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Downs & Distance

High-flying Texas A&M needs to be on guard

Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M to an upset of No. 1 Alabama last week.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Jim McBride’s four items of interest on this week’s college football landscape:

Sam is no sham

If there’s one thing that’s been proven this season, it’s that letdown games are for real. Just check with Brian Kelly, whose Notre Dame team nearly lost to Pitt after its big win at Oklahoma, or with Nick Saban, whose Alabama squad fell to Texas A&M after a big win at LSU. So it stands to reason that the Aggies should be on guard this week. You may scoff at the notion, because A&M will square off with FCS foe Sam Houston State. But it would be unwise to take the Bearkats (great nickname!) lightly. Sam Houston is 8-2, ranked third in the FCS, and riding a six-game winning streak. QB Brian Bell has thrown for 1,883 yards and 18 TDs. So the Aggies, led by wizardlike QB Johnny Manziel (a.k.a. “Johnny Football,” though anyone who knows anything knows Malden’s John Stanasek, a wizardlike QB who terrorized the GBL in the mid-1970s, was the real “Johnny Football”), had better be prepared for a battle with their in-state brethren.

Memory Lane

So Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin claims he had no knowledge of a student manager deflating game balls before his team’s loss to Oregon? You’ll have to forgive the skeptics out there if they don’t believe that the since-fired manager acted on his own. Controversy always follows young Mr. Kiffin. In 2007, he was named coach of the Oakland Raiders. But after consistently butting heads with owner Al Davis, Kiffin was fired after just 20 games — and five wins. Davis called Kiffin a “flat-out liar” at the time. Kiffin then took the head job at Tennessee (he also persuaded one of his assistants from Oakland to join him, further infuriating Raider Nation). It didn’t take long for Kiffin to stir the SEC pot, accusing coaches (Florida’s Urban Meyer in particular) of recruiting violations. His accusations proved unfounded and he was reprimanded by the conference. He then left the Vols one year into a six-year deal, leaving Rocky Top devotees furious. Never a dull moment.


Static from Mike

While we’re on the subject on controversial coaches, Washington State’s Mike Leach is once again denying allegations that he mistreated players. Marquess Wilson, the Cougars’ best receiver, quit the team last week, complaining that the coaching staff would “belittle, intimidate, and humiliate us.” Leach defended himself and his staff, saying there was “no truth about it all” and characterized Wilson as disgruntled. Leach was fired after a very successful run at Texas Tech following the 2009 season, when he was accused of ordering Adam James (who had suffered a concussion) to sit in a storage closet during practice. Leach claimed he was fired so the school could get out of paying him an $800,000 bonus. Perhaps Wilson is just frustrated by the Cougars’ 2-8 season, but Leach has come under fire this season for some rather harsh comments, including saying his seniors have an “empty corpse quality’’ and that his interior lines’ play in one game “bordered on cowardice.’’


Headed for trouble

And while we’re on the subject of Texas Tech, Leach’s replacement, Tommy Tuberville, finds himself in some hot water after his confrontation with a graduate assistant on the sideline during last week’s thrilling double-overtime win over Kansas. In a now viral video (it may be getting more hits than “Charlie bit my finger’’ at this point), Tuberville is shown knocking the headset off Kevin Oliver. Tuberville, who has apologized to Oliver for the incident (smart move) and been reprimanded by the Big 12, says he grabbed Oliver’s headset in the “heat of battle’’ after the Red Raiders were called for a false start. “Grabbed” is a bit of stretch, coach. The video clearly shows an agitated Tuberville slapping the headset off Oliver. Perhaps it’s not what Tuberville intended to do. Credit should be given to Oliver, who kept his head (bad pun intended), picked up his headset and put it back on, and calmly walked away from Tuberville before the situation escalated.


Jim McBride can be reached at