I hate predictions.
I hate making them; I hate reading them; I hate thinking about them. I especially hate them in college football, where parity laughs in the faces of those who challenge it's autocratic authority. Predictions are merely opportunities for to say completely asinine things and then either a) Self-congratulate if they are reasonably accurate or b) Completely disregard they ever said anything absurd.
All that being said, I'm going to go ahead and make one. Yes, I'm going to go ahead and be asinine. As my buddy Poseur wrote, this is a rivalry, right? In other words, it's a completely reasonable time to be completely unreasonable.
So, here goes: Johnny Manziel will get smoked on Saturday morning.
There's a lot of confidence in Colllege Station right now. The majority of it stems from the play of their redshirt freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel. The numbers speak for themselves:
128/190, 1,680 yards, 14 TDs, 91 carries, 773 yards, 24 total TDs
You want to put that in perspective? He's accounted for almost 600 more yards and 10 more TDs than Jordan Jefferson did... his entire 2010 season. Manziel's numbers are pacing history. He's off to a better start than Cam Newton or Robert Griffin in their respective Heisman seasons. He's a true dual-threat QB makings his mark on the SEC early in his career. A&M fans are intoxicated by his speed, athletic ability and sneaky passing accuracy. To date, he’s avoided turnovers (3 INT) and he’s hedging top 10 in QB Rating. Ooooh sparkly things.
Yet, the level of competition isn’t stellar. Throwing out South Carolina State, the opponents he has faced are allowing 137.03 rush yards per game (would be roughly 46th in the nation), 273.5 passing yards per game (roughly 103rd in the nation), and 27.18 points per game (roughly 69th in the nation). The numbers don’t give a complete picture, after all Texas A&M’s performance is factored into them. Further, to get an even more accurate understanding, you would need to judge their respective opponents level of competition and performance. But, they do at least give us some sort of picture that the A&M offense is overachieving in some regard, due to level of competition.
Against Florida, considerably the best defense they faced, they managed only 334 total yards, 200 through the air (107 yards per game under their average) and 134 on the ground (100 yards per game under their average). Mind you, this was a home game. Aggie faithful will tell you this is merely a young-QB getting his feet wet in his first game. Logic tells us that should be considered, but that it’s likely more the by-product of playing a quality defense.
LSU fields a better defense than Florida in most every regard. Rush, pass, pass efficiency, scoring, turnovers gained… you name it.
The counter argument here could be that the level of LSU’s competition produces the same effect as Texas A&M’s and their offense. After all, the average offensive output for an LSU opponent this season is 151.77 rush yards per game (roughly 76th in the nation), 191.91 pass yards per game (99th in the nation), and 22.2 points per game (98th in the nation). It’s a fair argument, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one.
At this point you are dealing with two quantities, one of them known and one unknown. We know what the LSU defense is capable of. Even if its current form isn’t as dominant as the 2011 version, there is a history and level of talent that cannot be denied. Simply put, there are too many good players on LSU for this defense to not be good, even if their secondary is still largely untested.
A&M on the other hand, we just don’t know. Sumlin’s track record for producing powerful offenses is well documented. But he’s not in Conference USA anymore, and no matter how talented, Manziel is still a freshman.
These factors lead me to believe he could be in for a rude awakening on Saturday. I liken it to the jump from college to the NFL. In college, there are throws QBs can attempt, even complete, that wind up being career killers for NFL QBs. The windows are tighter, the athletes are better. Everything, everything is faster. The talent discrepancy between A&M and LSU was on display as recently as 2 years ago. Remember that guy playing QB for A&M? Well, he was a first round pick and now starts for the Miami Dolphins (and as an aside, despite all the pre-draft hoopla about how “worthless” he was, he’s looking pretty damned good). A&M started strong in that game and I suspect they will Saturday too, but it didn’t take long for the talent gap to come through.
Johnny Manziel is good. LSU is just better.