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November 19, 2012

Tarp's Monday Thoughts

The focus for the BCS and Texas A&M shifts from the Fiesta Bowl to the Sugar Bowl because of the chaos that occurred over the weekend.

Previously…and I'll do my best to explain this…it looked like that after A&M's victory over Alabama that the Aggies didn't just have a date with a New Year's Day caliber bowl but were headed to a BCS bowl. The Fiesta Bowl was losing its Big 12 conference tie-in because Kansas State was headed to the BCS championship leaving the Fiesta Bowl to pick anyone else as long as they were in top 14 of the BCS rankings. This was considered to be a unique opportunity for the Fiesta Bowl to select someone from the SEC.

For six years running, the SEC champion had gone to the BCS title game, which eliminated one of the maximum of two SEC programs that could be selected. For geographic reasons, the Sugar Bowl (the BCS's SEC tie in) usually took the second SEC team. However, it was the Fiesta Bowl's opportunity to secure teams first in 2012 and it did not have to select another Big 12 team. As long as Texas A&M finished in the top 14 of the BCS standings, the Aggies were an attractive choice because of Texas' proximity to Arizona and the fact that it had a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Johnny Manziel. Thus, it looked like the Aggies would land in Arizona.

Then…this weekend happened.

Both Oregon and Kansas State…numbers one and two in BCS standings…lost on Saturday night. Notre Dame moved up to number one and Alabama moved from fourth to second.

Suddenly, the Fiesta Bowl had its Big 12 tie-in again and it looked like that Kansas State would be locked in as one opponent. The other opponent could be Oregon which would no longer be playing for a national title but offered a high powered offense.

The Sugar Bowl would pick second and in past years the game has geared itself toward picking another SEC team to replace the SEC team that was playing for the national title. They would have any number of SEC teams to look at…the loser of the Alabama-Georgia matchup in the SEC title game, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, or Texas A&M.

Of that group, only Florida would have one loss (the loser of the SEC title would have two losses after that game no matter what). Of the two loss group, Texas A&M would have the most compelling story…first year in the SEC, a Heisman finalist, and win over a team that could likely be the BCS champion. In addition, A&M has a reputation for traveling well. Overall, A&M has the most compelling story out there in a conference where status quo reigns everywhere else.

There is one catch: if Florida finishes fourth in the BCS standing or higher, they are automatically included in the BCS. Since a maximum of two teams can be invited from the same conference, the Gators and not the Aggies would be the second team from the SEC.

However, if Florida loses to Florida State in Tallahassee next weekend, then Florida is also a two loss team and does not automatically finish in the top four. Florida may be missing starting QB Jeff Driskel for the FSU game, which helps A&M out immensely. It is also doubtful that the SEC title game loser finishes in the top four as well. This would open the door for the Sugar Bowl to invite A&M as well as a at-large team. Their only real obstacle from the SEC would be LSU and remember two years ago that when Arkansas beat LSU, the Hogs (who travel well) got the invite.

But there's a lot of football to be played between now and then. For example, Kansas State still has a resurgent Texas which could move up with a victory over the Wildcats into the top 14 and make them a candidate for a BCS invite. Oregon is fifth but has Oregon State in the Civil War and then the Pac 12 title game. If those two teams AND Florida lose, it could LSU fourth in the BCS and then THEY would automatically qualify.

As of today, the consensus among pollsters…unlike last week…is that A&M winds up outside the BCS but even then there's disagreement as to where they would play. Capital One? Cotton Bowl? Again, there's a lot of football left to be played.

-For what its worth, a lot of the hype surrounding A&M and the Fiesta Bowl was generated by a press release from the Fiesta Bowl naming A&M as its team of the week after the Alabama game. People took that as an indication that the Fiesta Bowl was looking almost solely at A&M to fill one of its spots. However, we talked to a Fiesta Bowl official who stated that the actual selection was done by the Football Writers Association of America, not the Fiesta Bowl. In addition, the Fiesta Bowl SPONSORS the award.

