(AP) — Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel will have one final chance to make his case for becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
The star quarterback could bolster those hopes if he can break the SEC record for total offense – currently held by a recent Heisman winner – and help snap the ninth-ranked Aggies’ losing streak to fellow conference newcomer Missouri on Saturday night.
Manziel’s 4,161 total yards and 38 touchdowns have helped the Aggies (9-2, 5-2) make a splash in their first year in the SEC. They’re producing a conference-best 43.5 points and 543.7 yards per game.
Along with breaking NCAA freshman records for total offense and rushing yards by a quarterback, Manziel became the fifth player and first freshman to pass for at least 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 last Saturday in a 47-28 win over Sam Houston State. He had a combined five TDs in that victory.
Manziel needs 167 yards to break another record, the conference mark for total offense set by Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010. The phenom known as “Johnny Football” is a likely Heisman candidate and already has been named one of three finalists for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top college football player.
“I know that he’s playing very, very well and he’s been a catalyst for us,” said Kevin Sumlin, the winningest first-year coach in Texas A&M history. “Certainly his numbers speak for himself, not just for this year but throughout football history. From a numbers standpoint, it’s hard to argue that he’s not one of the best players in the country right now.”
Manziel, second nationally with 378.3 yards per game, will seek to lead the Aggies to their first season with double-digit victories since they were 11-3 in 1998 and reached the Sugar Bowl.
“I’ve always thought we have the talent to compete with anybody in the nation, but I think that it took all of us coming together,” senior linebacker Sean Porter said. “I think coach Sumlin and his staff really helped us to do that and clean up some of the little mistakes. I think we finally put the pieces together to do what we were supposed to be doing all along.”
Missouri (5-6, 2-5) would be happy just to play past this game, needing a win to become bowl eligible, and it has had Texas A&M’s number in recent years. The Tigers have won the past three meetings and five of six, including each of the last two seasons at Kyle Field when both teams were in the Big 12.
“Our players have great respect for A&M and it is a great place to play a football game,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “That being said, the reason we won those games was because we played well and made plays at the end to win.”
James Franklin passed for two touchdowns and ran for two in a 38-31 overtime victory over the Aggies last year, but he’s questionable for this game after suffering a concussion in last week’s 31-27 loss to Syracuse.
That last-minute defeat has put the Tigers’ streak of seven consecutive bowl appearances in jeopardy. Missouri will likely have to rely on freshman Corbin Berkstresser to help keep that run going should Franklin sit out.
Berkstresser has completed only 48.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and six interceptions while occasionally subbing for the oft-injured Franklin. That could mean Missouri, ranked 11th in the SEC in both major offensive categories, might need another strong performance from senior running back Kendial Lawrence, who has rushed for 414 of his 938 yards over the past four games with six TDs.