Another year of college football has come and gone, turning dozens of young, muscle bound college students into heroes and legends in the process. But one such transformation stands alone as the most improbable and captivating: the phenomenon known as Johnny Football.
It started simply enough with a kid named Johnny Manziel from Kerrville Texas. With natural athleticism far beyond his peers in the town of just over 22,000, he became a local hero. After parlaying his athletic prowess into a scholarship at Texas A&M, he hid from the college football world as a redshirt his first year in College Station. Then this season happened, and the rest, as they say, is well documented history. But what if that story were a little bit different?
What if Johnny Manziel became Johnny Football before college? What if he grew up embarrassing kids in Dallas or Houston instead of Kerrville, Texas? What if programs like the SMUs and Texases of the world had recruited him as a quarterback instead of a defensive one? Or what if his coach hadn't been so desperate to win in his first season that he forgot about suspending Manziel for his brawl/fake ID incident?
As with any surprise, come-from-nowhere story, the stars had to align. It all starts with where Manziel is from. As an athlete in a rural town, he was still able to generate a good deal of recruiting hype -- just not always as a quarterback. After Manziel called the state's flagship team to inform them of his interest in them, they decided to recruit him as a defensive back. Evidently they were good to go with an impressive duo of Case McCoy and David Ash. But what if they hadn't been so sure of those two?
On one hand, a move to A&M's old conference would appear to supercharge Manziel's already gaudy stats. The conference features some of the worst defenses in the country (Baylor, West Virginia) and the majority of Big 12 teams feature pass heavy offenses -- meaning a lot of possessions and a lot of points. However, UT was far from an ideal fit.
Most of the Horns' offensive talent is concentrated at tailback -- Malcolm Brown, Jonathan Gray, D.J. Monroe and company are all starting-caliber athletes. Accordingly, the Horns run the ball. A lot. Combine that with Manziel taking over as a freshman (assuming he won the job) and it's a recipe for an overly conservative gameplan i.e. no Johnny Football.
With Texas uninterested, Manziel decided to take his talents to Eugene to play for the Nike Ducks. If it had happened, it would have shifted the balance of power in college football for the next 3-4 years. Oregon runs the ideal system for Manziel -- an explosive, wide-open offense featuring playmakers at every position around him. In addition to the offensive fit and overwhelming talent around him (KenJon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas), the Pac 12 is littered with defensive units just as toothless as its Big 12 counterparts (with the notable exception of Stanford and Oregon). The stats and the wins would have been there, but blue collar folk hero Johnny Football may not have been.
In the end, fate had other plans. The small-town hero from Kerrville was struck by homesickness during his senior season and decided to head to College Station, where Ken Sumlin's offense helped him become Johnny Football, savior of Texas' new dominant football program.