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Manziel has made A&M the new villain

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A lot of people are calling Johnny Manziel a jackass. That might be true and it might not be true, but in any case, he doesn't seem to be going out of his way to change anybody's mind about it.

He's probably not a bad person. But he doesn't seem to care what anybody says, as long as they don't say he can't play.

Right up until Saturday, he reasonably could have been seen as a victim of the media and the NCAA, an overly scrutinized 20-year-old who was mischaracterized as a jackass. But then he showed up Saturday against Rice, knowing every eye would be on him on every snap, and he taunted a Rice player with a little autograph-signing gesture , then got flagged for taunting another one with something else, and there was also that little thing where he acted like he was rubbing money between his fingers.

He knowingly, openly, flagrantly acted like a jackass -- and I love him for it.

There's a real spirit to it all, a deeply entrenched independence that's worth admiring, even if all the manifestations of it aren't.

Manziel has embraced the black hat, and Texas A&M might as well do it too, because that train has already left College Station. Texas A&M is the new Miami -- irreverent, villainous and independent as hell. It's all so very American, so very Texan, so gloriously rock 'n' roll.

It is not what anybody would ever expect Texas A&M to be. A&M is the ag school with the strong military ties and all the traditions. Everything about A&M has always felt decidedly 'old money.' It always has looked and felt like a shiny brass clock in the mahogany office of The College Football Establishment. Big stadium, great fans, huge endowment, The 12th Man.

It's felt like that in every way, except for the results on the field. There probably was a day when it was different, but I didn't grow up thinking about Texas A&M being any more of a significant program than Oklahoma State or Iowa or Georgia, and I'm 30 now.

Things changed.

First, Texas A&M finally interrupted the stream of butterscotch-pudding coaches it spent a decade hiring and firing. Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman were the sort of qualified coaching lifers you hire when you're afraid to fail, and being afraid to fail is no way to go through life, son.

Enter Kevin Sumlin, who A) never has failed and B) is just the kind of cocky sonuvagun you need when it's time to rip out the cheesy wood paneling in your football program. Manziel has put Sumlin in a complicated situation, but the (unspoken) message I keep getting out of the coach's office there is something like, "Come here, be you and let's whoop some butt."

It's a program created in Manziel's image, and there's no reason to fight it.

Texas A&M is the villain now, at least for as long as Manziel is the quarterback. But it's not just him anymore. Manziel was just one of six Texas A&M starters suspended for part of the season opener against Rice. One of the punished Aggies, defensive back Deshazor Everett, got into the game just long enough to get ejected for a comically late hit in the second half. Another Aggie, Daeshon Hall, got tossed for throwing a punch.

Sumlin adopted the posture of a coach who will not tolerate this kind of nonsense. He got in Manziel's face after the taunting penalty and removed him from the game, although he later acknowledged that was the plan anyway.

"You would hope at this point, you'd learn something from that," Sumlin said after the 52-31 win. "We're still working on that."

We'll see just how much control Sumlin actually has over all this, particularly when it comes to Manziel, who has transformed Texas A&M from . . . whatever it was . . . into one of the most interesting sports stories of the year. Manziel, who threw three TD passes in his half of action, is an estimated $40 million golden goose who does what he wants and 'don't show no signs of taking no slack from nobody, bro'.

In two weeks, Texas A&M plays Alabama in the most anticipated game of this college football season. National champion Alabama. Nick Saban Alabama. Joyless, entitled, monolithic Alabama. The Establishment.

And there are going to be a lot of neutral fans hoping to see ol' Johnny Football get his comeuppance. Manziel has put the white hat on Saban, and he has done it with all the subtlety of a muscle car and the tact of Metallica.

So, yeah, maybe he's a jackass. So what?