Johnny Manziel: You Can Call Him “Johnny Heisman”

By Phil Clark


Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, college football’s highest honor, the Heisman Trophy, was given to Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies, or “Johnny Football” as he has been referred to over this season. Personally, I picked Collin Klein of the Kansas St. Wildcats back in October to win it and I just couldn’t turn my back on him as the announcement approached.

Before I get going on my return to this column, I’d like to take a moment to go over a couple of writing faux pas that I made the last two times I wrote this column.

The first would be writing that Dabo Sweeney was “turning the program around.” I was writing about Sweeney’s work as head coach of the Clemson Tigers. Upon further review by myself, it probably should have been written “take the program to the next level.” Writing that Sweeney turned the program around does a great disservice to the work Tommy Bowden had done there previously as head coach. The week before, I wrote about the WAC and their exciting and great football season. I forgot to mention that it was an exciting and great swan song for the WAC as this is the final season of football for the conference. These were two little things that probably went unnoticed, but not by me.

And now back to the originally scheduled column already in progress…

Winning the Heisman has always been an honor for whomever receives it, but Manziel’s win was truly a historic one. Manziel became the first freshman ever to win the award, something that until this year seemed unfathomable. No matter how good a freshman football player plays that season, it’s seen mainly as either a sign that the player has plenty of work still to do or that the player will win the Heisman once he gets to his junior year. Tim Tebow debunked that assumption a few years ago by becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman, but even then nobody really believed that a freshman would ever hold that coveted trophy. It took only five seasons before a freshman did.

So did Manziel deserve it?

That’s actually a hard question. If you look at his stats, the numbers were great for Johnny Football this year. He overachieved any expectations people had for him while also making his team competitive in their first year in college football’s best conference. Here’s the problem: anyone could have made a real case for nearly ten players this season. This was the exact opposite of last year where there were just two surefire Heisman choices all season. But this year an argument could have been made for Manziel, Klein, and Manti Te’o (the Heisman finalists) as well as for Braxton Miller, A.J. McCarron, Montee Ball, Marquise Lee, and Kenjon Barner.

The voting did not go as I thought. Of course I was anticipating something chaotic, something resembling Florida in the 2000 Presidential election. Instead, fans were treated to a decently large win for Manziel when all votes were tabulated. My prediction was that this year’s Heisman winner wouldn’t have the most first place votes, but would have a landslide win with the second place votes. Remember, the Heisman voting is done by a point system for first, second, and third place votes. This means that technically you don’t have to have the most first place votes to win the Heisman as long as you aren’t beaten by too much in the first place voting and win by a landslide in the second place voting. In the end, it seems that Klein was the only finalist to get no love in New York.

There was no x-factor that got Manziel the award, that much is for sure; Klein had more rushing touchdowns and was closer to the national title than Manziel, Te’o lead one of the best defenses in the country and is in the national title game, Miller was perhaps the most important player to any major team in college football this season, Lee had a ridiculous year receiving, McCarron was the least sloppy quarterback in the entire country, Ball broke the NCAA‘s touchdown record, and Barner was a running machine for an offense that is a running machine. Even if you were blown away by Manziel’s numbers, there were others who had stats and figures that were equally impressive.

As for the rest of Manziel’s collegiate career, I don’t anticipate that he will be the second man to ever win two Heismans. Manziel does have the benefit of having up to three seasons left to earn that second Heisman, but I doubt it’s going to happen.

First off, there is such a thing as a “sophomore slump,” it’s not just something that happens to NFL quarterbacks who succeed immensely in their rookie season. And that sophomore slump could become a reality for Manziel next season with Kliff Kingsbury recently left his position as quarterback coach for the Aggies to take the head coaching job for the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Manziel was vocal about what Kingsbury’s coaching did to aid him in his freshman season with the Aggies. Having to swap one coach for another at your position in your first two seasons can’t be easy, and it probably won’t be easy because of the fact that Manziel won the Heisman.

One of the things that Manziel and the Aggies had going for them was that, being their first year in a new conference, they had the luxury of coming in under the radar. This was a team from the super-offensive Big 12 that landed in the old-school SEC. With few expecting the Aggies to be competitive, they were able to be competitive without drawing attention. They finally got that attention after their second-to-last conference game of the year, their upset of the then top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. There won’t be any flying under the radar next season as now all of the SEC knows that the Aggies are not to be taken lightly. They will also have all of the off-season to review film and prepare for Johnny Football, and they will be preparing for their meeting with the freshman sensation.

The other crucial thing to remember is the “too much too soon” theory, that instant success will prove detrimental to a player or team’s long-term success. In this case, it’s about whether Manziel doing so good in only his freshman season will be the best that everyone sees out of Johnny Football. The Aggies and the college football world are certainly hoping not. I’m hoping not either. One of the greatest shames to sports in general and to its fans & followers is when talent is wasted or doesn’t come to full fruition. Johnny Football obviously has talent, but just how much talent and how far can he really take it? That is the question that will hang over his head right into next season.

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