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Top 10 Moments of Johnny Manziel's College Football Career

Jeff BellCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2013

Top 10 Moments of Johnny Manziel's College Football Career

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    Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
    Texas A&M QB Johnny ManzielJamie Squire/Getty Images

    Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel took the college football world by storm in 2012 by putting up monster numbers, beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa and capturing a Heisman Trophy, the first ever given to a freshman.

    Because he used his redshirt, he's had three years in college football, making him eligible to turn pro. And with the news that he's decided to make that jump (via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com), we've officially seen the last of Manziel's incredible playing days as an Aggie.

    Which means it's time to reflect on the two-year career of one of the most electrifying players the game has ever seen. Is he a top-five quarterback of all time? Who knows, but there's no doubt that at his best, Manziel was as special a player as you'll see at any level of football.

    We're taking a look now at the top 10 moments of his career, which had to be whittled down from a starting point of about 100 great memories of the dual-threat Aggie.

     

    All stats via ESPN unless otherwise noted. 

10) 95-Yard Touchdown Pass to Evans Against Alabama (2013)

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    Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M were unable to repeat the magic of 2012 by beating Alabama, but included in the 49-42 defeat to the Crimson Tide was a bevy of plays that will be shown on highlight videos until the end of time.

    With his team trailing by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter, Manziel and the offense faced a 3rd-and-9 on their own 5-yard line. Failing to get a first down would likely put the game out of reach. But the sensational sophomore pulled a rabbit out of his hat and made one of the best plays of his career.

    Manziel dropped back and lofted a high-arcing pass deep down the right sideline, where it fell gently into the arms of wide receiver Mike Evans. Evans deserves a ton of credit for his run after the catch which included eluding a pair of Alabama defenders.

    But the pass itself could not have been placed in a more perfect spot, and the score brought the Aggies back to within seven points. As you know, A&M didn't pull out a victory, but very little blame for that falls on Manziel, who had well over 550 yards of total offense against one of the top defenses in the country.

9) Comeback vs. Ole Miss (2013)

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    Johnny Manziel aids the offense in a comeback win over Ole Miss.
    Johnny Manziel aids the offense in a comeback win over Ole Miss.Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Part of what defines a player's legacy is what he does in the waning moments of a game when his team desperately needs a clutch series of plays. Ole Miss apparently enjoys playing the victim in this scenario, because Manziel, for the second year in a row, led the Aggies to a comeback win over the Rebels.

    With his team trailing, 31-24, partway through the fourth quarter, Manziel led the offense on a drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown run by Trey Williams. After Ole Miss responded with a score of its own to take a 38-31 lead, Manziel again led his team down the field, this time scoring on a six-yard keeper to tie the game.

    Then, after a defensive stop, Manziel put the team on his back one final time and drove the offense into field-goal range, where kicker Josh Lambo nailed a 33-yarder as time expired to give A&M the win. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner finished the game with 346 yards through the air and another 124 on the ground.

    While the comeback was special enough on its own, remember that this was the game where Manziel fell awkwardly to the ground in the first quarter and appeared to have injured his knee. But his toughness won out, and he returned the next drive.

    The 41-38 comeback win helped the then-No. 9-ranked Aggies stay in contention for a BCS bid, and it added several more pages to the growing legend of Manziel.

8) 576 Total Yards vs. Louisiana Tech (2012)

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    Johnny Manziel vs. Louisiana Tech
    Johnny Manziel vs. Louisiana TechKevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    In one of the most thrilling games you'll ever see, Texas A&M outlasted Louisiana Tech, 59-57, back in October 2012. It was perhaps the greatest statistical performance of Manziel's career and this top-10 list would be incomplete without it.

    The Aggies jumped out to a 27-0 lead and led, 46-23, late in the third quarter before the Bulldogs came roaring back to within two points to make it 46-44. Manziel then threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Johnson before tacking on a 72-yard scoring run, which gave his team a 59-44 lead.

