Public comments from Johnny Manziel, college football’s reigning Heisman Trophy winner, have been rare this season. Texas A&M’s sophomore quarterback has granted interviews only four times, the last one coming Nov. 9, and his once-active Twitter account has been silent since early August.
So we really don’t know his thoughts about whether he can repeat as a Heisman winner. He’s talked about the trophy only once, chatting about it in a brief post-game exchange after the Aggies’ 51-41 victory over Mississippi State.
“I wasn’t even in (the Heisman race) for a long time last year and didn’t really get much into it last year,” Manziel said after the game. “I’m the same way this year. My sole focus is, and I want nothing more, than to win these last two games and get into a good bowl game.”
Manziel, who had fallen behind other contenders because of off-season issues and on-field losses, can get back in the Heisman race using the same strategy from a year ago when he was an upstart redshirt freshman attracting national attention in the all-important November games.
Now, as a sophomore, road wins over nationally-ranked LSU and Missouri to close the season may guarantee that Manziel will be accepting the award in New York on Dec. 14, becoming the Heisman’s first repeat winner since Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1975.
“Performances by him and the rest of the team these next few weeks are going to impact the awards race and where we’re going to be in the bowl conversation,” said Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin, who has gone out of his way not to specifically talk about Manziel and the Heisman race.
LSU and A&M won’t be playing for anything more than third place in the SEC West. But it’s a national daytime telecast. Tigers coach Les Miles was talking up Manziel earlier in the week.
“If there’s a better player in college football, I’d like to know who he is,” Miles told reporters.
Miles’ quote now is making the rounds on Twitter, accompanied by the hashtag #JohnnyRepeat as part of a social media campaign.
Maybe Miles would like to meet Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the darling of Waco and Midlothian High School who’s leading what statistically may be the top offense in NCAA history. The American media delights in the underdog. And Petty offers the perfect story. He’s led the Bears to a No. 4 national ranking and their best season in six decades.
It’s the third time in five years that at least two Texans are vying for football’s most cherished individual trophy. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III beat out Stanford’s Andrew Luck — a Houston native — for the 2011 Heisman. And in 2008, Texas’ Colt McCoy finished second, ahead of Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree, who were fourth and fifth.
Petty has a prime-time Heisman showcase Saturday as his Bears travel to Stillwater to take on No. 10 Oklahoma State, the second top 10 team the Bears have faced in three weeks. To help generate the needed Heisman hype, ESPN’s College GameDay show will be on hand.
Petty, who was a redshirt when Griffin won the trophy in 2011, isn’t talking about his chances. Neither is Baylor coach Art Briles.
Rather, Petty prefers to bring up the chase for perfection.
“I do have to get better,” Petty told reporters this week. “You have to strive for that every week. This week going in I really wanted to strive for perfection. I know that’s something that’s not attainable, but it’s something to strive for. … I think especially as we go on, these next three weeks will be big. As far as going into Oklahoma State, I have to be perfect. That’s really what I want to strive for this week game-plan- and preparation-wise. I’m going to prepare harder than I ever have.”
Manziel, though his statistics are dazzling, fell out of the main Heisman favor in mid-October, after the Aggies were upset at home by Auburn.
A year ago, his Heisman surge was propelled by two factors. He led the Aggies to an upset of No. 1 Alabama and top candidate Collin Klein and his Kansas State Wildcats were upset by Baylor.
This year’s favorite still is Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Oddsmakers list the redshirt freshman quarterback as a clear favorite — Bovada, a leading sports book, lists him as a 4-to-11 pick — but recent polls from actual Heisman voters show the margin between Winston and Manziel as tighter.
Winston has led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and No. 2 national ranking. He chugged to the lead in the tracking polls when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the previous front-runner, sprained his knee and struggled with the rest of his team in the Ducks’ loss to Stanford on Nov. 7.
What may prevent Winston from winning the award, however, is a nearly year-long legal case that was dormant until two weeks ago.
