Texas Tech has always been an outpost for idiosyncratic personalities and even more eccentric offenses. Spike Dykes beget Mike Leach, who beget Tommy Tuberville, who felt marginalized as the invader who replaced a beloved coach and interrupted a prosperous era.
When the job opened up last December, former Red Raiders quarterback Kliff Kingsbury stepped up to the plate.
As chic as Johnny Football was nationally, Kingsbury developed a bit of a cult following on A&M’s campus during his tenure as offensive coordinator. Now 34, the nation’s third-youngest head coach is a young Kingsbury, who has taken his rightful throne in Lubbock. Back when he was slinging the rock as Leach’s first mate on offense, in the late 90s through the early 2000s, Kingsbury was setting the NCAA’s FBS record book ablaze.
In the dense football forest that is the Lone Star State, a school like Texas Tech needs more just a tactician with a Roger Ebert-like penchant for film study and creative play calling. Personalities are essential to grab the attention of recruits.
How entrenched is Kingsbury’s cult of personality? Parents are dressing their kids up as him for Halloween and women are swooning over him because he kind of, sort of bears a resemblance to Ryan Gosling.
Kingsbury’s undefeated run didn’t receive as much media pub as Mike Leach’s 10-0 start in 2008, but the Red Raiders are in a great position in the Big 12 to sustain this success and build. However, what’s the limit for a program that’s the third or fourth best program, in a state that can only be described as the heartbeat of America’s football obsession?
As long as Kingsbury is steering the Red Raiders ship, there’s no limit.
HEISMAN JURY - These candidates are making their case for why they should be awarded the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Each week, TSL will deliberate over each player’s weekly exploits.
1. Jameis Winston - Winston has had to come from behind, and although Mariota may be faster, he’s the Heisman frontrunner entering November. Against NC State, his deep ball accuracy was on display.
Mariota is a zone option demigod, but he looked somewhat human against UCLA. It may seem unfair, but in a sprint to the Heisman finish, every false step or short stride makes a difference in a race that may be won or lost by a whisker. Winston has East Coast bias on his side, and although Mariota hasn’t thrown an interception this season, he does have a fumbling problem.
2. Marcus Mariota - Mariota is probably the best sophomore quarterback in Oregon history, but we’ve seen quarterbacks in Oregon’s system flourish before. Maybe not to this extent, but by comparison, Winston is the first quarterback in 13 years to put wings on the Seminoles offense. The Ducks have been established as one of the nation’s top offenses for years.
3. (Johnny Fooball, 2012)
4. Johnny Manziel - The biggest issue with Manziel’s campaign is that he’s trailing his own pace from last season. He’s susceptible to interceptions this season and Texas A&M’s Johnson & Johnson-soft defense puts pressure on him to make plays and more mistakes.This is also a deeper field than the one Manziel beat last season when he defeated Manti Te’o and Collin Klein. Plus, he's racked up quite the list of haters.
5. Bryce Petty - Petty will testify before the jury next Thursday against the Oklahoma Sooners vaunted pass defense. If he rolls up another immaculate performance in a route of Oklahoma, things could get complicated.
NO ALIBIS: Whereabouts unaccounted for at the time of kickoff.
Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks - Week 9 was where the journey ended for Oregon State’s prolific duo. Against Stanford, they couldn’t muster more than 12 points and failed to convert in the redzone during their final possession against Stanford’s Murder He Wrote defense. This is what await Marcus Mariota next Thursday.
RING OF FIRE -
No. 18 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Texas Tech
Oklahoma should be jealous of the malleability of Texas Tech’s quarterback position. After a back injury immobilized presumptive sophomore starter Michael Brewer, walk-on Baker Mayfield emerged and was lobbing touchdown passes like a five-star recruit. Davis Webb stepped up with Mayfield hurt, donned his touchdown chef hat and immediately began grilling defenses for 400 yards.
Brewer, a much more mobile threat than Webb or Mayfield, may finally make his first start on Saturday. Conversely, Oklahoma State cycled through two starting quarterbacks and can’t get their once sky-high aerial attack out of the hangar.
UGA vs. Florida
The Quarantine Game sponsored by Obamacare is here. These teams have been hampered by so many injuries, it should probably be moved to Tampa Bay’s MRSA Field. Remarkably, the winner will remain on life support in the SEC East championship race. Tyler Murphy can't measure up to Aaron Murray, but at least he'll be facing a defense that will allow him to look respectable.