    But Louisiana Tech would not go quietly, and after scoring twice, the Bulldogs attempted a two-point conversion to tie things up with less than a minute to go. The play failed, and A&M escaped with a 59-57 victory.

    For the game, Manziel had 395 yards passing and three scores to go along with 181 yards rushing and another three scores. Again, naysayers will point to the opponent to try to diminish the accomplishment, but those are mind-boggling numbers no matter who lines up against you.

    It was an effort unlike any other, and we'll remember it long after Manziel is gone from the college game.

7) Comeback vs. Ole Miss (2012)

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    Manziel vs. Ole Miss in 2012
    Manziel vs. Ole Miss in 2012Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    One year before leading his team to a 41-38 comeback victory at Ole Miss, Johnny Manziel was doing nearly the exact same thing.

    His numbers weren't quite as impressive as the ones he put up in 2013, but his team trailed by 10 points with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. However, a 29-yard Manziel scoring run brought the Aggies to within four (PAT failed), and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope secured the 30-27 victory.

    It was the first comeback win of Manziel's young career, and even more impressive is the fact that it occurred in hostile territory.

    Sometimes, a player's aura is created with a few special games in the beginning of his career, and this come-from-behind win certainly defined Manziel as a clutch signal-caller with a never-say-die attitude.

    Unfortunately for the Rebels, it carried over to 2013, where Manziel once again ripped the hearts out of the fans in Oxford.

6) New Year's Eve Magic vs. Duke (2013)

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    What Johnny Manziel has done in the regular season over the past two years would be enough to make him forever a legend of the game. But as great players tend do to, Manziel saved his very best for bowl season.

    In 2013, his victims were the Duke Blue Devils, though you wouldn't have known it from the halftime score, which saw David Cutcliffe's team leading, 38-17. What followed can only be described as Manziel magic, and if you've kept up with his career, you know exactly what that means.

    The super sophomore took charge of the offense in the second half, helping the Aggies overcome the 21-point deficit and emerge victorious by a score of 52-48. Manziel did it all, passing for 382 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown.

    His most memorable play triggered the initial stages of the comeback, and it came early in the third quarter. With the offense just inside the red zone, Manziel dropped back to pass. Unable to find any receivers, he darted forward into a wall of offensive and defensive linemen, even leaping over a Blue Devil lying on the ground.

    But as the defense caved in, Manziel retreated and spun out of the pocket to his left. He kept his eyes upfield, and after a defender left his man to account for the elusive quarterback, Manziel flipped the ball out to wide receiver Travis Labhart, who proceeded to run into the end zone.

    It was the sort of play few have the ability to even try, much less have success with, and it sparked the shift in momentum vital to overcoming such a deficit. It would be a shame for a player like Manziel to leave on a down note. Fortunately, his final performance was one of his very best.

5) Prayer vs. Alabama (2013)

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    Years from now, if you're asked to describe what Johnny Manziel was like in college, you'll respond by showing a play from the Alabama game in 2013. The play-by-play records will show it as a 14-yard completion to Edward Pope, but for those who watched the game, it was so much more than that.

    Dropping back, Manziel faced immense pressure from the Crimson Tide's front seven. As he rolled to his left, one pass-rusher came charging in and even got a hand on the quarterback's jersey before Manziel spun away and started back to his right.

    But as he scampered across the field, a wave of Alabama defenders came charging in, forcing Manziel to heave the football up into the air. Whatever prayers the collective Aggie faithful uttered at that moment were apparently answered as Pope leaped into the air amidst both teammates and foes and snatched the ball.

    Sure, it was luck. Almost entirely luck, in fact. But watching Manziel run around in circles only to complete an unbelievable pass seemed almost predictable. He's the sort of player that makes these things happen, and oftentimes luck plays a huge factor in converting the play.

    It was one of the defining plays of Manziel's college career.

4) Cotton Bowl vs. Oklahoma (2012)

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    Johnny Manziel vs. Oklahoma
    Johnny Manziel vs. OklahomaUSA TODAY Sports

    Johnny Manziel did whatever he wanted against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl following the 2012 season, which puts that game up at No. 4 on the list of the top 10 moments of his career.

