A look at the players who will play a key role in the 2013 race for the SEC West
The obvious choice. Any discussion of Texas A&M's conference and national title hopes in 2013 starts with Johnny Manziel. It might not stop there -- the Aggies have plenty of good players on the roster -- but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the reason that A&M is thought of as a truly elite team, rather than a member of a scrum of teams fighting for third or fourth place in the crowded SEC West. And that's before we even get to the off-season chatter generated by a combination of Manziel's own wattage, the higher scrutiny produced by his out-of-nowhere Heisman win, and the glare of ESPN cameras that indicate that the Worldwide Leader has chosen Manziel as their new narrative of the year.
The numbers. And all of that star power sometimes makes it too easy to forget that Manziel had a truly phenomenal first year under center for A&M. So let's remind ourselves of that season for a moment. Manziel's 5,116 total yards were the most ever gained by a player in a single season in SEC history. Perhaps not surprisingly, Manziel's 393.5 yards per game average is also a conference record. He compiled the first, second and tenth biggest SEC games in terms of total yardage -- ever. His 1,410 rushing yards rank 19th all time on the single-season list for the league, and his 3,706 yards passing was the eight-best year the SEC has ever seen; either one of those marks would be impressive in their own right. With the exceptions of Cam Newton and possibly Tim Tebow, it's hard to think of a single SEC player who has made as much of a difference in his team's fortunes as Manziel did in 2012.
The case against Manziel. Now, the question is what Manziel does for an encore. Winning the Heisman again could very well be out of the question. And there are already some tangible signs of fatigue with Manziel mania. All of which hints at what could actually be the biggest problem Manziel faces right now: How do the star player and his team react to being perhaps the highest-profile program (other than Alabama) in college football right now? To say that Manziel could be a distraction is to dramatically understate the media attention now focused on A&M after an offseason of tweets, dubious alarm-clock stories and NCAA investigations. Putting up numbers approaching his totals in 2012 was already going to be a daunting task for Manziel; doing it with wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN increases the difficulty by several orders of magnitude.
In the final analysis. The key question once Manziel gets on the field, of course, is whether opposing defensive coordinators could put their larger files on Johnny Football to work. There's little evidence that simply having more tape helped defenses plan for Manziel -- ask Nick Saban or Bob Stoops about that -- but more tape and the benefit of having an offseason to plan instead of trying to react to a relatively new phenomenon could tilt the scales a bit more. Regardless, asking a player for two once-in-a-lifetime seasons is asking for one too many; Johnny Manziel might be the player who got the Aggies this close to the crystal football, but he will need help from some teammates to carry them the rest of the way.