Thus, the Fiesta Bowl had nothing to do with A&M being named its team of the week and in reality it had zero about A&M's chances for that game. The Fiesta Bowl official we talked to indicated that they liked having an opportunity to select a SEC team like A&M but if Oregon was available as they are now, then A&M would probably get pushed out of that spot as they are projected to do (at least as of today).

- Here's an early look at Missouri: a team that was selected as an early favorite for the SEC East has imploded and is on the verge of not making a bowl game. They buried themselves in an avalanche of turnovers in the fourth quarter of their SEC opener against Georgia and the first half of the South Carolina game, found themselves unable to protect QB James Franklin, and got outscored 38-3 and have never recovered.

Franklin's running was a big part of Missouri's offensive success last season but, unlike Johnny Manziel, he's not an avoid runner. As a result, he took a lot of hits from SEC defenders designed to stop 21 personnel rather than Big 12 defenders designed to stop the spread. He got injured and as a result they've had to play backup Corbin Berkstresser. He's not the runner that Franklin is and he's thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns.

But everything goes back to Missouri's offensive line play…they are starting three underclassmen and that group includes a couple of sub 300 pounders. In particular, left tackle Mitch Morse (a redshirt sophomore) has struggled protecting Franklin's blind side. As a result, Franklin got knocked out again against Syracuse the other night after coming back from injury and Berkenstrasser threw an interception to seal Missouri's fate. Franklin is questionable again this weekend (although DT Sheldon Richardson is back on the team after missing the Syracuse game).

Even if Franklin plays, Missouri would struggle to the move the ball…they averaged less than 20 points a game in a seven game stretch earlier this season. Without him, they are playing an immobile redshirt freshman quarterback behind a patchwork offensive line that's 96th nationally in sacks allowed this year.

There's nothing good in that scenario for Missouri.

-Finally…with Kansas State's loss to Baylor Saturday night that knocked KSU out of the BCS title, the loss seemed to also appeared to derail quarterback Colin Klein's chances to win the Heisman Trophy as well. However, there appears to be almost a desperate search for an alternative to a redshirt freshman who hasn't paid his dues winning the award. The new alternative to A&M's Johnny Manziel is Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o who has had a great season in leading the Irish to being just one win from playing for a national title. In fact, Klein's chances may not be done as people argue that while Manziel had his LSU game with three turnovers and no touchdowns, Klein still produced three touchdowns to go with his three turnovers.

Okay, let's get some absurdity out of the way here (and there's no other way to describe it): first, Klein turned over the ball three times against the 119th rated defensive team in the country. Manziel was playing a top ten defense who's worst game all season was a whopping 21 point outburst by Alabama. Not only that, Manziel at least had his team up 12-0 at one point while Klein had his trailing by FOUR touchdowns.

Second, for all his quality play this season, Te'o is 44th nationally in tackles. I tweeted some of Manziel's numbers the other day and I'll do so again because they are almost video game-like:

30th nationally in rushing, 1st in the SEC

21st nationally in passing efficiency, 4th in the SEC

2nd in total offense nationally, 1st in the SEC

20th nationally in scoring, 1st in the SEC

In other words, Manziel is by far the most productive player in the best conference in the country.

I'll repeat that for effect: Manziel is the most productive player in the best conference in the country. That alone should erase all doubt about his credentials.

But here's some more: how many Heisman candidates have ever faced off against three top ten defenses in the same season? Can Colin Klein's numbers in his toughest matchup on the road against Oklahoma (13 for 21 for 149 yards passing, one touchdown rushing) compare to Manziel's (21 of 34 for 253 yards and two touchdowns passing and 92 yards rushing) versus defending national champion and number one ranked Alabama?

Not just no, but HELL no.

So again, I'll leave you with this:

Manziel is the most productive player in the best conference in the country.

Nothing else should matter. Johnny Manziel deserves the Heisman Trophy.

Give it to him.


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