It’s time to come clean.
I didn’t believe Texas A&M would come close to the kind of success it’s having in its inaugural SEC season, and I certainly wasn’t “all in” on Johnny Manziel as a legitimate Heisman candidate — at least not in the sense of the redshirt freshman bringing home the hardware in December.
Think about that for a minute as the shock of a 29-24 win for No. 15 A&M in Tuscaloosa over the top-ranked, defending BCS champions begins to subside: a redshirt freshman — hell, a freshman of any classification — winning the Heisman.
Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? Impossible even, because Manziel’s not Matt Barkley or Montee Ball. You know, guys who were supposed to be receiving first and second-place Heisman votes just a few months ago. Familiar names. Even West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had the Heisman wrapped up and shipped to Morgantown in September before the postal service realized the Big 12 was having it re-routed.
Manziel’s not an upperclassman who has time to build his lore, either, although the legend of “Johnny Football” is at a fever pitch at the moment. In fact, Manziel’s freshman status means no media interviews, per Kevin Sumlin’s coaching policy. Just about everything that’s supposed to play a role in college football’s most prestigious individual award, Manziel doesn’t have.
But he does have the most important metric. He’s got game.
The Heisman is supposed to be awarded to the most outstanding player in collegiate football. There are some fine candidates this year. Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein are just some of the names that should under serious consideration. Barring injury or a complete end-of-season meltdown, it’s impossible not to add Manziel’s name to that list after putting on the show he did against Alabama, effectively putting the SEC’s BCS championship game streak on the line in the process.
Manziel’s numbers against the Tide were exemplary (345 total yards and two touchdowns) and his season statistics are equally as impressive (2,527 passing yards, 1014 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns), but what held Manziel back from the likes of Klein and Barner were his struggles against Florida and LSU, two sound defenses in the SEC. To project that Manziel was going to somehow turn it around against Alabama was a stretch.
But Manziel did turn around. He turned around, evaded, ran into his own lineman and even fumbled the ball and recovered. And that was just on one touchdown pass to Ryan Swope to put the Aggies up 14-0 in the first quarter. Manziel is more than numbers. He’s theatre.
For that, he’ll get an invite to New York. Manziel may not win the Heisman, but he’ll get a lengthy look at becoming the first freshman to win the award. For all his showmanship, the one thing Johnny Football has showed the college football world is that there are no more rules for who qualifies as a Heisman candidate.