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Jimmy Clausen 4.0

It dawned on me this week that Johnny Manziel is Jimmy Clausen 4.0. Think about it, Manziel is everything Clausen so desperately wanted when he emerged from a white limousine at the College Football Hall of Fame to announce his commitment to Notre Dame. He’s more accomplished, more elusive, more revered, more accurate, more decisive, more interesting, more analyzed, more debated, more hated, more of a prima donna, and harder to ridicule because of a stupid haircut. He’s the greatest punk ever.

To be fair, Manziel has ruffled far more feathers than Clausen. He’s also a much different kind of player. But there is a similarity: That pit-in-your-stomach feeling you get when reading about Manziel’s antics in the news. It’s the same uneasiness I felt every time I used to read about Clausen. Rightly or wrongly, I always compared Clausen to Eddie Martel, the super talented and unbearably pompous quarterback from The Replacements. I just never felt great about rooting for him, even though he showed flashes of brilliance and I was convinced he’d be a star in the NFL. For what it’s worth, the NFL didn’t agree and put off drafting Clausen for as long as it possibly could. By the time Manziel gets picked next April, Clausen might be out of football altogether.

Manziel is an upgraded Clausen. He’s better in nearly every facet of the game, yet far worse in terms of public relations. He’s so bad, actually, that it might be on purpose. He’s a voluntary villain—a good old-fashioned heel. Players at major institutions are all given some degree of PR training; Manziel is what happens when the homogenization process doesn’t work. You never need to worry whether Johnny Football is being genuine. Texas A&M does.

But Manziel also has a better sense of humor. If it’s not clear by now, he’s a button-pusher and a habitual line-stepper. Either due to entitlement or cockiness or general amusement, Manziel does not shy away from being controversial. For sure, he’s had some mild run-ins with the law, but in a football sense, he’s merely guilty of crimes that suspended him for—WINK, WINK, NUDGE, NUDGE—one half of one game. Some say he’s an attention-seeker, others say he’s young and dumb. He may be both, but I’m starting to think he’s just a troll.

Indeed, Manziel’s offseason hijinks and on-field celebrations have turned many into haters. But maybe that’s by design. Maybe Johnny Football really does care what you think about him—maybe he just prefers if it’s something critical.

Maybe it’s the negative energy that makes Manziel tick. And maybe the chorus of public outcry is playing right into his trap.

Maybe the best way to root against Johnny Manziel this Saturday is silently.

Onto the picks…

Texas A&M +8 over Alabama

Nick Saban is going to run directly at Texas A&M’s front, and he’s going to do it over and over and over again. Saban certainly has a Manziel problem in this game, and the best way to solve it might be to keep his offense on the field as much as possible.

With that in mind, I like the points even more. Saban has always been content to turn games into slugfests and play ugly football. Either way, this won’t be a blowout, and whenever an SEC team with as much talent as the Aggies is getting more than a touchdown at home, it’s tough to bet with a road favorite.

PREDICTION: Alabama 24, Texas A&M 19

Boston College +14 over USC

Now is about the time Lane Kiffin fires up that old “Resume.doc” file and starts making light edits, right?

You know it’s bad when USC fans quit on their head coach at halftime of Week Two. It may only be a matter of time before the actual team follows suit. Indeed, Kiffin does less with more better than anyone in college football. It’ll be particularly interesting to see if Kiffin is able to rally his troops and rebound from a demoralizing loss last week.

Truthfully, the better motivator in this game is Steve Addazio from Boston College. In a matter of speaking, this might be the Eagles’ national championship, and they will be fired up. Plus, while it’s usually poor form to overreact to one bad outing, USC’s offense has left a lot to be desired through two games against teams with below average defenses. Can USC even score 14 points against a plain old average defense like Boston College’s?

PREDICTION: USC 17, Boston College 14

UCLA + 4.5 over Nebraska

TAKE THE POINTS IN A SHOOTOUT TAKE THE POINTS IN A SHOOTOUT TAKE THE POINTS IN A SHOOTOUT!

The over/under for this game is 70 points, so Vegas is expecting a lot of points. I trust Nebraska’s defense less than any other unit on the field and seem to like UCLA a little more than just about everybody.

I feel pretty confident that UCLA wins this game outright and might do a quick switcheroo and make it my official “lock” for Week Three.

PREDICTION: UCLA 45, Nebraska 31

Ole Miss +3 over Texas

What could possibly go wrong if Case McCoy starts at quarterback for Texas in a true do-or-die spot?

For what it’s worth, I have almost zero confidence in this pick and still, for some reason, made it my lock on our Wednesday podcast. Nothing like a panic pick, I suppose. Still, my love for Ole Miss lives on. Rest assured, this team will jump up and snag somebody in the SEC this season. Whether it’s also able to take down a perennial power in the Big 12 remains to be seen.

Ole Miss will be able to score on Texas and is a much better team than it was a year ago when it lost to the Longhorns by 35 points at home. On the other hand, I think Texas can run on the Rebels thanks to PHIL STEELE’S NUMBER ONE OFFENSIVE LINE IN THE COUNTRY.

This game will be back and forth with a lot of points and about five turnovers.

PREDICTION: Ole Miss 31, Texas 30

(Last week 1-2)

Ty Hildenbrandt co-hosts The Solid Verbal college football podcast. Follow him on Twitter.