Multiple stories have now been published that allege Johnny Manziel was compensated for signing memorabilia. These reports put Manziel's eligibility for this coming football season in jeopardy. By publishing this article, we are in no way saying we believe these reports to be true, but it is possible that they are. If that is so, we may never see Manziel on the field wearing maroon and white again. It pains both me and you to think about that scenario, but we must explore what the effects on the 2013 season could potentially be.
Let's first talk about what A&M loses in Manziel. Johnny amassed 5116 total yards last season, making up 70.5% of A&M's total yards. Running back Ben Malena was the next closest on the team with 808, a mere 11.1%. Johnny also scored 126 of A&M's 578 season points, 21.7%. Where A&M will be hurt the most is 3rd down conversion percentage. Last year the Aggies led the country in this statistic, converting 54.9% of the time. That's largely due to Johnny and his ability to improvise. To go into some sabermetrics, if you were to calculate a "wins above replacement" or WAR statistic, it would probably be close to 2.5-3 wins for last season. And that's just a total guess on my part. Wouldn't you agree?
But here is the thing -- the Texas A&M offense is going into Year 2 of an offensive system. While they have lost #2 overall NFL Draft pick Luke Joeckel, senior center Patrick Lewis, and a group of receivers headlined by Ryan Swope, one could argue that the Aggies have more explosive talent on the offensive side of the ball. Much of this talent, however, is inexperienced and unproven in 2013.
Let's talk running backs. This may be the most talented group of position players on any team in college football for 2013. Yeah, they are that special. All-SEC snub Ben Malena headlines the group along with talented sophomore Trey Williams. Added to the mix are the explosive backs Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. To complement their ground game, Cedric Ogbuehi has been moved from right guard to right tackle, inserting 311-pound RS freshman man-child Germain Ifedi into the starting group. Ogbuehi is a true tackle, and did not have the body type to be playing guard in the SEC, going against the nation's best interior linemen. Ifedi is an inside guy all the way, and the running game will benefit from having offensive linemen playing their natural positions in 2013. 6'6 270-pound TE Cam Clear also joins the program. He could be used as an on-the-line tight end or as an H-back in the backfield for spread or pistol formations. A&M has also used reserve OL Joey Cheek in unbalanced formations, giving another option for a run-heavy look. If there is one group who could help account for the loss of Johnny's 5116 total yards, it's this group of running backs behind a strong offensive line. Either way, the running game is going to be upgraded for Texas A&M in 2013 with or without Johnny.
In terms of scheme, teams have used a "spy" to try to keep Manziel contained. This strategy keeps a linebacker or safety near the line of scrimmage and out of coverage. Teams play only one safety deep in man or cover 3. With Manziel out of the picture, teams could return that safety to coverage, using more cover 2 or cover 4 looks, downgrading the big play ability for the Aggie offense. Instead of using that safety to spy Johnny, that player could also be used to spy Mike Evans in either a double team or high-low coverage. That could create difficulties for Johnny's replacement.
Who would actually replace Johnny? That is going to be a heated position battle as fall camp continues. I think the odds on favorite is Matt Joeckel. While Matt Davis or Kenny Hill might have more long-term upside, Joeckel is a junior who throws the best deep ball on the team. Three question marks surrounding Joeckel are his accuracy, his timing on reads, and his presence in the pocket. The percent of blitzes A&M will face would go up dramatically, which would be a sudden shift for the offensive line in having to project a stationary, pocket passing QB. Matt Davis could display some of Johnny's playmaking abilities and is certainly a leader on the field, but is he advanced enough in the passing game to take hold of the QB1 position? Finally, Kenny Hill probably has the most long-term potential, but Kenny would have to adjust to the speed of the game and a college offense in a very short time. He is a true freshman who did not participate in spring football. It doesn't help that Alabama is scheduled for Week 3. That game is going to be a rude awakening for any Texas A&M QB not named Johnny Manziel.
The group that loses the most if Johnny is not eligible this season would actually be the defense in my opinion. The unit lost 6 starters in the offseason, and many of the players filling those roles are inexperienced. The saving grace for the 2013 season for the defensive group was playing a majority of the time with a lead. Playing with a lead would provide some room for errors due to the learning curve and would allow defensive coordinator Mark Snyder to prepare for pass heavy drives. This advantage would suit his current personnel, which features pass rushing specialists like converted WR Nate Askew along with Tyrell and Tyrone Taylor. Instead, the defense may be relied on to keep a game close and within striking distance for a developing offense. Not playing with a lead also increases the percentage of run plays faced, a major disadvantage for a rebuilding defensive line that is without true run-stoppers at defensive end.
If a new QB does have to take over, everyone's mind races to September 14th and an expected bloodbath on Kyle Field. But the truth is that the new QB would get two practice sessions in Rice and Sam Houston before the real lights come on. After that, road trips to Arkansas and especially Ole Miss draw some concern. After those two roadies, the schedule lightens significantly with four consecutive home games before a road trip to LSU for game 11. Even with a Heisman winner down, the Texas A&M football team is too talented, too well-coached and too motivated to not still make a significant impact on the 2013 college football season. The schedule is too easy for a disastrous 6-6 or worse season to occur. The new QB would still be protected by two future first round NFL draft picks, would be targeting at least one future NFL receiver in Mike Evans, and would have the ability to spread the ball around to multiple talented running backs. Running this system, the QB should be more like a point guard anyway, distributing the ball to playmakers and letting them make plays in space after the handoff or catch. Those elite position players are finally at A&M's disposal in guys like Brandon Williams, LaQuivionte Gonzales and Sebastian Larue.
If Johnny were ruled ineligible, I'm going to apply that WAR statistic we talked about and say that Texas A&M drops from a 12-0 or 11-1 season to 9-3 or 8-4. The silver lining is that the 2014 campaign would then be set up with a talented core group returning to make an SEC title run.