Associated Press Photo
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - Coming into the season, the thought was that either Alabama or LSU was going to add another national championship to the SEC's trophy case.
Despite change in the SEC, new members Missouri and Texas A&M weren't viewed as teams capable of changing the college football landscape and the mere thought of it would have been preposterous in most circles.
While the Tigers have found themselves in over their heads in their first season in the nation's top conference, the Aggies have settled in just fine.
The general consensus was that the Aggies would have a tougher time adjusting to the SEC than the Tigers, as Texas A&M came into the season with more upheaval on the roster, a new coach in Kevin Sumlin, and playing in the SEC West along with Alabama and LSU.
Missouri on the other hand, came into the new year with plenty of offensive firepower and certainly the lesser of two evils, participating in the SEC East.
Still, it is the Tigers who have had a tough time of it, sporting a meager 5-5 overall mark, while languishing in the conference with a 2-5 league ledger.
Meanwhile, the Aggies have more than held their own at 8-2 overall and an impressive 5-2 in SEC play, sitting second in the SEC West behind the same Crimson Tide they beat just a few days ago.
In comparable games on the big stage, Missouri was crushed at home by Alabama in mid-October (42-10), while the Aggies pulled off the biggest upset of the year on the road last weekend (29-24).
It's amazing what one superstar quarterback can do for a team.
There is no denying that freshman sensation Johnny Manziel has taken the college football world by storm. With Heisman winners getting younger and younger it seems, is it really a surprise that the Aggie standout has thrust his name into the Heisman conversation?
He isn't the biggest guy around, at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but his play on the field has been huge for Texas A&M, which heads into this week's action against FCS foe Sam Houston State at 8-2 after knocking off the top team in the land and defending national champs, in Tuscaloosa no less. Manziel's numbers against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense speak volumes, as he rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries, while throwing for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He led an offensive assault on Alabama that amassed 418 yards, almost 200 yards more than the Tide was allowing on the year coming in (228.9 ypg).
Affectionately known as "Johnny Football" in College Station and beyond, Manziel's overall numbers jump out at you, as he has completed just over 67 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 TDs, all while rushing for 1,014 yards and an additional 15 scores. The ultimate dual-threat, Manziel ranks second nationally in total offense (379.4 ypg).
The thing that separates him from his competitors is his poise under center, particularly for such a young player. He didn't seem fazed by the atmosphere at Bryant-Denny Stadium last weekend, and certainly maintained his composure when Alabama came roaring back.
"No moment is too big for him," Sumlin said about Manziel after the win. "If you're around him every day, I don't think it bothers him that much."
Is it going out on a limb to compare him favorably to Tim Tebow?
Manziel is certainly a better passer than Tebow even is today, but perhaps not quite the overall package of arguably the greatest college football player of all time.
He certainly looked the part in Tuscaloosa though, jumping all over the nation's top-ranked defense and spotting Texas A&M a three-touchdown lead in the first quarter. Like all champions do, the Crimson Tide didn't go away quietly, and forced the issue by scoring 17 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to pull within 20-17, but Manziel delivered time and time again in the final frame and the A&M defense shored things up when it needed to the most to earn the win.
While the Aggies have knocked down the SEC door this season, they may have in turn, ended the conference's stranglehold on the BCS National Championship. With Alabama all but out of the picture (barring other upsets down the stretch), the streak of consecutive national titles for the SEC will end at six.
Although Sumlin, Manziel and company are now proud members of the SEC, you won't see any tears shed in College Station if the conference is locked out of the big show in Miami come January.