COLUMBIA, S.C. – Let's go ahead and get the nickname business out of the way. Texas A&M sophomore Kenny Hill, for the record, would prefer if you not call him Kenny Football.
"It's a little played out," Hill said late Thursday night deep in the bowls of Williams-Brice Stadium, moments after he had dissected No. 9 South Carolina to the tune of 52-28 and re-written pretty much every single-game passing record in the history of the school.
Not that the Aggies' new quarterback is trying to run from the specter of the one and only Johnny Football. The opportunity to replace Johnny Manziel was, in fact, one of the biggest things that drew him to Texas A&M instead of other programs in his home state that might have had a slightly lower bar for a first-year starting quarterback.
But if Hill proved anything in his debut Thursday, it's that there's no need to dial back expectations for his performance or Texas A&M's offense just because a less celebrated quarterback is now at the controls.
"We were just ready to go, ready to prove everybody wrong and show everybody we can be good without Johnny," he said.
How good? Well, if this was any indication of what the Aggies are capable of, you can no longer put a ceiling on their potential this season. Texas A&M rolled up 680 yards on 99 plays, only punted twice, didn't commit a turnover and handed South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier the worst home loss of his career.
And though it would be fair to point out that Hill was helped by an offensive line that looked monstrous and a bevy of receivers who were simply better and faster than South Carolina's secondary, he was still the guy making the decisions and the throws that added up to 44-of-60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns.
"He's real poised back in that pocket, and as you could tell there were times they had good coverage and he extended the play and made some good plays for us and scrambled for first downs," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. "At the same time he operated pretty impressively, operating at a very mature level. There were some bad play calls and he got us out of them."
Manziel, for the record, never threw for more than 454 yards in a Texas A&M uniform. The most completions he had in any game was 32 against Missouri in the final regular season game before he won the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
Statistically, Hill could quickly put Manziel in his rear-view mirror if Thursday was the real thing and not some single-game fluke.
But forget all that for a moment. Hill isn't going to be a star like Manziel, and he's not going to make the kind of bring-you-out-of-your-seat plays that his predecessor pulled off on a regular basis. He's a more traditional quarterback, particularly for Kevin Sumlin's system, and that's perhaps the best news of all for Texas A&M coming out of this game.
The truth is, Manziel's magic covered up a lot of holes for the Aggies. When they joined the SEC in 2012, nobody saw an 11-2 record coming because nobody knew what they had at quarterback. Without Manziel, it was more like a 6-6, 7-5 team than a legitimate conference title contender.
Sumlin, however, capitalized on that momentum and brought in highly-ranked recruit after highly-ranked recruit, some of whom are starting to play for Texas A&M on a regular basis.
And listening to Sumlin on Thursday, you got the sense that he viewed this victory as an even bigger program affirmation than the win at Alabama in 2012.
"We're not anywhere where we want to be, but for our program, we made a stride," Sumlin said. "For these guys to come in here and play the first game of the year like that, it says a lot about what we can achieve with a bunch of young guys in their career."
The SEC West, of course, is not going to get any easier. What they did to South Carolina doesn't necessarily tell us whether they're ready to beat Alabama, Auburn and LSU. But it does indicate the young Aggies will embrace those moments.
This was a big deal, what they did on Thursday. South Carolina had won 18 consecutive home games, and Texas A&M was coming in with a new quarterback along with the usual question marks about their defense. And from the first drive of the game, they just took it to South Carolina, controlled the line of scrimmage and played at as fast a tempo as they could.
They looked confident and very angry about being asked all summer what life would be like without Johnny Football.
"We knew what we had. We knew we were loaded," offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "We came out swinging and never looked back. I saw no nerves from (Hill). He was ready. You could tell he was on a mission."
And so is this team, to put the Manziel era in the past and begin a new one with the King of the Hill.