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Forde-Yard Dash: Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel closer to Michael Vick or Tim Tebow?

Pat Forde
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (antidepressants sold separately in Tuscaloosa):

JOHNNY FOOTBALL: FUN TO WATCH, HARD TO DEFINE

Johnny Manziel (1) is the delicious new flavor of the month in college football, an unconventional talent who did what no player has done the past two years: bring the mighty Alabama (2) defense to its knees. In the process of watching the Texas A&M quarterback carve up the Crimson Tide for 345 yards of total offense and two touchdown passes, America began grasping for the proper comparison to previous dynamic quarterbacks we’ve seen.

He was compared to 1980s Boston College hero Doug Flutie (3), but that’s not right. Manziel has Flutie’s improvisational flair, but he’s bigger and certainly seems faster.

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Tim Tebow bows down while playing against LSU. (AP)

He was compared to former Florida Gator Tim Tebow (4), but that’s not right either. Manziel is 35 pounds lighter than Tebow and several inches shorter, and their running styles are very different.

In terms of college quarterbacking talents and career path, The Dash thinks Johnny Football more closely resembles a right-handed Michael Vick (5).

Manziel is not as fast as Vick – what quarterback has been? – but he’s similarly gifted with his wheels. His escapability and running instincts are Vick-like, and he’s virtually the same size: Manziel is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, while Vick was 6-1 and 214 at Virginia Tech.

There are other similarities.

Vick was a redshirt freshman when he burst onto the scene, scrambling and passing Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl and a national title showdown against Florida State, while also finishing third in the Heisman Trophy race. Manziel is a redshirt freshman who could be scrambling and passing A&M to a BCS bowl, while also collaring a prime spot in the Heisman race. Both were considered raw as passers, and the redshirt season was used to help them develop in that area.

Like Vick, Manziel is not a choir boy. He was arrested and charged with three misdemeanors stemming from a fight outside a College Station bar in June. Along with pictures of him running, passing and scoring touchdowns, Manziel’s shirtless mug shot from that arrest will be part of Johnny Football’s permanent photographic lore.

Unlike Vick, Manziel seems to have a good relationship with canines. He dressed up as Scooby Doo for Halloween, and has never shown any antagonism toward the school mascot, a dog named Reveille.

Then there are the numbers, which are similar if you keep two things in mind: the game has changed a lot since 1999, and Michael Vick was underutilized by Virginia Tech.

In 11 games, Vick threw for 2,065 yards and ran for 682, accounting for 22 touchdowns. His pass-efficiency rating was 172. In seven different games, he had at least one run of 30 yards or longer.

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Johnny Manziel shucks a tackle against Alabama on Saturday. (AP)

Manziel has passed for 2,780 yards and run for 1,014, while accounting for 33 total touchdowns. His pass-efficiency rating is 151. In eight different games, he’s had at least one run of 30 yards or longer.

The big difference comes in the number of combined rushes and throws. Vick had 212 in 11 games. Manziel has 492 in 10 games.

Part of the success is the pace at which A&M plays, clicking off 81 offensive snaps per game. Thirteen years ago, nobody played at that pace. Virginia Tech ran 69 plays per game in 1999. That equates to 144 more offensive snaps for the Aggies over the course of the season.

The other part of it is the willingness today to let a spread-option quarterback do everything. Frank Beamer has never been known as an offensive savant, but in retrospect he massively underutilized Vick in an attack that largely featured Tech’s running backs. It wasn’t until the Sugar Bowl that Vick had a game with 40 or more combined runs and throws. Manziel has had five such games, starting with his college debut against Florida. Against Alabama, Manziel was right at his season average of 49 combined runs and passes. Against LSU he had 73.

[Also: Johnny Football is the same legend he was in high school]

So that’s The Dash’s best guess at who Johnny Manziel plays like. Now here is what Johnny Football and Texas A&M’s no-huddle spread offense are not: A completely foreign entity in the SEC. That storyline has gotten a lot of traction in the last couple of days, but it’s not accurate.

The Dash knows it’s hard to remember all the way back to 2010, but try. You may recall Auburn and Cam Newton had a pretty fair season in a system that has several similarities to what the Aggies are doing.

Then-Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn (6) did a lot with Newton that A&M coach Kevin Sumlin (7) is doing with Manziel. Newton ran a bit more – and in a more physical style – and Manziel is passing a bit more. But the general object is the same: put your premier talent in the shotgun in a fast-paced offense and let him make plays, either running or throwing.

The question is why more teams in the SEC aren’t playing that way. Auburn went 14-0 in 2010, and A&M has had a stellar debut season at 8-2.

