Manziel in spotlight for Texas A&M against Duke

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says Johnny Manziel surprised

observers with his quiet demeanor this season following a series of

offseason distractions.

Sumlin said proof of Manziel’s growth also came on the field as

he led No. 20 Texas A&M to a spot in Tuesday night’s

Chick-fil-A Bowl against No. 22 Duke.

The bowl game could be Manziel’s college farewell. Many expect

the third-year sophomore to enter the NFL draft, though he said

this week he is ”nowhere close” to a decision.

Manziel’s every move was analyzed in his offseason following his

Heisman Trophy-winning freshman season. He was tossed from a

fraternity party, overslept at the Manning Passing Academy and was

the target of an NCAA probe to determine if he signed autographs

for money.

All the off-field noise ended with the start of the 2013 season.

Manziel served a half-game suspension to close the NCAA issue and

then went to work.

”We went through the year and I think people were shocked that

he’s kind of quiet,” Sumlin said Monday. ”You’ve got the

offseason part and then we’ve got the football season. I think he

was extremely focused this year.”

Sumlin said Manziel also showed more maturity in his

performance.

”I think he moved from an athlete that was playing quarterback

to a quarterback that’s an athlete,” Sumlin said. ”I think he’s

improved as a passer, improved in his knowledge of not only what

we’re doing, but his knowledge of defenses, and I think that

shows.”

Manziel led the Southeastern Conference with his 69.1 completion

percentage and 311 yards passing per game. He is the player to

watch as Texas A&M (8-4) tries for bowl wins in three straight

seasons for the first time in school history. Duke (10-3) will try

for its first bowl win since 1961.

”He’s an outstanding quarterback,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe

said Monday. ”He’s not just an athlete. He beats you in a lot of

different ways. Certainly he’s got a great receiving corps. His

ability to create plays is second to none. In my lengthy career I

really haven’t seen a player that creates and ad-libs as well. It’s

certainly in part to his athleticism. But there is coaching

involved in that.”

Here are five things to know about the Chick-fil-A Bowl:

SUSPENSIONS: Duke is without running back Jela Duncan, who was

suspended this month for an undisclosed violation of its academic

policy. Duncan led the Blue Devils with 562 yards rushing, and the

suspension will carry through the 2014 season.

Texas A&M freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne, who is tied

for the team lead with 89 tackles, was suspended this month

following his arrest on two drug possession charges.

FOURTH QUARTER IS DUKE’S TIME: Duke outscored opponents 120-44

in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils’ defense allowed only one

touchdown and three field goals in the fourth quarter during the

team’s eight-game winning streak.

STAFF SHUFFLING: Texas A&M secondary coach Marcel Yates is

leaving the school following the game to become defensive

coordinator at Boise State. Meanwhile, Duke offensive coordinator

Kurt Roper is coaching his final game with the Blue Devils. Roper

has accepted an offer to become offensive coordinator and

quarterbacks coach at Florida. Roper also was an assistant head

coach with the Blue Devils.

NO MIDDLE MAN: Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital

will call plays in place of running backs coach Clarence McKinney.

In the past, plays were relayed from the press box to Spavital on

the field, and Spavital then sent the play to Manziel. The change

possibly allows the Aggies to move more up-tempo. Manziel said he

hopes the offense can ”get in more of a rhythm … and get our

tempo where we want to. So I think coming in directly from the

sideline will speed that up a little bit.”

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Special teams could make a difference for

Duke. Devon Edwards has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Jamison Crowder has returned two punts for touchdowns.