Encore… Encore… Encore?
If his mind happens to drift off to such thoughts, Johnny Manziel must be wondering how in the name of Reveille he can top his initial show on college football’s grand stage.
All the Texas A&M quarterback did in 2012 was become the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy, and he did so with style, with panache, with a make-something-out-of-nothing skill set the likes of which we haven’t seen since Doug Flutie was making people roll their eyes in disbelief and disgust – only with a couple caveats: Manziel earned his acclaim with foot speed the magician never even dreamed of having and posted his numbers against the best competition in the country.
It’s not like anyone old enough to see Hail Flutie will forget it … it’s just you cannot overlook, or overstate what Manziel accomplished this fall. Oh, contrarians and factions with hardcore ties to a certain program in South Bend, Ind., will try – but, c’mon, people, get real. This kid, clearly, was the best player in the sport this season and the best thing to come down the pike in decades – if only in terms of entertainment, if only in terms of shocking the status quo in the Southeastern Conference, the sport’s pre-eminent circuit and the closest thing going to Sunday competition.
The kid threw for 3,419 yards and 24 TDs, ran for 1,181 and 19 and made the Aggies a force to be reckoned with in their first SEC season – with a new head coach at the helm. The finished 10-2, including an electric, individual tour de force effort by Manziel that sparked a victory at then-No. 1 Alabama. Ranked ninth, A&M now gets a crack at its 11th win when it faces former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on January 4.
Once that closes out his campaign … it becomes, OK, what can you do now?
With former Ohio State RB Archie Griffin still the only individual to have captured two Heismans, doing so in 1974 and ’75, Manziel certainly has that to aim at. But you kinda get the sense that his legend would grow even more with a national title, or two, even more.
Individual honors, actually, may be a little tougher to come by next fall. With 900-plus pounds of first-rate beef likely departing from his offensive line after this season – center Patrick Lewis is a senior, and junior tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews expected to be high, early-entry draft picks – and quality receiver Ryan Swope having exhausted his eligibility, Manziel could prove even more brilliant in 2013 while his numbers suffer.
He will have fellow freshman Mike Evans, Manziel’s top target in 2012, back and the Aggies’ 2013 recruit list is loaded with four-star prospects. The immediate future with Manziel at the on-field helm and the long-term possibilities with head coach Kevin Sumlin running the entire operation apparently make A&M a very, very attractive option these days.
Manziel’s grasping-at-straws detractors have pointed to his sub-par efforts in losses against Florida and Louisiana State as chinks in his armor, and, previously, as knocks against his Heisman candidacy. Thing is, Florida was the first college team he ever faced … and he completed 76.7 percent of his passes en route to throwing for a game-high 173 yards and led the Aggies in rushing with 60 yards and a score. That’s hardly a bad performance by any one’s standards.
He threw three picks vs. LSU. The Tigers’ defense held him in check running the ball, too.
In the other 10 games, all wins, he was spectacular. That’s about as impressive as impressive gets … but leaves the door open for some improvement – as in, next fall, he can shoot for 12-for-12 on great games.
Manziel might need ’em if he and the Aggies have serious intentions on claiming a national title, a school first since 1939, especially with Alabama and LSU once again on the schedule, the latter, in fact, being on the road.
Perhaps he could convince those OL anchors Joeckel and Matthews, son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, to wait a year on cashing in NFL millions, too.
Now that would be some magic, and a nifty start to an encore.
As even stated here, Manziel is the first freshman to win the Heisman. He, however, is the youngest. That honor goes to former Alabama RB Mark Ingram, who was 11 days Manziel’s junior – and the only 19-year-old to ever grab the trophy. When Ingram won the award in 2009, he was a true sophomore. Manziel, actually, will have an academic standing of a junior when this semester ends as he entered A&M in the spring of 2011.
Eight others won the Heisman as 20-year-olds: Rashaan Salaam, Archie Griffin, Tim Tebow, Barry Sanders, Herschel Walker, Vic Janowicz, Reggie Bush and Doc Blanchard.