No. 7 Miami (FL) at No. 3 Florida State
Miami and Florida State are two 7-0 teams heading in opposite directions. Their win over the then-12th ranked Florida Gators has lost much of its luster. In the last two weeks, Miami has squeaked by North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Florida State has been flattening its competition early and often. Before the Hurricanes beat Florida State, they’ve got to beat Vegas which has taken notice of Miami’s flimsy resume and given Florida State the largest ever point spread between two top-10 teams, over three touchdowns in some books.
Florida State’s pass defense is shutting down opposing quarterbacks better than any in the nation. If Miami’s going to prove Vegas wrong, they’ll have to lean on workhorse back Duke Johnson. His two fourth quarter touchdowns was the difference maker against Wake Forest. That won’t be enough against Florida State, but it may be their best option. Once they establish that rushing attack, they’ll have a chance to beat the Seminoles.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
It’s time to address false narratives that have sprouted wings, laid eggs and created a nest for themselves atop the college football biosphere, as we enter November. Oregon has one of the best defenses in the nation. Also, Jay Z, let’s talk for a minute. We know you’ve inquired into representing UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley when he turns pro this spring. Slow your roll though. Hundley may be the first black starting quarterback at UCLA since Jackie Robinson was putting heat on his spirals, however he hasn’t been a Heisman candidate in weeks.
There’s a tendency to ride the coattails of a student-athlete’s instant success in the rear view mirror, while ignoring the present reality of the flat-tire he’s currently cruising on. The fact is that although UCLA is still on the rise as a program, Hundley is in the midst of a major sophomore slump. His passing yardage is behind his 2012 seven-game pace, his interceptions are up, his touchdowns are down, and last week he threw for just 64 yards against Oregon. Without the home run threat of 2012 All-American Johnathan Franklin to reel safeties in, Hundley hasn’t been nearly as effective this season, and he’s been rendered mortal.
The allure of being represented by Jay Z might be tempting, but coming back to school might be a better investment for his NFL future.
Oregon confused Hundley by obfuscating their coverage’s and blitz schemes. Hundley responded by making ill-advised throws into blanketed receivers. His inability to read and react to these attempts to confuse him or make accurate throws is a glaring sign for NFL scouts who currently view him as a third-day prospect. His sophomore season is a warning sign, but it’s not a death sentence on his NFL future. We hope he's not a one-year wonder.
What happens next is on Hundley. He’ll either bounce back, as Colt McCoy did during his car wreck of a sophomore campaign, or get stuck in a rut alongside Keith Price. Remember the Alamo? Price hasn’t been the same since he matched Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback RGIII touchdown for touchdown in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. Either way, UCLA will continue its rise. Asantii Woulard, the top dual threat prospect in the Class of 2013 is waiting in the wings.
This brings us to Mack Brown. If Brown were on AMC’s The Walking Dead (a show that garners more viewers than The Longhorn Network), he’d be Herschel the elderly farmer. Not only is he the oldest character on the series, but he’s the only one to have been bitten and lived to tell the story. All it took was a few quick, grotesque hacks with a cleaver to amputate his lower leg. There is no better analogy for Mack Brown’s survival technique.
After Texas’ defense was steamrolled for 550 yards by BYU, Brown’s phantom limb became ex-defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Since Diaz was reassigned and replaced by Greg Robinson, the Longhorns have been the Big 12’s top scoring defense, sacks, second in total yards allowed and in rushing defense.
However, the national conversation still revolves around when, not if, Brown is relieved of his duty as head coach of the 5-2 Longhorns.
Brown could be a recruiting class away from returning Texas to the pinnacle of college football. However, he’s also a flip phone coach in an Android era. The offenses around the Big 12 move at a blur, the Longhorns offense is just now catching up to the pace in college football. Failing to recruit RGIII, Johnny Manziel, Bryce Petty or Jameis Winston doesn’t help his case.
There’s also a perception that the Longhorns should be an annual fixture in the national championship race. While Nick Saban reloads his barrel for a run at the national title every fall, Brown’s Texas is an antique musket by comparison that takes a few seasons to become suitable for firing again.
Just as the gunslinger Keith Price disappeared after his duel with RGIII, it’ll all come full circle in Texas’ regular season finale against Baylor’s warp speed offense. It could be a fitting end against the coach who is rumored to be the ideal candidate for Texas. If Texas keeps winning down the stretch, a monkey wrench could be thrown into their plans to rid their football program of its Phantom of Austin. If Brown doesn’t continue defying the odds down the stretch, then he might be Texas’ vestigial limb in an evolving football culture.