Let me start with this: I don't always agree with my fellow Auburn fans when it comes to defense tactics. I appreciate that when national reaction to an Auburn-related story is mostly negative, fans want to defend their school and football team, and unless Auburn or an Auburn player is clearly in the wrong, I partake in that defense. However, in my view, many Auburn fans take their efforts to an unnecessary extreme, coming off as irrational and illogical, and giving the fanbase as a whole a poor reputation. In fact, this effort to help Auburn actually hurts, as it gives scorned opinion makers more incentive to shape public perception and make Auburn look bad with every story and column.
So, as a relatively moderate Auburn fan who sincerely tries to digest any story about the Tigers and react appropriately, while not dignifying trolls on Twitter with any sort of thoughtless response, I read an explanation of the differences in perception on the Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel scandals with an open mind. I know many fans look at the two situations differently, and that irks me. I wanted to finish it up and think, "Actually, there are some good points. There really are legitimate reasons for those differences in perception." Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Everyone wanted to see Newton deemed ineligible, and many think Manziel is getting a bad rap. And just as Auburn fans can become irrational in the defense of their school, the differing ideas on the respective scandals come off just as thoughtless.
The explanation for opposing feelings on Newton and Manziel is broken down in four points. I'll address each of those here:
1. The Aggies are more popular with neutrals.
There is a lot to like about the current iteration of Texas A&M. The Aggies play an entertaining offensive style, one that not only annoys Nick Saban, but also managed to put up 29 points, 23 first downs, and 418 yards on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Kevin Sumlin is a likeable, charismatic figure who started last season answering a series of condescending questions at SEC Media Days about whether his team would be a disaster in the SEC and iced it at 11-2 with a clobbering of Oklahoma. The Aggies went 3-2 in games decided by one score, so they didn't give off a whiff of being lucky or worse than their record. Lastly, A&M is only in the SEC in the first place because of its arch-rival's annoying tendency to treat the Big XII as a personal fiefdom - a course of conduct that led T. Boone Pickens to observe that Texas AD DeLoss Dodds "had too many cards and he played every damn one of them" - and that makes the Aggies a sympathetic program.
The point is then made that, offense aside, 2010 Auburn wasn't a particularly likeable team, and that Gene Chizik was a 5-19 coach before arriving on the Plains.
So two years later, when his team was 10-0 headed into the Georgia game, there was a sense of total flukery about Auburn and Chizik. How did this shacket-wearing guy with the 5-19 record find himself in this spot? How did his team play six close games and win them all? So if Newton was suspended, wouldn't Auburn's finish just feel like regression to the mean? In-season karmic justice?
As it turns out, this feeling proved to be correct. Without Newton, Auburn was lucky to go 8-5 in 2011, winning every close game it played, and then hit rock bottom in 2012 after Chizik decided to get rid of the offensive style that had been integral to the Tigers winning the national title. So score one for mostly subjective feelings about a coach and a program!
I'll admit that Kevin Sumlin is a more popular figure among neutrals than Chizik was. Sumlin did win over reporters and fans with his Media Days 2012 performance, and Chizk rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with the amount of religion he brought into post-win interviews (#GodThing). But other than that, there's no fact-based argument to like 2012 A&M over 2010 Auburn.
The Aggies play an entertaining style that annoys Nick Saban. Well hey, that sounds kind of like the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme used by Auburn in 2010. Kind of exactly like that scheme.
A&M is a sympathetic program because it's been under the thumb of its in-state rival. Yeah, Auburn wouldn't know anything about that. The Tigers' rival is Alabama, so it's not like they're the historic underdog. The Tide only has 15 claimed national titles and two of the greatest college football coaches of all time. But A&M's the only sympathetic underdog here.
Auburn 2010 under Chizik was a fluke, but A&M in 2012 under Sumlin wasn't. Sure, Chizik had a terrible record coming to Auburn, but even though Sumlin's win-loss mark was much better, it came in four years as a Conference-USA head coach. Not exactly a legitimate proving ground. A&M was 3-2 in close games, while the Tigers won their close contests? Maybe that's because Newton and Auburn were better than Manziel and A&M. A few numbers:
|Auburn 2010||A&M 2012|
|Points per game||41.2||44.5|
|Yards per game||499.2||558.5|
|Rush YPG (RB only), TDs||166.8||128.5|
|Receiving YPG, TDs||214.4||316.5|
|Rush YPG allowed||109.1||139.5|
|Pass YPG allowed||259.3||250.7|
|Field goals||17-of-22 (77.3%)||13-of-22 (59.1%)|
|Newton vs. Manziel pass||66.1%, 2,854 yds, 30 TD, 7 INT, 182.1 QBR||68.0%, 3,706 yds, 26 TD, 9 INT, 155.3 QBR|
|Newton vs. Manziel rush||264 att, 1,473 yds, 20 TD, 5.6 yds per att||201 att, 1,410 yds, 21 TD, 7.0 yds per att|
Obviously, these were both really good teams in the world of offense-first football. But, Auburn had a more well-rounded offense. A&M relied much more on Manziel's ability to run and throw, while the Tigers had a strong group of running backs that kept defenses a little more off balance. And those backs came up big in key games: Onterio McCalebb's game-winning run against LSU, Michael Dyer's MVP performance against Oregon, McCalebb's three touchdowns against Georgia to name a few. A&M 2012 just didn't have the running backs to take the pressure off Manziel in the running game. In the loss to Florida, rushers other than Manziel gained just 76 yards. In the loss to LSU, they picked up 114 yards. In Auburn's 2010 win over LSU, runners other than Newton rushed for 245 yards. In the BCS title win over Oregon, they rushed for 190 yards. If the Tigers had been forced to rely solely on Newton in those games, Auburn likely would have lost both.
