Can Johnny Football match, or perhaps surpass, last year’s record-setting Heisman season in the Southeastern Conference?
The polarizing gunslinger who has dominated headlines both on the field and off since arriving at Texas A&M has the Aggies zeroed in on the BCS National Championship Game with a projected top 5 preseason ranking to boot. He’s a total offense juggernaut, the definition of quirky sports terms like “game changer” and “X-Factor” and does things with the football that surpasses recent SEC greats Cam Newton and Tim Tebow.
What is it that makes Manziel, the FBS’s fourth member of the elite 20-20 club (20 rushing TD + 20 passing TD in same season), so difficult to contain?
You start with his freestyles, a blend of broken tackles for long gains and heaves down field that leaves opposing defensive coordinators grasping for answers. There’s too many things he does out of the pocket that can be detrimental to a front seven and unlike most quarterbacks, pressuring Manziel puts him into a comfort zone on the move.
Simulating what Manziel can do with his legs on the boundary is impossible through a scout team quarterback on the practice field.
Up close, Manziel’s becoming more comfortable with each additional rep and that’s scary for who’s left on the schedule during the reminder of his collegiate career. Take a look at his performance in last year’s Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma, a BCS mainstay from the Big XII that annually spits out prospects and consistently reaches a double-digit win total. The Sooner defense, while subpar by Bob Stoops’ standards, was the conference’s fourth best overall in 2012 giving up just under 400 yards per game.
Against the pass, Oklahoma had a potent 108.4 efficiency rating with only nine touchdowns allowed during the regular season. With three weeks to prepare for Texas A&M’s uptempo attack, one would think the Sooners had time to pinpoint enough schemes that would slow down Manziel and his dual-threat abilities.
Instead, the post-Heisman lull that affects most award recipients didn’t linger with Johnny Football.
After four quarters in Dallas, the Aggies nearly averaged a first down per snap as Manziel finished with a Herculean 516-yard effort and four touchdowns.
How’s that for a game plan?
“We had guys plenty of times in position to make a play,” Stoops said. “Couldn’t make a play.”
The media swarm that has ensued since Manziel’s Heisman campaign went full beast mode following A&M’s win at Alabama hasn’t stopped, and in fact, picked up fighter jet speeds in Birmingham during SEC Media Days. To quickly recap Manziel’s six months fun prior to his first public interview session, the quarterback shoved a grad assistant during spring practice, partied with Rick Ross before spending a week in bikini-clad Cabo and was sent home early from the Manning Camp.
Life of luxury, no?
His offseason only added to his anti-Tebow lore and to put it bluntly, Manziel appreciates the spotlight and used his SEC record-shattering freshman season to bathe in the glory.
But at what expense will A&M’s marked man be affected on the field this fall?
This time last season, besides a few local sports writers in College Station and the coaching staff at A&M, very few even knew Manziel existed. Under the cloak of obscurity, he didn’t have every vacation or night out scrutinized nor did a single tweet invoke thousands of endorsements or hate messages.
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has no control over what Manziel does in his time away from the field but does have a responsibility in keeping his quarterback out of the press for all the wrong reasons during what could be a special season for the Aggies.
Without No. 2 in the backfield, A&M becomes another good team in a crowded and powerful SEC West, but at his finest, the Aggies move into the elite realm and national title hunt. We’ll all get to watch Manziel’s nationally-televised sophomore debut on Aug. 31 against Rice and whether you like him or not, college football knows you’ll tune in.
Even with A-list actors and most of the original cast, a sequel’s never as good as the original. Manziel and the rest of the Aggies hope that’s not the case.
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