CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 8 Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 8 Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M (2011-2013)
While all of the problems and issues have changed and reshaped the legend of Johnny Manziel as a college player, for a brief two-year whirlwind of a run, he was the greatest show in college football.
At the time, no college player ever seemed to have more fun or did more with his celebrity – especially in the rise of the social media era – than Johnny Football.
And no one saw it coming.
It wasn’t like he was a special recruit, but that’s because he didn’t fit any sort of type.
Very, very generously listed at 6-0 and 175 pounds coming out of high school, he was a wisp. He was fast, though, which is why he originally looked at Oregon as a speed option for the Duck QB job. Instead, he was an add-on recruit at Texas A&M.
Scout had Manziel listed as the 21st best quarterback recruit of 2011, while two eventual national champion starters – Cardale Jones and Jacob Coker – were even further down the list.
This was the class of Jeff Driskel (Florida), Braxton Miller (Ohio State), Brett Hundley (UCLA), and with Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) turning into the most talented pro player of the lot. But after a redshirt year, it was Manziel who would take college football by storm.
Manziel wasn’t even supposed to be the starter. That year, we went all in – oops – declaring that Jameill Showers was going to be the Next Big Thing, expecting him to take over for Ryan Tannehill and help lead A&M into the SEC.
But Manziel got the call for the opener against Florida, and while he was okay – hitting 77% of his passes for 173 yards, and running for 60 yards and a score – A&M lost in a 20-17 fight.
And then Manziel took off.
He piled up the stats in blowout wins over SMU and South Carolina State, but he first got on the radar with a record-setting 453-yard, three-score, 104-rushing yard, one touchdown performance in a 58-10 blasting of Arkansas.
Unstoppable as a scrambler, he ran for 181 yards and three scores against Louisiana Tech, and 129 against Ole Miss to finish a run of four 100-yard rushing games in five weeks.
LSU crushed Manziel and beat A&M to stop the streak, but he bounced back with big performances in wins road wins over Auburn and Mississippi State.
Texas A&M was 7-2 going into a date against unbeaten Alabama.
Nov. 10, 2012
Alabama was being Alabama.
The Crimson Tide would end up destroying Notre Dame for the national title, and up until the showdown with the Aggies, they were 9-0, having allowed a grand total of 82 points on the year.
Yeah, this whole Johnny Manziel thing was fun, but now he had to go against the Nick Saban defense, with the brutish defensive front that seemed perfectly fit to keep Mr. Football in check.
Instead, Manziel was magical, putting on a performance for the ages completing 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two scores, and running 18 times for 92 more.
He danced, he darted, he bombed away, and he played a fearless, gunslinging game leading A&M to a shocking 29-24 win.
Manziel finished 2012 with the greatest yardage season by any quarterback in SEC history, completing 68% of his passes for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns with nine picks, and running for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns.
While Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o made it close, Manziel won the Heisman with 2,029 points, was everyone’s All-American, and he was the talk of the sports world.
As a marked man after winning the big prize, what did he do against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl? 229 rushing yards and two scores, with 287 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 41-13 stomping.
After seeing his defense get carved to shreds, OU head coach Bob Stoops decided he wanted his own version of Manziel. Trevor Knight was a baller, but with some tweaks to the offense, the Sooners eventually found their guy who could do it all in Baker Mayfield.
But there has been only one …
From an arrest before his college career got going, to other brushes with the law, to the way he smack talked, dated and partied – forgive the use of party as a verb, but it fits here – with the hottest women, to bucking the blue-bloods by bailing on the Manning Passing Academy, to his “topszn” money hand gesture after big plays, Johnny Manziel wasn’t your normal college quarterback.
He was brash, he was cocky, and he was unapologetic.
And he backed it up.
2013 Was Just As Good, If Not Better
But it didn’t start out all that well.
As a part of an NCAA investigation involving being allegedly paid for signing autographs, Johnny Football was getting in trouble for being Johnny Football.
He stirred up the controversy, had everyone talking, and was the star of the offseason as the hype grew about what he could do for an encore. First, though, he had to get back on the field.
After all the dust settled, he missed the first half against Rice as a punishment for being involved in the signing mess – even though there was never any proof he received any money.
He completed 6-of-8 passes for 75 yards and three scores against the Owls.
The season started out fine, but everything – especially over an offseason of buildup – was pointing towards the opener against Alabama, who kept things from getting too crazy in terms of hype. It was a Saban-coached team, so there wasn’t going to be any fanfare, but there was no mistake about it.
Alabama was embarrassed by what happened in 2012, and it wanted revenge.
Instead, Manziel was even ore unstoppable against the Crimson Tide, hitting 72% of his throws for 464 yards and five scores, and running for 98 more. The Aggies lost 49-42, but Manziel almost pulled it off in the final moments in one of the greatest games in SEC history.
Manziel didn’t run as much in 2012 – finishing with 759 yards and nine touchdowns – but he was an even deadlier passer, finishing with 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns and 13 scores, making more big things happen down the field.
But A&M struggled late in the year to finish the regular season 8-4, with the reward a battle against Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
How did one of the wildest and craziest careers in college football history finish up? Manziel pulled off a special comeback in the 52-48 win, completing 30-of-38 passes for 382 yards and four scores, and running for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Texas A&M never won a national title with Manziel at the helm. It didn’t win an SEC championship, and it didn’t even take home an SEC West title. But because of Manziel, Aggie football became a must-see every week.
Along with coming up with the greatest two-year statistical run by any quarterback in SEC history, Manziel finished fifth in the 2013 Heisman voting after winning in 2012.
He was a two-time All-SEC performer and 2012 All-American – 2013 was Florida State QB Jameis Winston’s year.
Manziel also won the 2012 Davey O’Brien and Manning awards as the nation’s top quarterback.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Texas A&M Athletics