Granted, it takes a high-quality, high-durability quarterback to make that work. Auburn’s first experiment with the no-huddle spread, in 2008 with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, was scuttled in large part because none of the QBs were good enough to handle it. (Head coach Tommy Tuberville didn’t seem completely sold on the concept, either.) And Malzahn’s offense plummeted in productivity last season when Auburn struggled to replace Newton.

But it’s high time for SEC teams – especially those in the league’s bottom half – to take a hard look at implementing that offense as a way to level the playing field.

LOOK OUT, COLLEGE STATION, AL FROM DADEVILLE AIN’T HAPPY

In the wake of Alabama’s third loss in its last 13 home games, The Dash wonders whether a certain tree-poisoning Bama fan is now plotting his revenge against a new SEC rival. Texas A&M had better not take any chances. Time to Harvey Updyke-proof the campus.

His potential prime targets:

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Reveille VIII, the mascot of the Texas A&M Aggies, will take no guff from anybody. (Getty)

Reveille (8). The female Rough Collie that serves as A&M’s mascot is cared for to an almost disturbing degree, according to the animal’s Wikipedia page: “Reveille is officially cared for by Corps of Cadets Company E-2, known as the ‘mascot company.’ A sophomore in the unit is designated the ‘mascot corporal’ and has ultimate responsibility for her care. Reveille accompanies the mascot corporal everywhere, including to class and on dates.

“Reveille is considered a cadet general and the highest-ranking member in the Corps of Cadets. To designate her rank, Reveille wears five diamonds on her maroon-and-white blanket. Freshmen cadets are required to address her as ‘Miss Rev, ma'am.’ … By tradition, if she barks in class, that session is canceled. Reveille has her own cell phone, operated by the mascot corporal, and her own student identification card.”

[Watch: Is Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron a Heisman contender?]

The Dash strongly suggests that the mascot corporal also serve as Reveille’s food taster before every meal for the foreseeable future. Time to develop a taste for Alpo, corporal.

Yell Leaders (9). The five guys who serve as A&M cheerleaders could easily find their all-white uniforms dyed crimson if they’re not vigilant. Beware, hand-wavers.

Corps of Cadets (10). The senior class gets to wear brown leather “senior boots” with their uniforms. It’s not hard to envision Harvey filling them with manure and writing “Roll Tide” on the bottoms.

HEISMAN TROPHY: NOW WHAT?

One of the strangest Heisman campaigns in recent memory has taken another unexpected detour. What started as Matt Barkley’s race to lose became Geno Smith’s race to lose – and both lost it. Since then we have rotated through an array of quasi-leaders almost nobody was talking about as a serious candidates back in August. The current list (which is getting longer, not shorter):

Manziel. What’s to like: He’s No. 2 in total offense, No. 25 in pass efficiency and No. 31 in rushing – a pretty fantastic collection of national statistical rankings. As mentioned above, he absolutely dominates the ball in A&M’s up-tempo offense, accounting for 69.6 percent of its yardage via running and passing. He was fearless and occasionally spectacular in that landmark upset of Alabama, the kind of memorable performance that tends to resonate with Heisman voters. And he has a media-friendly nickname. What’s the knock: His zero-touchdown, three-interception performance against LSU was a big reason why the Aggies lost that game. He has eight turnovers on the season (six interceptions, two fumbles). While the nickname is media-friendly, the player is not – likely through no fault of his own. Sumlin has kept him off-limits to the media all season, which doesn’t help in an award as publicity-driven as this one.

Collin Klein (11), Kansas State quarterback. What’s to like: He’s the Midwestern Manziel, with less flair and frantic activity. Playing in a slower and more conservative offense, Klein accounts for 65.7 percent of the Wildcats’ offense and has 31 touchdowns rushing and passing. Like Tebow, the 6-foot-5, 226-pound load has almost been unstoppable running the ball in short yardage and red zone situations. He’s careful with the football, throwing just three interceptions and leading an offense that has just six turnovers on the season. His team is undefeated and No. 1 in the BCS standings, and he’s by far the biggest reason why. What’s the knock: Supremely steady but rarely spectacular – not the kind of player who generates a lengthy highlight reel on a weekly basis. Passing has improved, but still remains inartistic at times. If it comes down to a raw numbers contest with Manziel, he won’t win.

Manti Te’o (12), Notre Dame, linebacker. What’s to like: Like Klein, he’s clearly the most valuable player on an undefeated team that is having its best season in decades. He’s also third nationally in interceptions with six and is the only linebacker in the top 15 in that category. Te’o also leads the Fighting Irish in tackles at 9.2 per game, and is the unquestioned motivational leader of the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. Playing for Notre Dame doesn’t hurt, either. What’s the knock: Linebackers don’t win the Heisman. Had a season-low five total tackles against Boston College, and hasn’t been as dominant a presence in Notre Dame’s past two games.

