Friday, August 30, 2013

Ag Football Preview: Rice Owls

Surprisingly, we haven't faced Rice since 1995 as the SWC came to an end.  It was an annual match-up where in A&M won twenty one of the last twenty two meetings (fifteen consecutive).  Rice has literally not beaten A&M in my lifetime.

The series started back in 1914 and this will be the 80th meeting between the two teams.  That makes the last 17 year absence so much more surprising to me.

The Owls are not a historical powerhouse.  They're just historical.  Their best run of football was the 9-year stretch from 1946 to 1954.  They went 9-0 against the Ags. and won three of their seven SWC crowns (four shared titled).  They also played in three bowl games during that stretch (they have played in only five since).

In the mid-50s, it was Rice who, threatened by what newly hired Bear Bryant was building in College Station, turned him in to the NCAA for recruiting violations, although they themselves (and any SWC team of the era) were just as guilty.
Owls celebrate upset over A&M (1957)
It was also just the day before the Rice game in 1957 that the Houston Post leaked that Bryant was going to be leaving A&M to go to Bama - and it was just enough distraction to allow the #20 Rice Owls sniff out a 7-6 win over the undefeated Ags after six A&M fumbles.  A mere two wins away from a national title.  Rice went on to win the SWC and play in the Cotton Bowl.

Rice was obviously one of the schools left for dead when the SWC dissolved but it was good for them, or at least for their record.  They played in the WAC from 1996-2004 and then moved to their current affiliation with C-USA in 2005.

I don't even have the heart to give you a current picture of Rice Stadium - it's really sad.  At one time Rice Stadium was a jewel of college football (it hosted a Super Bowl for Pete's sake) but now it is just old, empty, dingy and sad.  The running joke is that there are more seats in Rice Stadium than living Rice Alum.  Frankly, it's probably not a joke - there are 70,000 seats and a total enrollment of ~5,000 students.

As I was looking for picture of Rice Stadium, I realized that my first college football experiences occured at Rice Stadium.  I remember going to a handful of games with my Dad when I was a kid - I remember a game against UH (but only because I vaguely remember the program cover).  There was another we went to with a couple of my buddies and we were given football cards with Rice players on them and we just looked at the cards all game.  I also remember being at Rice Stadium and my Dad pointing out Bevo to me - it might have been the same game we got the cards) and we were sitting at almost the exact angle of that picture above, but much closer to the field..  Looking at their schedules, the game against the horns had to have been either 1989 or 1991.

Interestingly, the most vivid memory I have of Rice Stadium as a kid was the men's room.  The trough urinals had to have been 40 years old at the time and there was one big one in the middle of the room and one on each wall flanking the middle one.  I don't have any recollection of any people being in the men's room, but I'm pretty sure it was my first experience with a trough urinal and I was pretty horrified by the prospect of it.

More recently, the Owls have had a little more success than the previous 45ish years.  They played in the New Orleans Bowl in 2006 and then the Texas Bowl in 2008.  Then last season they knocked off Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish on a five game win streak to end the season (7-6 overall).

The MOB (Marching Owl Band) will not be making a trip to College Station this season, which is a little bit of a disappointment.  The MOB is a scatter band and their routines are typically parodies and skits - some clever and some toeing the line of offensive.  They're slightly better than the football team.

I'm not going to dive too much into the current Rice squad.  You can find that information elsewhere.  I will say that they will be without a couple of their key defenders who are out via suspension or injury.

One of my favorite things to do when we play a team like Rice is to go through their roster and look for interesting facts
  • Sr CB Alex Francis had four uncles who played in the NFL (including Lamar Lathon). I hope for his father's sake those uncles are all on his mother's side
  • Freshman TE, Robbie Wells III, is broadcaster Jim Nantz's cousin
  • Texans HC Gary Kubiak's younger son is on the roster....and apparently, Gary Kubiak's brother-in-law is SHSU head baseball coach, David Pierce
  • Larry Edmondson (Passing Coordinator/QB Coach) lettered at A&M and graduated in '83
  • DC Chris Thurmond coached at A&M during the Fran era as a CB coach ('03-'05)....remember when you were always yelling at our corners, "TURN AROUND AND LOOK FOR THE DAMN BALL!" and the clinic's put on by Larry Fitzgerald and Austin Flynn (!?!).  That was under his tutelage.
Frankly, even if Johnny doesn't take a snap, we should beat Rice by double digits.

The Verdict

One half of a game.

What a joke.

