Fisher, Malzahn relive 2014 national championship when Texas A&M visit Auburn

Fisher, Malzahn relive 2014 national championship when Texas A&M visit Auburn

Two schools with a shared legacy as college football dark horses meet this weekend. Texas A&M were named national champions three times but the last was in 1939. Auburn has been honoured five times but it’s complicated.

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The Aggies’ most recent claims to success are more dubious. Johnny Manziel’s freshman Heisman that turns out to be his career peak in the US although he’s coming on strong in the CFL with Montreal. The school’s successful courtship of former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wasn’t exactly Ohio State landing Urban Meyer, although it may turn out to be more ethical in the long run. I said maybe.

Auburn only lays claim to two of its five proffered championships but has strong arguments it should have won in two other seasons. Miami leapfrogged them in 1983 after squeaking past Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The War Eagles went undefeated in 1993 but were on probation. There was also the 2014 National Championship game at the Rose Bowl in which Auburn were nipped by Florida State 34-31 SU. The coaches in that game will be facing off again at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Can Gus Malzahn claim a small measure of revenge by knocking off Fisher’s No.25 A&M?

Jimbo Fisher had the better of it in 2014 but may be feeling nervous this season. He recently accused Gus Malzahn of employing “illegal tactics” on offence. [Photo: Kevin C Cox]

It won’t be easy even with the home advantage. The LINE moved in the Aggies’ favour early in the week. The Tigers were giving six points. Then it dipped to four. A&M won at Jordan-Hare in 2016 although Auburn returned the favour in College Station last year. In fact, the visiting team has won the past five meetings STRAIGHT UP. The winner is 3-2 AGAINST THE SPREAD in that stretch with the three wins coming in the most recent games.

Both teams are 5-3 SU. The Aggies lost to Mississippi State last week. Auburn were idle but ended a two-game slide the previous Saturday against Ole Miss. Both teams are 5-3. The shifting line could be explained by Gus Malzahn’s announcement that leading rusher Jartavious ‘Boobee’ Whitlow and starting right tackle Jack Driscoll are day-to-day. Jimbo Fisher’s biggest concern is reserve wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon’s foot surgery, which rules out his 15 catches and 221 yards until the bowl season.

The TOTAL [49] is conflicted by recent trends. Texas A&M is 4-0 with the UNDER in their last four games, all SEC clashes. On the other hand, Auburn exploits bye weeks very well. They’ve gone OVER three times and pushed once in their last four opportunities.

Overall, the road team is 6-0 ATS in the last half-dozen encounters, with the underdog 3-0-1 ATS.  A good deal depends on whether Boobee Whitlow is fit for the game and if not, whether Kam Martin and Shaun shivers can step up in his absence. Even so, the Aggies are coming off a loss and Auburn is rested, challenging the trend of road team’s winning streak in this matchup. With doubt on both sides rather than confidence, I feel safest risking my money on the UNDER in this one.

Free Pick: Texas A&M v Auburn: UNDER [49]
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

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Johnny Manziel has a mountain to climb in Hamilton with the CFL’s Tiger-Cats

Rarely does anyone accuse a football fan in a Tiger-cats jersey of hopping on the bandwagon. It may have happened between 2013 and 2014 when the club went to two straight Grey Cups. Since then, they’ve gone back to their default sad sack status. While the team may be perennial losers, Hamilton is a great football town. Its fans are loud, passionate, and show up regardless. Now, though, they have something to be excited about. Johnny Football is coming to town.

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The former Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M and Cleveland Browns flop Johnny Manziel has bitten the bullet on his NFL career for the moment. Instead, he will try to kickstart his career in the Canadian Football League. Hamilton has held his draft rights since he declared himself eligible in 2014.

Manziel hasn’t played competitively since being released by the Browns in 2015. Despite three years off, the 25-year-old hasn’t gone into training camp entirely cold. He has participated in Pro Day at A&M and played in the NFL’s non-paying developmental Spring League. The CFL preseason begins next week.

