Jim McBride’s four items of interest on this week’s college football landscape:
Top of the mountain
Plenty of Heisman Trophy candidates have emerged over the first month of the season, with Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, Kansas State QB Collin Klein, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o near the top of nearly everyone’s list. But the clear-cut favorite is West Virginia QB Geno Smith. A lot of things can happen between now and when they hand out the little man at the Downtown Athletic Club in December, but the 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound senior may have clinched the trophy with his 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance in a 70-63 win over Baylor last week. Smith’s stats for the season are tremendous. He has completed 141 of 169 attempts (that’s 83.4 percent!) for 1,728 yards. He has thrown 20 touchdown passes and, incredibly, zero interceptions. The Mountaineers face Texas Saturday. Longhorns, you’ve been warned.
So, you think you’re a dedicated, diehard college football fan? And you think this because you never miss your favorite team’s game and have a closet full of paraphernalia from the bookstore? Well, we’re here to inform you that you have nothing on four guys from Alabama, who made it in time to see the Crimson Tide’s win over Ole Miss last Saturday in Tuscaloosa after some travel delays. And when we say travel delays, we mean their plane crashed in a cotton field after they decided to stop for some barbecue en route to the game. They escaped unscathed, gathered for a quick prayer, hitched a ride to Montgomery, then rented a car to get to the game. “I really thought we weren’t going to make it,’’ said survivor John White-Spunner, an Auburn grad who probably will never be invited to a game by his Crimson Tide buddies again.
The cat’s meow
College football has blessed us with some great nicknames: The Gipper, Crazy Legs, Hopalong, and perhaps the best, The Galloping Ghost. This year’s best is simple, but very fitting. Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is affectionately known in College Station as “Johnny Football.’’ Sweet. The 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pound Manziel has passed for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 405 yards and 6 more scores. He was particularly impressive in last week’s 58-10 beatdown of Arkansas when he passed for a school-record 453 yards and rushed for another 104. He’s pretty good off the field, too. This week he tweeted, “Just rescued a kitten from the middle of Wellborn Road.’’ That prompted one Aggies fan, and devoted follower of Manziel, to tweet back, “Take that Time(sic) Tebow.’’
B-I-G in SEC
There are some who will tell you that every game in the Southeastern Conference is big. That’s simply not true; nobody outside of Nashville or Lexington, Ky., gets too jazzed up about the annual Vanderbilt-Kentucky tilt. But there is a genuine gigantic SEC battle Saturday, and for a change, it doesn’t involve Alabama or LSU. This time, it’s undefeated South Carolina (5-0) hosting undefeated Georgia (5-0), with the winner gaining the inside track on the Eastern Division title (though Florida looms). South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier (no stranger to the turf wars of the SEC) has been at his best in division games. Since 2010, the Gamecocks are 12-1 against East rivals and haven’t lost to Florida, Georgia, or Tennessee since 2009. Georgia coach Mark Richt must game-plan without top receiver Michael Bennett, who tore his right ACL in practice this week.