'Bama week is here. The game the nation's been waiting for since Alabama wrapped up their scrimmage against Notre Dame. Let’s face it: National Championships are won when SEC teams play each other. You know it, I know it, even my wife knows it… and this is a woman thinks that a touchback is what you call a kickoff that’s returned for a touchdown.
So we know what’s at stake this weekend. This is a big game, but just how big? Let’s put this into context and look at other games A&M has played against a team ranked #1 in the nation.
I’m not going back to (the first season of) 1894 with this. Nobody cares who was ranked #1 before their birth and, frankly, it was all just media masturbation anyway. Besides, did you know that A&M played the "Deaf & Dumb Institute" in 1904? We’ve also played official games against Houston High School (5 games), the Bryan Air Field, and a smattering of army bases. Every school in the nation has these weird skeletons in their closet and yet some school somewhere gets voted #1 in the nation despite playing against teams that probably celebrated the completion of a downfield pass; much less actual touchdowns.
So let’s only consider the current era. Whether that’s defined as being since Texas A&M joined the Big 12 or since the BCS came into existence, the results are the same. We’ve played four games against teams that were ranked #1 at the time of kickoff.
2000 Oklahoma Sooners, home
The 2000 A&M team was led by 25 year old, sophomore quarterback, Mark Farris; who had been ranked the #3 QB in Texas back in 1993 (yes, you read that correctly,) but chose to play minor league baseball instead. His primary receiving target was one-year-wonder, Robert Ferguson; who went on to have an 8 year career in the NFL. Other future NFL players included DT Ty Warren, DT Rocky Bernard, DT Ron Edwards, T Seth McKinney, LB Jason Glenn, CB Terrance Kiel, WR Bethel Johnson, T Geoff Hangartner, C Don Muhlbach and T Billy Yates.
A&M entered the 4th quarter of this home game with a 24-13 lead, but quickly allowed OU to pull the game to 24-21. On the subsequent drive, with 4th and inches on OU’s 27 yard line, Coach RC Slocum mumbled something in a gravelly voice that the team understood to mean, "We’re going for it." He put the ball in the hands of RB Ja’Mar Toombs who not only converted the down, but went all the way for a touchdown; single-handedly dragging 3 OU defenders over the final 10 yards.
It wasn’t enough, however, as the Wrecking Crew allowed 14 unanswered points and A&M lost the game, 35-31. The game would go down as Toombs’s finest hour and give him a 3rd round grade for the following NFL draft. However, Toombs showed up to the NFL Combine 20+ pounds overweight and looked more like a local bus driver than Jerome Bettis. He went undrafted.2002 Oklahoma Sooners, home
The 2002 Aggies finished with the 4th worst record in the Big 12. Only Missouri, Baylor and Kansas were worse. A&M hadn’t won a single game of significance (only beating Baylor & Kansas in league play) and lost to a mediocre Oklahoma State and a downright poor Nebraska team immediately before finding themselves staring at the undefeated, #1 Oklahoma Sooners.
The only things working in the Aggies’ favor were home field advantage, newly instated offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin, and a relatively unknown, but highly touted, freshman quarterback in Reggie McNeal. There were future NFL players such as Warren, Hangartner, Yates, Kiel, Johnson, WR Terrence Murphy and DT Johnny Jolly, but this was a 6-6 team that smelled even worse.
Late in the 1st quarter of the game, Slocum benched starting QB Dustin Long in favor of McNeal, who repaid the decision by throwing an A&M freshman record 4 TD’s – good enough for a 30-26 Aggie victory. Over the following two seasons, McNeal would go on to set a couple school records and become the first team QB on the All Big-12 team, but his senior season was deemed a failure. A&M stumbled to a 5-6 record and did not qualify for a bowl game. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Reggie McNeal with a 6th round selection, projecting him as a WR. However, after spending only one year on their practice squad, the Bengals cut ties completely. He currently lives in Bryan, TX and smokes a lot of weed.2003 Oklahoma Sooners, away
OU obviously had a very good run in the early ‘00s. You still remember where you were for this game and probably still even have a little numbness in your testicles from the repeated crotch-kicking. I was sitting in my friend’s crappy apartment eating Wendy’s and our girlfriends were meeting for the first time. This game was so bad that the girls were both asleep early in the 3rd quarter instead of doing first impression girl-things like complimenting each other’s outfits. A&M lost 77-0. This game did more permanent damage to Aggie fans than any I’ve ever seen.
There’s really not much else to say. It sucked. The whole season sucked. A&M went 4-8 and the victories were over such powerhouses as (Urban Meyer’s) Utah, (Bryan Harsin’s) Arkansas State, (Guy Morriss’s) Baylor and (the obese Andy Reid’s) Kansas. This season’s failures were blamed on RC Slocum, who’d been fired and replaced by Dennis Franchione at the end of 2002. Texas A&M continued investing money in the Bernie Madoff of college football for 5 seasons, allowing him to somehow blame everything on RC Slocum until the bitter end. Dennis Franchione is now head coach of the Texas State Bobcats, where he’s enjoyed a 10-14 record over the past two years. He owns a $220,000 house in San Marcos, which means he probably has more than $10M squirreled away in a respectable mix of mutual funds somewhere. I hope this pisses you off.
2012 Alabama Crimson Tide, away
Entering the inaugural season of SEC play, nobody really knew what to expect from the Aggies. The team returned excellent offensive linemen, solid running backs and experienced wide receivers, but we had massive question marks at coach, quarterback and defense. As it turned out, the perfect storm hit and we entered the Alabama game as a serious contender. Johnny Manziel solidified himself as a Heisman candidate and A&M jumped out to a quick 20-0 lead that gave the team the confidence it needed to close out a huge, upset win, 29-24, of the reigning National Champions.
So What Does It All Mean?
Texas A&M has never been better equipped to take on a #1 ranked team. The 2000 team had some good pieces, but nothing compared to the riches we boast today. A&M returns the Heisman trophy winner, four running backs of starting caliber, three receivers that stand 6’-5" or taller (against ‘Bama’s cornerbacks who are 6’-0" or shorter), and a solid offensive line featuring two Matthews brothers and the imposing Cedric Ogbuehi. A&M will offer Alabama’s defense the biggest test they’ll face all season.
Furthermore, Coach Kevin Sumlin signed a top 10 recruiting class in February and he’s using them. 16 true freshman and 5 other newcomers played against Sam Houston State last week. Nick Saban probably doesn’t even have access to a complete roster of the guys who will be scoring touchdowns on Saturday, much less actual game film.
Nick Saban has a 15-2 record in "rematch" games. The losses being Rex Grossman’s 2001 Florida Gators and the 2011 LSU Tigers. Steve Spurrier and Les Miles are obviously the cream of the crop. Can Kevin Sumlin match them? HE ALREADY HAS. Remember, this is a coach who took two freshman quarterbacks (McNeal and Manziel) and knocked off the greatest beasts in the land twice in the past ten years.
With an electric Kyle Field on his side, Johnny Manziel will saunter into the Hate Barn on Saturday as ten times the man he was last year. Here’s a guy with the balls to stand up the Mannings and take cash for autographs. It’s this very arrogance, though, that drives his play. Tiger Woods was at his best when he was neck-deep in strippers and I’ve decided that Johnny’s the same. But we don’t need Johnny Manziel, we need Johnny Effing Football. Put the world on his shoulders; tell him he can’t handle it. Watch what happens next.
And that’s exactly what we’re gonna do to ‘em, Ags.
Follow @mysmithereens on Twitter.