When Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to a stunning 29-24 defeat over then-undefeated Alabama last November, he instantly became a household name en route to eventually becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
The spotlight on him has since gotten white-hot, the buzz has not stopped, and all that may, in turn, actually help take the pressure off Alabama this season as the Crimson Tide try for a third straight national title.
Alabama returns head coach Nick Saban, who put himself on the Mount Rushmore of college coaches–with Frank Leahy, Bear Bryant, and John McKay–with his fourth national title in ten years. A.J. McCarron, and his girlfriend Katherine Webb, will also return, creating constant story lines and buzz.
Yet, all everyone seems to want to talk about is the returning Heisman Trophy winner.
Manziel has done his part to feed the media beast, first by deciding to take online classes to avoid dealing with students. He then got into an incident in which he reportedly shoved a graduate assistant during a spring scrimmage. He tweeted that he “can’t wait” to leave College Station. Revelations that he may have never played a down for Texas A&M and almost transferred came to light (Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin asked testified on Manziel’s behalf and he got reinstated after being prohibited from all football-related activities after he was caught with a fake ID). He has tweeted his spring break exploits, thrown out first pitches, and, for good measure, even befriended Alabama’s McCarrron.
But the hype and buzz surrounding Manziel may actually help Alabama this year deal with the expectations–and perhaps some burdens–that come with going for a third straight national championship by not putting Alabama at the center of every story line.
The two teams play in the third week of the season at Texas A&M on September 14 in a blockbuster battle. And Alabama will be better prepared–and fresher–than they were last year. In fairness, though, Alabama did contain Manziel for much of the second half, was a bizarre “pick play” away from winning the game in the final seconds, and can blame LSU as much as Texas A&M for the defeat since Alabama was playing the Aggies after a brutal de facto national and conference title game the week before, when Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon scored the game-winning touchdown. Alabama came from behind and won 21-17 to silence and tame Death Valley and make it far from scary and inhospitable after dark.
Regardless of what happens on September 14, the media will be no less fascinated by Manziel, a one-man reality show for the reality show era. They will be fascinated to see if Manziel will implode or live up to all of his lofty expectations. The questions, the hype, the stories will not stop. And all that will do is deflect some of the pressure and take some of the spotlight off of Alabama, which can only help Saban’s squad as they try to roll to a third straight title.