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A&M Insider To Football.com: Manziel Will Start Saturday

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Johnny Manziel is in the midst of an autograph pay-for-play NCAA investigation. Will he play against Rice? Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Johnny Manziel is in the midst of an autograph pay-for-play NCAA investigation. Will he play against Rice? Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Editor's Note: As of Wednesday afternoon, multiple news reports indicate Manziel will be suspended for Saturday's first half against Rice. Texas A&M play-by-play announcer Dave South had indicated to Football.com that Manziel would start.

Saturday's meeting between Rice and Texas A&M may be the most anticipated ever between the two teams.

It never seemed likely, but the question lingered for weeks: Will Texas A&M hold Johnny Manziel out? If he plays and the NCAA investigation later reveals he did in fact accept money for signing autographs, the Aggies retroactively will forfeit every game in which he plays.

The team has not made an official announcement as of early Wednesday morning, but it seems we have an answer by way of Texas A&M's play-by-play announcer Dave South, who spoke with Football.com this week.

"I fully expect Johnny Manziel to be the starting quarterback against Rice on Saturday," South said.

Texas A&M can and will take the chance and play Manziel on Saturday against Rice. The potential penalty is at the mercy of the NCAA and their ruling. 

The recent scrutiny the NCAA has faced as well as SEC commissioner Mike Slive's influence are two factors in Manziel's favor. During Slive's tenure as the SEC commissioner (since 2002), Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee have escaped major NCAA penalties after investigations endured by football and men's basketball programs. That's part of what makes Slive the most powerful individual in college football as well as the best conference commissioner in the sport. Slive's a graduate from Virginia's law school as well as Georgetown's law center. It makes one think Slive can get Manziel out of this situation and fully cleared to play Saturday against Rice. 

Has the NCAA investigation hanging over the 20-year old Heisman Trophy winner's head affected the program?

"I don't think it's been distracting the team, but the media has been distracted by it," South said. "I think some of the fans are distracted by it. I went out to L.A. over the weekend to watch the Dodgers and Boston play. I was wearing an A&M shirt. Two guys asked about Johnny Football. Will he play this year? I said, 'Yes he's going to play.'"

Manziel aside, Texas A&M faces a Rice team that finished the 2012 season on a five-game winning streak and an Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force. Rice brings back essentially the same team with 19 returning starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense. Rice head coach David Bailiff enters his seventh season in Houston and his program is getting more good publicity now than ever.  

Texas A&M is not fairing well in the headlines right now due to the alleged pay for autograph saga. But there's no doubt that the Aggies are experiencing their best times right now after an invite to the SEC, an 11-win season and the creation of Johnny Football. 

"To be honest with you, Coach Sumlin did not name a starting quarterback (last) fall camp. In a sense the thought was it going to be Jameill Showers. The media kind of felt that way and I did too," said the voice of the Aggies.  

Showers transferred to UTEP and Manziel has made his mark on the game, good and bad.

"Sumlin started watching Manziel run the offense during fall practice (last year) and he really felt that this guy was going to be special," South said.   

Manziel was geared to get a game under his belt against Louisiana Tech before the inaugural SEC showdown with Florida. A hurricane derailed that opportunity and the Aggies had to start off the 2012 campaign against Florida.

"To have that Louisiana Tech game postponed, we didn't get to play a game prior to Florida. Florida had a game under their belt, we didn't. One of our former coaches, R.C. Slocumb, the winningest A&M coach in history, said you know more about your team after the first game and make your biggest improvements after the second game," South said.  

As the 2012 season continued to unfold, it was apparent how Manziel made the improvements from week to week.

"We went out there the first time not really knowing all of the tools we had offensively and we ended up losing that game, but after that (offensive coordinator) Kliff Kingsbury said they realized what they had in Johnny Manziel. That's when they started using Manziel and all of his talents," South said.  

About 3,700 passing yards, 1,400 rushing yards and 47 total touchdowns later, Sumlin, Kingsbury, and Manziel had things figured out.   

There is no doubt Manziel is a talented, special player, but South seemed to realize how special Johnny Football was before anyone else.

"I told some guys before the season started, after watching Manziel, that we were going to have a very good year. I said we would win no fewer than seven games and will win as many as nine games. One guy said I was crazy and bet me a dinner that we wouldn't win five games. Then things started to roll," South said.  

The other thing that started to roll was Texas A&M — over the Crimson Tide. The Aggies did the unthinkable and knocked off Saban and company.

"I felt before the Alabama game that we were going to win and we made some great plays in a very hostile environment, and we were fortunate enough to win the game at their place," South said.