Now that Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel is officially “Johnny Heisman,” what’s in store for Texas A&M and its star quarterback? Besides the Cotton Bowl and tonight’s Letterman Top 10, that is.
In the view of Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle, the Tyler-born and Kerrville-raised Manziel “is the most popular football player in the State of Texas (that includes Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys), and will be for the foreseeable future.”
“A freshman winning sports’ greatest individual award? Next thing you know, the kid will want to vote,” joked Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News.
(At least, we think it was a joke. Manziel turned 20 last Thursday.)
But did you think the first-ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner would just get to savor it? Not in today’s go-go media environment. Here’s five questions people are already asking about A&M and Manziel’s future:
1. CAN HE WIN THE THING AGAIN?
Yup, that’s the downside to winning the most prestigious award in college football in your first year as a starter: pressure’s on! Only one player has ever won the Heisman twice, as this tweet from Texas Monthly‘s Brian Sweany addressed:
— Brian D. Sweany (@Brian_Sweany) December 9, 2012
Numerous columns about Manziel, including Sherrington’s, skipped right to this issue. Heisman Pundit‘s Chris Huston weighed in with a piece headlined, “Why Johnny Manziel will never win another Heisman Trophy,” while Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated simply noted that “in today’s on-to-the-next-thing media culture, Manziel can probably never be perceived as better than he is now, even if he does improve.”
Two sophomores who have won the trophy recently, Florida’s Tim Tebow and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, failed to repeat with two more tries, while the last two winners, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, were juniors who left for the NFL before using their final year of NCAA eligibility.
But as the Associated Press‘s Ralph D. Russo wrote, Manziel may not care:
“First and foremost, there’s the Cotton Bowl,” Manziel said Saturday night. The 10th-ranked Aggies play No. 12 Oklahoma in Dallas on Jan. 4.
“From there, I have to be the guy who starts the motor for a run at the national title next year. That’s our goal. If more awards come, they come.”
Which begs the question….
2. CAN A&M GO 10-2 AGAIN–OR BETTER–NEXT YEAR?
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t sure, as he told the Chronicle‘s Solomon.
“For us to come from obscurity, really, in the last 10 years a .500 program, we want to get back as a top-25, a top-15 program, we’ve got to maintain where we are. We’re just hanging around nine or 10 (in the rankings) right now. We’ve got to be consistent at that. Playing in the league we’re in its going to be hard, very hard, to go 10-2 next year.”
“Defensive coordinators will be concocting exotic game plans to stop the defending Heisman winner,” wrote Heisman Pundit‘s Huston. “He was brilliant on his first journey through the league. It will be tougher the second time around….And remember that Johnny Football isn’t exactly a big guy. He led a charmed existence in 2012, but his fearless style will continue to put him at risk of injury.”
That could be especially true if the Aggies lose junior offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. The 6’6″, 310 lb Joeckel won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in the nation. One mock NFL draft has him as the #1 overall pick.
But Sports Illustrated‘s Staples thinks the best is yet to come:
Consider this: Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury didn’t even know what they had until after the Aggies opened the season against Florida on Sept. 8. At practice, defensive players aren’t allowed to tackle the quarterback. So Texas A&M went through spring practice and preseason camp judging Manziel’s mobility based on Sumlin’s quick calls of “Saaaaaaaaack!” every time a defender got close enough to breathe on Manziel. After they realized they had one of the most elusive quarterbacks in college football history on their side, Sumlin and Kingsbury began to tweak an offense that had previously been designed for Houston’s Case Keenum. But the season is no time to overhaul an offense. Now, the Aggies have 10 months to build a scheme perfectly suited for Manziel. “To have an offseason to kind of mess with things and work with it,” Kingsbury said, “I expect it to keep evolving and play to his strengths.”
“It’s not hard to look at them and see the future of the SEC,” opined the AP’s Russo. “Especially after the Aggies went 10-2 this season and left no doubt that their fast-paced, spread offense would not sputter in the big bad SEC.”
3. BUT WILL THE O.C. STICK AROUND?
KIngsbury’s perfect New York Saturday with his star pupil got a little complicated when third-year Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville bolted Lubbock for the University of Cincinnati. (Go figure, but some people just prefer a slower lifestyle.)
That put the 33 year-old former Red Raiders quarterback onto every “who’s next?” list, especially since he played under the mostly-still-beloved Mike Leach.
