NCF Nation: Travis Labhart

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Will it be the pro day to end all pro days? The buildup certainly lends itself to such hyperbole.

There will be live national coverage, on television and the web. There will be countless hours of analysis on the airwaves in the aftermath -- and there already has been in the lead up to the event. Political figures, past and present, will be in the house. Johnny Manziel even got to spend time with a former president on Wednesday. Later in the day, Manziel's visit with Jon Gruden for Gruden's QB Camp will air on ESPN (you can get a sneak peek here). It's, as one NFL coach called it, "Johnny Day."

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAfter participating in several drills at the NFL combine, Johnny Manziel will throw for NFL scouts at his pro day.
In case you were unaware (if you follow college football or the NFL draft closely, it's hard not to be aware), Johnny Football's biggest job interview to date takes place at 11 a.m. at Texas A&M's McFerrin Athletic Center.

At the NFL scouting combine last month, Manziel did almost everything except throw for the 32 teams on hand. Thursday, he will finally display the fruits of the intensive labor he has put into his right arm (as well as his footwork, accuracy, arm strength and mental capabilities) over the last 10 weeks.

In mid-January, less than a week after officially declaring for early entry into the NFL draft, Manziel headed west for San Diego, the city that would become his training ground to prepare for the combine and pro day. Working with his personal quarterback coach, George Whitfield Jr., Manziel went to work in what they dubbed "Dime City," hoping to prove to the NFL, and specifically the Houston Texans, that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner is worth the No. 1 overall pick.

"I want them to say absolutely, without a doubt, with 100 percent certainty, that I'm who they want," Manziel told the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram in February. "I want everybody from the janitor at Reliant Stadium to the front-office executive assistant all the way up to [owner] Bob McNair to say, 'This kid is 100 percent, can't miss. This is who we want being the face of our program. We want the Texas kid staying in Texas and leading the Texans.'”

Thursday, personnel from the Texans and almost every other NFL team will be present. Texans general manager Rick Smith, head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey will be there watching closely. Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer will not be, but there won't be a shortage of pro personnel. NFL.com's Gil Brandt put the over/under on NFL folks at 125.

Manziel won't be the only one they are there to see, either. Receiver Mike Evans -- who like Manziel, did not work out at Texas A&M's first pro day on March 5 -- will also perform for the scouts on hand. A projected first-round pick, Evans has the opportunity to add to his already storybook career, one that includes him going from high school basketball star with no varsity football experience to one of the best receivers in college football.

Because Manziel is expected to be taken early and not every team needs a quarterback, there will be as many -- perhaps more -- eyes on Evans. Projected initially to be a mid-first round pick, some felt his performance at the combine last month might have given off a good enough impression to help Evans work his way into the top 10. Either way, there are plenty of teams that feel they might have a shot to take him.

At 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, with a 37-inch vertical and a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds, Evans has the physical tools coaches desire and was extremely productive in the SEC despite having only four years of football experience.

Joining the two projected first-rounders in the pro day performance will be their Texas A&M teammates, running back Ben Malena, receivers Travis Labhart and Derel Walker and tight end Nehemiah Hicks. Whitfield has been in town with the group this week working with them on the pro day script.

Texas A&M defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., who had to sit out the Aggies' March 5 pro day while awaiting medical clearance from offseason surgery, also plans to perform for scouts.

But the nation's attention will be on Manziel. He's a polarizing figure in this draft, just like he has been throughout his college career, for many reasons: his height (5-11 3/4), his scrambling ability, his tendency to orchestrate seemingly impossible plays and the headlines he has made, particularly off the field. The predictions and opinions about his future run the gamut, from those who feel he will excel at the next level to those who believe he will be a bust. Can he make all the throws? He has the opportunity to answer those questions now.

His accomplishments at Texas A&M are well-documented, but what kind of impression will he leave for his future employers? Most of his life, Manziel has been at his best when the lights have been brightest. A coach who knows him better than most expects that to be the case once again.

"I'm not going to be shocked when he does well," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Some other people may but it won't shock me at all when he does well."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As Texas A&M began its ninth practice of spring football on Monday, Johnny Manziel briefly roamed the sideline before hitting the turf for a pre-workout stretch.

Earlier that morning, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback was in Kevin Sumlin's office, catching up with his former head coach.

