More Overtime (cont.)
Remember when we all thought Texas A&M was certifiably bonkers for joining the SEC? This was, after all, a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team for most of the previous decade. Now it was moving to (at the time) the toughest division in the toughest conference in the country. How many years it would take for the Aggies to become competitive?
As it turns out, one.
With its 38-13 road rout of then-No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 15 Texas A&M improved to 7-2, including 4-2 in conference play, a mark good enough for second place in the vaunted SEC West. It's been a remarkable transformation under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, who says any concerns that the Aggies could compete in their new conference went out the window following a 20-17 season-opening loss to Florida.
"The next week we rode the bus back from Dallas [after playing SMU], we were watching the Florida-Tennessee game, it was pretty quiet," Sumlin said by phone Sunday. "Our players realized Florida's pretty good and we could have won that game.
"We're pretty confident right now. The questions about us getting pushed around and out-physicaled in this league, we answered that in the first game. Just because we're a spread team doesn't mean we're a finesse team."
Obviously, redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the face of A&M's transformation. Saturday against the 7-1 Bulldogs, he completed 30-of-36 passes for 311 yards while rushing for an additional 129 yards and two scores. "We're a different football team than we were Week 1, and he's a different player than he was Week 1," said Sumlin. "He's been on a journey from becoming an athlete to an athlete that plays quarterback."
Saturday's performance was particularly impressive in that the Aggies didn't let up after taking an early 24-0 lead. Last year under Mike Sherman, A&M repeatedly blew second-half leads, and it nearly surrendered a 27-point advantage in an Oct. 13 shootout against Louisiana Tech and blew an early 12-0 lead in a home loss to LSU the next week. Sumlin doesn't discuss the "elephant in the room," but he says the Aggies' own comeback win at Ole Miss Oct. 6 was a breakthrough.
The Aggies are 3-0 in conference games on the road, but Saturday brings their toughest test to date: a trip to Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama. Both Florida and LSU's elite defenses showed Manziel can be slowed, and the Tide will be expected to do the same.
But in many ways, that's beside the point. The fact that an Alabama-Texas A&M matchup in mid-November is considered a marquee SEC game says everything you need to know about the impact Sumlin's program is already having.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. Oregon
Rose: Nebraska vs. Oregon State
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame
Sugar: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Orange: Florida State vs. Louisville
The game that had the biggest impact on the BCS picture last weekend turned out not to be Alabama-LSU or Oregon-USC. Instead, it was San Diego State's 21-19 upset of then-BCS No. 19 Boise State. Riding a 100-yard Colin Lockett kick return to start the game and a third-quarter blocked punt that set up another touchdown, the Aztecs (7-3, 5-1 MWC) handed the Broncos (7-2, 4-1) just their third home loss since 2001.
In doing so, San Diego State may have ended any chance of a non-AQ team reaching a BCS bowl this year. Louisiana Tech (8-1) still has an outside shot, but the Bulldogs are buried at No. 20 in the latest standings. The Sugar Bowl folks must be elated. As of last week, they were looking at either a one-loss Boise team or the Big East champ. Now, they may have their choice of brand-name programs, perhaps 11-1 Clemson (if it beats South Carolina) or 10-2 Oklahoma (if it wins out). I'm going with the Sooners for now, particularly with Florida currently on the other side.
To refresh, this is a real-time top three Heisman ballot in which the only consideration is the players' performances to date. Neither preseason buzz nor the likelihood of a player actually winning will come into play, but the quality of competition so far will.
1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State. With a 16-of-22, 245-yard performance against Oklahoma State in two-plus quarters, Klein moved to No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency. Unfortunately, if the thus-far undisclosed injury costs him a game or more, his candidacy is likely over.
2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC. He's the nation's all-purpose yards leader. Two weeks he ago he broke the Pac-12 receiving record (345 yards against Arizona). Last week he broke the kick return record (251). His team's record is irrelevant. Lee is that good.
3. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. Even with a modest seven tackles against Pittsburgh, Te'o remains on the list for his overall performance. But this week shows why it's so hard for a defensive player to win the award -- one quiet game takes him off the Heisman radar.
A note on Kenjon Barner: According to Oregon beat writer Rob Moseley, if Barner -- who ran for a historic 321 yards against USC -- had played entire games all season and maintained his current pace, he'd already have 2,317 yards. Of course, the reason Barner has been sitting out is because the Ducks have played so many hapless opponents that he hasn't had to play in the second halves. That makes it hard to take his candidacy seriously just yet.