Media: SEC Columnist Ron Higgins Sizes Up Bama, A&M
By Dan Harralson
We're finally here. Game week for Alabama and Texas A&M, that is.
We all know the story that is named Johnny Manziel, Johnny Football, and even Johnny Autograph. Drake concerts, Miami Heat games, throwing out first pitches in Major League ballparks, and golf tournaments were the norm after the recently-famed quarterback from Texas A&M defeated Alabama and won the sport's most prestigious trophy last year.
Johnny Football also squeezed in frat parties, told Twitter how it's hard to live life in his shoes, and proclaimed to the college football world that he's "just a 20-year old" at SEC Media Days. Oh yeah, and don't forget the Manning Camp fiasco.
Johnny Football dominated the offseason, something he wouldn't have accomplished without beating the Crimson Tide. Even Nick Saban took time to tell Dan Patrick that he would be lying if he hasn't looked at this matchup in the offseason.
Now it's here. The sports' greatest coach, Nick Saban, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who defeated him, Johnny Manziel, face off. This game feels so much bigger magnitude-wise compared to Saban's revenge game against Tim Tebow, the one shot he had at Cam Newton and even the national championship game rematch with LSU.
One of the most respected writers throughout the Southeastern Conference, columnist Ron Higgins, provided his take on Saturday's match-up.
"When Nick loses a game to somebody, he's trying to figure out why it happened. He's trying to figure out, 'How can I prevent this from happening again?' It's something that he looks at for a long time like his second shot at LSU a couple of years ago."
So, is it just another game? Will all of the incentives added by Manziel be washed away throughout the 60 minutes at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, on Saturday afternoon? Will the love affair with Johnny Football be gone if Saban beats Manziel badly? Saban has a chance to put an end to the saga.
Higgins has covered the SEC for the Commercial-Appeal in Memphis for many years and next week he will begin covering LSU, the Saints and the Pelicans for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Higgins understands the magnitude of this game, but also understands it's just another game.
"Whoever loses this game shouldn't feel like the season is over because there is a lot of football left to be played," Higgins said. "Whoever wins it, I think it's important that they play well to win it. Last year maybe they got caught in a trap game and didn't prepare right, but if Alabama loses this game it won't be because they weren't prepared."
This game may be the most anticipated of the 2013 season. It has a feel that the two, Saban and Manziel, are going to Rome's Colosseum to duel for personal credibility.
The great Saban, who has played this role before, can darken Johnny Football's time in the sun. He has spoiled the legendary status of many coaches and players, much like Michael Jordan did in his sport.
We can be 60 minutes away from an Alabama/Florida 2009 type performance that can end Manziel, like it did Tebow. But what happens if Johnny continues to be a modern-day Joe Namath on and off the field? The Manziel persona will grow even more. And more. Is college football ready for that?
We do need to focus on the fact that this game is still early in the season and that there's a lot of football to be played.
"It's a nice early-season game. It's for the upper hand in the division along with LSU," Higgins said. "I think people are kind of sleeping on LSU and they shouldn't be, but it's for the upper hand. This one is getting the hype because of Manziel being in the news."
LSU appears ready to be part of the three-team race for the SEC's Western Division crown. You could not write a better script, especially after the Alabama fan base's overreaction to the Tide's opening-game performance, or lack of performance, against Virginia Tech.
Saturday's game still feels like David versus Goliath, but David won the last time and David is looking for more.
One aspect that tends to get overlooked with Texas A&M being in the SEC is the history between the two schools. A lot of the same coaches have roamed both Alabama and Texas A&M's sidelines.
"There's a huge history," Higgins said. "Going back to Bear and Gene Stallings at A&M and then coming to Alabama, Gene Stallings at A&M beating Bear at Bama in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama and A&M have a huge history. A lot of coaches, of course. Jackie Sherrill played for Bear at Alabama and coached A&M; Dennis Franchione coaching at both. A&M was a fetus school for Alabama in a lot of ways."
Saturday will mark the sixth edition of the Alabama and Texas A&M series and Johnny Football will look to tie the overall series at three game apiece.
2012: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
1988: Alabama 30, Texas A&M 10
1985: Alabama 23, Texas A&M 10
1968: Texas A&M 20, Alabama 16
1942: Alabama 29, Texas A&M 21