Kenny Football? Manziel’s fill-in season’s first surprise

On the final night of the NFL preseason, Johnny Manziel was scrambling around and leading the Cleveland Browns to a victory. But his exhibition was mostly meaningless, and his replacement stole the show.

For those who thought Texas A&M would be lost without Manziel, think again.

If your girlfriend leaves, don’t sit and pout about the one that got away. Find a new one and keep rolling.

There is a lesson in everything. On the opening night of the college football season, the Aggies found their new quarterback and rolled over South Carolina 52-28. Kenny Hill, a sophomore and a mystery fill-in for Manziel, passed for 511 yards and three touchdowns Thursday.

“I know A&M lost a lot with Manziel,” Wynn sports book director John Avello said before kickoff, “but they still have a lot coming back and a lot of new blood.”

The lesson for handicappers is this: Avoid focusing too much on the talent a team lost from last season. How good are the returning starters and the new blood?

Hill looked good, completing 44 of 60 passes without an interception, and the Aggies are OK without Manziel. But who knew? Right now, we’re all learning something.

“The first week is tough,” Avello said. “I think it’s a lot of guessing.”

The first weekend is a lot like the game show “Family Feud,” with the sharps on one side and squares on the other. The sharps tend to side with underdogs, as they did with a late move on Texas A&M, which closed as a 10-point ’dog. The squares tend to bet favorites.

The oddsmakers are in the middle, and they are doing some guessing, too. But they are smart enough to know public money will be heavy on the favorites, especially this early in the season.

“When the crowd comes in for the weekend,” Avello said, “it’s going to be chalk.”

Arizona is 24-point “chalk” over UNLV tonight, and the crowd is likely to lay the points. Alabama, Florida State, Louisiana State, Southern California and UCLA are big favorites and likely public sides Saturday. Baylor will be another on Sunday.

“Baylor is going to put a lot of points on the board, and that team is going to get bet every week,” Avello said.

Ohio State might be a popular chalk play, but that’s a guess. The Buckeyes lost senior quarterback Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury this month, after losing stud running back Carlos Hyde and four starting offensive linemen from last season.

But, again, we’re talking about Ohio State, a team coached by Urban Meyer, who is 24-2 the past two seasons and recruits elite talent. Before the injury to Miller, who will be replaced by freshman J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes were 17½-point favorites over Navy on Saturday at Baltimore. The line dipped as low as 12 and is back up to 16½.

“Ohio State is not recruiting second-rate guys,” Avello said. “(Barrett) is probably a great athlete.”

The Buckeyes will make for one of many intriguing storylines this weekend, and Alabama is another team replacing a star quarterback. AJ McCarron, a three-year starter who won two national titles, is out, and either Jacob Coker or Blake Sims will be next in line.

A year ago, Coker nearly beat out Jameis Winston at Florida State. Coker transferred, and Winston won the Heisman Trophy and national title.

Winston and the Seminoles open as 18½-point favorites over Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas. For what it’s worth, the Cowboys return only eight starters from a 10-3 team.

As for returns, Everett Golson, booted out of school last season, makes a comeback as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, and Bobby Petrino is back as Louisville’s coach.

Appalachian State, which stunned Michigan seven years ago, returns to Ann Arbor as a 34½-point underdog.

Expect a lot of surprises this weekend. Texas A&M’s newfound quarterback was the first big one of the season.

■ CLOSING NUMBERS — It’s time again for fearless point-spread predictions. My worst week of last season was the first week, but it was a winning season as a whole. Here are six plays, including five ’dogs, for today, Saturday and Monday (home team in CAPS):

CONNECTICUT (+16½) over Brigham Young; Navy (+16½) over Ohio State; California (+11) over NORTHWESTERN; Arkansas (+19½) over AUBURN; Western Michigan (+10½) over PURDUE; LOUISVILLE (-3½) over Miami.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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