Manziel, McCarron take different paths

Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron have dealt with life in the fishbowl differently. USA TODAY Sports, Getty Images

The moment Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley set foot in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., back in July, a wave of crimson followers rushed his way.

Well, kind of. The wave barreled at him before veering off toward a taller, more slender victim in quarterback AJ McCarron. Another day with the star quarterback, another circus to witness.

"I really wasn't mad at him for that," Mosley said at July's SEC media days. "He took all the attention away."

A day earlier, the media horde congregated for another gunslinger. Instead of three national championship rings, this one carried a Heisman Trophy. And instead of donning a script A, he wore a Drake pin.

While McCarron brought the fans, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel brought reporters and controversy. The two most popular quarterbacks in the SEC arrived in Hoover on two very different paths, and that's how they'll enter Saturday's monster showdown in College Station, Texas.

It isn't easy being either one. McCarron carries one of college football's sexiest titles: Alabama's starting quarterback. Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy after breaking the SEC record for total yards (5,116), registering 47 touchdowns and leading the Aggies to the AT&T Cotton Bowl during their first year in the SEC.

The accolades have piled up for both players, and their on-field play has been extraordinary. But when it comes to the intangibles, they're polar opposites.

Johnny Football represents the new-school flash. He's more dangerous on the field than McCarron because of his incredible athleticism. He can dart past players with his feet or beat them over the top with his deceptive arm strength. His improvisation and risky play make it impossible to look away from the show he puts on.

McCarron is a traditional pocket passer with the arm and accuracy that pro scouts drool over.

When it comes to entertaining, no player is better than Manziel. But it has come at a price. An offseason filled with lavish travel and controversy has Manziel under a microscope. He has faced scrutiny for his Twitter blowups, untimely exit from the Manning Passing Academy and the recent autograph controversy that grabbed the attention of the NCAA.

"I don't really know what people expect out of me," Manziel said in July. "Maybe I shouldn't have posted as much [on Twitter] or been this extravagant, but at the end of the day, I was just trying to have fun. In my position, a lot of doors opened for me, a chance to meet a lot of people and a lot of people were excited to meet me.

"At the end of the day, I was just living my life. … I don't think I overdid it. I made mistakes, obviously, and I've acknowledged those and learned from them. I had fun and lived my life to the fullest. That's what I'm all about."

For McCarron, he'd rather stay in than get caught up in the nightlife.

"Me personally, I've never been the type of guy to bring unneeded spotlight on myself or my teammates," he said. "I definitely never want to bring any type of bad spotlight on anybody, especially my name. I never want to try to bash that in any sort of way."

"That's not me. I don't really care about the fame or anything like that. I just want to go play football."

Added Alabama guard Anthony Steen: "For AJ, he knows when to shut up, when not to shut up, and what's right and what's wrong. He knows not to go out and party or go out and look for something to do, something wrong. He knows what not to do."

Manziel doesn't hide his brash persona. He says he'd love to take back his now infamous anti-College Station tweet, but he can't. Sometimes he can't hide from his life, but he relishes each moment it brings.

"My life's different," Manziel said. "It's difficult at some points. People see it when they're around me more and more, but I'm very blessed, very fortunate to be in the position I am. I understand that people would line up out the door to be where I'm at today, and I don't take that for granted."

Despite all the offseason drama, Manziel has looked like a more polished passer through two games, including a 400-yard performance last weekend, and has kept his scrambling to a minimum. Still, his first-half suspension and opening-game taunts have overshadowed an impressive start on the field.

McCarron had a rocky start to the season. He passed for a 110 yards (a career low as a starter) against Virginia Tech and completed less than 50 percent of his passes for only the second time as a starter.

Again, two different paths.

What makes Saturday's matchup that much more intriguing is that the quarterbacks are friends. They roomed together at the Manning Academy and kept in contact during the offseason. And both could make strong Heisman Trophy pushes with a victory Saturday.

McCarron acknowledges Manziel's on-field greatness, but you have to wonder if it gets to McCarron at all. He has rings and Manziel has a statue. McCarron is 26-2 as Alabama's starter and craves victories more than anything.

"Sometimes I feel like [if] any other quarterback in the country wins two national championships, he's the best thing since sliced bread and I'm still labeled a game manager, which is fine with me," McCarron said. "They can call me a bench-rider as long as we keep winning. I really don't care. I'm happy with the person that I am, the way I carry myself and with the teammate I've been."

Saturday will showcase two completely different quarterbacks fighting for same thing. When their pads go on and their laces are tied, it won't matter how either got to Kyle Field. It will only matter how they leave it.