Kenjon Barner (13), Oregon running back. What’s to like: The nation’s No. 3 scorer (20 touchdowns) and No. 4 rusher (136 yards per game) while leading the way for the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 team in the human polls. He also had the most explosive running game of the season, tearing up USC for 321 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a lot to like – especially when you consider how many fourth quarters Barner has spent on the bench watching backups during routs, or how much time he’s shared with explosive fellow back De’Anthony Thomas. What’s the knock: The week after seriously joining the debate, Barner had his least impressive game of the year Saturday, producing just 65 rushing yards on 20 carries against California. Fair or not, running backs are slipping in stature compared to quarterbacks – and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is putting up some pretty stellar numbers in his own right.

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USC's Marqise Lee makes a move against ASU on Saturday. (AP)

Marqise Lee (14), USC wide receiver. What’s to like: Easily the best receiver in the country, and maybe the best offensive player, period. Second nationally in receptions and receiving yards per game, with 98 catches for 1,447 yards. He’s also No. 2 in all-purpose running, thanks to his explosive kickoff returns (one for a touchdown) and some spot duty running the ball (66 rushing yards Saturday against Arizona State). To round out the résumé, Lee played a little bit of safety against the Sun Devils. What’s the knock: With three losses in eight Pac-12 games, USC ranks among the nation’s bigger disappointments. In a field flush with star players on unbeaten teams, that could be tough to overcome. Also, receivers tend to rank behind quarterbacks and running backs in the Heisman hierarchy.

[Also: Tommy Tuberville denies slapping assistant, apologizes anyway]

Braxton Miller (15), Ohio State quarterback. What’s to like: Like Manziel and Klein, he’s doing everything for the Buckeyes offense, accounting for 65.6 percent of the yardage running and passing. Miller is 15th nationally in rushing offense, 22nd in total offense and 41st in pass efficiency. Had a two-game stretch (against UAB and California) where he accounted for all nine Ohio State touchdowns, running for four and passing for five. And like Klein, his team is undefeated. What’s the knock: With the Buckeyes on a postseason ban and playing in a lousy Big Ten, Miller is as off-radar as an unbeaten Ohio State QB can be. He’s been a functional passer, not a great one.

PRESEASON POLLS AND SCORING MARGIN: THE CASE AGAINST NOTRE DAME

Why are the Fighting Irish stuck in third place in the BCS standings behind Kansas State and Oregon? Two simple reasons: They started the year ranked behind those teams and they’ve played too many close games.

In a slot-voting, margin-of-victory-conscious world, those things count. The lowdown:

Notre Dame (16). The Irish began the season ranked 24th in the USA Today coaches’ poll and unranked in the AP poll. That was a built-in disadvantage that has proved impossible to overcome. The other problem is five victories by a touchdown or less, including two overtime wins at home (Stanford and Pittsburgh) in which a lot of people think the officials helped Notre Dame at key times.

The Irish have played a tougher schedule than either the Wildcats or the Ducks, one bereft of teams from the FCS ranks or the weakest FBS conferences. And given the difficulty of comparing teams, Notre Dame’s superior margin of victory against common opponents with Kansas State should matter: the Irish beat Oklahoma and Miami by a combined 55 points, to K-State’s combined 44.

But there simply have not been enough noticeable struggles for the top two teams for most poll members to justify altering their slot-voting status quo established weeks ago. Examples:

Kansas State (17) began the season ranked No. 21 in poll and No. 22 in the other, and has only two wins decided by a touchdown or less – one at Oklahoma and one at Iowa State. Only once all season have the Wildcats trailed in the fourth quarter, and that was very briefly against the Sooners. Most second halves, K-State has established an insurmountable lead and simply played out the string in the fourth quarter. There hasn’t been a legitimate upset alert for Bill Snyder’s team yet in 10 games.

Oregon (18) started the season No. 3 in the polls and has been dominant every Saturday. Talk about a team with no upset alerts: The Ducks have won every game by double digits, and had a double-digit lead in the first quarter of almost every contest. There has been no reason to doubt the Ducks beyond a soft early schedule, and now they’re making up for that with what should be four ranked opponents in their final five games (assuming a Pac-12 North title and berth in the league championship game).

