Johnny Manziel took on a mindset in the aftermath of winning the 2012 Heisman Trophy that he was well-known and young and he planned to live life the way he plays football—full-tilt.
Such an attitude led to predictable results in an era where every cell phone can record video.
Interest in Manziel extended far beyond the football field.
Wherever Manziel went, whatever Manziel did, it seemed to gain attention on a regular basis.
Manziel hung out with the likes of Drake and LeBron James because, well, he could.
One moment he made his way courtside for a Miami Heat game, the next he got thrown out of a University of Texas fraternity party.
Manziel made appearances on country music videos when not filming clips of his own pinpointing trick throws with Dude Perfect.
His full schedule—aided by his strictly online-class course load—became a lightning rod of controversy in the sports world.
Recent college football isn’t littered with superstars who transcend the field into celebrity.
Players are often NFL-bound when they break out as potential superstars.
Manziel bucked the trend in a way few in the BCS era could.
A few others captured interest the way Manziel did—most notably former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and former USC quarterback Matt Leinart.
Tebow was truly more anti-superstar than celebrity, but interest in the superstar was so great that he must be included in this discussion.
In the tabloid world of TMZ and similar media outlets, college football won’t be able to replace Manziel.
On The Field
Once college football kicks off, there’s no question the sport has already replaced Manziel.
There is this player down in Tallahassee who dons the No. 5 jersey in garnet—he goes by the name of Jameis (rhymes with “famous”) Winston—who fits the mold.
The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner also led Florida State to the BCS national championship.
It’s tough to create a brighter star—on the field, at least—than that.
Even if Winston hadn’t emerged as a brilliant player, it wouldn’t have been long before someone emerged.
Remember, many speculated on this same topic when Tebow left.
Less than a month into the season, Cam Newton stepped into the role during the 2010 season.
Newton likely would have fallen into a similar category, but instead declared for the NFL draft after his lone season at Auburn.
College football hasn’t lost its ability as a king-maker.
On-field superstars come and go. And there’s always seemingly another around the corner.
Any number of superstars could emerge this season.
The likeliest candidates always seem to be quarterbacks.
Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and UCLA’s Brett Hundley seem the most likely to challenge Winston for the top quarterback throne.
With that said, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford was once a returning Heisman Trophy winner.
Bradford certainly lacked the cachet afforded to Manziel.
So did Alabama tailback Mark Ingram—another Heisman winner who returned the next season.
What truly set apart Manziel, Tebow and Leinart from the rest was the magnitude of interest surrounding them.
To that end, Winston is the only player in the conversation this offseason.
His circumstances will likely lead to largely shun the celebrity role Manziel embraced.
Off The Field
What Did Johnny Do?
It wasn’t exactly rubber bracelet-worthy, but unofficial reality show Lifestyle of Johnny Manziel sure occupied a great deal of college football media attention during the 2013 offseason.
That’s the level of “superstar” Manziel brought to the table—one not seen since Matt Leinart left USC.
The effect created an interesting outcome, blending traditional media with young celebrity pop culture.
SportsCenter, meet Real World: College Station.
ESPN.com, meet TMZ.
Exactly a year ago today, our own Barrett Sallee wrote a piece about whether Manziel’s offseason had been “too good.”
As we know now, it was only the beginning.
To that end, college football doesn’t seem likely to have a tabloid superstar dominating the offseason.
If the first couple weeks of baseball are any indication, Winston will garner plenty of attention, but in a much different light.
Several Florida State baseball highlights have already aired on SportsCenter and other sports highlight shows.
Actually playing baseball and running around the mound to deliver a football-style first pitch at the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park, however, are two different matters entirely.
Not only will Winston have his hands full playing and practicing two sports, he said in August that he wanted to avoid “Manziel disease.”
Considering the notoriety Winston encountered during the sexual assault criminal investigation, he seems particularly likely to avoid the same limelight Manziel seemingly welcomed.
With Winston’s more low-key approach, the unrelenting wave of college football conversation Manziel created will disappear.
Is A Lack Of Superstar Bad?
Talking about how good Winston is or can be becomes a boring topic after a while.
At least with Manziel there was the discussion about whether he could run rampant all over SEC defenses for a second consecutive season.
There won’t be much—if any—doubt about Winston’s ability to duplicate what he did a year ago.
In all likelihood, the lack of focus on one individual player will get redirected into college football discussion shining light on any myriad of interesting topics.
For instance, that talk could turn to the Pac-12—behind experienced quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Taylor Kelly (Arizona State)—challenging the SEC.
It could try to find the next superstar freshman. (Spoiler alert: Take a look in Baton Rouge at a tailback named “Leonard Fournette.”)
The good news is today’s 24-7 news cycle means there is no limit to the amount of airtime to fill or articles and columns to write.
College football is as popular as ever. This year it introduces a playoff sure to generate loads of attention.
There’s also this whole hurry-up no-huddle offense debate that seems likely to rage deep into the offseason.
So even without Manziel, college football conversation will continue.
It will simply be spread out among several players rather than being dominated by one.