Posted: Monday August 27, 2012 12:35PM ; Updated: Monday August 27, 2012 7:18PM
Stewart Mandel
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Arming the Aggies

Dual-threat Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel will give Kevin Sumlin's offense a new dimension.
Dual-threat Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel will give Kevin Sumlin's offense a new dimension.
Cal Sport Media

Several notable young quarterbacks will make their college debuts this weekend, including Notre Dame's Golson, Oregon's Mariota (vs. Arkansas State), Oklahoma State true freshman Wes Lunt (vs. Savannah State) and Maryland true freshman Perry Hills (vs. William and Mary).

But first up, on Thursday night against reigning WAC champion Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La., Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel gets his first and only tune-up before the Aggies bring the Air Raid to the SEC. Manziel will be the first freshman quarterback in school history to start an opener.

After notching 12 wins at Houston last season with sixth-year senior and NCAA-record setter Case Keenum, A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury are entrusting their up-tempo spread offense to 19-year-old Manziel, who beat out heavily favored sophomore Jameill Showers in preseason camp.

"He's not going to be like the sixth year senior we had last year in his first start," said Kingsbury, 33, formerly Mike Leach's first Texas Tech quarterback. "But he played in a similar offense in high school. He feels comfortable in it. He took command of the job [in fall camp]."

The Aggies' new offense remains a great source of mystery -- including among the coaches themselves. "I still don't think we know our exact identity," said Kingsbury. Skeptics say it's unrealistic that the pass-heavy offense Keenum ran at Houston -- originally devised by current West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen -- can work against elite SEC defenses. Kingsbury counters that Cam Newton and Tim Tebow excelled in spread offenses. And oh yeah, Tim Couch and Kentucky originally ran Leach's offense when he was the Wildcats' coordinator in the late '90s.

And the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Manziel (pronounced Man-zel) brings a different dimension than previous Air Raid quarterbacks, having run for 1,674 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior at Kerrville (Texas) Tivy High. "We've never been a big quarterback-run type offense," said Kingsbury. "But if you have a five-receiver route, it's hard to cover five guys and [the quarterback]. We think that's a huge advantage that he brings."

Besides fans of the two teams, presumably no one will be watching Thursday's game closer than the Florida coaching staff. The Gators visit College Station in Week 2.

Ohio State: A new era

Urban Meyer will lead the Buckeyes on to the field for the first time as head coach Saturday against the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, and he's hoping to start a new tradition -- specifically 23 minutes before kickoff.

Arizona State: A new era

Todd Graham coaches his first game ... actually he's not in this video. Rather, ASU's mascot Sparky has been traveling around the state projecting giant pitchfork images on walls.

Looking ahead

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

• South Carolina at Vanderbilt, Thursday (7 p.m. ET): This will mark the Gamecocks' sixth appearance in eight years in ESPN's Thursday night opener. Previous scores: 24-10, 15-0, 34-0, 7-3 and 41-13. They're the farthest thing from aesthetically pleasing, but we keep watching, because, finally, it's college football.

• Alabama vs. Michigan, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): You know the quarterbacks (Michigan's Denard Robinson and Alabama's AJ McCarron), but there's curiosity surrounding the running backs. The Tide's Eddie Lacy gets his first shot at being The Guy, while Fitz Toussaint's DUI arrest may open the door for Wolverines sophomore Thomas Rawls. (Brady Hoke hasn't said whether Toussaint will play.)

• Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, Monday (8 p.m. ET): It's no secret that teams generally fare better against the triple-option with more time to prepare, and the Hokies have had an entire offseason. While Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington and A-back Orwin Smith are no secrets, it remains to be seen if 6-4 sophomore Jeff Greene can follow in the Big Receiver footsteps of former stars Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill.

SI.com's 2012 college football preview content archive

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