Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By CORY McCARTNEY  |  Last updated 9/9/13
The game has been both inescapable and all encompassing. Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 It plays on televisions in the Crimson Tide's weight room -- where Aggies logos are on each machine -- and Nick Saban, so famous for his 24-hour rule for his players to either celebrate a win or wallow in defeat, admitted in May that preparing for the Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is "an ongoing process." Manziel has been defined by its outcome, riding the performance to the first Heisman Trophy for a freshman and he reenacted his juggling touchdown while throwing out the first pitch at a Padres game. He became the biggest star in college football -- and a full-realized celebrity in the social media age. Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 Much has changed as the No. 6 Aggies and No. 1 Tide prepare to meet again Saturday in College Station. But then again, you can make the case that so much remains the same. Saban's Tide -- warts and all on offense, it would seem, after one game -- are still the nation's top-ranked team and still the defending national champions and Texas A&M remains a team with something to prove, despite -- and because of -- its QB's stardom. Can Johnny Football stay in control? It's the question that is certain to define the second round between the Aggies and Tide. The sandlot style, which he so memorably illustrated on that aforementioned juggling TD, is Manziel thriving amid mayhem but it allows him to balance his play in the pocket with the threat of turning a broken play into something much more. Video: Alabama ready for another chance at Manziel, Aggies Expect Alabama to work to rattle Manziel, by both giving him different looks and trying to get in his head. Let's not forget his antics when he was being antagonized by Rice, which ultimately got him benched. He's going to be goaded, but can he keep his cool? This game, more so than the first meeting, could be a bigger part of Manziel's legacy. Then there's the deeper meaning for Saban. Since taking over the Tide, he is 16-4 when he has at least eight days to get ready for an opponent. It's an ability to demoralize an opponent that has become part of the Saban legend. Oh, and there's this: he's 7-1 in revenge games (and 15-2 in 11 seasons in the SEC). Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24 couldn't derail the inevitable as the Tide ultimate won another title, but the sequel will either strengthen or diminish the narrative for two of the game's current icons. It's Saban vs. Manziel. Discipline vs. chaos. Buckle up. Guess who's back ... wait, we're sure right? Eminem face, which is sure to enter the college football meme lexicon (see The Blitz's entry below) after his bizarre appearance in the booth during Notre Dame-Michigan, may best illustrate the first two weekends of the season when it comes to the ACC. First, Clemson opened with a win over then-No. 5 Georgia, then Miami followed by knocking off No. 12 Florida 21-16, to which Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said "How about that ACC? Spunky little old league?" and proceeded to flash "The U" sign at his press conference after a rout of South Carolina State. Two wins over the big-bad SEC, which of course the ACC shares a backyard and recruiting grounds with, can go a long way toward challenging a perception. But is it enough? Detractors will point to the SEC's miscues in those losses, Georgia's botched snap on the field-goal attempt and the Gators, who outgained the Hurricanes 413-212, giving the ball away on four red-zone trips. Al Golden deserves credit for what he's built in Coral Gables despite the specter of further NCAA sanctions and Swinney's Tigers look like national title contenders (as does Florida State, though we haven't seen enough of them quite yet), but the ACC needs more to truly convince us. It's not the fault of the 2013 conference, it's the past. Since 1953, the ACC has just two winning records against Top 25 teams from outside the league. Despite those two wins over SEC teams, the ACC is 2-4 in those games this season. Seat gets hotter for Brown at Texas The pressure was already on Mack Brown after three sub-par seasons in which he went 22-16 and had the only losing record (5-7 in 2010) of his 15 seasons in Austin. But it's gone from bad to embarrassing for the Longhorns. BYU, which was coming off a loss to Virginia, ran for 550 yards -- the most ever allowed by Texas -- averaging 7.6 yards per carry in a 40-21 win over the No. 15 'Horns. Brown found his scapegoat, firing coordinator Manny Diaz less than 24 hours after the loss to the Cougars. "Our performance on defense Saturday night was unacceptable, and we need to change that," Brown said in a statement released by the school. It's a nice sentiment but it doesn't change anything about a defense that was already a problem, giving up a school-record 5,244 yards last season with nine starters from that unit back. Now, Brown is turning the D over to Greg Robinson, who you may remember from such defenses as Syracuse 2006 (107th nationally), Syracuse '07 (111th), Syracuse '08 (101st), Michigan '09 (82nd) and Michigan '10 (110th). UT 's Mack Brown has to hit the tri-fecta to keep his job this year. 10 wins. Beat OU. Win Bowl game. I say he gets 2 out of 3 (bowl win) Jay Mohr (@jaymohr37) September 8, 2013Brown, 62, has flatly told Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde this summer "I'm not going to be fired" and he may be right. But we've seen legends -- Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno -- that didn't want to go be forced out before and Brown, at least, has time to turn it around before he tests that statement he made back in August. Plus, he can rest assured that there's at lest one other coach on a seat with a temperature that's a little higher on the thermometer -- ahem, USC's Lane Kiffin. UPS AND DOWNS UP: PENN STATE Bill O'Brien has himself a quarterback. Christian Hackenberg passed for 278 yards in Week 1 vs. Syracuse, which was the fourth-highest total for a freshman in school history, and he followed it up by setting a frosh record with 311 yards in a win over Eastern Michigan. He's now second in the Big Ten at 294.5 ypg. DOWN: NOTRE DAME "Chickening out?" of