And in the afternoon, prior to his workout, he made headlines across the Internet with this viral video of him displaying his athleticism with a multitude of dunks.

Yes, it was just like old times in Aggieland for Manziel.

The difference this time is, he wasn't suiting up for practice with the Aggies. Instead, he was utilizing the facilities where he launched his memorable college career to prepare for the latest "most important day" of his young career, his pro day workout in front of NFL personnel on Thursday.

Though he has spent most of his time since January in San Diego, working with private quarterback coach George Whitfield and Aggies teammate Mike Evans (who will also perform on Thursday), Manziel is finding respite in the place he spent the last three years.

"It was kind of startling to open the door and see him there," Sumlin said of seeing Manziel in his office first thing Monday morning. "Obviously, he feels at home."

Manziel and Sumlin caught up briefly and the quarterback inquired on the team's practice times so he could schedule his workouts with Whitfield and a host of familiar A&M teammates like Evans, Travis Labhart, Derel Walker and Ben Malena.

Sumlin made sure to mention Manziel's television commercial debut, a McDonald's spot featuring LeBron James.

"We just talked about pro day, we talked about a lot of things," Sumlin said. "I haven't seen him since the first week of spring football, before spring break. I congratulated him on his commercial (laughs). We just talked about a couple things and asked him how he was doing. He wanted to know what time we were practicing and whether we were indoors or outdoors because he was going to come in and throw a little bit beforehand and come out and watch practice. Just regular stuff."

On Thursday, both Manziel and Aggieland will be the center of attention as he throws for NFL personnel who will be on hand. Evans -- who like Manziel is projected to be a first-round pick -- will also get a chance to shine since he didn't work out in the Aggies' first pro day on March 5. The pair's aforementioned workout partners will also be a part of the pro day script and will have the opportunity to prove their worth to those on hand.

There will be plenty of eyes on Manziel in particular, including those of the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft.

"I'm happy for him now," Sumlin said. "This will be a big day for him. The exposure, the bright lights, the video, the brand -- that carries worldwide and that's a big deal for everybody concerned."
jmJackson LaizureTake Johnny Manziel and the Aggies out of College Station and great things happen, as Texas A&M has a perfect 9-0 record away from Kyle Field since Kevin Sumlin took over.
If this is in fact Johnny Manziel's farewell tour with Texas A&M, it's only fitting that he do it, well, on the road.

Obviously, you can't really do an actual tour without hitting the road, but Manziel and the Aggies are done with their 2013 days at Kyle Field … and that's a good thing.

While Kyle Field has always stood as one of the best college football environments -- and a tough venue for its visitors -- the Aggies have had much better success in big games away from home since the Manziel-Kevin Sumlin era began last season. In the past two seasons, Texas A&M has gone 9-0 in road and neutral site games, compared to 10-4 (the only four losses under Sumlin) at home. While the Aggies have averaged five more points (48.3-43.8) and have an average points per game margin of 22.4 at home, Texas A&M has averaged 34 more yards (587.7-553.7) and is 4-0 in games decided by seven points or less on the road, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

At home, the Aggies have gone 0-4 in games decided by seven points or less.

So with trips to No. 22 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC) and No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1) looming, the Aggies shouldn't fret over their last two games. In fact, they should smile and embrace their hostile surroundings.

"I feel like when we go on the road, it's us against the world," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr said. "We go into the stadium with a mindset that we have to come out here on top. Coach Sumlin has instilled in us that we have to focus and keep the same mindset, just like we're playing at home, but we're away."

But their road mindset is actually better. The Aggies should definitely avoid stowing their home mindsets in their carry-on luggage. They need whatever swagger and confidence that only comes with playing on the road because it has been lethal thanks to Manziel and Sumlin.

In A&M's nine wins away from College Station, Manziel has averaged 288.7 passing yards and 128.6 rushing yards with 31 total touchdowns. His lowest adjusted road QBR came at Ole Miss last year (84.5), while his lowest home QBR is 25.8, which he had in last season's loss to LSU.

Manziel is an animal in his own right, but when he's away from home, he has a Godzilla effect. He led A&M to its historic 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year, led thrilling comeback wins over Ole Miss in Oxford twice and registered a bowl-record 516 yards of offense in a rout of Oklahoma in last years AT&T Cotton Bowl.