Auburn fell from 14-0 to 8-5 in 2011? Yeah, that's a real surprise. The Tigers lost one of the best college football players of all time and the on-field results suffered. However, in addition to losing Newton, Auburn lost Lombardi winner Nick Fairley and two other starters on the defensive line, every starter on what had been one of the best O-lines in the country, three of its top five receivers, seven of its top 10 tacklers, its top two linebackers and three key members of the secondary. So, I'd say that 2011 dropoff was about more than the lack of Newton. In fact, Auburn winning eight games that season was an incredible coaching job by Chizik.
We have no idea how A&M will fare once Manziel is gone, but most expect the Ags to finish between 10-2 and 12-0 this regular season. Any fans or writers who think that will still be the case if he's declared ineligible are fooling themselves.
2. Manziel's alleged violations are harmless, whereas Auburn's were not.
The alleged violation has nothing to do with recruitment. The Aggies are no more likely to win a game in the future because of Manziel purportedly receiving money. Furthermore, there's no evidence that Texas A&M had any knowledge of Manziel receiving money for signing autographs, so it's not possible to make the argument that a lax enforcement regime sends an indirect message to recruits that if they come to College Station, they'll get extra benefits. The alleged payments to Manziel would be nothing more than the first freshman Heisman winner capitalizing on his fame.
In contrast, if you believe that someone associated with Auburn (ask Danny Sheridan for that person's identity) paid some or all of Cecil Newton's alleged asking price, then Auburn received a clear advantage on the field for breaking the rules. Auburn was in a recruiting battle with Mississippi State, a program led by Newton's former offensive coordinator at Florida. The Tigers won the recruiting battle, and then as a result of an outstanding offense led by Newton -- in 2010, Auburn was first in the SEC in yards per play on offense and eighth in yards per play on defense -- they were 10-0 when the Newton story broke.
Sure, if Manziel received tens of thousands of dollars for receiving thousands of autographs, he was just capitalizing on his fame. And if Auburn paid Newton hundreds of thousands of dollars, the program was buying talent. But, the argument of "there's no evidence that Texas A&M had an knowledge of Manziel receiving money for signing autographs" sounds a lot like Auburn's argument that it didn't know Cecil Newton had solicited money during Cam's recruitment. But for some reason, it's OK for A&M and was ridiculous for Auburn.
Also, if Manziel was traveling around the country, signing thousands of autographs and making money, I'd say A&M's ignorance would make the precise point that the Aggies are lax in enforcement and provide an environment that is conducive to rule-breaking behavior.
3. Manziel's alleged violations were made on an individual basis, whereas Auburn's were not.
If Johnny Manziel took money to sign autographs, then he is solely responsible for the violations. He might have engaged a friend or two in the scheme, but it's an individual issue.
On the other hand, if Cecil Newton received money from Auburn in return for sending his son to the Plains, then it's fair to assume that there would have been multiple people involved, most likely a combination of boosters with some cooperation, whether tacit or explicit, from one or more coaches (or at least someone in the football office).
I mean, I guess there's a little bit of credence to this argument, but not much. If Cam Newton received money, he would have dealt with boosters and possibly a coach or two. Pretty seedy stuff. If Manziel is getting money for autographs, he's dealing with autograph brokers, who are just as seedy as boosters, and it's not like he's some poor kid who needs the money -- all reports indicate his family has plenty of money. Whether or not it's moral for A&M to profit off Manziel when he can't profit off himself is another argument for another time, but as of right now, thems the rules. And if the allegations against Johnny Football are true, he's showing a brazen disregard for the rules. You might argue Manziel's alleged disregard would make fans want to see him ruled ineligible even more than Newton.
4. Public opinion has turned against the NCAA.
... the NCAA is quickly losing the consent of the governed in that larger schools want greater decision-making power (namely to start paying cost-of-attending sums to athletes) and fans are tired of players being declared ineligible for victimless crimes. The organization could have suspended Cam Newton without a significant backlash if it would have had the evidence to support such a decision.
34 months later, the same is not true with Johnny Manziel.
This is the only argument mentioned that has any validity. When the Newton investigation was taking place, no one -- well, no one other than Alabama fans -- really had any good or bad feelings about the NCAA. Since then, we've seen the botching of the Miami investigation, the O'Bannon lawsuit, the heightened debate on whether or not the organization should profit on unpaid athletes and national media members sharing negative opinions of college sports' governing body. Like it often is for Auburn football, it's a case of poor timing. In 1993 and 2004, undefeated teams were shut out of possible national titles -- although in '93, it was a self-inflicted wound. If the Newton allegations had come along three years later, many more fans would scoff at the investigation.
I really hope nothing comes of this and Manziel isn't suspended. He's the most exciting offensive player in college football, and I'd like to see A&M competing at its highest possible level. I didn't want to see anything happen to Alabama as a result of the brief T-Town Menswear saga for the same reason. If Auburn is going to win or lose to a team, I want that team to be full strength. Beating the Tide six years in a row was glorious, but Auburn always had to deal with the "it's only because we're crippled by the NCAA!" excuses.
People can have differing opinions on the Newton and Manziel scandals. But for those who wanted to see the former suspended and want to see the latter play, stop kidding yourselves. We're all college football fans here, which essentially means we're all prone to make arguments that fly in the face of real-life facts. Just admit you're being irrational on this issue and stop trying to offer half-baked reasoning.
More from College and Magnolia:
- Quarterback race down to Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson
- Gus Malzahn ready to narrow QB race
- Catching up on Texas A&M with Good Bull Hunting
- Quarterbacks go live in first scrimmage
- Tigers go in full pads for first time