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Hot Reads: Gridiron politics mixes with Tuscaloosa's superstorm

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If you thought debates and billions of dollars worth of attack ads were fun, just imagine these two guys in headsets. (Source: CNN) If you thought debates and billions of dollars worth of attack ads were fun, just imagine these two guys in headsets. (Source: CNN)
Alabama's battle with LSU last week was classic football, but Texas A&M could force a shootout that new-school fans would be proud of. (Sources: Alabama Athletics Communications/Texas A&M University Athletics) Alabama's battle with LSU last week was classic football, but Texas A&M could force a shootout that new-school fans would be proud of. (Sources: Alabama Athletics Communications/Texas A&M University Athletics)
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    Wednesday, July 16 2014 12:55 PM EDT2014-07-16 16:55:17 GMT

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(RNN) – No one is promising all the matchups this weekend will provide a lot of tight competition, but they will be interesting.

Here is a Cliffs Notes version of the slate:

Mississippi State and LSU have identical records and that's about all there is in common. Texas A&M's offense vs. Alabama's defense equals football's version of a nor'easter. Ole Miss students brush off their disappointment with the election and hope they go at least 1-1 in important battles this week. South Carolina gets to see if they can soldier on without Marcus Lattimore (Hint: They probably can't).

Missouri, Tennessee and a sea of orange is a recipe for nausea, even without the 120-yard slop fest. The Athens Bulldogs need to succeed in not totally messing up life for everyone in northeast Georgia by beating lowly Auburn.

Who did we miss? Florida vs. UL-Lafayette? We'll repeat, who did we miss?

As an aside, some slightly relevant national event took place a couple of days ago. If you're disappointed in the outcome of the election, just consider yourselves fortunate that football coaches don't run the world. Lest we all be forced to shed half our body fat and run in full pads as punishment for late payment of our taxes.

Actually, now that we're thinking about it …

Obama and Romney as football coaches

This idea is completely off the wall and not germane to any serious conversation about politics or sports. But it's funny and a lot more civil than what we've seen the last four months, so just go with it.

On recruiting…

Obama: "We're not really looking for the most talented guys. We want kids with great character. Sure, a 2-10 record looks bad to you, but when you're teaching players about overcoming adversity those L's turn into W's."

Romney: "It's very important that we recruit close to home and keep the pipelines here flowing. But hey, if we snag a good player from across the country – or even internationally from, say, Hawaii – that's good for the program, too."

On paying student-athletes…

Obama: "I thought we were already paying players. I'm just kidding… Seriously, we're not allowed to yet?'

Romney: "Hey, as long as we keep a reasonable balance on it, I don't see the problem. I mean, it's not like I want my players in the same tax bracket as me."

On going for it on fourth down…

Obama: "You gotta think big if you want to win big ball games. You can tell by my track record I don't hesitate to tell my guys to pull the trigger, if you catch my drift."

Romney: "We actually have a strategic formula we use to determine when to go for it and when to punt. I'd love to explain it to you, but I'm not sure we've ever used it, and quite frankly, I'm still trying to understand it myself."

On special teams…

Obama: "It's important; definitely one of the most overlooked parts of the game. I, personally have no idea how all that stuff works, but that's what assistant coaches and student volunteers are for."

Romney: "I didn't get much starting time when I was a player, so I appreciate those guys that grind it out. All those guys, man, sometimes their names slip my mind, but they're big keys to our success."

On governance by the NCAA…

Obama: "It's important to have a central control system to keep order and uniformity in the game. Nothing is more important. Plus they overlooked a couple of, shall we say, minor indiscretions when I first took this job, so I owe them one." (NOTE: This is obviously fiction because the NCAA is an overbearing organization that prides itself on its tedious adherence to rules, and no coach would ever get off the hook for anything.)

Romney: "We have to take power out of the hands of the NCAA and give schools more control. If teams want to wear their home uniforms on the road, let them. Besides, that'll mean less work for me when I'm commissioner one day. This is off the record, right?"

SEC vs. SEC

Alabama, meet Johnny Manziel. Johnny, meet the undertaker of offenses known as the Crimson Tide.

The Aggies lead the NFL Lite in every major offensive category, and the Tide leads in the only category that matters in this league – stopping the other guy.

The difference in offensive styles could not be more vast – the Aggies' grip and rip sprint vs. the Tide's surgical, clock-bleeding grind.

As they would say in some parts of the Deep South: "This gon' be fun." (Yes, people really say that. Don't judge. We don't do English really well, but we have mastered football.)

Johnny Manziel is the only quarterback in the country with at least 2,500 passing yards and 900 rushing yards. His 31 total passing and rushing touchdowns are more than Bama's quarterback AJ McCarron and running back Eddie Lacy combined.

He will become the third FBS quarterback and the only freshman ever to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, but it won't happen Saturday.

Even Nick Saban, who knows a thing or two about good quarterbacks, put Manziel in rare company.

"I've been around longer than most, and most of our players can't relate to this, but this guy reminds me of Doug Flutie," Saban said. "I played against him a long time ago, but he was a really good player and a really good competitor, and that's who this guy reminds me of. He can throw it; he's not great big in stature or anything like that. He's extremely quick, he's very instinctive – has a unique ability to extend plays and seems to know when to take off and run it."

The Crimson Tide's defense is already in a class of its own, and it can lengthen its resume by containing Manziel. Most teams with the best shot at stopping him have used good schemes but couldn't tackle (Ole Miss, SMU) or aggressive front sevens that were not quick enough to catch him (Mississippi State, Auburn). LSU and Florida have done the best job of shutting Manziel down, but they both gave up some huge plays.

No one yet has proven that they can shut down the Aggies' offense and still keep Manziel from embarrassing them four or five times. That's a badge of honor for a quarterback in a league that forces offenses to treat points like prospectors treat gold.

In short, if Texas A&M really wants to prove they belong in the SEC, this is the only game that matters.

Battle of the slightly relevants

Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are playing each other, and something is actually on the line. Gasp! Maybe we should designate someone to make sure there is enough "loose juice" on The Grove.

Calm down, folks, it was a joke. It's not like tailgaters in Oxford need anyone's help getting plastered.

So why are we committing digital space to this game? For two reasons.

First, nobody else will (as evidenced by its burial in the ESPNU pile); and second, this is a better game than most people think.

It's an interesting matchup of a Rebels offense with the potential for explosiveness and a Vanderbilt defense with a serious Napoleon complex.

Beyond that, James Franklin is proving his mettle as an SEC coach by guiding his team to what looks like bowl trips in his first two seasons. The Commodores would already be bowl-eligible if not for a mental mistake by referees in the South Carolina game and a freakish breakdown against Northwestern after shutting the Wildcats out for three quarters.

"We're testing ourselves a little bit with these turnovers," Franklin said. "It's not very often that you lose the turnover battle and win the game, and this has happened a couple times now and we have to get that fixed. We need to do a better job of forcing turnovers and protecting the football."

The home team isn't bad, either. The Ole Miss defense is 11th in the nation in quarterback sacks, and that didn't happen by accident.

That will provide a nice test for a Vanderbilt team that features one of the top receivers in the league in Jordan Matthews and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who seems to get better by the week.

The Commodores' Carey Spear is a reliable field goal kicker, and punter Richard Kent can help swing the game through field position if he's sharp.

Neither of these teams seems that impressive on their own, but pitting them against each other makes for a game worth watching.

This Week's Unique Stat:

49: Alabama's Jeremy Shelley is the only kicker in the nation that has not missed an attempt this season. He is perfect on 40 extra points and nine field goals. His longest attempt this year is 38 yards.