It seems like the only person who can stop Johnny Manziel is Johnny Manziel.
Manziel has received some bad publicity this offseason and will sit out for the first half of Texas A&M’s opener against Rice tomorrow. Missing two quarters of first-half action will hurt Manziel statistically and draw more attention to the fact that he spent far too much of the 2013 offseason in the news for the wrong reasons.
Once he checks back into the game, and certainly by the time the Aggies kick off against Sam Houston State next Saturday, people are going to forget about underage benders and autograph scandals, and remember Johnny Football.
It’s hard to overemphasize how important an elite offensive line is to the success of an offense, and Luke Joeckel might have been the best offensive linemen in the country a year ago. The 6’6”, 306-pound tackle was an All-American, he won the Outland Trophy and was selected second overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2013 NFL Draft. His absence, however, shouldn’t be anything that Manziel and the Texas A&M offensive juggernaut cannot overcome this season.
These guys were a video game set on easy last season, and Manziel was, and still is, the face of the unit. The Aggies scored over 40 points six times in 2012 with an average of 44.5 points per contest.
Individually, Manziel passed for 3,607 yards in 2012 while running for 1,510. He had four 300-yard passing games and six games with at least 100 yards on the ground. On three occasions they were the same game.
In addition to the plays he makes, it is his consistency to not make errors that sets Manziel apart. In 2012, Manziel was sacked just 22 times and threw only nine interceptions.
In his redshirt freshman season, Manziel eclipsed players like Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton in setting the SEC record for yards of total offense in a single season with 5,117. The argument can be made that the 11-2 Aggies were able to pad their stats against overmatched opponents and, to an extent, that argument is valid.
The Aggies beat up on two FCS opponents--South Carolina State (70-14) and Sam Houston State (47-28), but that doesn’t change the fact that the Aggies played well enough to win on the road against Alabama. It also doesn't change the fact that Manziel ran over, through and around the Oklahoma defense to the tune of 516 yards in a 41-13 shellacking in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
Manziel plays in the toughest defensive conference in the nation and will be doing so with a bullseye on his back from both the media—for his attention off the field—and opposing defensive coordinators—for what he does on it.
If he can replicate anything close to what he did in 2012 and maybe throw in an SEC Championship for good measure, we could see college football’s second-ever two-time Heisman Trophy winner in 2013.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
In the final minutes of the 2013 Outback Bowl with South Carolina trailing Michigan 22-21, the Wolverines tried a fairly standard inside zone run play to the side of the field not occupied by Jadeveon Clowney. With Michigan’s All-American junior left tackle, Taylor Lewan, leaving Clowney for his zone assignment, Vincent Smith received the handoff from Devin Gardner.
That was the last thing I saw because Clowney hit Smith so hard that it broke my television.
Clowney’s stats from a year ago are not as flashy as the last two defensive players to be invited to the Heisman ceremony. While the 6’6” 274-pound junior from Rock Hill, South Carolina recorded a solid 54 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2012, these numbers are not as imposing as Ndamukong Suh’s 85 tackles and 12 sacks in 2009 or Manti Te’o’s 110 tackles and seven interceptions last season.
What Clowney brings to the table for the Gamecocks is the constant threat of offensive disruption that needs to be dealt with on each and every play which makes South Carolina’s other defensive players exponentially better.
Aaron Murray had a quarterback rating of 92.6 in 2012, and his rating against South Carolina was 27.7.
Tahj Boyd’s drop off in quarterback rating when Clemson and South Carolina faced off wasn’t as pronounced as Murray’s, but a rating of 63.6 from player whose average is 80.3 is far from negligible.
Clowney is as fundamentally sound as he is athletic, and is as good a two-dimensional defensive lineman as there is in college football. A fierce pass rusher, Clowney diagnoses run plays as well as anyone and is the centerpiece of what should be one of the best defenses in the country this season.
There have been two exclusively defensive players invited to New York in the last four years and Clowney might have more big-play potential than either of them.
His Heisman campaign, like all the other players on this list, will rest not only on his individual performance this season but also on the number of wins his team is able to come away with.
If South Carolina proves to be a legitimate national title contender, we might see the first ever one-way defensive player take home the Heisman Trophy.