Is it even remotely possible that this game lives up to the hype?
Texas A&M is the last team to defeat Alabama. And even though the Crimson Tide went on to win the national title last season, they are still out to defeat A&M. Alabama had this rematch with Johnny Manziel marked on its calendar the day after last year’s loss. A running reel of the loss was constantly streaming on the Alabama weight room TVs. Even if Alabama’s players or coach won’t admit to it, it’s been their main focus.
For the biggest game in school history, Texas A&M - a nine-point home underdog - has everything to play for. But a loss for either team wouldn’t be a crushing blow. Just like Alabama last year, one loss does not kill your season, especially when that loss comes in Week 3. Alabama’s one loss to A&M came in Week 11 and they still made the title game.
Before you sit down for the nine or so hours of coverage on Saturday, here are some keys to tomorrow’s game:
Alabama needs to score early and score often
By the time Alabama woke up last year, it was 20-0 and the first quarter had just ended. The pure shock value of that opening run by the Aggies was enough to stifle the future national champions for the day. Alabama needs to keep its offense on the field with long, methodical drives to keep its defense fresh and keep Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel off of the field.
Alabama is equally skilled on defense, maybe even better than last year. There’s a talented group of skill position players on offense, but their potentially porous offensive line blocking for them could spell trouble. With it unlikely Christion Jones will run back another punt and a kick for a touchdown, Alabama’s offense will need to put points on the board to keep up with A&M’s high-powered attack.
Alabama desperately needs to silence the crowd
Just like trying to mimic Manziel's offense in practice isn't really possible, no amount of noise simulation can mimic Kyle Field. Any stadium that also goes by “Hate Barn” can't be an easy place to play. But if Alabama scores quickly, they'll neutralize the Richter Scale-tipping crowd volume.
Alabama also normally plays well on the road. They consistently win at Auburn under Saban, don’t have many problems with other SEC schools on the road and managed to escape Death Valley with a come-from-behind, tight win over LSU last year. If Alabama can manage its emotions - and stick to Nick Saban’s “Process” - it might just get out of the “Hate Barn” with a win.
Halt or slow Johnny Manziel’s momentum
Manziel seems to have gotten better. He’s more improved as a passer, even more confident, with a better grasp on the offense. He dropped 253 passing yards, two touchdowns and 92 rushing yards on Alabama’s vaunted defense last year. But can he do that again?
Alabama’s defense needs to keep Manziel from moving, running, throwing and doing anything else, really. If the showboating, incredibly talented Manziel can get his offense on track, with the crowd behind him, it could be a long, hot day in Texas for the Crimson Tide.