The Tyler Texas native first began exploring a possible CFL career in 2017, but his previous off-field troubles required him to go through a gauntlet of tests, including an independent psychiatric evaluation and an interview with the league’s commissioner. There is less tolerance for domestic violence in the game north of the border. The commissioner decided Manziel would not be eligible until 2018 and would have to undergo periodic evaluation if he did sign.

Johnny Manziel feels ready to get his career back on track.

Ticats head coach June Jones has already stated current starter Jeremiah Masoli will retain his number one status until Manziel proves himself. It will be an interesting dynamic. Masoli’s college career in Oregon ended because of off-field issues. He transferred to Ole Miss for one season and won the starter’s job in Hamilton last season when former Cincinnati standout Zach Collaros was injured and ineffective.

Collaros is now with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and, while there are five quarterbacks on the roster, the battle for the job will almost certainly be fought by the two in recovery. Manziel’s popularity mandates at least that much although NBC’s Michael David Smith reports that his $122,000 salary is barely more than half Masoli’s. Financially, the team is heavily vested in their incumbent starter, but if Manziel shows any promise, his marketability would probably spur a change.

The immediate challenge won’t be outperforming his rival. Rather, Manziel will have to learn Jones’ system and the Canadian game’s subtle nuances.

Jones is a proponent of Mouse Davis’ Run and Shoot offense, which he installed to initial success with Jeff George under center in Atlanta. The Falcons made the playoffs in Jones’ first season as head coach but were woeful when he and his signal-caller fell out. The NCAA proved more suitable for the coach. He had a brilliant eight-year run at Hawaii in which the Rainbow Warriors won 76 games, two WAC conference titles and four of six bowl games. Following a less fruitful attempt to rebuild the Southern Methodist program, Jones returned to Hawaii as a high school coach before the Tiger-Cats looked him up.

He was hired as an assistant last season then took over when the team went 0-8 under Kent Austin, who resigned to focus on his executive duties with the club. With Masoli as his starter, Jones posted a solid 6-4 record to close out the campaign.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones

Jones’ aggressive offensive philosophy fits in with the Canadian game. Whether Manziel will is another matter. NFL fans who catch glimpses of the game and remember that Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, and Warren Moon all began their careers in the Great White North tend to incorrectly assume the league is made for quarterbacks who can rush the ball. In truth, it isn’t.

Moon could scramble but wasn’t Michael Vick before there was a Michael Vick. Neither was Joe Theismann, who played briefly in Toronto, who went to the 1971 Grey Cup with the Argonauts, before signing with the Washington Redskins. Garcia played in Calgary before joining San Francisco.

There is more space in the CFL, even with 12 men on the field. The playing surface is wider and ten yards longer between the goal lines. The end zones are 25 yards deep, and there are only three downs to make ten yards, not four. Teams do run the ball, but passing dominates.

Defensively, teams will blitz even though rushers leave more open space behind them when they do. Sack numbers tend to be lower in the CFL, but one has to remember that there is only second-and-long in Canada, whereas there are two downs stateside for the defense to pin its ears back and get after the QB. Less opportunity means lower numbers.

Nevertheless, a CFL quarterback must be able to release the ball quickly and accurately. The Ticats all-time passer is drop-back specialist Danny McManus. The former Florida State star took the team to its last Grey Cup victory in 1999.

Are Johnny Manziel's best days behind him or can he revive his career with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats?

There is no arguing that Johnny Manziel is a great football player when he tucks the ball under his arm and takes off. That won’t serve him any better in the CFL than it did in the NFL, however. He’s going to have to prove he can pass the ball or make another significant change in his life: convert from quarterback to receiver.

The preseason starts Sunday, May 27th. Week 1 of the regular season begins Thursday, June 14th. The Tiger-Cats open in Calgary against the Stampeders on Saturday the 16th. There is space on the bandwagon if you’re interested.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.