Texas A&M Aggies: David Cutcliffe

Manziel leaves as a winner

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
2:00
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ATLANTA -- They lined up inside the bowels of the Georgia Dome hoping to catch one final glimpse of Johnny Football. One boy wore his No. 2 Texas A&M jersey, shifting nervously from one foot to another as he waited impatiently for his hero's arrival. His father barely noticed, his eyes trained on where the team bus should arrive.

Suddenly a security attendant shouted something inaudible, a pair of doors swung open and a rush of cold air swept inside. The Aggies went by like a blur as they readied for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke on Tuesday night.

"Did you see him?" one Texas A&M fan asked another when all the players had passed.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsWith all eyes focused on him as usual, Johnny Manziel delivered another virtuoso performance in the Chick-fil-A bowl in possibly his final game at Texas A&M.
"No, did you?" someone responded.

"He must have come in earlier to avoid all this," they decided, shaking their heads in defeat.

Kevin Sumlin was easy to spot. Texas A&M's coach was as dapper as ever in a well-tailored navy blue suit, a baby blue shirt and a pink paisley tie.

Mike Evans couldn't be missed, either. Texas A&M's unstoppable sophomore receiver stood at an unattainable 6-foot-5, a head taller than most of his teammates.

But Johnny Manziel was nowhere to be found. Favorably listed as 6-foot-1, Texas A&M's quarterback instead kept to the middle of the procession, pulled a grey hoodie over his head and turned his face down as he listened to music on a pair of oversized headphones.

It was like he never was there. Some saw him pass by, most didn't. Like a ghost, Manziel reached the locker room without the usual glow of cameras flashing upon his every arrival.

"There he is. You see him?" a Duke fan shouted at his friends in the front row of the Dome a few minutes later, grabbing a buddy by the shoulder as he pointed to Manziel near midfield, now in shorts and a T-shirt as he warmed up, sporting the same headphones he used to block out the world.

If anyone missed Texas A&M's superstar quarterback, all they had to do was look for the hoard of cameras documenting his every move. Hundreds of photographers lined the end zone, snapping shot after shot of what could prove to be Manziel's final game with the Aggies. The NFL could be the next stop for the redshirt sophomore with mind-boggling statistics and breathtaking athleticism. He's done so much in two years at College Station -- some the NCAA would like you to know, some it would like you to forget -- that moving on seems natural.

But if the Chick-fil-A Bowl was indeed Manziel's final hurrah, it felt appropriate.

Two years ago the undersized quarterback won the starting job at Texas A&M to no acclaim. He hit the field to no applause and won fans over with each dazzling play. Not everyone came to his games knowing what he looked like, but everyone left with an impression of Manziel forever burned in their minds. Enough noticed that he won the Heisman Trophy.

Tuesday felt the same way. The nation's focus has been on places like New Orleans, Dallas, Miami and Pasadena, not Atlanta. But Manziel got fans' attention anyways by doing what he's always done -- the impossible. Manziel led a comeback for the ages, bringing the Aggies back from 21 down to beat Duke 52-48.

Manziel accounted for 455 yards and five touchdowns and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player on offense.

"It was an unreal feeling," Manziel said afterwards, not quite dodging questions about the NFL, but somehow avoiding them entirely.

He wanted to talk about the game, and who could blame him? While the Aggies defense was pulverized, failing to make a single stop in the first half, Manziel rallied the troops on the sidelines, grabbing teammates by the collar and even talking up defensive coordinator Mark Snyder -- saying and doing anything he could to end the season a winner.

Offensive tackle Jake Matthews had never seen Manziel so riled up.

"It was special to watch, special to be a part of," he said.

Fellow offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi was just as in awe.

"We forgot how great he is," he said of Manziel. "This game we saw that he is one of the best players in college football history."

After the game, Manziel wasn't the off-the-field diva he's sometimes been portrayed to be. He was reserved, sluggish even. He was getting sick, he said, coughing as he told reporters to keep a safe distance. He didn't know if he had the flu coming on. He slouched and sat on the floor outside the media room, checking his phone as he waited for Duke coach David Cutcliffe to finish up inside.

If he were listening, he would have heard Cutcliffe say how he "spun the ball really well" and just how "special" he was. All that coming from a coach who mentored NFL icon Peyton Manning.

Manziel, for his part, was as understated as ever at the podium, deflecting praise to his offensive linemen and wide receivers. He didn't thump his chest. He didn't bring his trophy into the news conference like his teammate Toney Hurd.

When asked to look back on his career at Texas A&M, he said what he had pretty much all night: that he couldn't believe it.

"It's unreal how things have played out," he said.

He didn't answer any more questions as he walked back to his team's locker room. A reporter asked once again if he'd turn pro, and he didn't answer. He just kept walking, his head down in that familiar zone.

But as he left the locker room, a fan begged him to stop and pose for a picture, and he obliged. He stood still for two shots and smiled before turning down the tunnel and out into the night.

Manziel wasn't a ghost as he left the Georgia Dome early Wednesday morning. He wasn't a blur. He was a legend in full view for the world to see.

After so much talk and so much acclaim the past two years, he left a quiet winner.

Chick-fil-A Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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It's been a wild ride for both Duke and Texas A&M this season.

The Aggies, with their effervescent quarterback Johnny Manziel and their high-flying offense, were so often a thrill to watch, full of touchdowns and big plays, but ultimately not enough wins to compete for an SEC title.

Duke, meanwhile, had what could only be called a dream season when compared to the history of the program. David Cutcliffe was named Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year after leading the Blue Devils to their first 10-win season and a spot in the ACC championship game.

