In a weekend which could become the best sports weekend of the year, Alabama visiting Texas A&M figures to be one hell of a kickoff...literally. Unless a person has been living under a rock, purposely avoiding ESPN or muting the words, "Manziel," "Saban," "Alabama," "Texas A&M" or "Johnny Football" on Twitter, everyone realizes the hype for this game couldn't get any bigger than what it already is.
The grand scheme of things predicates a loss for either team doesn't necessarily ruin national title hopes. Remember, 'Bama lost to A&M in November last year and still ended up finishing the season destroying Notre Dame in the BCS championship. What it is, though, is battle for bragging rights and the long-awaited rematch of one of last season's most thrilling games in what later became known as Johnny Manziel's national coming out party.
But the game centers around much more than Charles Barkley's favorite QB. It's the number one team in the country versus the sixth best team who also shares the distinction of the most dissected team in the country. Both just happen to be battling for early season supremacy in the SEC West. What we've done is listed 10 points of emphasis/fun facts to key on leading up to and after kickoff.
Feel free to list your own thoughts, comments or insight, too.
Photos: Getty, TAMU, NYTimes, USA Today
1. "You Play To Win The Game!"
The point of any sport is to score more points than your opponent. It's a simple metric and Texas A&M thus far has done just that: scored more points than Rice and Sam Houston State. However, it's important to note that both squads also managed to put up 59 total points, increasing A&M's opponent's average points total to 29.5, and racking up 899 yards on 146 plays.
This isn't good, especially when you consider that opponents only scored an average of 21.8 points against the Aggies last year and neither are, well, an Alabama squad coached by Nick Saban. True, the 'Bama offense was less than stellar against Virginia Tech, but don't discount an on-form TJ Yeldon, Amari Cooper and A.J. McCarron in a Saban "revenge" game that's sure to energize every Crimson Tide member down to the trainers. Speaking of Saban revenge games…
2. Payback's A Bitch
Saban, if it would help "the method," would probably drink the blood of every first-born in the state of Alabama. The guy fucking loathes losing. And surely last year's loss to the Aggies--the only one in an otherwise stellar national championship season--has rankled the head coach for the past ten months.
Coming off losses to teams in previous seasons, Saban's Alabama squads have been ruthless, napalming Florida 32-13 in 2009, Auburn 42-14 in 2011 and winning both match-ups against LSU since their November 2011 loss in Tuscaloosa. Johnny Manziel and his rain-making miming be damned, nobody wants to drink the Aggies' milkshake more malevolently than Nick Saban. And if history is any indication, he'll crush that.
3. "The 12th Man"
Last year, the Aggies marched into the snake pit known as Tuscaloosa with seemingly no advantage in the world whatsoever in front of one of the most hostile crowds in America. And they won. If Alabama boasts their reputation in revenge games - Saban is 15-2 all time - then A&M can bank on the fact they've got "The 12th Man" on their side, otherwise known as the raucous crowd at College Station. There's nothing 'Bama has yet to see or experience in this now fifth year of unfiltered dominance, but if this game remains close until the fourth quarter, the crowd could become a factor.
4. Living Up To The Hype
With the highest regular season ticket prices ever, you might need a sizable loan to see this matchup live. But it’s not like Bama-A&M is the first showdown to receive “Game of the Century” pre-kickoff attention. Case in point: ND-Florida St. ’93, Bama-LSU ’11, and Ohio St.-Michigan ’06, all of which featured the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. Sometimes they fail to live up to expectations, but the most memorable one for me was No. 1 USC vs No. 9 Notre Dame in 2005, when Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the end zone with three seconds left.
5. The "Other" Quarterback
It’s easy to forget about A.J. McCarron. You know, the Alabama quarterback who’s won back-to-back titles and guided the Crimson Tide to a 26-2 record as a starter. Unlike a certain reigning Heisman trophy winner, McCarron prefers to keep a low profile and doesn’t possess the gaudy statistics of his counterpart at Texas A&M. Still, the guy threw 30 touchdowns last year with only 3 picks, proving he’s more than a game manager. And at 6-feet-4 with a canon arm, he’ll probably be a better NFL signal caller than Manziel.