future matchups with Michigan? They rubbed it in at the Big House blaring the "Chicken Dance" after the Wolverines dumped the Fighting Irish 41-30. While Tommy Rees (29 of 51 for 314 yards with two TDs) took the blame for his late pick -- the second of the game thrown to Blake Countess -- its the Irish defense that looked abysmal and has now given up 42 and 41 points in two of its last three dating back to the national title game. UP: WASHINGTON STATE It probably wasn't the score Air Raid offense maestro Mike Leach expected in his signature win at Washington State, but his Cougars pulled the upset over No. 25 USC and did so without scoring an offensive TD. The Wazzu D kept Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee in check, limiting him to his worst game in a Trojans uniform with seven receptions for 27 yards and no scores. Video: Highlights: (25) USC vs. Washington State DOWN: SEC EAST While Georgia salvaged its BCS title hopes with a 41-30 win over then-No. 6 South Carolina, that Gamecocks' loss -- which all but took Jadeveon Clowney out of the Heisman race -- and the Gators' defeat at the hands of Miami gave all three of the favorite in the division one loss after two weeks of football. The only undefeateds? Missouri and Tennessee. Who saw that coming? UP: BAYLOR One week after setting a modern era scoring record with 69 points against Wofford, the Bears did it again against an actual living, breathing FBS team, burning Buffalo for 70 points. Bryce Petty (13 of 16 for 338 yards and two TDs and a rushing score) and Co. also set a program mark with 781 yards of offense. It's a performance that likely had some Associated Press Top 25 voters rethinking Ohio State for having just 40 points and 460 yards against these same Bulls, hence the Buckeyes' drop from No. 3 to No. 4. DOWN: WESTERN KENTUCKY Things really couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for Bobby Petrino's Hillclimbers against Tennessee. They committed five turnovers in a six-play span as a 3-0 lead turned into a 31-3 deficit in 52-20 loss. If there's one positive, WKU did avoid equaling the FBS records set by Florida State, which has four fumbles and three interceptions in its first seven possessions vs. Florida on Oct. 7, 1972. BMOCs OFFENSE: Devin Gardner, QB Michigan, Jr. The tribute to Heisman winner and all-around Wolverines legend Tom Harmon was a nice touch, but Gardner lived up to the moment in passing for 294 yards, four scores and a pick to go along with 82 rushing yards and a TD in the win over the Irish. Denard Robinson left his mark on the program with gaudy stats, but Gardner is proving something else that Shoelace never was: a more complete QB. Video: Gardner knows significance of Notre Dame rivalry DEFENSE: Detrick Bonner, CB Virginia Tech, RS Jr. Bonner gave the Hokies their first defensive touchdown since the 2010 ACC Championship Game as took intercepted a tipped pass by Western Carolina's Eddie Sullivan in the first quarter and ran it back 37 yards. Then, Bonner added his second pick before halftime, giving him as many picks in two quarters as he had in his first two seasons in a Virginia Tech uniform. SPECIAL TEAMS: Isaiah Burse, PRWR, Fresno State, Sr. Houston's Richie Leone was a close second with five field goals, but Burse scored on punt returns of 61 and 58 yards, becoming the third player in Mountain West history to return to punts for a TD in the same game. Burse also four receptions for 43 yards, including a 15-yard TD, in the Bulldogs' 41-25 win over Cal Poly. FILM ROOM See Gurley, See Gurley Run (with no helmet) An NCAA rule slowed down Todd Gurley, even if South Carolina's D couldn't. Gamecocks tackle Kelcy Quarles tore off the Georgia running backs' lid, but he kept on going -- dreadlocks flowing -- and could have had a 29-yard TD if not for the fact that a play is whistled dead once a ball-carrier loses his helmet. Mariota's fast start Marcus Mariota needed less than two minutes to torch Virginia's defense, scoring on this 71-yard run on No. 2 Oregon's sixth play from scrimmage in their 59-10 romp. Mariota would finish with 122 yards on four carries -- he's now the first Duck QB to have back-to-back 100-yard games -- to go along with 199 yards and two TDs through the air. North's juggling act Tennessee freshman Marquez North had just two catches in the win over Western Kentucky, but one of the wont' be forgotten, if just for the utter absurdity of it. Justin Worley's threw the ball behind North and he tipped the ball up to himself. It then went off his leg and his foot as he reached up and grabbed it for a 20-yard gain. CRYSTAL BALL No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M Saban's defense vs. Manziel will be on the marquee and while it seems unlikely that the Tide can completely bottle up the Heisman winner, there is a more crucial battle when 'Bama has the ball. Texas A&M's defense has allowed 31 points and 509 yards to Rice and 28 points and 390 yards to Sam Houston State and now they have to face AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Co? The Alabama offensive line may have looked shaky against Virginia Tech, but something tells me they look much more stout in this matchup. The Pick: Alabama 31, Texas A&M 24 No. 16 UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska One week after giving up 602 yards to Wyoming, the Blackshirts buckled down and held Southern Miss in check (284 yards). But which effort was the real Nebraska D? We'll find out as they face QB Brett Hundley, who passed for 274 yards and two TDs and ran for 63 yards and two scores in the Bruins' Week 1 win over Nevada. Remember, Hundley led the charge as UCLA torched the Cornhuskers for 653 yards last season and this is a Nebraska defense with seven new starters. The Pick: UCLA 38, Nebraska 30 No. 25 Ole Miss at Texas Embarrassed by BYU and out of the Top 25, this would seem to be a huge opportunity for the Longhorns with a ranked opponent coming to Austin. But the Rebels, who have scored 70 combined points the last two weeks, will only add to Texas' frustrations on defense and with 'Horns QB David Ash a question mark after suffering a head injury, Robert Nkemdiche and the Ole Miss D could continue to make a name for itself. The Pick: Ole Miss 30, Texas 21
What a time to be Tom Herman!
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