Manziel’s off-the-field antics may spark laughs, but his unique talent is no joke

The best chance the Razorbacks have against the Aggies is to keep Manziel on the sidelines.

Photo: Texas A&M Athletics

Johnny Manziel may have made as many headlines for being a player off the field last summer as he did for his play on the field last season when he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

His party lifestyle became so high profile he actually became a headliner on the paparazzi-driven rumor show “TMZ” this summer. Manziel’s off-season antics were flavorful fodder for talk-show hosts and columnists far and wide.

Manziel mania became so ubiquitous that I forgot what college football fans and commentators used to discuss in the summer prior to Manziel. By the start of the season, the angst displayed by some commentators concerning Manziel’s actions became so overwrought, it seemed like a joke.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M

Game: Arkansas (3-1, 0-0 SEC) vs. Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1 SEC)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Reynolds Razorback Stadium

But, one thing isn’t a joke, Manziel’s ability. Whatever he did do in the offseason, however many autographs he signed, concerts he attended, football camps he exited superstars he hung out with or illegal inducements he may have collected, it didn’t affect his on-the-field performance. The 6-1, 210-pound sophomore from Kerryville, Texas, still plays football like no other player in the game.

Name whomever you want: Clemson’s Tahj Boyd, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. They are great players, but they have nothing on Manziel, other than possibly a cleaner-cut reputation. He may not be the toast of Heisman talk today, but he still is the most dangerous and exciting football player in the college game.

No, Manziel didn’t lead his Aggies to victory over Alabama two weeks ago in an early season showdown with the Crimson Tide at College Station, Texas, but he did scare about 10 years off Nick Saban’s life before the Aggies’ final drive came up short with Alabama holding a tenuous 49-42 lead.

A&M’s loss that day had more to do with the failings of the Aggie defense than it did Manziel’s manic yet marvelous play. Manziel won’t be put in a box off the field, and no team has come close to shutting him down.

It is somewhat bittersweet that Manziel and the rest of the No. 10 Aggies visit Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday for ESPN2-televised contest. It’s exciting for fans to watch a player of Manziel’s ability to face off against the Razorbacks any time, but it’s unfortunate that the Hogs will be at less than their best for their Southeastern Conference opener.

The best chance the Razorbacks have against the Aggies is to keep Manziel on the sidelines, but with quarterback Brandon Allen likely on the sidelines for the second week in a row with a bruised shoulder, sustaining drives will be all the more difficult for Bret Bielema’s Hogs.

Arkansas’ defense has improved over a year ago when Manziel broke an SEC record by accounting for 557 total yards in a 58-10 victory at Kyle Field, but even on his worst days last season, Manziel is pretty good.

Last season in a 30-27 victory over Ole Miss, Manziel completed 17 of 26 passes for 191 yards a touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed 20 times for 129 yards, including a pivotal 29-yard touchdown run to pull the Aggies within a touchdown of the Rebels.

In the Aggies 20-17 loss last year at Florida, he rushed 17 times for 65 yards and a touchdown, while completing 23 of 30 passes for 173 yards. The young man is simply amazing.

The Aggies up-tempo play works on the same principles as Nolan Richardson’s style of basketball. By playing at a pace most opponents are unaccustomed, the wear and tear creates mistakes and exhausts a team’s legs, leaving them susceptible to big plays.

And there is no better player in America at taking advantage of defensive breakdowns than Manziel. He’s a threat to put points on the board any time he is not being tackled.

The Razorbacks may play better teams than the Aggies this season. No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 LSU come to mind. But, the Razorbacks won’t see a more dangerous player than Manziel or a more dangerous offense than the Aggies.

Saturday’s game might be hard for Hog fans to completely enjoy, but one of the benefits of following an SEC team is getting to see the talent opposing squads bring to town. And Johnny Manziel is about as unique a talent as college football has seen in quite some time.