Since the off-season ended and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel began playing football again, suddenly Manziel's off-the-field issues of January through July seem to be in the distant past.
With 2,867 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 564 rushing yards and eight more touchdowns on the ground, Manziel has worked his way back into the Heisman Trophy conversation.
During his weekly press conference, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin bristled at the suggestion that media reports about Manziel's football rather than non-football escapades was a departure from the norm. Sumlin also suggested that Manziel has been treated differently than other college stars and former Heisman Trophy winners with remaining eligibility.
"The scrutiny he was under was probably unlike anybody else in the country or ever has been in college football," Sumlin said. "He's playing football. He's doing what he likes to do. I had a number of questions earlier today comparing where he is now compared to where he was last year, and obviously he's playing better."
A year ago, Texas A&M was making a strong debut in the SEC. At this point of the season, the Aggies were 7-2 with games remaining at Alabama and at home against Sam Houston and Missouri. Now they're 7-2 with games remaining at home against Mississippi State and on the road at LSU and Missouri.
Texas A&M has a chance to finish strong and Manziel definitely has an opportunity to make his case for winning another Heisman. The last player to win back-to-back Heisman Trophys was Ohio State running back Archie Griffin in 1974-75.
But the Aggies' finish doesn't exactly hinge on Manziel and the offense. Manziel, running backs Ben Malena (and others) and wide receivers Mike Evans, Malcome Kennedy and Travis Labhart, have been consistently prolific. It's the Texas A&M defense that has been a question mark.
When asked about where his team needs to get better, Sumlin started to give a very general answer.
"Across the board," Sumlin said. "You need to be improving at this time of year."
But then he pointed specifically to the defense, which has been better the last two weeks and has a chance to lend credibility to that improvement against the Bulldogs.
"What I'm looking for is we've played pretty well defensively the last two weeks," Sumlin said. "We've gained some confidence. We're going to find out Saturday how much we've improved."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--QB Johnny Manziel accounted for six touchdowns against UTEP as he threw four touchdown passes and rushed for two more. Whether or not the Aggies' achievements as a team put him in the Heisman conversation for a repeat bid, Manziel is starting to pile up Heisman-esque numbers. He has passed for 2,867 passing yards and 26 touchdowns while also for 564 yards and eight more TDs.
--RB Ben Malena will play his final game at Kyle Field on Aggies' senior day. Malena has 456 rushing yards this season in a backfield that regularly spreads carries among three running backs and Manziel. Malena has rushed for 1,523 yards and 20 touchdowns.
--WR Travis Labhart led Aggie receivers against UTEP with four catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Labhart has emerged as an excellent possession receiver as well as a play maker for Texas A&M.
--DB Howard Matthews had an active night against UTEP, making two interceptions with a total of 32 return yards to go along with three solo tackles and a tackle for a loss of four yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE:"We've been in so many spread sets with Molcome (Kennedy) and Mike Evans and recently, shoot, (Travis) Labhart. There's only one football, so we try to spread it around." -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.