Johnny Manziel or Braxton Miller? - Jeff Zelevansky
Texas A&M's "Johnny Football" is coming off a win for the ages against then #1 Alabama. But how does Ohio State's prolific Braxton Miller match up to the Aggie signal caller?
You may have heard something about some game that happened this past Saturday afternoon. I guess the fifteenth ranked team from Kyle Station, Texas or somewhere like that completed the job first started by LSU a week prior against defending national champion Alabama taking down the previously unbeaten Crimson Tide, 29-24. Of course, the hero of the game (and one of the most Internet worshipped players of the season) was none other than Johnny Football himself, Johnny Manziel.
Manziel first became a popular Internet sensation (in no small part thanks to the GIF wizardy of @cuppycup) before catching on like viral wildfire in the last several weeks offline alike with his prolific play first against Mississippi State and even more impressively against one of the best defenses in the country in Alabama.
So where exactly did Manziel come from? The quarterback was but a consensus 3-star from Kerrville Tivy High School. Kerrville, Texas is a sleepy Texas hill country town about an hour northwest of San Antonio and around two hours west of Austin. It's probably most known for its annual folk music festival and for being the birth place of southwest grocery store chain, H-E-B. Before everything's said and done it may be most heralded for being the hometown of Mr. Football.
Manziel at one point was a 2011 commitment to Oregon, one of the offenses perhaps as amply suited for his unique dual threat skill set as Kevin Sumlin and Klif Kingsbury's version of the Air Raid. After doing some soul searching, Manziel decided he wanted to stay closer to home and his indecision was then head coach Mike Sherman and the Aggies' gain. Perhaps even more amazingly, Manziel's only other BCS conference offers were from Baylor, Iowa State, and Stanford.
After a year redshirting, Manziel entered this spring with a legitimate chance at succeeding Ryan Tannehill as the Aggies' starting quarterback. While he had the leg up on the gig on through the summer, an arrest for disorderly conduct (fighting shirtless!) and possession of false identification (he had two fake IDs in addition to his actual one) seemed as though it could curtail his opportunities. Manziel's prowess in practice and the always popular internal disciplinary measures ultimately prevailed seeing Manziel still emerge as the team's starting quarterback going into the fall.
The Aggies' first game of the season against 2012 non-BCS darling Louisiana Tech was postponed due to Hurricane Irene forcing A&M to open the season at home in their first game as members of the SEC against a Florida team that's been almost as up and down as Ohio State's been this season. Manziel and the Fightin' Texas Aggies seemed up to the challenge that the Gators' stout defense posed, but was unable to hold on late in spite of Manziel's 23/30 passing for 173 yards and 17 carries for 60 yards and a rushing touchdown, falling 20-17.
That game with Louisiana Tech finally would happen and would turn out to be the shootout the two schools' offenses would seemed destined to provide. Behind a 24/40 passing for 395 yard 3 TD (and 1 INT), 19 carries for 181 yards and 3 rushing TDs (including a 72 yard touchdown scamper) performance from Manziel, A&M outlasted the plucky Bulldogs, 59-57.
Not unlike pre-hospital visit Braxton Miller against Purdue, Manziel would show signs of mortality roughly three fourths of the way into his team's respective season, this against one of the better defenses nationally in LSU. Manziel was completely shutdown running the ball, held to just 27 yards on 17 carries. With virtually no ability to move things on the ground, Manziel was forced into throwing the ball even more than he did in the shootout agianst Louisiana Tech. He'd finish the afternoon having thrown 56 times completing just 29 of them and throwing three interceptions in the process. Miller's worst game (which was cut short by the aforementioned injury), in contrast, came in just over three quarters against Purdue in which he completed only 9-of-20 passes for 113 yards with an INT along with12 carries for 47 yards and a rushing TD.
Manziel's metamorphosis from from Internet sensation to house hold name kicked into overdrive two weeks later when the Aggies visited Mississippi State. Against the then 15th ranked Bulldogs, Manziel completed 30-of-36 passes for 311 yards while adding 129 yards rushing on 21 carries along with 2 TDs in a 38-13 A&M win.
Of course then there was the Alabama game which may single handedly catapult the redshirt freshman from fringe Heisman trophy finalist into front runner. Manziel finished the night 24/31 for 253 yards and 2 TDs while also contributing 18 carries for 92 yards and several of the most prolific plays you'll see all season.
So how then does Johnny Football stack up against the Buckeyes' own sure to be Heisman finalist? Many Ohio State devotees Saturday afternoon seemed quick to dismiss the notion of any other class of 2011 quarterbacks outclassing their own, but it's also conceivable that most of them hadn't seen much (if any) of Manziel outside of highlights and box scores. Still, we all have our own internal preconceptions that tend to impede our judgement. What do the numbers have to say about it?
The figures pretty clearly objectively stack up in the Aggies' young quarterbacks' favor, but where as Miller is seemingly less developed as a passer (despite an extra season of experience under his belt), the numbers would also seem to reflect Miller having an advantage as more of a homerun play type runner. The one overriding thing that jumps out at me, however, is that intermediate passing plays and completion percentage aside (something no Ohio State fans will deny isn't Miller's forte at this point in his career), the majority of these figures still remain fairly close.
I'm not sure there's a right answer as to deciding who your preferred signal caller is. I told The Champaign Room a week and a half ago that I found Manziel more compelling to watch, but if i had to choose one player that I thought would have a higher ceiling (and thus want to lead my team), I'd probably go with Miller. For all Collin Klein's done this year (and he would deserve all the praise in the world if the Heisman was an MVP award; it's not) , these two quarterbacks are 1a and 1b in my mind as the most prolific to watch nationally and thus most deserving of consideration for college football's highest honor.
As to whom it's going to be when everything's said and done? If A&M wins out and Manziel continues looking the part, it's going to become increasingly harder to dismiss the legitimacy of his candidacy. I'm afraid for all Miller's accomplishments (and an otherwise phenomenal season), Ohio State's post season ban may prevent him from getting any legitimate first place voting consideration. It's arbitrary and untrue to the spirit of the award (which has no such exclusionary prerequisites), but is a reality of the situation. Miller should be a deserved front runner for the 2013 award and Manziel should be right there with him. Unless of course history's expedited and Manziel hears his name called in just under four short weeks.