This scenario continues to mirror 2004, when Auburn (19) was the third undefeated team – along with the fourth and under-appreciated Utah (20) – with claim to the national title game. The Tigers began that season 17th in the polls and never could overcome USC and Oklahoma, which started the year as the top two teams and stayed in those spots all season. Notre Dame can ask Auburn how much fun it was watching that title game – a rout of Oklahoma in South Florida – after playing in an undercard bowl. But nothing is decided yet.

TEXAS TECH: A FINE PLACE FOR A COACH TO LOSE HIS MIND

What’s in the water in Lubbock? Something scary, apparently. It seems to be the place where coaches turn into raging bullies and despots, with abuse allegations swirling like the west Texas wind. Last weekend we had at least the fourth high-profile coach at Tech end up in the crosshairs of a nasty controversy. The list:

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Tommy Tuberville is under fire for conduct with his own personnel on Saturday. (AP)

Football coach Tommy Tuberville (21) was so mad at graduate assistant coach Kevin Oliver on Saturday during the Red Raiders’ game against Kansas that he ripped Oliver’s headset off, taking his hat with it to the ground, then berating the coach. The normally controlled Tuberville then gave a completely lame postgame explanation about trying to get Oliver off the field and attempting to grab his shoulder, instead hitting his headset. Nobody who saw the video is stupid enough to buy that one. Tuberville clearly had seen the light (and the replay) by Monday, when the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported that he said, “You don’t do that … I have to hold myself to a higher standard.” The Big 12 office was looking into the matter Monday.

Tuberville’s predecessor, Mike Leach (22), saw his tenure at Texas Tech end after allegations that receiver Adam James, son of ESPN analyst Craig James, had been forced into an equipment shed all practice after James said he had a concussion. Leach disputed James’ version of events and has filed multiple lawsuits related to the matter, but it led to Leach’s dismissal from Texas Tech. Last week, at Leach’s new place of employment, Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson quit the team and issued a statement accusing Leach of player abuse there. The school said it is investigating.

[Also: Dorial Green-Beckham drew up game-tying play vs. Tennessee on his hand]

Basketball coach Billy Gillispie (23) resigned under pressure at Tech in September after a litany of player abuse allegations surfaced. This follows Gillispie being fired at Kentucky, where his misanthropic tendencies offended almost everyone he came in contact with.

And this was the school that gave the second chance to the king of abusive coaches, Bob Knight (24). It’s not believed Knight ever choked or kicked any of his players at Tech, or threw potted plants at any secretaries. But he was reprimanded for a public verbal outburst at the school’s chancellor at a salad bar.

Nice place for molding young men.

THE MEEK MAY INHERIT THE EARTH

Four teams in positions The Dash wasn’t expecting:

Kent State (25) is 9-1 and ranked for the first time since 1973 – when their coach was Don James, who went on to win a share of a national title at Washington. The Golden Flashes haven’t even had a winning season since 2001. They’ve never had double-digit wins in a season, and are on pace for their first bowl game in 40 years.

Georgia Tech (26) A month ago, The Yellow Jackets were 2-4 and a lot of people wanted to fire coach Paul Johnson. Instead, Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh and things turned around. Today Tech is 5-5 and has a chance to win the ACC Coastal Division, even at 6-6. Or it could go 7-5 and deliver a death blow to rival Georgia’s outside national championship hopes.

Utah State (27) and Louisiana Tech (28) will play Saturday in Ruston with WAC title implications on the line. Tech (9-1 and 20th in the BCS standings, 19th in the AP poll) is trying to finish the season in the Top 25 for the first time as an FBS program. Utah State (8-2 and receiving votes in the AP poll) has just two previous Top 25 finishes in program history, none since 1972. The success of both teams is why their coaches – Sonny Dykes of Tech and Gary Anderson of Utah State – are both among the hottest names in the business for a job upgrade.

TRENDSPOTTING

The Dash has said it before and will say it again. And again. And again. Turnover margin is the most important stat in the game. The latest proof:

The top five in turnover margin nationally have a combined record of 44-6. That would be Kansas State, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Boise State and Ohio.

The bottom five in turnover margin nationally have a combined record of 4-46. That would be Idaho, Akron, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Hawaii.

Ball security, gentlemen. Ball security.

YOU’RE IT, GOLDEN EAGLES

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Ellis Johnson is desperate for his first win of the year. (Getty)

Speaking of those teams that can’t hang onto the football, one of them happens to be the last winless team in America. Now that Massachusetts got off the schneid by beating Akron, we’re down to 0-10 Southern Mississippi (29).

Somehow. As previously noted, this is a program riding an 18-year streak of winning seasons and coming off a 12-2 season last year.

