By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s only the third week of the college football season, but many have already deemed this weekend’s showdown between No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama the game of the year in the Southeastern Conference.
If you listened to Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Alabama’s Nick Saban at their respective media conferences this week, though, you would think it’s just business as usual for these top-10 teams.
“I said this summer, for our former students, our community, the university, and for our fans, excitement level is as probably as high as it's been,” Sumlin told reporters Tuesday. “As a coaching staff and as an organization, we have to remain really consistent. Really good programs and organizations are consistent in their approach. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
A day earlier in Tuscaloosa, Saban had a similar tone at the podium, preaching fundamentals and focus as the trip to College Station approaches.
“Everybody has to do their job,” Saban said. “When you play against really good players, which they have really good players and players who are capable of making very explosive plays on any down in the game, any lack of that ability to focus and discipline is going to help them be able to make those plays.”
As much as both coaches are approaching it as just another game, Saturday’s battle between A&M and Alabama – a rematch from an epic clash a season ago – carries major weight for both teams, both in conference and on a national level. The winner will have an early leg up in the Western Division and an inside track for a trip to Atlanta, a trip that six of the last seven national champions have made.
For Alabama, priority number one will be stopping the electric Johnny Manziel, who quarterbacked Texas A&M to an 11-win season in year one of its SEC membership, including that huge 29-24 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium last November. Although that loss did not prevent Alabama from claiming its third national title in four seasons, it certainly served as a source of motivation when it was replayed on a continuous loop in the Crimson Tide weight room this offseason.
It may be a business as usual approach for both squads, but the atmosphere will be anything but usual at Kyle Field on Saturday afternoon. And even though it’s only week three, the stakes are already high in the SEC West.
Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS.
Saturday’s meeting between Alabama and Texas A&M will be the sixth in the all-time series between the two schools…Alabama holds a 3-2 advantage through the first five meetings…The first meeting between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies took place on Jan. 1, 1942 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, with Bama recording a 29-21 victory…Saturday will mark Alabama’s second visit to Kyle Field in College Station; the first visit came in 1988, when the Tide notched a 30-10 win over A&M in Jackie Sherrill’s final game as head coach of the Aggies…Texas A&M won the last meeting with a 29-24 triumph in Tuscaloosa last season.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 – Texas A&M 29, Alabama 21 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
1988 – Alabama 30, Texas A&M 10 (College Station, Texas)
1985 – Alabama 23, Texas A&M 10 (Birmingham, Ala.)
1967 – Texas A&M 20, Alabama 16 (Dallas, Texas)
1942 – Alabama 29, Texas A&M 21 (Dallas, Texas)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
No. 15 Texas A&M traveled to Tuscaloosa a year ago to face the top-ranked Crimson Tide, and the Aggies didn’t waste any time getting it going. Behind a heroic effort from quarterback Johnny Manziel, A&M raced out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, stunning the crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama rallied and nearly completed the comeback, but AJ McCarron was intercepted by A&M’s Deshazor Everett at the goal line in the closing minutes, sealing a 29-24 win for the Aggies. Manziel finished the game with 345 yards of total offense to go along with two touchdown passes. McCarron threw for 309 yards and a score, but was picked off twice in the losing effort. The victory for A&M ended a 13-game win streak for Alabama.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Texas A&M – Johnny Manziel, Soph., Quarterback
Texas A&M’s 2012 Heisman Trophy winner registered his signature win a season ago against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and he’ll look to do it again this season at Kyle Field. Manziel made several huge plays against Bama last season, all of which played a big part in the Aggies’ 29-24 win. Manziel can beat defenses with his arm – as was evidenced by perfect throws to Ryan Swope and Mike Evans late in last year’s meeting – or his legs, and his ability to evade defenders and extend plays can be lethal. Only two teams, LSU and Florida, were able to corral Manziel for a full four quarters last season, and Manziel appears to have picked up where he left off in A&M’s first two games of the year. Texas A&M’s offense features a bevy of talented skill players, but it all starts and ends with Manziel at the helm.
Alabama – Amari Cooper, Soph., Wide Receiver
Although fellow receiver Christion Jones stole the show in Bama’s season-opening win over Virginia Tech, Cooper has proven to be the Tide’s most consistent play-maker on the outside. Cooper saw 79 targets in 2012, proving to be McCarron’s favorite target by a wide margin (Kevin Norwood was a distant second on the team in targets with 42). Cooper played big against A&M in last season’s showdown, grabbing six catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, and was instrumental in helping Alabama claw its way back from a 20-point deficit and nearly win the game. It’s only been two games, but Texas A&M’s defense is second-last in the SEC in yards per play, which bodes well for Cooper and the Tide offense.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Texas A&M – Steven Jenkins, Senior, Linebacker
After missing the first two games of the season due to suspension, Jenkins will return to the A&M line-backing corps on Saturday where he has been missed. Jenkins will bring a much needed dose of experience to a green group of ’backers that, along with the defensive line, has struggled to stop the run thus far in 2013. The Aggies surrendered 306 yards on the ground against Rice in week one, and Sam Houston State churned out 240 rushing yards last week. With TJ Yeldon and a formidable offensive line coming to College Station this weekend, the Ags will look to tighten up in that regard. Jenkins, who was the only TAMU player with four tackles or more in every game last season, provides proven consistency.
Alabama – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Junior, Safety
Clinton-Dix is another in Alabama’s recent line of NFL-caliber defensive backs, which includes current pros such as Dee Milliner and Mark Barron. After leading the team and tying for first in the SEC with five interceptions last season, Clinton-Dix is the anchor of Nick Saban’s secondary this season. A hard-hitting, ball-hawking player in center field, Ha Ha will have his hands full along with the rest of the defense against a Texas A&M attack that features an incredible lineup of skill position players.
• Texas A&M is 2-2 historically at Kyle Field when both teams are ranked in the top-10.
• Texas A&M has faced a top-ranked team 12 times in its history, going 2-10 in those games. The Aggies are 1-4 in such meetings at Kyle Field.
• ESPN’s College Gameday will be in College Station this Saturday, marking the 18th time Alabama has been featured on the show since Nick Saban became head coach in 2007. That is the most of any school during that span, with Oregon’s 14 appearances ranking second.
• Kevin Sumlin is 7-3 in his career against ranked opponents. The Aggies were 4-2 last season in games against ranked teams.
• Alabama brings a 15-game road winning streak to College Station, the longest active streak in the FBS.
• In 2012-2013, Texas A&M became the first school ever to defeat the defending national champion in football and basketball on their home court/field in the same school year. The Aggies beat Alabama on the gridiron in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 12, 2012, and took down Kentucky inside Rupp Arena on Jan. 12, 2013.