By KRISTIE RIEKEN
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The encore to Johnny Football’s Heisman Trophy-winning freshman season is nearing an end.
Johnny Manziel and No. 10 Texas A&M have a bye this week before wrapping up the regular-season with games at No. 18 LSU and ninth-ranked Missouri.
Manziel has put up eye-popping numbers similar to and in some cases better than he did a year ago, but most polls don’t have him favored to join Archie Griffin as the second two-time Heisman winner. His biggest competition to repeat is Florida State’s freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who has led the Seminoles to a 9-0 start.
If Manziel is at all concerned about that, he isn’t letting on.
“I wasn’t even in it for a long time last year and didn’t really get much into it last year,” he said. “Same way this year.”
Manziel, who as a redshirt sophomore is eligible for the NFL draft after this season, insists that he is simply worried about helping the Aggies win their final two games. He won’t discuss whether he has thought about what he will do at the end of the season.
“I want nothing more than to win these next two games and to get into a good bowl game and go 10-2 in another regular season,” he said. “I can’t even put into words how bad I want that for seniors on this team and for this team in general.”
His teammates, as expected, are irked that he isn’t the front-runner for a second Heisman. But they aren’t exactly surprised.
“You know how society is, they get bored with people,” receiver Malcome Kennedy said. “You know, you win one and it’s like: ‘OK you don’t want to be greedy.’ But when it comes down to it, the numbers say it all. He knows it, we know it and people who watch sports know it.”
Manziel’s season started out rocky when he was suspended for the first half of Texas A&M’s opener for an inadvertent violation of NCAA rules related to allegedly accepting money for autographs from memorabilia brokers.
After his return, the Aggies won their first two games before a 49-42 loss to No. 1 Alabama. Texas A&M also lost to Auburn.
Manziel set a variety of school and SEC records last season, but many believe that his work in leading Texas A&M to a win over top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa locked up the Heisman win.
This season, Manziel has become much more polished in the pocket, already throwing 31 touchdowns after finishing with 26 last year. His 3,313 yards passing are just 400 yards shy of what he finished with last year.
He’s also become a more efficient passer with a year of experience under his belt, improving his completion percentage from 68 to 73 percent. Manziel has had to scramble far less than he did in 2012 when he finished with 1,410 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. But he still leads the team with 611 yards rushing and has added eight touchdowns on the ground.
Manziel leads the nation in points responsible for (234), is second in total offense (392.4 yards a game) and third in yards passing and passing efficiency (186.9).
Along with his gaudy numbers, the Aggies also rave about Manziel’s increased leadership this season.
“I look back to last year and we had a lot of senior leaders … and we didn’t really have to have Johnny step up and be a leader,” said Labhart, a senior. “He did, but this year he’s a completely different leader. He’s vocal, he challenges guys.”
About the only knock on Manziel statistically this season is that he already has 11 interceptions after throwing just nine last year.
He has a simple explanation for why that’s happened.
“Greed is a terrible thing,” he said.
Manziel went on to explain that he sometimes wants to throw touchdown passes so badly that he makes throws that he knows better than to make.
“He’s going to take chances because he is a dynamic player and that’s what dynamic players do,” receiver Travis Labhart said. “And you can’t fault him for those times when he takes chances.”
He’s also lacking the signature win he had last season, but his stock could certainly rise if he and Aggies are able to knock off both LSU and Missouri. Though it’s very unlikely that the Aggies could play for a national title, they could still get a BCS berth, which is what Manziel says drives him.
“People who think we don’t have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done at this school in a long time really are crazy,” he said. “Because we still have a chance to do almost everything that we wanted to do. We still have a chance to win out and go to a BCS bowl and still do some really special things here.”
Manziel hasn’t made any off-the-field headlines during the season after an offseason full of them. But he has been criticized for some of his behavior on the field this year, notably fake signing autographs to mock Rice defenders and rubbing his fingers together in some sort of money gesture after most scores.
His teammates say that his brash demeanor is one of the reasons they love playing with him.
“Just to see that fierce competition in his heart and to know that he’s not being cocky, he’s being confident and a lot of players can’t do that,” Kennedy said. “When you see your quarterback with so much radiance and confidence then it transfers to all the other players on the team.”