After leading the nation in total offense and becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, was Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel really going to dawdle in announcing his desired encore?
"A national title is at the top of the list for sure," Manziel said recently in Miami. "It's not a Heisman. The sky is the limit for this team."
Manziel, who is eager to have life slow down a bit, may be the lone David who can slay Goliath during the 2013 college football season. Alabama will be seeking a third consecutive national championship, and the Crimson Tide face their easiest nonconference schedule of the Nick Saban era as well as six SEC teams that combined to go 10-38 in league play this past year.
LSU is suffering from an unprecedented exodus of juniors to the NFL, leaving Texas A&M, which went 11-2 and finished No. 5 nationally, as the Tide's most obvious regular-season roadblock.
"I've been happy for two days," Saban said Thursday on ESPN radio. "Now it's time to move on."
Moving on is sure to include scheming to slow Manziel, who completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and rushed 18 times for 92 yards in leading Kevin Sumlin's Aggies to a 29-24 upset Nov. 10 in Tuscaloosa. Texas A&M stunned the Tide by scoring the first 20 points, but where Manziel came of age was a two-play drive with 9:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Following a fumble by Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon, Manziel passed to Ryan Swope for 42 yards and then to Malcome Kennedy for a 24-yard touchdown to increase the Aggies' lead to 29-17.
"The two-play drive in the Alabama game are my two favorite plays from the season," Manziel said. "We get a great play from the defense and then bang, bang. It was really cool for me. I don't think anybody goes into Tuscaloosa and thinks they're going to do what we did.
"We had a lot of confidence in our game plan, and for us to come out and jump on them early with some things really gave us a chance to play our game. I don't think anybody on our team was surprised when we got up like that, but I'm sure the rest of the country was."
Aggies offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who announced this week that he was bypassing his final season for the NFL draft, loves Manziel and appreciates the leadership he provided, but he has a different favorite play. Joeckel prefers Manziel's 10-yard touchdown pass to Swope midway through the first quarter that put the Aggies up 14-0 on the Tide.
"He ran into the guard, and the ball popped up and he caught it," Joeckel said. "He did a little jump throw to Ryan, who was wide open. When I watched it again on film, there was a perfect pocket. I don't know what he was running from, but he could do that stuff, and he made the plays we needed to make."
Manziel now must excel with a new coordinator and without a player many analysts believe could be the top overall pick of the draft. The Aggies also are awaiting word from junior right tackle Jake Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews.
Joeckel believes the line will be fine because of Cedric Ogbuehi, who he said is just as talented a tackle but started at right guard in 2012 as a sophomore.
"A&M is trying to create something that is bigger than just a few players," Joeckel said. "We're trying to become a national powerhouse again. Coach Sumlin is doing such an incredible job recruiting, and one great thing about Coach [Mike] Sherman is that he recruited some of the best offensive linemen in the country. That is one thing he did a great job with."
Manziel, who threw for 3,706 yards and rushed for 1,410, said his goals in the upcoming months are to improve his mechanics and footwork while trying to regain the normalcy that existed before he became his sport's top individual player. That could be his biggest challenge of all.
In the hours that followed last Friday's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, the 20-year-old was photographed holding a champagne bottle, having a lit sparkler in his mouth and displaying a wad of cash in a casino.
"There will be people recognizing me wherever I go now, and all the notoriety that has come along with this is beyond my wildest imagination," said Manziel, who was arrested last summer for disorderly conduct and providing false information. "I'm OK with it, but it's tough knowing that everything you do is watched pretty closely. It's kind of a love-hate deal.
"You're doing something right and get all this notoriety and attention and stuff, and at the same time you've got to be really careful in what you do. I'm still learning every day."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...