College Station may never be the same
In what could very well be the most important game of the college football season, definitely the most anticipated, the Alabama Crimson Tide travel to College Stadium for a rematch with Johnny "Football" Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies in a game that is expected to have considerable impact on the rest of the season. It is by far the hottest ticket in college football, and its billing as the game of the year is no exaggeration. Sure, a week three matchup might be a bit early to look at the National Championship, but at the moment this is one of only two teams against ranked opponents for the defending champion Crimson Tide. ('Bama takes on LSU on November 9, but won't face the SEC's South Carolina, Florida or Georgia.)
The Ballad of Johnny Football
While Alabama is the two-time defending champion and the winningest college football program since Tim Tebow moved out of Gainesville, ESPN et. al. spent most of the off-season obsessing over Manziel's off-the-field exploits.
He's become the proverbial lightning rod, and the newest face to support the notion that college football players should be paid. Manziel ended up serving a half-game suspension to open the season after allegations he was paid to sign autographs. But the dust-up caused by the allegations and investigations, not aided by Manziel's off-season antics, caused an uproar surpassing anything Cam Newton or Reggie Bush ever saw.
In a series of tweets, ESPN's Jay Bilas used the NCAA's own website to show that the NCAA had no problem selling Manziel jersey, while the defending Heisman Trophy winner was paid nothing. The hypocrisy highlighted by Bilas caused the NCAA to stop selling player jerseys on their site. "I don't believe we should have been in that business" said NCAA president Mark Emmert of profiting of players. "I don't think that's appropriate for us and we're going to exit it." Talk about belatedly closing the barn door.
Fox's sports Jason Whitlock used the episode to explore how Manziel's race parhaps makes him different that other recent high-profile NCAA rule breakers. "Reggie Bush was an immoral, greedy punk who deserved to have his Heisman Trophy stripped from him because a potential agent rented his parents a new house. Cam Newton got called everything but a child of God because his father allegedly asked for extra money in his collection plate. Few outside of the Buckeye state cried when Terrelle Pryor got run out of college football because of free tattoos.
But Johnny Football and his autographs are game-changers when it comes to public perception of NCAA rules. Why?" Asked Whitlock.
Manziel landed on the cover of Time Magazine under the headline "It's Time To Pay College Athletes."
Heck, Manziel even has his own theme song!
The Ballad of Johnny Manziel - by Bobby and The Rolling Reveilles © The Rolling Reveilles 2013
He's the biggest quarterback to come on the scene since Tim Tebow, all he needs now is a patented pose - and don't worry, he's working on it.
Manziel was a godsend to a Texas A&M football program that joined the SEC just last season amid widespread concerns about whether they could hang with the caliber of programs in the conference. His play has been called "brilliant slippireness," and relies on his cocky gunslinger persona to intimidate and exasperate opposing teams. Last year A&M, who entered the game as almost two-touchdown underdogs, was able to stun 'Bama in a thrilling 29 - 24 victory in Tuscaloosa. The at-the-time 15th ranked Aggies scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and were able to hold off an Alabama rally with a touchdown and a field goal in the fourth quarter, with Manziel passing for 253 yards and rushing for another 92.
During last Saturday's game against Sam Houston State Manziel threw for 403 yards with three touchdowns and ran in a six-yard touchdown as well, however the defense did not look great. But several key Aggie defensive players will be back for Saturday's match vs. Alabama. With the win A&M moved up to #6 on the AP Top 25 rankings.
If Manziel is feeling any added pressure due to the game, he is keeping it to himself. "It feels like another game," said Manziel after the game. "It feels like Week 3 of the season. We've got to continue to get better as a team continue to get better on every aspect, offense, defense, special teams. (To) have a full lineup back and a full roster back of guys who have been out will be nice."
Of course, this game isn't just about Manziel, as there are eleven players on the field at a time, (not to mention A&M's notorious 12th man). As A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin said after Saturday's game, "We've got some play makers around Johnny and you see him using everybody.... Offensively there's more to it than just him."
Alabama and polarizing Head Coach Nick Saban entered the 2013 season as the two-time defending champions. Last season's loss to A&M was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season.
After opening the season with a 35-10 win over Virginia Tech, Alabama football head Coach Nick Saban was none too pleased with his team's effort. "We live in a society now where everybody wants to do what they want to do. Nobody wants to be obedient. Nobody wants to pay attention to rules or whatever. When you make a rule you've got to have your dog on a leash, somebody wants to have their dog not on a leash. That's the way it is. We can't have a team of people like that," Saban said after the game.
Alabama will have an extra week to prepare for the Aggies, as they had a bye week while A&M faced Sam Houston State. And judging from the way the Tide played in their opener against Virginia Tech, they could use the extra practice. Saban indicated after the game the team still has a ways to go.
"We have a plan, we have things that we need to do to improve as a team, which we’re working on right now," he said. "We have a lot of work to do as a team to be able to play the way we’re going to need to play to have any chance of being successful when we play out there against Texas A&M."
By the way, if you're a 'Bama fan looking for a guide to some fine eating in College Station, AL.com's Andrew Gribble put together a handy guide to local dinning.
The Game of the Year
As much as both teams will try to make this just one date on the schedule, the truth is that both teams know the importance of this game.
For 'Bama, it represents perhaps the biggest roadblock as the team tries to bring home a third consecutive national championship. Loosing at College Station would not only let the door open for another set of teams to go undefeated and claim a spot on the national stage, but would also be a major knock against college football's most hated coach, Nick Saban. The only thing Saban hates more than loosing, is loosing again.
For A&M and Johnny Football, the game represents an opportunity to prove to the world that they are for real. When the Aggies joined the SEC there were legitimate concerns about the team's ability to compete. A consecutive win over Alabama would immediately catapult A&M to one of the elite programs in the country. Especially when you consider the recent tribulations for the Texas Longhorns, the win would be a boon to A&M's recruiting, and would help ensure the program is successful long after Manziel's leap to the NFL.
And if there is any questions A&M Athletics department is looking forward to the game, take a look of a a video they produced more tha three months ago, after the release of the college football schedule.
And there you have it.
Manziel vs. Saban, Part Deux.
Saturday, September 14
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