The Manziel-led Aggies are also 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 15 against ranked teams on the road, as opposed to losing all four games at home to ranked teams by 19 total points.

"You go on the road, you try to create your own energy," Sumlin said. "We don't make a big deal about road trips. That's part of it. As a competitor, the same type of enthusiasm you get from the home crowd, from an electricity standpoint, you ought to be able to utilize that on the road, and I think our team does a good job of that."

Saturday presents a unique experience/challenge for the Aggies. Tiger Stadium is no walk in the park; it's a trek through a savage jungle. LSU is 55-7 at home under coach Les Miles, including 27-7 in SEC play. The Tigers have also lost just one home game since 2009.

One does not simply walk into Tiger Stadium, but the Aggies don't seem fazed by raucous environment they're strolling into.

"It'll be a tough challenge, but it's an exciting one, one that we're all looking forward to," senior receiver Travis Labhart said.

"It's a good feeling to know that when you go on the road that it's just you and your teammates -- band of brothers -- and we go out and play our hardest and luckily we've prevailed so far with Coach Sumlin [on the road]."

For junior receiver Malcome Kennedy, playing on the road is intoxicating. Instead of battling the crowd, he chooses to admire them, and inhales their energy.

"You just look around and you see the crowd and, a lot of the times, I don't know if other players get the feeling but I get the feeling that they're cheering for me," Kennedy said. "It's something weird. Different players have different methods of approaching it but it's a very awesome experience."

Former walk-on Labhart emerges at A&M

November, 12, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — With Texas A&M locked in a tight battle at Ole Miss at halftime, receivers coach David Beaty went to head coach Kevin Sumlin and said he was going to make a change at one of the inside receiver positions.

Beaty's desire was to insert Travis Labhart, a senior who has had one of the more unique journeys among the Aggies, into the lineup. Looking for more production from the 'H' receiver position, Beaty believed Labhart would be the one who could deliver.

"[Sumlin] looked back at me and said, 'He'll be great,' " Beaty recalls. "'Put him in there and let's roll.'"

[+] EnlargeTravis Labhart
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTravis Labhart, a walk-on who wasn't even on the 105-man roster in 2011, earned a scholarship and is now a starter at wide receiver at Texas A&M.
The rest is history. Labhart hauled in eight receptions that night and finished with a then-career-high 97 yards. He since has become one of the most reliable receiving targets for quarterback Johnny Manziel.

In the Aggies' last five games, the 5-foot-9, 182-pound Labhart has 30 receptions, more than sophomore standout Mike Evans, the team's leading receiver. The outsized production Evans had early in the season has forced opposing teams to devote more attention to him, opening the middle of the field for others. Labhart has taken advantage.

On Saturday against Mississippi State, he had 102 receiving yards and two touchdowns on six catches in a 51-41 victory. Not bad for a guy who was a walk-on a year ago.

"At this time of year, if you're going to continue to win, you have to have guys that play at a high level that maybe before the year you didn't even talk about," Sumlin said. "Every team, across the board, if you're trying to get to double-digit wins or play at a championship level, very few teams have the same 22 guys across the board in this league at the end of the year, or even the middle of the year.

"He's worked very hard -- [a] non-scholarship player that worked his way into that. Didn't back off once that happened. Continued to play and earn the respect of his teammates. ... So when he went in the game [against Ole Miss], for him to have the type of success he had is a surprise to a lot of people, but not guys on the team, because he practices like that."

Labhart wasn't recruited out of Whitesboro (Texas) High School and initially sought to walk on to the men's basketball team. While he waited for an opportunity to try out in his freshman year, he found a spot on the women's basketball practice squad, which consists of men. He did that for a brief period before deciding to try to walk on to the football team. With encouragement from his high school coach, Eddie Gill, Labhart decided to give it a try.

He was able to find a spot but didn't make the 105-man training camp roster in his first season, which was coach Mike Sherman's final season. Labhart did make it last season, Sumlin's first, and played sparingly. This year, Labhart came in ready to contribute in training camp. He learned every receiver position and started the season as Evans' backup, but his versatility allowed him to become an option at other areas.

He impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a scholarship before the season. He's currently fourth on the team with 33 catches for 442 yards and five touchdowns, but virtually all those numbers have come in the last five games. Labhart started the last two games.

