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Picks Column: Surviving The Flash Flood

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Both Alabama and Texas A&M face a flash flood of sorts with media hype, unprecedented pressure from fans and a difficult opponent on the field. Which team will be able to focus and make wise decisions in the face of rushing water? Photo by Dana Romanoff/Getty Images.
Both Alabama and Texas A&M face a flash flood of sorts with media hype, unprecedented pressure from fans and a difficult opponent on the field. Which team will be able to focus and make wise decisions in the face of rushing water? Photo by Dana Romanoff/Getty Images.

My 2013 Nissan Sentra coasted up the Boulder side street a little hot.

I’m always in a hurry, and this particular narrow outcropping feeds several college apartments and a large senior home, to which I’m delivering medicine.

I’m glad my brakes work. A young 20-something Asian, the only one in a mixed-gender group of about six with his shirt on, sloshes toward my car with a goofy grin and the universal hand signal for “stop.”

Girls in sports bras and muddied shorts giggle and a couple guys see how deep they can wade into the current in the middle of the road. They’d saved me from stalling in waist-deep water.

The next car didn’t heed their warning, floating to a stop and refusing to budge. As I plunged my way down the street to make my delivery, the driver looked befuddled as the makeshift human road block worked to push him from the flood.

It rained more than 7 inches in a 24-hour period starting yesterday afternoon, the most ever recorded for Boulder. (Sadly, there have been at least three confirmed fatalities. One meteorologist called the rain totals a “1,000-year event.”)

We’ve seen plenty of flash floods in college football in the last 12 months, many involving a little-known freshman quarterback spurned by Texas and nearly booted from the team due to a bar fight. Johnny Manziel slayed Alabama, morphed into a Heisman winner and found himself thigh-deep in plenty of puddles this summer.

Bama, too, faces a flood of sorts after a yahoo.com article this week alleged former offensive tackle D.J. Fluker received improper benefits from another former Tide player while attending the school. Saban, a man not known for his tact, came across out of touch, out of control and flustered during Wednesday’s press conference, much like Manziel after multiple incidents this summer.

At the NFL level, coaches and quarterbacks barely blink at this stuff. I worked under Norv Turner in San Diego from 2010-12, and he always seemed on the verge of losing his third head coaching job. Although never great with the media and too defensive, Turner in private focused on coaching the team and didn’t let the rumors keep him from working like normal. After all, “I’ve been fired before,” he said.

The atmosphere in college, as well as the professionalism of players and coaches, lends itself to greater variance in terms of approaching flood waters. Saturday’s rematch between Saban and Manziel will be won on the field, but how will each side approach the game? Will they heed stop signs, or will they drive straight through?

Manziel’s made it clear he will choose the latter every time. Sure, he may stall out, but if he plows through the water and clears the patch of dry road, he’ll be a sleazy Texas oil equivalent of the Tim Tebow legend. All he needs to do is beat Bama again first.

But Saban’s Tide have proven again and again they’re able to handle the biggest of distractions and focus on details. The Process, they call it.

We’ll see who emerges wet.

Thursday Special

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Lubbock, Texas)

TCU 27, Texas Tech 24

This game looked like an easy pick before the season. Casey Pachall, back from a long suspension last year, would have two games to shake the rust. Texas Tech still would be adapting with first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury and walk-on freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield surely no match for a touted Gary Patterson defense.

But Pachall is hurt, and the Horned Frogs struggled to put away SE Louisiana last week. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders have put up 102 points in two games, scouring weaker opponents. Oh, and Mayfield? He’s thrown for 780 yards, seven touchdowns and no picks.

TCU is a long way from the conference favorites some thought they’d be, but they have enough talent on defense, especially up front, to give the newbies a taste of adversity.

Five-Star

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (College Station, Texas)

No. 1 Alabama 42, No. 8 Texas A&M 27

Five hundred and forty-six. That’s how many rushing yards the Aggies allowed against Rice and Sam Houston State. Thirteen. That’s how many consecutive games Nick Saban teams have won in revenge matchups. The ailing but talented Tide offensive line got two weeks to prepare and a kick in the backside, and now they face a Texas A&M squad that would get embarrassed in the SEC this year without so many offensive stars. T.J. Yeldon and freshman Derrick Henry, hidden in the opener because he wasn’t needed, will take advantage.

Bama’s defense will be more prepared for Johnny Football off an entire offseason and a bye week than it was less than a week removed from a taxing road comeback against LSU. Manziel will make a few plays, but the Crimson Tide thrive in huge matchups with plenty of lead time. AJ McCarron played his worst game against the Aggies last season and will be sharper after a lackluster opener against Virginia Tech. Texas A&M is the only team to beat Alabama in its last 19 games, and the curious timing of allegations this week against the Crimson Tide only serves to stir up the already-angry hornet’s nest.

Four-Star

Kickoff: Noon ET (Lincoln, Neb.)

UCLA 35, Nebraska 28

Nebraska lucked out by beating Wyoming at home to open the season. UCLA is a better team than the Cowboys. No James Franklin this year, but Brett Hundley is a facsimile for Wyoming’s Brett Smith, who threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns and added 92 rushing yards in a 37-34 loss. Nebraska’s defense is faster this year, but inexperienced. Anthony Barr and company won’t have an easy time with the Cornhuskers’ offense, but the Bruins will overcome the 9 a.m. PT start, the death of teammate Nick Pasquale and take advantage of an offense that coughs up the ball too often.

Under The Radar

Kickoff: 2 p.m. ET (Boulder, Colo.)

Fresno State 37, Colorado 34

The Buffs almost are unrecognizable from last year’s one-win team. They still stink on defense, but at least they’re competitive and entertaining. There’s nothing worse than an awful team trying to win with a plodding, ground-and-pound style.

Fresno State started the week as a 10-point favorite and the line already has moved two points in Colorado’s favor. The Bulldogs allowed a mediocre Rutgers team to score 45 points in regulation and then gave up 416 total yards to Cal Poly of the Big Sky Conference.

The Bulldogs don’t have a rousing running game, though David Carr’s kid brother Derek has thrown 45 touchdowns against eight interceptions since the beginning of last year, including a college quarterback rating of 257.7 last year in a 69-14 win against CU.

Assuming the field isn’t underwater, pass-catching tandem Connor Wood and Paul Richardson could score more than two touchdowns by themselves. Richardson caught 21 passes and averaged 19.9 yards per reception in two games. But the Buffs can’t keep up quite yet.

The Rest

No. 3 Oregon 35, Tennessee 14
East Carolina 21, Virginia Tech 20
Washington 28, Illinois 21
Auburn 24, Mississippi State 21
No. 2 Ohio State 45, Cal 24
South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 20
Maryland 28, Connecticut 17
Marshall 38, Ohio 31
Ole Miss 38, Texas 28
Utah 41, Oregon State 27
Arizona State 30, Wisconsin 24

Last Week: 10-5.
Season: 23-7.

All rankings refer to Football.com’s Power Dozen.