Johnny Manziel Can Silence Loudest Critics with Win over Alabama
It's fairly easy to throw darts at the target on Johnny Manziel's back.
After an offseason full of turmoil, the sophomore phenom enters preparation for Alabama yet again in the spotlight of his own accomplishments. Some trust him, others don't, and still others rue the day Kevin Sumlin made him the starting quarterback at Texas A&M.
Haters gonna hate.
For Manziel, the easiest way to put a lasting stamp on those haters is on the field. If the Aggies become the only team to beat the Crimson Tide in the last 12 months, Manziel won't need to respond to media members, opposing players or fans anymore.
That's called doing your talking on the field.
Johnny Football is college football's premier star. For better or worse, Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy winner is going to be on the field on Saturdays dishing out his rare blend of speed, ego and mystifying playmaking ability from under center.
Manziel is also college football's premier "love him or hate him" player.
You don't have to search long to find people who fall on the latter half of that assertion. Type in "Manziel," "Johnny Football" or "celebration" on Twitter and a gaggle of discontented Americans will greet you with their negative opinion of what the 20-year-old brings to the game.
Undeniably, there is also a large population of individuals both in and outside of College Station who love and appreciate what the first freshman Heisman winner is all about. Those voices are decidedly less prevalent, though, because at the end of the day, it's always easier to find faults than heap praise.
And Manziel has not been shy about lambasting in the glory of his newfound celebrity status.
Heading into the most anticipated matchup of the college football season to date, Manziel and his No. 6 Aggies are arguably under the brightest lights in the program's history. No. 1 Alabama is coming to town with revenge on its mind, and the Aggies are the prime target of that aggression.
It certainly doesn't help that Manziel has made himself an easy target during the eight-month layoff between Texas A&M's Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma and its 2013 Week 1 matchup with Rice.
Things took a turn for the worse after the Manning Passing Academy and reached a climax when Johnny Football received a half-game suspension against Rice for an autograph scandal that thoroughly gripped the nation.
A return to action was supposed to calm Manziel down.
It only woke up the beast.
Manziel had three touchdowns and a controversial penalty against the Owls, earning the ire of self-proclaimed analysts everywhere who still value sportsmanship in the game.
His actions have prompted current and former NFL stars to speak out against his brash behavior.
Brian Urlacher was first, saying Manziel acted like a punk in the Aggies' opening-week win over Rice. Joe Theismann followed suit, using the words "immaturity" and "classlessness" to describe the antics that Manziel has displayed with all eyes pointed in his direction.
Tom Brady even joined in on the act, indirectly criticizing Manziel for acting like a "turd."
Criticism for Manziel can be justified. Speaking equivocally, there are positives and negatives that he brings to the table that are construed in different ways by "love him or hate him" camps. His ego is one of those things.
There's a reason A&M doesn't want Manziel to talk to the media this week. As noted by USA Today's George Schroeder, the Aggies are being cautious when it comes to exposing the young star to the wrong vices:
Texas A&M does not plan to make Johnny Manziel available for interviews this week.— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) September 10, 2013
A decision that's easy to justify from all angles, the Aggies are prioritizing performance over press on Saturday. Against arguably the deepest and most talented team in college football, mental toughness and execution will be key.
Who wins on Saturday?
With a win over Alabama on Saturday, criticism will start dying away. By no means is that a commendation for unjustified antics, but it's important to understand the way in which the system now works.
Winning is a hard thing to criticize. Talk about Manziel's personal life and attitude all you want, but the Aggies will be the No. 1 team in the nation heading into Week 4 if they spank Nick Saban and Co. at Kyle Field on Saturday.
It might just be the biggest victory in the history of the program.
Winning is the great cure-all in sports. Even Brady, Theismann and Urlacher understand that.
Follow Ethan Grant on Twitter.
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