ATLANTA — Johnny Manziel might play his final college game in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
No. 20 Texas A&M, led by the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, will face No. 22 Duke in the first-ever meeting between the schools on New Year’s Eve at the Georgia Dome, officials announced Sunday night.
Manziel is a third-year sophomore, making him eligible to enter the 2014 NFL draft. He hasn’t revealed his plans for next season after guiding Texas A&M to a disappointing 8-4 record, with all four losses coming against fellow Southeastern Conference teams ranked among the top 14 in The Associated Press poll.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Manziel has yet to make a decision on turning pro.
“If he does, he does,” the coach said. “Right now, we’re looking through that and evaluating his future. Then we’ll go from there.”
Duke (10-3) was a surprising division winner in the Atlantic Coast Conference, posting the most wins ever at a school known more for basketball. The Blue Devils are eager to make up for their performance in the league championship game Saturday night, when they were routed by top-ranked Florida State 45-7.
“The invitation to the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the perfect medicine for us,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “To play a team with the reputation and history and tradition they have at Texas A&M, to play the caliber of team they have, it’s going to revive our guys quickly. It didn’t go like we wanted last night, but the nation will be watching this game, so we want to put our best foot forward.”
Manziel will clearly be the star attraction in Atlanta. While Johnny Football is not expected to repeat as the Heisman winner after becoming the first freshman to win college football’s top individual award, he put up another stellar season with 3,732 yards passing and 33 touchdowns, as well as leading the Aggies in rushing with 686 yards and eight TDs.
Duke could face two straight Heisman winners, in fact.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the overwhelming favorite to win the award this season, threw three TD pass and ran for a score against the Blue Devils in the ACC championship.
“I’ve coached against other Heisman Trophy winners,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s never easy. They’re Heisman Trophy winners for a reason. They’re great players. That’s why the thing you have to do is focus on yourself. When you’re playing against great people, focus on playing as well as you can play. Your effect on what they do will be minimal.”
Duke will have to get by in the bowl without senior offensive tackle Perry Simmons, a two-time All-ACC selection and starter in 50 consecutive games. He will undergo surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee during Saturday night’s game, ending his college career.
The Chick-fil-A picked a couple of teams that have never played in its game, the final season of a 22-year arrangement matching teams from the SEC and ACC. Next season, the game becomes a part of the six-bowl rotation for college football’s new playoff system, and Atlanta also intends to bid for a future national championship game.
“As we move forward to the college football playoff, we needed to look nationwide at hosting teams like Texas A&M,” Chick-fil-A Bowl President Gary Stokan said.
The Aggies were picked over local favorite Georgia, another 8-4 team from the SEC that settled for a spot in the Gator Bowl. Duke got the nod from the ACC over two more prominent programs, Virginia Tech and Miami, both of which the Blue Devils beat during the regular season..
“We look at the game as a reward for the players,” Stokan said. “It’s all built around the players playing themselves into our game or out of our game.”