How it will end for both teams depends on who shows up ready to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Here's a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: Manziel has been careful not to make any official NFL announcement yet, but all indications point to the redshirt sophomore leaving Texas A&M early to enter the draft. And he might not be alone. Receiver Mike Evans, another redshirt sophomore, is a prime candidate to bolt for the pros as well. So get your fill of them while you can because they're arguably the best at their positions in the country. Manziel's talents, by now, speak for themselves. But Evans might be the bigger concern for Duke because at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he's downright unstoppable. Just ask two of the best teams in the SEC, Alabama and Auburn, which combined to allow 566 yards and five touchdowns through the air to him this season.

What to watch: Don't forget to pay attention to those pesky Blue Devils, though, as wide receiver Jamison Crowder and linebacker Kelby Brown are ones to watch. But Duke, without suspended leading rusher Jela Duncan, is in a pickle. Throwing the ball often will be a temptation, but as quarterback Anthony Boone said, it's a fool's errand to try to outduel Manziel because "that doesn't win football games." Instead, Josh Snead, Duke's backup tailback who ran for 547 yards this season, will be asked to do more. If the Blue Devils stay balanced on offense, they have a shot against what has been a porous Aggies defense. But if Boone, who has thrown 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, is asked to do too much, Duke could be in big trouble.

Why to watch: Soak it all in because these two programs appear to be headed toward a crossroads. Duke has never had success like this before. How will it respond if its dream season ends with two straight losses? Can the entire coaching staff stay together? Is one player suspension a sign of more to come? And more questions can be asked of Texas A&M, which might shun the idea of rebuilding next season, but with the possibility of Manziel and Evans leaving, it's definitely a matter of hitting the "reset" button. Coach Kevin Sumlin is locked up under a new contract, but with so many NFL head coaches being fired this week, do the pros start beckoning him as well? Whatever the case, Texas A&M and Duke fans should savor the final game of their seasons and hope that next season holds just as much success.

Prediction: Texas A&M wins it running away from Duke, 48-28. Had the Blue Devils showed better against this season's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, I might have been swayed to pick otherwise. But Florida State gave Texas A&M the blueprint to moving the ball offensively. Manziel will have his way against the Duke secondary and end his career as an Aggie with a flourish, accounting for a handful of touchdowns that should leave us as in awe of his penchant for making something out of nothing.

Sumlin: Aggies have plenty to play for

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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The 2013 season didn't turn out the way Texas A&M had hoped.

There were dreams and goals of playing for an SEC championship and perhaps a BCS bowl. But a young, struggling defense and an offense that sputtered at times down the stretch, not to mention a beaten-up quarterback, meant the Aggies would have to settle for less than an SEC championship or BCS bowl berth.

Next comes a New Year's Eve date with No. 24 Duke (10-3) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. If you don't think Texas A&M has a lot to play for, head coach Kevin Sumlin thinks differently.

"If we can win this game, it'll be the first time in the history of this program we've won three bowl games in a row [in three consecutive seasons]," Sumlin said. "That's significant. There's been a lot of football played and a lot of guys come through this room who can't say they've done that."

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesKevin Sumlin and Texas A&M are hoping for a third consecutive bowl victory.
The No. 21 Aggies (8-4) ended the season with a whimper, losing consecutive road games against ranked foes LSU and Missouri.

After the season concluded, Sumlin gave the players some time off, and when the Aggies returned for bowl practice, he saw an energized group.

"The way this season has gone, we gave them a couple weeks off. ... I like our energy level right now," Sumlin said. "Guys have come back healthy, there's a little bit more bounce in their step and I think we were a little worn down there at the end, mentally and physically."

Duke is also coming off a loss, but its season trajectory and perception is much different. This has been a historic season for Blue Devils football. They've gone "from irrelevant to relevant a year ago to right now, pretty damn relevant," as athletic director Kevin White said during Duke's bowl news conference earlier this month.

A long downtrodden program is quickly on the rise under Maxwell Football Club National Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe, and the Blue Devils see this game as a chance to do something special.

"As soon as our players heard about this opportunity, they're blowing up my phone with texts and tweets are going out and social media is rocking," Cutcliffe said. "It let me know how excited we are to come to Atlanta and represent Duke in this game. ... It's important for us to play well."

The Blue Devils lost to No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game but have done enough this season to be a top-25 team in the BCS standings, making this game one of nine bowl games matching up two top-25 BCS teams.

Many have speculated it could be the last game of the Johnny Manziel era for the Aggies, as many predict the quarterback declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft. Meanwhile, Sumlin is finishing his second season with the Aggies and just signed a new, six-year contract that looks to keep him around for a while.

"In the last two years, there's been something accomplished," Sumlin said. "Last year's team was one of four [in Texas A&M history] to win 11 [games]. This year we can [win a third consecutive bowl game]. ... That becomes something that can be very, very special to our seniors going out and that can be something that can be really propel us in the offseason."

SEC lunchtime links

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
12:40
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We're entering the dreary time of year with no SEC football Saturdays ahead for quite a while. But with bowl season still in front of us, there's plenty to discuss. Let's take a look at what's happening around the league.

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TAMU Asst. Tops Recruiter Power Rankings
With already more than 100 ranked prospects committed, assistant coaches nationwide have been hard at work on the recruiting trail. National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree joins Phil Murphy to rank the best among them.Tags: B.J. Anderson, Texas A&M Aggies, Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia Bulldogs, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Phil Murphy, Jeremy Crabtree
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