To say the bottom has fallen out on first-year head coach Ellis Johnson is a gross understatement. Last time The Dash saw something like this, Ball State was going from 12-2 in 2008 under Brady Hoke to 2-10 under Stan Parrish, who lost his first 10 games that season.

Parrish lasted two years at Ball State. Johnson may not even get that far in Hattiesburg.

Yet Southern Miss actually has a chance to win its last two games. First up is UTEP, which is 2-8 on the year, and that’s at home. And then the season finale is at Memphis, which also is 2-8. So there is a glimmer of hope for the hopeless.

FIVE THINGS THAT REALLY HAPPENED LAST WEEK

Saturday afternoon was one of those times that happens in college football – where everyone nationwide is taking crazy pills at the same time, and stuff is happening that you cannot believe from coast to coast. That’s one of the many reasons why the sport is so much fun. There were too many wild occurrences to include all of them here, but a few highlights:

North Carolina (30) scored 50 points in the first 45 minutes and 9 seconds Saturday against Georgia Tech. And still wound up being routed. That’s what happens when you surrender 68 points, as Tech ran roughshod on the defenseless Tar Heels in one very weird game. The Heels gave up eight plays of 25 yards or longer, plus a 100-yard kickoff return. The Yellow Jackets completed just seven passes, but they went for 208 yards.

Northwestern (31) found its most painful way yet to lose a lead and a game. And that’s saying something for a team that blew double-digit leads in losses to Penn State and Nebraska. This time the perp was Michigan, which trailed 31-28 with less than 30 seconds remaining. An 11-yard net punt gave the Wolverines a faint chance from their own 38, but only 18 seconds remained. That’s when Devin Gardner heaved one deep for Roy Roundtree, who was inexplicably single covered. Roundtree stuck a hand in the air to deflect the ball, then came down with the rebound for a 53-yard gain. Michigan clocked the ball, kicked the tying field goal and won in overtime.

Florida (32) avoiding ignominious defeat in the most unlikely way possible. On the verge of a season-ruining loss to Louisana-Lafayette, the Gators drove for the tying touchdown with 1:14 left. Then, one play from going to overtime, Florida deflected a punt and Jelani Jenkins ran it in 36 yards for the winning score. If there is a thinner margin between terrible defeat and thrilling victory, The Dash doesn’t know what it is.

Tennessee (33) found a creative way to ensure that coach Derek Dooley gets fired by blowing its game against Missouri. The Volunteers outgained the Tigers 383-64 in the first half – think about that – but only led by two touchdowns. Sure enough, Mizzou eventually found the omnipresent holes in the Tennessee defense to tie the game at 28 and force overtime. From there it was only a matter of time – four overtimes – before the Vols lost for the 13th time in their last 14 games.

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Morena Baccarin. (Getty)

And on Thursday night, Ohio (34) staged perhaps the worst punt-game performance in football history. The Bobcats had two punts blocked and fumbled two snaps, gift-wrapping 16 points for Bowling Green in a 26-14 loss.

LAST INTERCEPTION POOL: WE HAVE A WINNER

Congrats to Colby Cameron (35) of Louisiana Tech, still oskie-free after 403 attempts this season. That’s an NCAA record for most consecutive passes without an interception, by the way. Cameron won when Alabama’s AJ McCarron was picked off twice Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon.

The Dash will send the winning prize – a bag of pork rinds, a 1999 Humanitarian Bowl program and an autographed picture of Dashette Morena Baccarin (36) – to Cameron. Unless that constitutes an NCAA violation.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Bill Curry (37), Georgia State. The truest gentlemen The Dash has ever had the privilege of covering retired after his final game Saturday, a 10th loss in 11 games on the year. The former coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky retires with a losing career record, but he was a winner in every big-picture sense and a credit to his profession. Here’s hoping he enjoys a long and blissful retirement.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Dana Holgorsen (38), West Virginia. After a 5-0 start, the Mountaineers have lost four straight – and been blown out in three of the four. WVU lost by 35 to Texas Tech, by 41 to Kansas State, by a point in double overtime to TCU and by 21 Saturday to Oklahoma State. Average points surrendered in those four games: 49.5. Tackle somebody.

PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR …

… Former Virginia Tech running back Shyrone Stith (39). While looking up Vick's stats from 1999, The Dash was reminded of Stith’s prowess as the leading rusher from that Hokies team. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Stith, please apprise The Dash.

POINT AFTER

When thirsty in Fort Worth, The Dash recommends a trip to XII Whiskey Bar & Grill (40), named for TCU’s newest conference affiliation. (The Dash asked if the bar was briefly named Big East and got a blank stare from the bartender.) Have a Pyramid Snowcap seasonal ale and thank The Dash later.

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