College Football Picks Week One: Rice Owls at Texas A&M Aggies

Rice Owls at Texas A&M Aggies
Kyle Field – College Station, Texas
Saturday, August 31, 2013, 1:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Texas A&M -31 1/2
Current Line: Texas A&M -27 1/2
Opening Total: 64 1/2
Current Total: 66 1/2
Opening Money Line: No line
Current Money Line: No line

Johnny Manziel is suspended for the first half against Rice, as he begins his sophomore year.
Johnny Manziel is suspended for the first half against Rice, as he begins his sophomore year.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. In the offseason, he has kept a low profile with no off the field issues. Well, that isn’t exactly true obviously. “Johnny Football” was kicked out of the Manning quarterback camp for over sleeping after allegedly getting drunk the night before. He also got into an altercation at a frat party at the University of Texas. Manziel was also implicated for allegedly getting paid for signing thousands of autographs, a violation of NCAA rules. The NCAA was unable to prove he accepted money but after a compromise with Texas A&M, they suspended Manziel for the first half of the Aggie’s season opener against Rice Saturday for “violating the spirit of the law.” Junior Matt Joeckel will start in place of Manziel, but he threw only 11 passes last year. He actually fits coach Kevin Sumlin’s system better but Manziel is such a special talent.

Texas A&M leads the series 50-27-3 against Rice. The two teams have not played since both were members of the now dissolved Southwest Conference. Texas A&M has beaten Rice 15 straight times including 17-10 in College Station in 1995, the last meeting between the schools. Rice hasn’t beaten A&M since 1980.

Last year, Texas A&M went 11-2 in their first year in the SEC. The only 2 losses for the Aggies came at home to Florida and LSU by a total of 8 points. Texas A&M went to Tuscaloosa and gave eventual BCS Champ Alabama their only loss of the season 29-24. Texas A&M destroyed Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.

Rice went 7-6 last year in Conference USA under coach David Bailiff. The Owls started off the season 2-6 before winning their last 5 games, including a 33-14 romp over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.

The Rice offense scored at least 33 points in 6 of the last 7 games last season. With almost everyone back, the offense should be even better this year.

Senior quarterback Taylor McHargue completed 59.7% of his passes for 2,209 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, along with 164 carries, 667 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Driphus Jackson will also take some snaps at quarterback, after completing 56.5% of his passes for 672 yards and 6 touchdowns, and he also added a rushing touchdown. The top 8 rushers return for the Owls, but Charles Ross (147 carries, 800 yards, and 5 touchdowns, along with a touchdown reception) and Turner Petersen (128 carries, 591 yards, and 5 touchdowns, and a receiving touchdown) will get most of the carries McHargue doesn’t take. Junior receiver Jordan Taylor had 57 catches, 826 yards and 3 touchdowns. The line returns all 5 starters from a year ago.

The Rice defense was #81 nationally last year, but right around the time the offense turned it around, so did the defense. It was the reason Rice was playing so well at the end of the season. Rice gave up almost 44 points a game for the first 5 games, but aside from a 49-47 shootout win over Tulane no one scored more than 24 against Rice for the rest of the season. Almost everyone is back, but the offense will continue to struggle against elite passing teams. Senior cornerback Phillip Gaines will be in the NFL next year but is suspended for the game for violating team rules. Senior defensive end Cody Bauer had 5.5 sacks.  Talented linebacker Cameron Nwosu is doubtful with a knee injury.

Texas A&M must replace offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who left to become the head coach at his alma mater Texas Tech. Sumlin hired Clarence McKinney to run the offense. He won’t make too many changes and will let Manziel do his thing.

Manziel completed 68% of his passes for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He was also the leading rusher for the Aggies with 201 carries, 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. Senior running back Ben Malena had 138 carries, 808 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, and also had 18 catches, 111 yards, and a touchdown. Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams and  Oregon transfer Tra Carson will also get some carries. Receiver Mike Evans had 82 catches, 1,105 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The Aggies must rep;ace star left tackle Luke Joeckel but everyone else is back from a strong line.

Rice is 4-0 ATS in non-conference games, 6-1 overall, 6-2 in road games, and 1-4 on grass. Texas A&M is 7-0 ATS against Conference USA teams, 5-1 overall, 4-1 in grass, and 0-4 in August.

A&M could come out sluggish in the first half without Manziel, but I think the opposite happens. I  see them being motivated by being without their leader, and the cheers will be deafening when Manziel does come onto the field in the second half. I think the Aggies win and cover easily.

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