Wasn’t this supposed to be a foregone conclusion? No more than four months ago wasn’t every major college football pundit yelling from the rooftops that this award was USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s to lose? And on the off chance that Barkley slipped up on his pre-paved road towards collegiate immortality (and possibly the top pick in April’s NFL Draft), wasn’t it all but assured that the likes of record-setting Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith or Michigan dual threat signal caller Denard Robinson would readily be there to claim the spot at the apex of the sport as their own? Oh what a difference a few months can make.
If somebody had asked who Johnny Manziel was before the season started, would anyone have been able to answer correctly? It seems hard to believe, but before the year there was doubt as to whether Manziel was even ready to be Texas A&M’s starting quarterback; needless to say, few considered him a significant threat to win college football’s premier award. Since the moment he stepped on the field at College Station, however, it was clear that the redshirt freshman was something special. Expectations for the Aggies were tempered in the preseason as the team made the transition from the Big 12 to the SEC and a far more rigorous schedule.
After suffering narrow early losses to highly ranked conference opponents in Florida and LSU, Manziel, who has become affectionately known by his “Johnny Football” moniker (which his family has since submitted to be trademarked), led his team to five consecutive wins to close out the season. Most prominent of these was A&M’s astounding upset of then top ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, in which Manziel’s 345 all purpose yards shot him to the top of many voters’ Heisman ballots, a moment that may very well be remembered as the best from the 2012 season (though Notre Dame may still have something to say about that). With 4,600 total yards on the year, Manziel eclipsed the single season SEC record previously held by some guy named Tim Tebow, himself a former Heisman winner. More so than any statistic, however, it was the dramatic improvisational style and perceived sense of reckless abandon with which Manziel plays that has set him apart. His highlight real in unequaled by any other player in the country, and his fumbled snap-mad scramble-touchdown pass to Ryan Swope early in the Alabama game was widely been dubbed the most jaw dropping play of the season to date.
In beating out Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Johnny Football made history, becoming the first freshman ever to join what is often referred to as sport’s most exclusive fraternity. After closing out the regular season with a record of 10-2, Texas A&M now sets their sights on a heavyweight Cotton Bowl matchup against Oklahoma on January 4. The contest pits two former Big 12 rivals with a long history against each other in one of college football’s most storied non-BCS bowls. The spotlight is likely to center on the positional battle between Manziel and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who is seeking to close out his record-breaking collegiate career with a victory.
The classic sports cliché “the sky is the limit” may be a drastic understatement in the case of Manizel, who potentially has three more seasons to rewrite college football’s record books. He has set the bar high in his first year in Aggieland, and expectations are likely to reach unprecedented levels leading up to the Cotton Bowl and Manziel’s sophomore year. Only one player in college football history has claimed multiple Hesiman’s, legendary Ohio State ball carrier Archie Griffin, but it appears possible that Griffin may soon have company. Whatever the case, Manziel remains the sport’s most captivating star at the moment, and his presence has the future looking bright in College Station.
By Tyler VanderMolen