    It would be impossible to select a single moment from his utter destruction of the Sooners, because every time you looked up, he was making another sensational play. In total, Manziel had 287 yards passing and 229 yards rushing, accounting for four touchdowns.

    It was the kind of game where you see a player march his team down the field time and time again with such poise that he would look no different reading the morning paper with a fresh cup of coffee. In other words, Manziel made quarterbacking look remarkably easy in the 41-13 win.

    But what truly made his effort in the Cotton Bowl so special was that it came several weeks after winning the Heisman Trophy. For anyone who captures the award, the pressure is on to validate himself during bowl season. And for the first time in his career, every single college football fan in the world was watching to see if Manziel could rise above the pressure.

    Of course, most fans knew about Manziel from his game against Alabama earlier in the season (more on that later), but many were curious if he could come up big once again on a big-time stage. He did, and then some.

3) 2-Play Touchdown Drive vs. Alabama (2012)

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    In November of 2012, Johnny Manziel led the Aggies into Tuscaloosa to face a No. 1-ranked Alabama team and promptly guided the offense to three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter.

    It was an incredible display of sheer dominance, but A&M followed it up with two straight quarters in which it was unable to score a single point. After tacking on a field goal early in the fourth quarter, Kevin Sumlin's team led, 23-17, and got the ball back on its own 34-yard line. What followed was one of the greatest two-play drives you'll ever see.

    The first play saw Manziel drop back and throw an absolutely beautiful pass into the arms of wide receiver Ryan Swope for 42 yards. Then, with the defense on its heels, Manziel struck again, this time lofting a pass toward the corner of the end zone to Malcolm Kennedy, who made the 24-yard touchdown reception after getting a step on his defender.

    For all the incredible runs and escapes Manziel had throughout the year, it was a pair of passes on the road against the eventual national champion that proved just how good he really was. It wasn't even necessarily poor defense; the throws were just spot-on.

    The scoring strike proved to be enough for A&M to hold on to a 29-24 victory and hand Alabama its only loss of the season.

2) Bobble/TD vs. Alabama (2012)

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    The No. 2 and No. 3 spots on this list are pretty interchangeable, but ultimately, it was Johnny Manziel's bobble and subsequent touchdown pass that won out because it's the play that will define his college highlight reel for years to come.

    With his team leading, 7-0, Manziel drove the offense down the field and into the red zone. Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 10-yard line, it seemed as if the Crimson Tide defense might have finally found some answers.

    In fact, as the pass rush swarmed Manziel, forcing him to bobble the football, you were sure the offense had been stopped. But staying as calm and composed as ever, Manziel caught his own bobble, rolled out to his left and fired a touchdown pass back across his body to a wide-open Ryan Swope.

    Not only was the crowd stunned, but the entire college football world sat back in awe over what was happening. This was the same Alabama team that had shown very few chinks in its armor, and even after needing all four quarters against LSU, there was no doubt how good the defense was.

    And Manziel made the opposition look silly. It was the signature play of the redshirt freshman's Heisman-winning season, and it's one that we'll not soon forget.

1) Winning the Heisman Trophy (2012)

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    Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
    Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman Trophy in 2012.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Why is winning the Heisman Trophy better than any other moment in Johnny Manziel's college football career? Because by winning the award in 2012, he became the first freshman to ever be handed the bronze stiff-arm statue.

    Other players have made miraculous plays that will live on until the end of time, and a select few have put up uncanny statistics as well. But no one in the history of the sport had won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman.

    The ceremony put the cherry on top of a remarkable season in which Manziel accounted for 47 touchdowns and over 5,100 yards of total offense. He was clearly the best player in the game throughout the season.

    Though Manziel was unable to become just the second player to win the Heisman twice, he still made it to New York for the ceremony following the 2013 season only to see another redshirt freshman take home the trophy. Seeing the name of a first-year player announced as the winner of the most prestigious award in sports was unprecedented, and it's the moment we'll remember most from Manziel's fabled career.

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