Posted: Monday August 29, 2011 10:54AM ; Updated: Monday August 29, 2011 1:17PM
Stewart Mandel

Oregon out to conquer old demons (cont.)

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Spreading the field

Garrett Gilbert (7) beat out Case McCoy and two others for Texas' starting job.
Garrett Gilbert (7) beat out Case McCoy and two others for Texas' starting job.
John Rivera/Icon SMI

• The controversial Longhorn Network debuted to mostly darkness on Aug. 26, which seems appropriate, since Mack Brown kept fans completely in the dark about Texas' four-way quarterback battle (and every other aspect of his team) throughout preseason camp. Texas players have rarely been made available to media -- except, of course, to LHN cameramen. Finally, on Monday, Brown released a depth chart in which incumbent Garrett Gilbert retained his spot as the Longhorns' No. 1 quarterback.

It would be interesting to see how Gilbert looks when Texas kicks off Saturday night against Rice -- but that game, too, is available only on LHN.

• A week before last year's season opener, then-Florida coach Urban Meyer admitted he was "hitting the panic button a little bit" after what he'd seen from his team in practice. His concerns ultimately proved valid. Successor Will Muschamp expressed similar displeasure following his team's final scrimmage last week, saying: "We've got a bunch of guys that do it the right way, but not enough and not collectively enough guys doing it that way right at this point."

It may have been a motivational ploy. It's hard to say because, like Texas, Florida has been operating in near-total secrecy. We do know that Muschamp will be relying heavily on younger talent, particularly on defense, and younger players can certainly be a prime source of frustration for coaches.

• Miami coach Al Golden told WQAM radio Monday morning he expects to hear from the NCAA within the next 48 hours regarding which players will be eligible for the Sept. 5 opener against Maryland. According to the Miami Herald, the school is currently seeking reinstatement for quarterback Jacory Harris and at least seven other key players who allegedly received benefits from jailed former booster Nevin Shapiro. An upbeat Harris said Saturday: "I expect to play. Yes, sir."

• While many are eager to finally see Virginia Tech's huge and highly touted quarterback Logan Thomas, it looks like the Hokies' offense will revolve heavily around tailback David Wilson. The speedy junior, overshadowed his first two seasons by stars Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, thoroughly dominated Virginia Tech's three preseason scrimmages. Another budding star: sophomore defensive end James Gayle, who had four sacks in the Hokies' last scrimmage.

• While TCU hero Andy Dalton prepares for his first start with the Cincinnati Bengals, his successor, third-year sophomore Casey Pachall, is expected to make his first start Friday night at Baylor. The 6-4, dual-threat quarterback has endured some tough love from coach Gary Patterson, who's indicated he may play redshirt freshman Matt Brown, but Pachall seems an ideal fit for coordinator Justin Fuente's offense. A more pressing concern might be the Horned Frogs' three new starters on the offensive line.

• One of the most devastating practice injuries this month was Arkansas running back Knile Davis' season-ending fractured ankle. Davis, whose second-half tear last season keyed the Hogs' Sugar Bowl run, figured to be one of the nation's elite runners. But Arkansas fans are eagerly anticipating the return of junior Dennis Johnson, who showed big-play ability in limited action the first two games last year before suffering his own season-ending injury. "It's his stage now," said a supportive Davis.

• With top returning rusher Marc Tyler suspended, it will be interesting to see how Lane Kiffin rotates his tailbacks in USC's opener against Minnesota. Sophomore Dillon Baxter, who elicited so much hype upon his arrival last year, has been mostly a disappointment. Curtis McNeal has been the most impressive in scrimmages, but keeps getting dinged up. Freshman Amir Carlisle is a blank slate. Kiffin likes the varying styles the three bring, but could sure use more experience.

• Tulsa star Damaris Johnson, who already holds the NCAA career record for all-purpose yards (7,796), is suspended indefinitely following his girlfriend Chamon Jones' arrest for alleged embezzlement. While Johnson has not been charged, police said he twice bought more than $1,000 worth of merchandise from Jones, a Macy's employee, on her debit card, but was charged a fraction of that cost. The bizarre story comes at a terrible time for the Hurricane, who open against No. 1 Oklahoma.

