Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Johnny Manziel: What should we expect?

As you may know by now, Kevin Sumlin named redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel his starting quarterback for next week’s game in Shreveport against Louisiana Tech. Jameill Showers is still nipping at Manziel’s heels for the starting job, so by no means should Manziel be comfortable. Sumlin has said as much.

But for now, let’s assume Manziel is the Aggies’ starting quarterback for the entire 2012 season. (By the way, I really hope Manziel succeeds and squashes any possibility for a quarterback controversy. A situation like that is the last thing this team needs in their first swim through the SEC West.)

How have other quarterbacks fared in their first year in the SEC? Specifically, how have other young quarterbacks fared in their first year in the SEC?

To find out, I pulled stats from ESPN from 2005-2011, filtered out any upperclassmen, and used the magic of Microsoft Excel to produce some handy charts. (Yay charts! If your eyes are glazed over from your desk job, do yourself a favor. Go grab a beer from the fridge, forget about work, and then come back to this post.)

The list of quarterbacks that qualified for this ‘study’ were: 2005 – Brandon Cox (Auburn), Andre Woodson (Kentucky), Blake Mitchell (South Carolina); 2006 – John Parker Wilson (Alabama), Brent Schaeffer (Ole Miss), Matthew Stafford (Georgia), Chris Nickson (Vanderbilt); 2007 – Wesley Carroll (Mississippi State), Tim Tebow (Florida); 2008 – Jarrett Lee (LSU), Jevan Snead (Ole Miss), Mike Hartline (Kentucky); 2009 – Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Jordan Jefferson (LSU), Stephen Garcia (South Carolina), Larry Smith (Vanderbilt); 2010 – Aaron Murray (Georgia), Tyler Bray (Tennessee); 2011 – AJ McCarron (Alabama), Connor Shaw (South Carolina).

All told, that is 20 quarterback seasons, with 9 being from the SEC West. My reason for beginning in 2005 was simple and subjective: that seemed about the time that college football really embraced the spread offense. The SEC is definitely not an offensive league, but it’s important to note that certain schools (Arkansas) run a high-octane offense similar in style to Texas A&M’s.

The graphs are below:

In total, the average underclassman starting his first season in the SEC typically throws 16 TD and 9 INT, with a QB rating of 131.8. (I neglected to include yardage in this study, as Sumlin’s offense puts up heaps of yards that wouldn’t historically have a comparison in the SEC).

I admit that this is a very small sample size, I have never seen Johnny Manziel play, and I really don’t have a grasp for Kevin Sumlin’s offense, other than the fact that Case Keenum put up video game stats on the likes of Southern Miss every week. So I really don’t know what to expect.

But I expect more than 16 TD from Manziel in 2012.

We do, however, need to lower our targets just a bit.

Look, I would love for Johnny Manziel to go in there this season and light the world on fire. I would absolutely like watching him put up a dream line of 400 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT every week. But the reality is that it’s probably not going to happen.

Bona fide studs like Matthew Stafford encountered enormous difficulties in their first season as an SEC quarterback. For reference, Stafford was the #1 recruit in 2005 and went on to become the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. In his first season at Georgia, Stafford threw 7 TD and 13 INT. Manziel was not the #1 recruit. He will not be the #1 pick. There will be significant growing pains for Manziel.

Luckily for him (and us), Manziel isn’t playing in a pro-style offense like many teams in the SEC use. He gets to enjoy a ‘system’.

If the line can (and they should) protect him, if Christine Michael can stay healthy and pound the ball on the ground, and if the experienced receiving corps can get open, Manziel should experience at least a little bit of success. That’s the nature of Sumlin’s offense. (Think Texas Tech – they plug any QB in, and the offense doesn’t skip a beat. It’s the offense that is the machine, rather than one player. Call it the Anti-Cam Newton.)

I’m not worried about Louisiana Tech. Next Thursday will be a chance for Manziel to get a taste of Division I college football. September 8, though, will be a whole different beast. I look at Florida and see Judgment Day.

Look for Manziel to be better than the average young newcomer to the SEC has been in the past. Sumlin’s offense will take care of that. The highs will be there. The lows will too. The key will be limiting turnovers and crucial mistakes.

In Johnny we trust.

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