Ok, this is the one we have all been waiting on! The last two SEC seasons, all eyes were on the Alabama-LSU matchup. If LSU @ Alabama in 2011 was the game of the century, then the 2013 version of Alabama @ Texas A&M is the game of the millennium? I actually thought the 2011 LSU @ Alabama game lived up to its billing. To me, it was the best college football game of all time due to both team’s defensive play and the overtime finish. The game and the teams were so good that both teams had to meet again for a rematch the same year in the 2011 National Championship. But there is no game in recent memory that I can think of that compares to the hype and the anticipation of this year’s Crimson Tide @ A&M matchup. In fact, I began writing this article before the college football season ever arrived. ESPN has been advertising the matchup for 8 months now (ever since the 2012 football campaign ended). McCarron vs. Manziel, Saban vs. Sumlin, Round 2! The game has the making of a heavyweight title bout. After all, that is what is at stake. The SEC Championship title and national title hopes of both teams rest on the results of this game.
Social media has changed the world. Johnny Manziel is the most celebrated and followed college football player in history thanks to Twitter. One thing we can all agree about when it comes to Johnny is that thus far in his career, he has delivered. He has delivered a Heisman Trophy in his freshman season, a feat that no other player in the history of college football had ever been able to achieve. He has delivered a win in Tuscaloosa as a freshman over a team that has won the past 3 out of 4 National Championships. He has been the most electrifying college football player both on and off the field that I have ever observed. So a lot more is riding on the line this Saturday than national championship hopes and team pride. Johnny’s reputation is on the line and that may mean more to Johnny than any of the other items.
This game is what I would term an “instant rival.” We have all watched ESPN Instant Classics the day after a fantastic finish or faceoff between two great college football teams. Alabama and Texas A&M are relatively new rivals to each another. The teams have only met five times with Alabama winning three of the contests. Both schools share a connection to the legendary Coach Bear Bryant. The Bear coached Heisman Winner Quarterback John David Crow at Texas A&M in 1957 before jetting off to become the new coach at Alabama in 1958. Of course, history was forever changed in Tuscaloosa, but who can forget “The Junction Boys” that The Bear coached in College Station.
Some are saying today that Bama Coach Nick Saban has already surpassed The Bear as Alabama’s greatest football coach. It is amazing what Coach Saban has done during his tenure with the Tide. A few years ago, I made a prediction that Saban may indeed end up being better than Bryant. Well, in some eyes, that has already come to pass. But I have a new prediction. The game of football has evolved rapidly in front of all of our eyes. The dual threat quarterback and up tempo offenses have turned the college football world upside down in recent years. And there is no better dual threat quarterback or up tempo offense in the college game today than Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies. That is why I predicted in May on All Sports Talk that Texas A&M would win the 2014 National Championship. That is why I continually list Texas A&M #1 on the top of my weekly SEC Power Poll. Maybe I am as controversial as Johnny Manziel himself, but I have gone against popular opinion from day one by stating that Texas A&M is the team to beat this year.
And I stand by this prediction. There are some things, however, that I did not see coming. I did not know A&M would have to suspend three of its defensive starters for the first two games. I did not know Johnny Football would cause such a scene in the offseason. Neither of these will matter much come gametime Saturday. I actually believe both disruptions will end up benefitting A&M. Good or bad, the media hype drives Manziel’s image and A&M’s second string defense received some much needed playing time. The haunting image of Manziel’s past success and the added depth on defense along with the most explosive offense in the game playing in front of one of the most intimidating collegiate home environments (the 12th Man) should be enough to seal a close victory. Yes, A&M has major concerns with their defense. But here’s a news flash. Alabama has just as much concern along their offensive line. Both teams possess a side of the ball that is young and inexperienced. Some will argue with me and say that there is no way Bama can lose since Saban has had an extra week to prepare. But make no mistake about it. Both coaches have been preparing for this game for much longer than one week.
The contrasting styles of play and personalities could not be any more different than one another. Bama’s pro style offense vs. A&M’s hurry up offense. Saban’s button down approach vs. Manziel’s out in the open flamboyancy. Old school football vs. New Age football. Yes, Saban found a way to adjust last year and hold Manziel and his offense to just 9 points in the final 3 quarters. But it was Manziel who delivered a 4th quarter touchdown that eventually did the Crimson Tide in. There will be a lot of emotion and testosterone flying high for both sides come Saturday. Saban wants to shut Manziel up. Johnny wants to put the McCarron-Manziel comparisons to rest. McCarron just wants some respect after winning 2 national titles yet being relegated to 3rd team SEC Quarterback behind Georgia’s Aaron Murray and of course A&M’s Manziel. Johnny likes being in the limelight (and the nightlife). McCarron does not like to be in the spotlight and usually does not find himself there until the night when his team plays for the National Championship. And the list of differences continue…
More than anything however, this game is all about Johnny. Johnny is a byproduct of today’s world. He is a leading role model for the me generation. The entitlement part of him says he deserves all the attention he receives. The arrogant part of him screams you can’t stop me and I don’t care if your name is Bama, Saban, or McCarron. The deceptive part of him states you can’t catch up with me on or off the field. The selfish part of him says he is right and that he is worth all the money that comes his way. Someday, Johnny will fall of the ladder he has helped to create. My prediction is it won’t be this week. Johnny will live to see another day.
Aaron Dougherty is the SEC Football Beat Writer for All Sports Talk. Follow him on Twitter @adougherty689
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