Considering the ever-increasing presence of the 24-hour news cycle and the endless stream of opinionated talk shows, the assertion that no rising sophomore has ever dealt with more media attention than Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel seems entirely believable.
Nobody should be more excited about the 2013 season than Manziel. Since he led the Aggies to a dominant victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, the bulk of the Manziel-created headlines have been unflattering and have played out under an unprecedented floodlight.
The stories are too numerous to list (quickly anyway), though most recently officials from the Manning Passing Academy asked Manziel to leave the camp early. The 2012 Heisman Trophy recipient has since said his phone died and he was late to a meeting and nothing more – a statement barely passing the Aggie fanboy segment B.S. barometer.
Manziel has spoken openly about expecting opposing teams to put a target on his back this season. What he has done this offseason, though, is put a target on his back with media, critics and fans alike. The first time Manziel plays poorly in a Texas A&M loss questions will become overwhelming about his focus, dedication and maturity.
Considering some outside factors, Manziel could actually play better in 2013 and A&M could fare worse.
For starters, the SEC West might well be the greatest division in college football history. Add to the mix that the two worst teams from a season ago – Arkansas and Auburn – hired new coaches and are expecting bounce-back campaigns. Oh, and two-time defending champion Alabama still resides in the division, as does perennial national contender LSU.
Secondly, Texas A&M lost a lot on defense. A lot – as in DE Damontre Moore, LB Sean Porter and four others. Returning starters NG Kriby Ennis and CB Deshazor Everett potentially face suspensions for offseason troubles as well*. There is no overstating how different the team will be on that side of the ball this season nor is there any overstating how important a dominant defense is to offensive rhythm.
* – Though it should be noted that they will not likely miss any key games. Remember: coach Kevin Sumlin showed last year that he is not likely to place discipline ahead of winning key games. He suspended two players, including starting LB Steven Jenkins, for the season opener. When the opener was delayed by the remnants of a hurricane, Sumlin decided to suspend the players specifically for the Louisiana Tech game rather than ban them from the season opener – suddenly against Florida.
There are certain questions that cannot and will not be answered until well after the season begins. For instance, how will Manziel handle a first – or second – loss?
The Aggies have their sights set very high this year. They seem to believe, with Alabama coming to Kyle Field, that they have as good a chance as anyone to represent the SEC West in Atlanta. Why wouldn’t they?
However, the goals are so lofty that a second loss could really send A&M into a spiral.
All it takes is for Manziel to start thinking about his NFL future to put hesitation in his mind. Should he run the ball or throw it out of bounds? Should he juke into the middle of the field or rush toward the sideline to avoid one more SEC-caliber collision?
With his playing success, Manziel will be thrust into a leadership position on a suddenly young team. Everything that has happened to him over the past eight months might have made him a stronger leader. They also might have hardened him to the point that he, say, can’t wait to leave College Station. You know. Whenever that might be.
Denying Manziel’s talent is akin to asking a defensive tackle to run him down in the open field – it serves little purpose. He possesses a strong arm with fantastic accuracy and legs to lengthen plays or turn them into long runs. Manziel posted numbers not seen from Cam Newton or Tim Tebow.
The questions aren’t about his on-field ability. They are about his maturity.
The best news is, now that SEC Media Days are gone, Manziel can focus entirely on preparing for the tests during which the real answers will be given.