Here is the official joint statement from the school and the NCAA:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Texas A&M University and the NCAA confirmed today that there is no evidence that quarterback Johnny Manziel received money in exchange for autographs, based on currently available information and statements by Manziel. Due to an inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs, Texas A&M declared Manziel ineligible and submitted the following conditions for reinstatement to the NCAA:

• A one-half game suspension for Manziel

• Manziel will address the team regarding the situation and lessons learned

• Texas A&M will revise its future education concerning student-athlete autographs for individuals with multiple items

Based on the information submitted by the university, the NCAA accepted the conditions as put forward by Texas A&M. If additional information comes to light, the NCAA will review and consider if further action is appropriate. NCAA rules are clear that student-athletes may not accept money for items they sign and based on information provided by Manziel, that did not happen in this case.

If last season was any indicator, he wasn't likely to play more than about a half anyways.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What is Good for the Goose....

Why is it that it's kosher for photographers to sell pictures of NCAA student athletes to media conglomerates who turn around and slap the picture on the cover of their product with sole purpose of selling more of that product?

Weren't those pictures taken with the knowledge that someone was going to profit off of the student athlete?

And then the same media conglomerate gets to turn around and create a witch hunt in an attempt to destroy the same athlete they just used to sell magazines.

Also....How many guys have been on the cover of SI twice in one month?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pre-Season All-SEC

The SEC coaches voted on the Pre-Season All-SEC team.  UGA's QB, Tyler Murray, was voted 1st Team All-SEC at QB.
Thank you coaches.

A lot of writers and publications are doing all of their pre-season rankings, etc. and are leaving Johnny off completely because of his "unknown status".  The coaches can't even play that card - Johnny was voted 2nd team.

Jake Matthews was named 1st team, Mike Evans was named 2nd team, and Deshazor Everett was named 3rd team.

Murray didn't even make an All-SEC squad at the end of 2012 and somehow he leapfrogged the 1st and 2nd team winners from last year (McCarron was 2nd team).

Sixteen of Bama's players made one of the three squads....they only have twenty-two starters.  They should probably go ahead and get sized for their rings now.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2014 Schedule Released

Today the SEC released the 2014 season schedule.
Thurs. Aug. 28 - at South Carolina
Sat. Sept. 6 - tbd
Sat. Sept. 13 - tbd
Sat. Sept. 20 - at SMU
Sat. Sept. 27 - vs. Arkansas (Dallas)
Sat. Oct. 4 - at Mississippi State
Sat. Oct. 11 - OLE MISS
Sat. Oct. 18 - at Alabama
Sat. Oct. 25 - tbd
Sat. Nov. 1 - LA-MONROE
Sat. Nov. 8 - at Auburn
Sat. Nov. 15 - MISSOURI
Sat. Nov. 22 - tbd
Thurs. Nov. 27 - LSU
 Our 2014 road trip will be 'Bama
  • South Carolina on Thursday night to open the entire football season....and is also the first game shown on the new SEC Network.  Clay Travis wrote an outstanding article about the importance of this....basically, Slive is just brilliant.
  • Arkansas at Jerry's World on September 22nd....the week after we are scheduled to play at SMU?  I'd be mildly surprised if that SMU game didn't get shuffled somehow.  For me, it works out fine because I have family in Dallas - but I don't know if they like me enough to put me up for back-to-back weekends.
  • Really wish we could have squeezed a bye or the La-Monroe game in just before Bama
  • Our Bama game falls on the 3rd Saturday in October.  I'm pretty surprised about that.  Easily the toughest ticket for away games....the rest of the road conference schedule isn't very sexy so I think most will make an attempt at Tuscaloosa.
  • For the love of God!  No more Mizzou.  Please.  This will be the 5th consecutive year we've played Missouri (the 4th time they've traveled to Kyle Field in that span).  It is a shame that we continue to get stuck with our old conference mates when there are so many other teams from the east that we would be dying to play.
  • Coming off a bye.....LSU at Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night. R-O-C-K-I-N-G.
  • There are still two slots remaining to fill - most likely Sept 6 & 13th

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Couple of Followup Thoughts

  • The team is having Fan Appreciation Day on Sat. Aug 24th.  We've been every year since Benjamin was born and its a great time for kids (and grown up kids) to meet the players. 

    How great would it be if the athletic department brought in JSA Authentication (the company that authenticated all of those Johnny autographs) and set them up in a booth at the end of the row of players?  That would be a classic Sumlin move.

