Love him or hate him, Manziel is face of college football

As one might have predicted, it’s been an eventful offseason for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. He tried to kick his Twitter habit in March, but it didn’t take.

Like it or not, Johnny Football is the face of college football. He will be a more ubiquitous presence this coming season than Tim Tebow was at Florida. You have to remember that Tebow’s college career pre-dated the Twitter phenomenon, so he wasn’t tempted to say anything ridiculous, such as “I can’t wait to leave Gainesville!”

The San Antonio Express-News reported that Manziel was blowing off steam in a recent Twitter rant because he received a parking ticket in College Station. Soon after that story, the Dallas Morning News reported that Manziel had initially been suspended for the entire 2012 season because of his involvement in a bar fight last summer. Manziel confirmed that story in a recent interview with Texas Monthly magazine.

“They banned me from athletics and from my scholarships,” Manziel said. “I had worked hard, and done everything Coach Sumlin asked me to do, and then they told me I couldn’t play anymore.”

The legend of Johnny Football was preserved, in part because Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin rushed to his defense. He wrote a letter on Manziel’s behalf during the appeals process. And looking back, it may have been the best move of his coaching career.

“A lot has been said about discipline, but he went through all that, which is a little bit more than people think,” Sumlin told during a charity golf tournament. “That’s not a public deal, it’s just what I ask him to do. He did all those things, and his parents were involved in all of that. So for him to go through that, then go through camp and those types of things and earn the job, that’s what’s brought him to where he is now.”

In all likelihood, Manziel will only spend one more season in College Station. If he puts up comparable numbers to his remarkable 2012 season, he’ll likely be projected as a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Manziel won’t have the same element of surprise in 2012, and he’ll also be missing his offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, now the head coach at Texas Tech.

Whether he admits it or not, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will approach this season’s matchup with Texas A&M like it’s the national title game. His talented defense was exposed by Manziel in Tuscaloosa last season, and you know he’s taken it personally. Even that blowout over Notre Dame to end the season didn’t remove the bitterness of being humiliated by a redshirt freshman quarterback. It wasn’t Bob Stoops-level humiliation, but it was in the vicinity.

Manziel has a bigger target on his back than any player in college football heading into this season. Fair or not, anything short of a national title for the Aggies will be considered somewhat of a disappointment. Fortunately for Texas A&M, Manziel seems to thrive under pressure. Opposing defenses will have a better plan for him this season, but gone to great lengths to improve his mechanics. Manziel has spent time this offseason with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield. The two of them have been photographed working on throws while standing in the Pacific Ocean.   

“I want to lead this team to a national championship, and the biggest thing for me is to make sure that I’ve done everything I can do,” Manziel told ESPN recently. “Bad habits, they really are hard to get rid of. If you go back and watch a pass in the Alabama game, I might have thrown those touchdowns on opportunity. My leg was flipping over like I had just thrown a pitch off the mound so even though it got there and got the job done, it wasn’t fundamentally what we want.”

Sumlin doesn’t want to take the spontaneity out of Manziel’s game, but he does want him to play under control. He doesn’t have the entertain fans on every single play.

A year ago, Manziel wondered if his time in College Station was coming to an end due to a suspension. Thanks in part to Sumlin, that suspension was lifted.

Now, it’s time for the Johnny Football farewell tour. He’s the best storyline in the past decade of college football, and he’s also worth a “follow” on Twitter.