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December 12, 2013

Repeat Heisman or not, Manziel's still the best

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is headed back to New York for his second consecutive Heisman Trophy announcement. Unlike last year, he's not the favorite to win it this time. That honor will go to Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston who had a great season in leading the top ranked Seminoles to the national title game against Auburn.

It's been a weird year in that all of the top contenders played their way out of the favorites' spot except Winston at one point in time or another and even Winston himself had to deal with off the field issues. The list of people that are going to New York isn't exactly awe inspiring…Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch (lost the MAC championship game), Tre Mason, Auburn (five games under 100 yards), A.J. McCarron (mediocre stats versus Virginia Tech and Mississippi State, lost to Auburn), Andre Williams of Boston College (nine carries for 29 yards in a season ending loss to Syracuse). Manziel himself was dealing with injuries in season ending losses to LSU and Missouri and didn't come close to putting up the numbers he did earlier in the season.

Even so, it's apparent that Heisman Trophy winners not only have to put up great numbers, be on a national championship caliber team, and have a moment on national television that either makes them or breaks them. For example, the last player to NOT play on a team that won ten plus games was Tim Tebow in 2007 and before that it was Ricky Williams in 1998. In addition, all of them had moments on national television that won the trophy for them…Manziel's game lasts season versus Alabama, Robert Griffin III's pass to beat Oklahoma, Cam Newton's comeback win over Alabama. Conversely, Kansas State's Colin Klein played his way out of contention last year in a 52-28 loss on ESPN to Baylor (which had a losing record at the time).

But these qualifications can lead to the best player not receiving the award and that's exactly what's happened this season. For all of the talk about Winston, he's playing on a team that's ninth nationally in average per rush and third nationally in total defense. He's played a schedule that by the end of the season included just two top 25 teams.

In contrast, Manziel faced unbelievable scrutiny in the off season because he lived like the 20 year old that he was rather than the Heisman Trophy winner everyone wanted him to be. His family had the money for him to do as he pleased and so he was able to befriend people such as the singer Drake who admired his abilities like they would those of a professional athlete but such admiration was difficult for people to adjust to because he wasn't one. He literally transcended college football in that regard and the NCAA nor anyone associated with it wasn't ready for it.

He was chastised not only for not living up to everyone else's expectations but people were adamant that his lifestyle would catch up to him in his preparation to go back out on the field. In addition, he was the subject of a NCAA investigation and because of his persona (the most dominant in college football history), the month of August was all about Johnny Manziel not just in sports but all forms of media.

For once, people were looking for reasons for the returning Heisman Trophy winner NOT to repeat and were openly rooting against him. It was a strange situation if for no other reason than the fact that everyone forgot how good he was because he wasn't playing games. He was even left off of the first team of the pre season all SEC team which when you look back at it is one of the most mind blowing things you'll ever see given the fact that it was the same coaches that he had pillaged in 2012 voting on it.

Then, the NCAA investigation ended and Manziel went back out on the field and everyone remembered how great he was. Heisman Trophy candidates have rarely redeemed themselves in losing efforts but Manziel did just that against Alabama early in the season. On a day when A&M's defense couldn't stop Alabama at all and the running game was suspect, Manziel went out and put up 562 yards of total offense and 42 points against Nick Saban who had schemed all season to stop him and finished fifth in the country in total defense. It was an extraordinary achievement and had even his biggest detractors such as ESPN's Paul Finebaum falling all over themselves about how wrong they were about him. Amazingly enough, a loss that would have eliminated most people restablished him one of the front runners for the award.

That's how great he was that day.

Manziel continued to put up big numbers and surpassed those of last season. In many ways, he was a better quarterback and proved his value as a pocket passer. A&M didn't score less than 41 points in any of its first ten games when he was relatively healthy. When he suffered multiple injuries and literally broke down by the time of the LSU and Missouri games, the offense went with him. The Aggies scored just 34 points in those two games and Manziel had some of the worst numbers of his career. He couldn't throw and he couldn't run and A&M's national title hopes ended with an 8-4 campaign.

Yet, beyond those overwhelming numbers (over 4,000 yards of total offense and 41 touchdowns running and receiving), it's the individual plays that Manziel is remembered for….the 95 yard pass to Mike Evans on third and forever from his own end zone that got the Aggies back in the Alabama game, the third and 25 conversion against Mississippi State where he corkscrewed a defensive end into the ground and rifled a pass across his body and down the sidelines for the first down. You watched him not for the production but because you hoped you would see something special. There's a reason that Texas A&M had four nationally televised games on CBS and even had games versus downtrodden opponents SMU and UTEP picked up by ESPN…you tuned in for what might be because you never knew when he wasn't going to leave you with a lasting memory that you could talk about for years with your friends or family.

He's not going to win the Heisman Trophy this season and I can understand why. His team finished 8-4 because he didn't have enough help on defense and his last nationally televised game on CBS turned out to be an elimination game for him because he couldn't stay healthy. But is there any doubt in anyone's mind that if you put Manziel on Alabama or Florida State that he would have put up better numbers and won it again or switched their quarterbacks out with him that Winston or McCarron wouldn't have been Heisman Trophy contenders?

No one produces like him or leaves you with such lasting memories. No one has done for a school what he has done for Texas A&M.

No matter what the vote says, he's still the best player in college football.


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