• As Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa attempts to live up to his school's creative Heisman campaign on his behalf, he appears to have a promising new receiving target. True freshman Christian Jones, a touted Houston-area recruit, is listed as a co-starter for the Wildcats' opener at Boston College. Questions remain, however, about whether Persa is fully recovered from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered last season. It's unlikely we'll see him running much early on.

• In a touching gesture, Oklahoma defensive players will honor the late Austin Box by having a different defender wear his jersey, No. 12, each week this season.

• Senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller will both see time at quarterback when Ohio State opens against Akron. It's as if Jim Tressel never left.

• Georgia's Brandon Boykin, who has four career kick returns for touchdowns, tweeted a challenge to Boise State coach Chris Petersen.

• Saner heads have prevailed. Less than a week after unveiling it, organizers agreed not to use this as the new Iowa-Iowa State Cy-Hawk Trophy.

A lingering offseason distraction

College football fans shouldn't fault Texas A&M for looking out for its own best interests.
College football fans shouldn't fault Texas A&M for looking out for its own best interests.

Texas A&M is expected to announce its departure from the Big 12 as soon as this week, according to an AP source, and an SEC invitation will presumably follow.

While the prospect of another round of conference realignment doesn't exactly excite me, and while I've long expressed bewilderment over the potential A&M-SEC marriage, I'm just as puzzled by the general tone regarding the Aggies, which seems to be: How dare they?

To listen to some, you would think A&M is making an ill-advised decision not only for itself, but for all of college football. Rivalries will be destroyed and other conferences will be pillaged, all because the Aggies got their feelings hurt by Texas.

Funny, but I don't remember hearing the same complaints about Nebraska severing century-old Big 8 relationships to head to the Big Ten. And when it looked like Texas might head to the Pac-10 -- that seemed kind of cool.

Texas A&M is not the bad guy here. You can question its motives, or how a move might impact its won-loss record, but you can't fault the school for looking out for its own best interests. If it feels its current conference is unstable and it has a chance to join a more prestigious league, so be it. It's not A&M's responsibility to ensure the greater health of college football.

If you want to blame someone for the chaos and instability that might ensue from this move, blame the SEC. While commissioner Mike Slive's primary job is to better his conference, he's also one of the sport's most visible leaders. He used his pulpit last month to spell out an ambitious "agenda for change" to reform college sports, but now he's on the brink of a purely money-driven move that runs contradictory to much of his message from that day.

And the strangest part is, the SEC doesn't need to expand. Its status as the nation's premier football conference isn't threatened by the Big Ten and Pac-12's recent moves. Slive's league is still printing money, even if it's slightly less than what Larry Scott recently banked.

Perhaps that's why some (most notably Dan Beebe and Texas politicians) are hoping the A&M-SEC engagement will be called off at the last minute. Don't bet on it. Slive is a smart man. If he thinks going to 14 is the right move for his league, it's because he believes mega-conferences are inevitable and he wants to beat others to the punch.

If that is indeed where things are headed, there'll be no stopping the winds of "progress." And if that is the future, a whole bunch of schools will be eyeing greener pastures.

A&M may ultimately prove to be ahead of the curve.

Looking ahead

Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:

LSU vs. Oregon, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): Jarrett Lee, this is your moment. As a redshirt freshman, Lee threw 16 interceptions in eight starts before injury opened the door for Jefferson. After seeing spot duty the past two seasons, Lee will make his first start since Nov. 14, 2009. He'll be doing so against the No. 3 team in the country.

Boise State vs. Georgia, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): Can Georgia get pressure on Moore? Can the Dawgs' often-suspect offensive line protect Murray? Neither of those, however, are as important as this fundamental question: Is Nike intentionally messing with us at this point? (Though those are pretty sweet gloves.)

Miami at Maryland, Monday (8 p.m. ET): Maryland has unveiled its own fancy new uniforms courtesy of Under Armour, but unfortunately these aren't a one-time thing. In an attempt to make Oregon drool, the school claims it will have 2,576 possible color combinations. New slogan: Fear the Mustard Stain.

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