    Seriously though, it will be interesting to see if Johnny is in attendance and if so how it is handled.
  • There was an article today that brought up very good point.  LSU's starting RB, Jeremy Hill, already on probation for a sex crime, plead guilty last month to a battery charge.  Meanwhile, Johnny wrote his name on things.  Hill has been re-instated by his school and won't miss a game and Johnny faces the possible loss of his eligibility.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Johnny Autograph

Last weekend I received this text message from my father-in-law:
"More trouble for JFF!  Accused of receiving $ for autographs!"
My first thought was "Here we go again".  There has been a TON of off-season scuttlebutt following Johnny (that I haven't documented but are documented ad nauseum everywhere else) but none of it was actually serious - just over sensationalized by the media in the lulls of the offseason.  But after doing some initial reading, I realized that this might have some teeth.

I remembered that back in the spring this exact same topic had been brought up in the media so I had no doubt that the autographs were real.  My question was, "Did he get paid?" or maybe a bit more honestly, "Will they be able to prove he got paid?"

The topic resurfaced because of report by Darren Rovell (who is probably most famous for this fine bit of journalism), that ran on ESPN.  The story basically said that Johnny signed a lot of autographs for a memorabelia dealer that have been authenticated and are being sold on the internet and the NCAA was investigating Johnny.  But *shockingly*the unnamed sources saw Johnny at the signing....but no one saw any financial transaction.

This, broke the night before fall camp opens. 

All of this coming on the heels of this week's Sports Illustrated:

 In the presser for the first day of practice on Monday Sumlin said he had only heard about it 24 hours prior, which surprised me a little.  I figured that if the NCAA is investigating they would let the school know (which would have been particularly important when that school's backup QB was finishing up his degree so he could transfer as a grad student to another program for playing time as a senior).

A&M has brought in Birmingham law firm Lightfoot, Franklin and White to handle the situation on their end, and Johnny's family has lawyered up as well.  Lightfoot is basically the top NCAA compliance law firm in the country and handled the Cam Newton case a few years back.

So the next question becomes, "If there isn't resolution in the next 22 days, will we play him to start the season and risk having the results of those games stripped from us?"

My initial thought was, heck yeah, play him and win those games - particularly the 'Bama game - and make a run at an SEC title.  In 5 years....10 years....20 years no one will remember.  They'll remember the experience, the highlights and the images of the games.

Then I started to think a little more.  I'd definitely go that route if I thought he would get through the entire season before a ruling was handed down but..... 

What if he doesn't?  What if they come to a conclusion soon or even during the season?  Even if the NCAA is able to prove that Johnny did get paid, the suspension could very easily be just a handful of games.  The Ohio State players from the tattoo scandal got 4 games each. 

If that was the case, we would be punished in the polls and standings immediately, rather than retroactively, and wouldn't even get a chance to play for the SEC title. 

It'll be really interesting to see how Sumlin and the school handles this.  The Cam Newton situation was different because the accusations didn't come to light until mid-season so they were already on the hook. 

I think it is also important to keep in mind that is not a recruiting violation they're investigating.  It's not even a situation of an alum or booster paying him.  This is Johnny, on his own, maybe making money by signing his name for someone else.

Another aspect of this that I find interesting is that everyone I talk to about this, regardless of their rooting interests, are disappointed simply because they want to see him play (more specifically, they want to see him play against 'Bama).  Because this isn't a recruiting issue or a booster issue it is being viewed less as cheating and more as a casualty of a rule that was already widely considered dumb and hypocritical.

The NCAA has been getting more and more heat about it's rules regarding athletes getting compensated.  They are coming off of the recent EA SPORTS NCAA FOOTBALL video game lawsuits.  If they drop the hammer on Johnny, the currently loud minority will grow significantly into a majority.  The governing body - the NCAA - might not survive and this could ultimately be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Interestingly enough, until a day or two ago, the NCAA's own website would pull up player related merchandise when certain player's names were entered into the search function.  For example, if you typed in "Manziel" it would bring up an A&M jersey with a #2 on it.  Johnny isn't allowed to sell his own name but they can use it to sell their gear.

Obviously they've been making money hand-over-foot for their on-field product thanks to the players, so this is small beans but it is an absolutely PERFECT (and very specific) example of them profiting off of the players.  I'm sure that Johnny's lawyers took notice.

Some A&M fans have taken it upon themselves to do some research on authenticated player signatures and have found pretty interesting stuff (here).  This doesn't appear to be a "Johnny Problem", this is a "College Football Problem".

I really hope this all doesn't blow up on A&M but if it does, Johnny brought it upon himself - he knew the rules, as dumb as they may be, and life will go on.  I'll still be standing at the top of Kyle Field every weekend.  Shoot, I survived the Fran-era, I can survive anything.

Holy cow I can't wait for the season to actually start.