The quick early consensus is that Kingsbury is still too young, and if it’s true that Tech’s first choice is Baylor’s Art Briles (despite the fact that Briles just signed a new extension), he probably is. But Kingsbury is older than Pat Fitzgerald was when he became Northwestern’s coach. He’s also older than a certain Texas coaching legend was when he got hired, as Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman wrote:
I think I’d hire Kliff Kingsbury as the new Texas Tech head football coach, whether he’s ready or not. He’s only 33, with just three years’ experience as a college offensive coordinator, but the results are impressive, and Darrell Royal was 32 when Texas hired him.
At the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Don Williams seemed to suggest that Kingsbury wait a little longer and do better, which must have played well with the local readers.
“Manziel is just finishing his freshman year, so Kingsbury can ride the Johnny Football train to plenty of job opportunities the next three years,” Williams wrote.
Well, sure. The Texas job could still come open!
In any case, enjoy your raise, Coach Kliff.
4. WILL MANZIEL MAKE A LOT OF MONEY OFF OF THIS?
No. But Texas A&M is spending lots of money to make sure the university capitalizes on this magic season.
As ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell wrote, no sooner had Manziel won the Heisman than the Aggies put an ad up for him in Times Square–a new twist, as such campaigns are usually done to promote a candidacy, not celebrate the win.
— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) December 9, 2012
According to Rovell, the school also bought full-page ads in the New York Times and USA Today, along with space on ESPN.com, SI.com and all of the major Texas newspapers. (Go visit any of those website now and you will see them).
ESPN’S Michael Steele reported that Robert Griffin III’s Heisman win was worth $14 million in media exposure for Baylor University last December, and that the school further estimates it was worth $250 million in increased donations and other revenue sources, including sponsorship deals, TV contracts and yes, “higher corn dog sales” (due to better attendance, presumably).
“With our move to the SEC, we are building a national brand for Texas A&M, and Johnny winning the Heisman certainly accelerates our efforts,” A&M vice president of marketing and communications Jason Cook told Rovell.
An earlier story by Rovell outlined the fact that even as Texas A&M helps Manziel and his family protect the “Johnny Football” nickname, they can’t sell any merchandise with his name or likeness on it, and he can’t make money off of anything, including sales of his #2 jersey.
Rovell found NCAA president Mark Emmert unsympathetic to the argument that Manziel deserves part of the dough his newfound stardom generates:
“It’s not just that it’s a No. 2 [jersey],” Emmert said. “It’s a Texas A&M No. 2. I can’t parse out the value of the number on one side and the university on the other. They go together.
And that is an absolutely correct and compelling argument to make–if you’re the owner of a pro sports team. Emmert continued:
So A&M can enjoy the advantages of having this spectacular athlete play for them, and ticket sales and filling the stands and being on TV more, and then he’s going to go out and play in the NFL and they don’t get anything for that. I could also say, ‘Shouldn’t they have a share having groomed him for the NFL?'”
Which seems a rather stunning (and long-awaited) admission that the purpose of college sports is not to educate “student-athletes” but to serve as pro football’s minor league.
5. WILL ROBERT EARL KEEN WRITE A SONG ABOUT HIM?
“Every time I’ve ever started doing that, it just doesn’t sound real,” Keen told Dave Wilson of ESPN.com. “It’s like what’s called a mock epic–building something up beyond its scope.”
But the Aggie songwriter, who helped open A&M’s first SEC season by playing before midnight yell practice (“First Yell”) at Kyle Field the Friday night before the conference opener, is still over the moon for Johnny Football. As Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News wrote:
“Are you kidding? Johnny Manziel is friggin’ incredible. He’s a legend,” Keen said. “He’s barely 20. People write songs about him. They probably named their kids after him. Johnny Football is on every channel, in every paper and he’s talked about from Grand Central Station to College Station.”
Keen, who lives in Manziel’s hometown of Kerrville, said he stayed home this weekend to bow-hunt and watch the Heisman.
“Johnny Manziel is the most exciting phenom in Texas A&M since Bear Bryant,” Keen said. “He won the Heisman. He’s a rock star. Elvis has entered the building.”
So let’s just put this on the table. Robert Earl, if you can either bring yourself to write that Johnny Football song (or perhaps quickly cover “The Ballad of Johnny Football), we’ll slap that up here faster than you can say “two-time Heisman Trophy winner.” This Wednesday (12/12/12) would be good.