"You always want to be involved with the offense or defense," Labhart said. "You always want to be a guy and not just be someone who sits on the sidelines. This year I really tried to focus on the offseason and put in a lot of work.

"... I started out as a backup to Mike and I knew I wasn't going to get much time there, but you just kind of keep plugging away and luckily I was able to get that [chance] and it's just been a blessing, going out every night and playing your hardest, knowing that you gave your best individual performance to help your team."

A senior, Labhart played his final game at Kyle Field on Saturday. He never imagined that would happen.

"It's a dream come true," Labhart said. I was here for so many games when I was little with my granddad in the stands. I never, in a million years, thought that I would be on Kyle Field, and now I take it for granted because I'm used to it. But when I was little, it was such a big deal. I would have never imagined being out there and just getting to play and contribute to the team."

SEC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
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With apologies to Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon, C.J. Mosley and all of the pageantry that accompanied the SEC's annual marquee regular-season matchup, there were just too many noteworthy performances to go handing out helmet stickers to the rolling Tide's usual suspects.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: With two touchdown passes in an easy 45-6 rout of Appalachian State on Saturday, Murray broke the 17-year-old SEC record of Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1993-96) for the most career TD passes. Murray entered the game already holding the SEC career marks for total offense and passing yards. The senior completed 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards in three quarters of work.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Ho-hum. Another week, another compelling argument in the sophomore's case for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Against Mississippi State on Saturday, Johnny Football threw for 446 yards with five touchdown passes (never mind those three interceptions). Honorable mention goes to senior Travis Labhart, once a walk-on, now a scholarship guy who has emerged as a key contributor at receiver. Manziel completed six passes to Labhart for a career-high 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia Bulldog and former juco quarterback accounted for 214 of Auburn's 444 rushing yards, running for two touchdowns and passing for another in the No. 9 Tigers' 55-23 dismantling of the home-standing Volunteers. Marshall posted a 99.6 Total QBR despite completing only 3 of 7 passes, but Gus Malzahn didn't need to throw with the success the Tigers were having on the ground. Marshall's 214 yards were the third-most by an SEC quarterback in a game over the last 10 seasons, behind only Heisman winners Manziel (229 yards vs. Oklahoma in 2012) and Cam Newton (217 vs. LSU in 2010).

Missouri's offense: The No. 8 Tigers encountered little resistance in their first league game in the Bluegrass State. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk threw five touchdown passes to tie Chase Daniel's school record in Mizzou's 48-17 romp past Kentucky. Dorial Green-Beckham broke through in a big way. The 6-foot-6 sophomore, who was the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2012, had seven catches for 100 yards and four touchdowns. Not to be outdone, running back Henry Josey ran 11 times for 113 yards and two TDs, including an 86-yarder. The Tigers remain a half-game ahead of idle South Carolina in the East division.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Even in a 51-41 road loss to Texas A&M, a special heartfelt helmet sticker goes out to Prescott, who lost his mother last Sunday to her battle with cancer. Tyler Russell got the start after Prescott missed the week of practice before Saturday's game, but the two rotated, with Prescott getting the majority of the snaps. The Aggies had difficulty slowing him in the running game, as Prescott ran 16 times for 154 yards (9.6 yards per carry). He was 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was certainly a determined and inspiring performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

Johnny Football shines bright again

October, 13, 2013
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OXFORD, Miss. -- History certainly has a funny way of repeating itself, especially when Johnny Manziel is involved.

A little more than a year ago inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Manziel did the work of a magician in the fourth quarter to erase a 10-point Ole Miss lead. Months later, he went down in the first quarter of the Missouri game with a freak injury to his left knee, only to return and roll up 439 yards of offense and five touchdowns.

Saturday, Manziel orchestrated another come-from-behind, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Rebels and missed one play in the first quarter with another scary-looking injury to his left knee.

