The most-anticipated game of the college football season beckons. And, once again, Texas A&M’s 2012 Heisman Trophy winner will let his actions on the field speak for him in regard to Saturday’s showdown against top-ranked Alabama.
Technically, quarterback Johnny Manziel will stand on his five-minute chat after Saturday’s 65-28 rout of Sam Houston State, when he offered a couple of Alabama-related thoughts while dissecting the sixth-ranked Aggies’ performance. That is because the face of college football, for the third time in three opportunities this season, bypassed Tuesday’s weekly news conference with A&M players and coaches.
This time, coach Kevin Sumlin said Manziel offered a fresh reason: Johnny Football asked to remain silent, upon the advice of lawyers and family members.
“Quite frankly, he and his family — his advisers, his lawyers and his family — have advised him not to talk. And I respect his wishes for that,” Sumlin said.
Fine by me. Manziel doesn’t have to utter another word the rest of the season, if that’s his choice.
But he should be reminded that, if he wants to become a two-time Heisman Trophy winner, the brunt of the 474 voters who placed him atop their 2012 Heisman ballots were media members. And many of those voters, particularly the ones outside of Texas, would like to hear an explanation from him about the August investigation into allegations that he took money for signing memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules before submitting their 2013 ballots.
Yes, the NCAA probe is over and Manziel has served his half-game suspension that resulted from it. But if that explanation never surfaces, Manziel runs the risk of having a significant number of voters — in a secret ballot, with multiple worthy candidates — find greater fascination with the efforts of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or anyone else who becomes college football’s flavor of the month by the end of November.
Maybe Manziel simply is holding his tongue and seeking a motivational edge for Saturday’s game against Alabama (2:30 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11), which most of the country will view as his Heisman title defense. Manziel’s brilliance in last year’s 29-24 upset of the top-ranked Crimson Tide (345 total yards, 2 TD passes) helped him emerge as the first freshman recipient in Heisman history.
His profile is so large heading into this contest that CBS announced plans to focus one of its cameras specifically on Manziel during the telecast. But Sumlin bristled Tuesday at the JohnnyCam concept, adding that he hopes the idea disappears before Saturday’s kickoff.
“Everything I try to do here at Texas A&M is about team. It’s about building our program and not being an individual,” Sumlin said. “And Saturday afternoon, when we have two football teams, I just don’t understand why there’s got to be one guy singled out for the camera the whole time. That’s not what we’re trying to be about.”
But a heavy, player-specific focus comes with the territory when your roster includes the reigning Heisman winner. And Manziel, because of Tuesday’s absence, left others to fill in the blanks about how well they expect him to hold up under the pressure and scrutiny.
A&M running back Ben Malena predicted Manziel will shine brighter than he did in last year’s matchup.
“This Saturday is a stage for the whole world to see how much better he is, along with the team,” Malena said. “We understand the magnitude. We accept the challenge.”
Receiver Malcolme Kennedy said the Aggies benefit from running scramble drills designed to feed off Manziel’s ad-lib exploits at every practice and during pregame warmups.
“It’s one of the things that’s pushed us over the top,” Kennedy said.
Without question, the Aggies who spoke Tuesday sounded loose and confident.
Safety Toney Hurd Jr. even expanded on a recent tweet, posted after Texas’ 40-21 loss to Brigham Young on Saturday night, that Texas A&M has become the “new university of Texas.”
“Right now, around A&M, we’ve got a lot of swagger,” Hurd said Tuesday. “I feel like we’re taking over the state.”
A victory Saturday over Alabama, the two-time defending BCS champion, could position A&M to take over the college football universe. But only if Manziel shines.
After beating Sam Houston State, Manziel said the Alabama matchup “feels like another game.” By Tuesday, he was no longer talking about the Tide, based on the advice of legal counsel.
We’ll learn Saturday what his arms and legs have to say. They’ll cast the deciding votes in Kyle Field.