection.

“We shared a bond, an unusual one and awkward to explain, for most of our adult lives,” Herskowitz says. 

Before baseball’s opening day in 1964, Herskowitz wrote a story about Houston Colt .45s reliever Jim Umbricht, who had just died of melanoma at the age of 33. Pardee and his wife Phyllis saw the story in Los Angeles, and she insisted that he get a “black mole” similar to Umbricht’s checked out.

“Their suspicions were confirmed,” Herskowtiz says. “The mole was malignant.  Within days of the test results, Jack underwent surgery, using a new technique – called perdusion, tying off the blood flow to the affected area – used for the first time in this country on Umbricht.  The operation was a success, although they would not know for certain until five years later.

“For as long as we would know each other, Jack and Phyllis went out of their way to tell people that I had saved his life.”

Pardee would go on to volunteer and raise money for the American Cancer Society; he told the story of reading Herskowitz’s article when he received the American Cancer Society’s “Courage Award” from President Richard Nixon in 1973.

Other than a minor recurrence in 1986, Pardee remained in good health until late 2012, when he was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer. He died on April 1 at the age of 76.)

As Gene Stallings left the rosary for Jack Pardee, his Aggie teammate for three years and a friend for life, he paused briefly to chat with others lingering in the aisle. He could not hold back a smile over a memory more than 50 years removed.

“As a sophomore,” Stallings reflected. “Jack hardly said a word. We called him ‘Gabby.’”

Fans, and the occasional critic, were frequently puzzled by the demeanor of the football legend who died of gall bladder cancer on April 1. They would ask, in print or on the air, “What’s with Jack Pardee? How can a guy who played and coached for Bear Bryant and George Allen be so quiet and unemotional?”

We offer the short version of a sometimes complicated question. Pardee never needed to prove his manhood. He was less preoccupied than most people with the daily trivia of a world gone slightly daffy. He was that way in college and more so after 1964, when he was diagnosed with melanoma, black mole cancer, whose survival rate was then 10 percent.

In the end, he believed he had been given a bonus of 47 years.

“You’d rather not have it,” he said, when I called after hearing the disease was back, “but I’m okay. I’ve had a great run.”

He had several great runs, including a kickoff return of 85 yards for a touchdown that helped give the Aggies their first win over the University of Texas at Memorial Stadium. He never lost a yard from scrimmage in two seasons as a starting fullback. He may have been stopped for no gain once or twice, but a loss: never. Pardee did not see this distinction as a reason to boast. “Yeah, well, we didn’t run the fullback traps in those days,” he said. “We got the ball at the line of scrimmage and ran right at ‘em. It was hard to lose a yard.”

He was believed to be the first graduate of six-man football to perform as a professional. He was surely the first of that breed to grace the NFL head coaching faculty. To find a comparable story, you would need to locate an ex-singer of Western Union jingles, who later caught on with the Metropolitan Opera.

Born in Iowa, Jack was eight when his family moved to Christoval, a tiny community of dry-land farmers, whose sons were needed to push a plow, not a blocking sled. When the town enjoyed a brief oil boom in the early 1950’s, the enrollment at the high school expanded to roughly the size of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad.

In his senior year, Jack scored 57 touchdowns as one of two running backs on a team that employed a quarterback, two ends and a center. He was not to know a guard or tackle by name until he got to Aggieland, where as a sophomore in 1954 he fell under the influence of one Paul Bryant.

He was tall and gangly and shy and his coach couldn’t decide where to play him. He wound up at end, and, according to Bryant in his autobiography, Jack caught the touchdown pass that produced the only points in A&M’s only win, 6-0, over Georgia, in that 1-9 1954 campaign.

He was a Junction Boy, and Bryant’s love for that band of survivors, and that team, has been well documented. How could it have been otherwise? They gave him his only losing season in 38 years of coaching.

I once reminded Jack of his unique status as the hero of the Georgia victory. He shook his head and said, “No, that’s not right. Gene Stallings and I were the starting ends and Gene caught the pass for the touchdown. I caught a short one just before it.”

Startled and unused to hearing his former players correct the Bear, I asked Pardee if his memory could be trusted.

“I believe so,” he replied. “I also remember that we were driving for another score and I let a defensive man shoot the gap, throw us for a loss and kill the drive. That was when Coach Bryant decided to move me from end to fullback.”

In truth, Jack was something of a mystery to Bryant. He didn’t get mad no matter how much the coaches pushed him. The next spring some of the football players drove to Austin to cheer for the baseball team. Fights broke out all day, but the main event was between Pardee and a star Texas tackle named Buck Lansford. They brushed each other in the doorway of a restroom after Jack had turned away from the urinals.

Lansford snapped at him: “Don’t they teach you to wash your hands at A&M?”

And Pardee retorted, “They teach us not to piss on our fingers.”

They knocked each other sprawling over benches from one end of the bleachers to the other. The Aggies all thought Pardee won the fight.

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