McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Z_CNHI News Service

September 12, 2013

'Bama-A&M face-off may come down to mental game

(Continued)

Alabama’s defense looked good in beating Virginia Tech two weeks ago. But Alabama has played just once, and the defending national championships are still at work figuring out how to replace nine starters that moved on to the NFL.

To Saban, it boils down to doing the “little things” right. “It’s like if you take care of the cents, the dollars can add up. If you don’t, it never happens,” he said.

The story on the other side of the field is different. Manziel had his life turned upside-down following last year’s victory at Alabama. It propelled a relatively unknown player into a national celebrity. Suddenly he was Johnny Football and a leader to win the Heisman, something a freshman had never done.

His play on the field speaks for itself.  In only six quarters this year, he’s passed for 497 yards and six touchdowns. It’s why he sat out two quarters – an NCAA dictate -- that is troubling. His improvisational approach on the field draws accolades; his moves and play-calling off the turf are drawing negative attention. Simply put, Manziel can’t stay out of the news – whether he’s winning awards or being investigated for signing autographs.

Beating Alabama was a great achievement, but in a strange twist it has made life for a college kid who wanted to blend in with others his age impossible. Except for a few brief remarks after last week’s route of Sam Houston State, Manziel has been mum.

A&M coach Kevin Sumlin explained it this way. For now, he said, Manziel, his family, his lawyers and his advisers have suggested he not speak to the press. How odd. Sounds like Manziel has a team of handlers that isn’t much smaller than Sumlin’s staff and no less important.

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