TERRE HAUTE — The 2013 college football season promises to be a wild and wacky ride. No surprise there, except two major developments have come before the players even put on their pads and started scrimmaging.
It’s hard to say anything is shocking when it comes to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, after the summer he enjoyed. But a report from ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that Johnny Football accepted thousands of dollars for signing autographs has got to have Aggie fans mighty nervous. If true, and that’s yet to be determined, Manziel would be facing a major NCAA violation that could lead to a suspension ranging from a few games to an entire season. An A&M official quoted Manziel as saying he’d done nothing wrong. That’s expected, but what does it say when the university then turns around and hires a high-powered legal team?
The other story that is shaking things up and creating a buzz of its own is the University of Louisville’s decision to offer a scholarship to Michael Dyer – a former big-time running back at Auburn who has seen his name remain in the headlines the past 18 months or so, but for all the wrong reasons. Dyer is not another good back. He’s a game-changer. He had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and was the 2011 BCS Championship Game’s MVP, beating out some guy named Cam Newton. But that’s when things turned sour. He left Auburn after failing a drug test and a few months later was pulled over for speeding where a check of his car found drugs and a gun. It didn’t get much better at Arkansas State, where problems persisted and he moved along without playing a down. Dyer showed signs of improvement at Arkansas Baptist, where he picked up an associate’s degree.
Athletes come and go, but the future playing status of Manziel and Dyer could have a major impact on not only their team’s chances of being a title contender but on those who think it's being No. 1 or nothing. Look at it this way: On Sept. 14, A&M hosts Alabama in College Station, where Manziel gets another shot at the Tide. Think how different that game looks if the NCAA sidelines Manziel and Coach Kevin Sumlin must suddenly find a replacement. Think the odds change on that one? Think there will even be odds?
Louisville’s situation is different but just as critical. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and his fleet corps of receivers appear unstoppable. Although Coach Charlie Strong has two top-line backs returning, add Dyer and there is no game plan devisable to stop that juggernaut. The question about Dyer isn’t one of ability, but accountability. Will he follow the rules? Will he be accepted by teammates, especially those who may see their role reduced? Will he become a distraction?
Manziel and Dyer have put themselves in a bad position. Their every action draws scrutiny and assessment. Until recently, Manziel seemed to be a flake enjoying a carefree college lifestyle. He expected a little privacy only to discover that none exists in this day of instant information, especially if you’ve won the Heisman Trophy. Give him a pass on the indiscretions, but if he did autograph items for a fee, that’s a different matter.
Dyer needs to succeed at Louisville if he hopes to have his NFL ticket punched in two years. Another misstep and salvaging his reputation or credibility would be impossible. There are no more free passes, no more third chances. The one risking the most at Louisville is Charlie Strong. His team is a solid favorite to win all 12 regular season games and a spot in the national championship game isn’t impossible, although unlikely. If bringing Dyer to Louisville backfires, Strong will get – and deserves – the criticism. But in fairness, how many coaches would say no to a player who broke Bo Jackson’s freshman running record (1,242 yards) at Auburn? Darn few.
Players make mistakes and get in trouble. They suffer the consequences and, most unfairly, so do their teammates. Manziel and Dyer have shown they can do it on the field. It’s after the game where they’ve got to stop fumbling away their future.
Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.