Again Manziel flashed a fashionable knee brace, and again it didn't hamper his play. All Johnny Football did was dazzle with his legs -- juking players left and right, making it seem like the brace actually made him more agile -- and arm, as he registered 346 passing yards and 124 rushing yards with two touchdowns in the Aggies' thrilling 41-38 win over Ole Miss.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisJohnny Manziel added another chapter to his legend, donning a knee brace, then dazzling at Ole Miss.
"The thing that makes him different is that he's one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

You'd be hard-pressed to argue with Sumlin on that one. The same kid who was loathed for his off-field fun/controversy heading into the season showed once again why he's still the best player in the country. He was cool and collected when Ole Miss' rabid crowd rained boos down upon his head when he trotted out onto the field. He converted a third-and-14 with a 24-yard gain. He converted a fourth-and-7 at midfield with a 13-yard run that helped set up a fancy looking 6-yard touchdown run of his that made it 38-38 with 3:07 remaining.

In the fourth quarter, Manziel registered 177 yards of offense and a touchdown.

Neither the crowd nor his knee or even a fourth-quarter fumble could stop Manziel from playing hero/villain in the Grove on Saturday night.

"He's a funny player. He's outstanding, because I've never seen somebody who's such a gamer," said wide receiver Travis Labhart, who had eight catches for a game-high 97 yards.

"He's unreal. He's one of the best players in the country, if not the best."

There were a few anxious minutes in which the future of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was thought to be in question. With a little more than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Manziel fell awkwardly when his left knee buckled at the end of a pass attempt to Mike Evans. Manziel had to be helped off the field but was up and jogging on the sideline when Ole Miss' offense took the field.

Before Manziel stepped back onto the playing field, Sumlin asked if he could go back in and if he was 100 percent. Manziel had quite the answer.

"He's only got one way to do things," Sumlin said.

"If you know him, if he couldn't go 100 percent, he wasn't going to go."

On his first play back a drive later, Manziel completed a 2-yard pass to Sabian Holmes. Next, he threw a 21-yard pass to Holmes. Then, a 17-yard pass to Malcome Kennedy. His next run of the night came in the second quarter, and it went for 24 yards on third-and-14.

When the Rebels kept pace and scored, Manziel's teammates didn't flinch. They knew Manziel would get them into the end zone.

"I just never doubted. I'm always comfortable," Labhart said.

Manziel might rub people the wrong way with his lifestyle, but there's no doubting his on-field talents. He's a lightning rod for attention and controversy, but he's great for college football, and Saturday night he showed everyone why. Nothing gets to him when he's on the field. He turns on a switch and becomes Johnny Football. He makes defenders look silly with his feet and can deliver NFL throws standing tall in the pocket or on the run.

Manziel now has 2,273 yards of offense and 19 touchdowns on the season. There's a reason he won the Heisman last year, and a reason he probably should be at the top of everyone's list right now.

"Johnny's a beast, man," said Josh Lambo, who kicked the game-winning 33-yard field goal. "Week in and week out, we can expect greatness from him. It's so awesome to be a part of the team that he gets to lead out there on the field."

Manziel, Aggies good but flawed

September, 14, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — There was no plan for Johnny Manziel to speak to the media on Saturday.

In fact, win or lose, Texas A&M officials made it clear before the game that the Heisman Trophy winner would not be available for postgame interviews. Earlier this week, coach Kevin Sumlin noted that Manziel's family and attorneys advised him not to speak publicly this week.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel produced more than 500 yards but admitted there were a couple of throws he wished he could take back.
But Manziel wasn't going to be told no. He approached Sumlin and Texas A&M associate athletic director for media relations Alan Cannon and said he was going to speak. When Cannon mentioned the objections from Manziel's parents and lawyers, Manziel said, according to Cannon, "My team didn't quit on me, so I'm not quitting on them."

The No. 6 Aggies showed no quit in their 49-42 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday at Kyle Field in one of the most highly anticipated games in school history. What they did show is that they're a good team with a lot of flaws that still need ironing out.

The message from Manziel, who played brilliantly for much of the day but had a couple of throws he'd like to have back, was that the Aggies had to keep playing -- both on Saturday and moving forward.

"My initial reaction is that I'm just proud of these guys," said Manziel, who threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 98 yards. "I kept telling them that no matter what point in the game it was, we were never out of it. Didn't matter what [Alabama] did. I told the offense that going into it, that no matter what happened on the defensive side of the ball, no matter what happened on special teams, we felt like we could come out and score points. So I was proud initially more than anything else, proud of the way they kept fighting until the very end. I mean, we're a young team. That's impressive to me."