Last December, Winston was accused of sexual assault. No charges were filed. The accusations became public earlier this month when they were trumpeted by the celebrity gossip site TMZ.com. Tallahasse city officials say the alleged victim didn’t want to pursue charges. Winston says he’s innocent and his attorney has provided police with affidavits from two witnesses to corroborate his story.
If Winston is charged, by school rule, Florida State would suspend him.
Winston hasn’t dodged the media. On Wednesday, he was asked his thoughts about the Heisman tracking polls showing that he hasn’t lost support.
“It means a lot,” Winston said. “Of course I don’t want to lose any voters. It’s very important to me for that not to happen.”
Winston’s stock was boosted mightily by signature wins over Clemson and Miami. He’ll finish the year with games against Idaho and Florida, then in the ACC title game, likely facing Duke.
The Heisman Pundit blog wrote this week: “Winston’s candidacy hasn’t really been affected much by scheduling issues up to this point. But there remains a chance that he has peaked too soon and that the more intriguing matchups featuring the other candidates could, in these closing weeks, whittle away at the case he has built for himself.”
Mariota and Alabama’s AJ McCarron, who is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, also could get back in the race.
12-Texas A&M at 22-LSU, 2:30, CBS, 1370
Join Aggies beat writer Suzanne Halliburton at 1 p.m. Thursday for her weekly chat, on our 12th Word at A&M blog at statesman.com.
THE 2013 HEISMAN RACE
Johnny Football, 2012 vs. 2013
A look at Johnny Manziel’s season, through the first 10 games of 2012 vs. the first 10 games of 2013:
This year’s favorites
Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: The redshirt freshman has the No. 2-ranked ‘Noles in the national championship hunt, having thrown for 2,938 yards and 28 TDs against 7 INTs, with another 7 rushing TDs and big wins over Miami and Clemson.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M QB: The only freshman to win the Heisman, Manziel has picked up in 2013 where he left off in 2012 — 76 yards away from 4,000 total yards. He’s thrown for 3,313 yards (nearly 600 more than this point last year), with 31 TDs and 11 INTs and 39 total TDs. But he lacks that Heisman-signature victory that he had last year.
In the conversation
Bryce Petty, Baylor QB
Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB
AJ McCarron, Alabama QB
So you’ve won the Heisman. Now what?
The last senior to win the Heisman Trophy was Ohio State’s Troy Smith, in 2006. Eight of the last nine winners have been either juniors (4), sophomores (3) or freshmen (1). Of those eight, only five came back the following seasons. Besides Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, how did the other four fare in their Heisman follow-up years?
2008: Sam Bradford
After winning the Heisman as a sophomore, Bradford decided to return to Oklahoma for his junior year. But he suffered a shoulder injury in OU’s first game of 2009 against BYU, missed three weeks, then returned to throw for 389 yards and a TD against Baylor. The following week, however, Texas’ Aaron Williams ended Bradford’s season on a blitz that re-injured the shoulder.
Bradford was taken No. 1 overall by the Rams in the 2010 draft.
2007: Tim Tebow
Tebow won the Heisman as a sophomore, then returned to lead Florida to the 2008 national championship, beating Oklahoma — and 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford — in the title game. Tebow finished third in the 2008 voting, behind Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy.
2004: Matt Leinart
After winning the Heisman and leading USC to the 2004 national title, Leinart quarterbacked the Trojans to a 12-0 regular season and No. 1 ranking in 2005, only to fall to Texas in that season’s national championship game. Teammate Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman, though it was later stripped from him. In 2005, Leinart threw for nearly 500 more yards than he had in 2004, but with five fewer TDs and two more interceptions.
2003: Jason White
After winning the 2003 Heisman, White returned to Oklahoma and finished his career as OU’s career leader in passing yards and TD passes. He was a Heisman finalist in 2004, but finished third behind Leinart and Sooners teammate Adrian Peterson.