6. Texas A&M's Running Game
When taking a look at the running-game match-up between Texas A&M and Alabama, it's tempting to identify which team has T.J. Yeldon (SPOILER ALERT: It's Alabama), declare them a winner and call it a day. But that may not necessarily be the case here. Yes, T.J Yeldon is indeed the stuff of defensive nightmares. The dude is six-plus feet and 220 pounds of fearlessness. After setting a freshman record for rushing yards in a season, he's basically presented himself as a superior version of Trent Richardson, who himself was a superior version of Heisman winner Mark Ingram (and the guy you're kicking yourself for drafting in fantasy football).
Yet, he does have one downside - there's only one of him. A&M, on the other hand, can offer a much more versatile running attack. Sophomore Tra Carson is your typical bruiser - a 6'1", 230-pound bruiser who's muscled himself to four TDs in two games. Behind him is slightly undersized senior Ben Malena who could tire 'Bama's defense out on first downs to open the door for Carson. That's not even to mention this guy named Manziel, who's been known to scamper a bit or even sophomore back Brandon Williams, a former 5-star recruit who transferred to A&M from Oklahoma. Texas A&M has a top-ten offense and it's not just because of Johnny Football's right arm.
7. Who's The Villain?
In almost every marquee sporting event, we have a tendency to identify a "good guy" to root for and a "bad guy" to root against. But when a match-up like A&M vs. 'Bama presents itself, where everyone involved is an outright asshole,* who does Joe Q. SportsFan root for? The answer may lie in what kind of outright asshole you prefer because make no mistake: Alabama and the Manziels/Aggies have two wildly different approaches to being assholes. Johnny Manziel is young, brash, rebellious and basically every middle-aged white sportscaster's nightmare. He came to Texas to chew gum and nail your girlfriend…and he's all out of gum. Even if you have some sort of begrudging respect for his "f*ck the NCAA" attitude, if you met him at a party you'd still pray that he'll say something stupid and get jumped while out for a cig break.
Alabama, on the other hand, is like an alien collective: obsessed with with winning to the point of soullessness. They are "the Empire": cold, unfeeling and utterly devoid of personality. Nick Saban is a parody of a college football coach that somehow achieved sentience, entered our world and started winning football games. There is no clear "good guy" here. But history is written by the winners. A win for either team likely won't change its perception as assholes but it would make one less of an asshole than the other. If Alabama wins, the good guys are the hard-working every men who shoved that little brat's nose in the dirt, making him toe the line. If Texas A&M wins, they are the good guys, showing Alabama that the humanness pursuit of perfection will never conquer the passionate QB with a folksy nickname.
* - Except for Terry Saban who is a saint…A SAINT, YOU HEAR ME?!
8. Johnny Manziel's Still Playing, Guys
The majority of the commentary surrounding the Aggies' quarterback goes like, "Man, I sure hate that guy. Can't wait till he gets blown up by 'Bama. I wish all the bad things in the world happen to him, and only him." While Johnny Football makes the haterade so easy to drink, he's going to put on a show against the Crimson Tide. A victory will put A&M in the driver's seat for a national championship berth, and give Manziel a pretty huge Heisman trump card when he's getting compared to Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Jameis Winston (pending his first week was no fluke) and whoever else is in the running. And even if his team doesn't win, look for CBS to capture the situation in incredible detail.
9. A Very Far-Fetched BCS Primer?
Make no mistake, there are some great teams out there. But if you squint hard enough (and the cards fall favorably everywhere else) you can see both teams knuckling up in Pasadena come January. For that to happen, though, A&M would have to win. They're clearly nowhere near 'Bama in terms of defensive ability, and definitely aren't the better team. As such, they probably wouldn't be able to rebound from a loss to get to the championship game, a feat the Tide are definitely capable of.
10. The Ghost of Bear Bryant
This tidbit has nothing to do with the actual game, unless you're a believer in superstition. Paul "Bear" Bryant would have celebrated his 100th birthday Wednesday if he were still living. The masses remember him as the iconic Alabama sideline general, but who remembers he was also a head coach at Texas A&M? Yep, Bryant coached at A&M after leaving Kentucky (legend has it there was tension between he and Adolph Rupp). A&M sucked when Bryant arrived. They went 1-9 his first season and, to add insult to injury, were hit with recruiting violations by the NCAA.
Things improved, and by 1956 Bryant became the first TAMU coach to beat the University of Texas on the road. The last piece of vital information for your everyday life? Bryant's famous quote was, "At Alabama, our players do not win Heisman Trophies, our teams win national championships." Bryant's lone Heisman Trophy recipient in his career? John David Crow in 1957. At Texas A&M.