The Aggies (2-1) were down by as many as 21 points in the third quarter after taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Alabama roared back with 35 unanswered points and used its power running game and efficient passing attack behind AJ McCarron to eat up yardage and extend drives to score points while keeping the Aggies' offense on the sideline.

The biggest flaw seen on Saturday was on defense. The Aggies' front seven was hammered by the Alabama offensive line -- a unit that struggled in its season opener against Virginia Tech -- to the tune of 234 rushing yards and 6.3 yards per carry, led by T.J. Yeldon's 149-yard effort. McCarron was rarely pressured in the passing game and wasn't sacked a single time; only one player on the Aggies defense, Kirby Ennis, recorded a quarterback hurry. There were big plays given up in the passing game as well, as the Tide threw for 334 yards.

"We've got to get some things shored up in our front defensively," Sumlin said. "We're playing a lot of young guys in there. [Gavin] Stansbury was back and [Steven] Jenkins was back [from suspensions], so they were a little rusty. We didn't have Isaiah Golden today because of the tragedy [involving the death of a family member] earlier this week. That put a lot of pressure on Hardreck [Walker] to handle that type of stuff with Kirby. We just have to get those guys in a routine, a steady routine and a rotation and shore some things up up front."

Mike Evans, who already was considered one of the country's better receivers, made his case to be considered among the best after catching seven passes for a school-record 279 yards and a touchdown. He beat man-to-man coverage consistently, ran good routes and was an asset for Manziel when scrambling.

"I couldn't be prouder of him," Manziel said. "Last night in the hotel, me and him, we're roommates, and we were just talking about how the game was going to play out. I knew he was going to come out and play really well."

Manziel wasn't perfect. A fade pass to Ja'Quay Williams in the end zone was intercepted by Cyrus Jones in the second quarter ("We probably could have run a better route," Sumlin said). He tried to squeeze a pass in to Travis Labhart early in the third quarter but it was tipped by Alabama defensive back Jarrick Williams and intercepted by Vinnie Sunseri, who returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/David J. PhillipMike Evans set a school record with 279 receiving yards, including this 95-yard touchdown.
"I had a couple throws that I want to have back, two in particular," Manziel said. "Coach Sumlin always says there's no regrets. Leave it all out on the field. I think that's what we all did. I know I did."

But he was, like the Aggies, still very good. He set the single-game school record for passing yards and put up the second-most total offensive yards in a game (562), second only to his own total (576) against Louisiana Tech last year.

He made what many would call an ill-advised throw in the second quarter after magically evading a sack while in the grasp of Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, heaving a jump ball 40 yards downfield while falling backward. The ball wound up in the hands of a leaping Edward Pope for a first down that sent the crowd into a frenzy. The gain was only 12 yards; Manziel retreated back far to evade pressure.

At some point, it seems it might just be worth chalking it up to a little Manziel magic, since he has seemingly found an uncanny ability to make jaw-dropping plays of the sort each week. It's part of what captivated the college football world en route to his Heisman Trophy last year.

For those who said Manziel's eventful and sometimes tumultuous offseason would come back to haunt him when the games started this year, none of that seemed to be a factor. Though there were some mistakes made on the field, Manziel's play is hard to criticize, especially against the team that was No. 1 in the country last season in total defense. Manziel said afterward that it wasn't a factor.

But for all the flash, the bottom line was that Manziel and the Aggies fell short of their goal on Saturday. They were beaten by a better team.

The disappointment could be heard in the voices of the players afterward; they wanted Saturday's win badly. But with nine games to go in their season, they feel that what they want -- an SEC West title, SEC title and BCS title game berth -- is still within reach; it's just more difficult to obtain now that they're 0-1 in SEC play.

But if the Aggies are still serious about pursuing those goals, there's still much work to do.

"Just got to go game by game," Manziel said. "Just like last year, continue to get better, week by week, and the result was what happened in the Cotton Bowl. For us this wasn't the end of our season. This wasn't the Super Bowl. This wasn't the last game of the season.

"Alabama lost a game last year and still went on to win a national championship. They lost to LSU the year before and still went on to win the national championship. Our season isn't over. Anything can happen. This is college football. Some of the craziest things happen every week. So you never know. All we can do is take care of ourselves, take care of what's in this locker room and continue to get better as a team."

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