Media Q&A with ESPN's David Pollack, Samantha Ponder and Paul Finebaum

Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

Our very own @spadilly was on hand for a media question and answer session with some of the ESPN crew. Here's what they had to say.

David Pollack

Have you seen anyone like Johnny Manziel play college football?

Have I seen anyone like him? I don't think I have. He was the kid that you played tag with when you were little who was never it. [He's] just creative. You know as a defensive guy you always look for ways to plot and scheme, and I know going back and watching the Alabama tape from a year ago you just try and think "what would you do?" I don't think he knows what he's doing, which makes it hard for you to know what he's doing to try to stop it. He's quicker than he is fast, which is his ability to evade and I think the number one thing that's overlooked about him is there are a lot of guys that have his skill set. I don't think he's got the greatest arm in the world but his competitiveness, his chip on his shoulder, you can just see it watching tape. He's not running to get tackled, he's trying to make things happen. It's just unique. He's not the most physically gifted guy I've seen but as far as just causing heck, causing stuff to happen, craziness to happen it's pretty unique.

Have you been here before or heard about the atmosphere here if you haven't?

I came here last year for the Florida game.

And what'd you think?

It's pretty cool. It was awesome. One of the coolest scenes in college football and knowing the history behind the 12th Man and Midnight Yell, it's sweet dude. You go to all the atmospheres and I've played in the SEC so I've seen all those and played in those and as a team that came in from the Big 12 a year ago it seemed like a perfect addition.

What would it mean for A&M's trajectory moving forward and establishing itself among the national elite if they win this football game?

I don't think it changes if they lose this game if they go on to win the rest of their games. I don't think this game makes or breaks their season but you could make a pretty sweet argument to continue that climb and continue in recruiting, and with the facility upgrades coming. I think Sumlin is one of the better coaches in college football. He's just got a swagger about him that's pretty unique, kind of calm, cool, and collected and I think that goes a long way. But I think obviously it could help but I think A&M is on the rise regardless. It will be interesting to see what happens with Johnny and his decision because right now he's a guy that's making everyone around him significantly better. He's got a great offensive line, he had one of the best offensive lines in college football a year ago, and he's going to have the same opportunity this year. I think he masks weakness in other areas that you don't necessarily see, but [A&M's] definitely on the up and up.

The programs quick rise - can you compare it to anyone else in college football in the past 15 years or so?

What are they going to do this year? One year doesn't quantify a rise. It's a hard question to answer. Nick Saban took Alabama pretty quickly and put them on a rise. Urban Meyer took Florida and put them on a rise. He won championships in his 2nd year there, 3rd year whatever Saban's was. So I think that story is unwritten but it's a heck of a first year. I don't think anybody saw that coming and I think it's going to be great and keep going in that direction but let's see what happens this year before putting them in categories.

What do you expect from Johnny tomorrow?

Johnny is going to be Johnny. I just love the kid, I love watching him. It's fun to watch somebody like him. And he's the type of kid that that engine for a game like this, that engine is going to be roaring in side. I mean Sam Houston St, I think he's bored. Literally. I think this is what he lives for. And some of the stuff he's done has been knuckleheaded and people don't like it, as far as a kid being a kid and the off-season stuff, but as far as being a guy who doesn't apologize for who he is? I'm kind of that way, so I enjoy that. Be who you are and if someone wants to say bad things about you, knock yourself out. I enjoy that quality about Johnny.

Of all the games you've covered, is this one of the most hyped regular season college football games you've ever seen?

The first thing that comes to mind is two years ago LSU-Alabama. That was the "game of the century" or whatever. Seriously when I got here today coming from Lubbock last night, the whole plane was Alabama fans and Texas A&M fans and we were just talking trash the whole flight. I was like "Yeah, Alabama lost to A&M last year!" and things like that. Just inciting the fans and it was awesome. It was crunk the whole flight and when I got here everyone was jacked up and you're yelling "Gig 'Em" and "Roll Tide". These are the weeks that you really you try to cherish because they don't come along often. Everyone is just so excited about it.

The SEC lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft last year and we're already hearing about chinks in the armor because of a couple non-conference losses. Is it going to be hard to continue the streak this year for the conference?

The forgiveness might not be there as far as one loss teams. If I think about teams that are one loss teams right now that could possibly make a run at a championship, I think you throw Georgia in the mix right away. What if Clemson is a one loss team? They've already beat them. Florida was in a position last year where they were a top 3 or 4 in the country at the end of the season and they've already lost to Miami. I think the margin of error might not be as great but bottom line is if A&M or Alabama runs the table, it's a moot point. At some point the streak has to come to an end. It has to, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Parity in football makes it more fun. You want to see everybody win, you want to see everyone have a chance. Last years championship game was embarrassing. That wasn't fun to watch. We watched the national championship game and the SEC championship game - Georgia vs Alabama. Maybe we need to tune in earlier to see the championship game but I think parity and everybody being good is good. Oregon, to me, is the most impressive team I've seen so far this year.

Do you think Alabama is coming in with a lot of distractions this week?

Distractions?

From the DJ Fluker drama?

How many distractions do we have anyways? Alabama has been stilling for a year. I don't think there are any distractions. If A&M beats them it's not because of distractions. Nick Saban is a task-oriented guy and he's had all off-season and a bye week last week [to prepare] and they've seen Johnny Manziel clips of the fumble that he converts for a touchdown to Swope. I don't think there are any distractions or that any of that matters.


Samantha Ponder

I know you enjoy them all, but do you look forward to being on the sidelines and in this atmosphere?

I'm not giving the Johnny line on this. This week is different for us. It may just be the next week for him. Even on the plane - David and I came from the Thursday night game, only got about 3 hours of sleep - we're on a plane at 5:45am and I swear to you that this is the only time that at 5:45am I've been pumped up because everybody on the plane was talking about this game. It's special, we know that.

How does Johnny Manziel change the way you do your job preparing for the next broadcast?

It's different. There is certainly some star power there. I was telling Coach Sumlin the other day when I came out for the first day of camp, my thought was I was just coming out to cover the camp. But the day that I was leaving - I was sitting in the airport [reading] Twitter - was when the allegations came out and I knew my trip was going to be a little bit different. I like covering Johnny just because he's a fun guy to watch. He makes college football more entertaining and better for the fans, so you always appreciate that.

Coach Sumlin mentioned in your interview with him this weekend that he's trying to keep things consistent. When you're covering big games, is that something you usually hear from coaches - always keeping things consistent?

You do. They're always trying to convince you that it's just like any other week and when I talk to Coach [Sumlin] today that's what I'm going to ask, is was it [different]? Because of all of this, it does feel different. He told me when I was out here on Wednesday that he had TIME magazine here. It is different. There's more coverage, more interest from more casual fans, that makes the week a bit different. But I will say this, they prepared for this week. Some of the players over the summer made sure they had all their ticket requests in for this game just so that they didn't have to deal with it this week because they knew that it'd be different. And also we wanted to do all access stuff on Wednesday since we'd be out here and Coach Sumlin said, "No, we only do media on Tuesday. We're keeping this week exactly the same." So he's definitely sticking to his guns on that.

When you talked to those players, did you get the sense that they are blocking the distractions? Everyone is talking about this game. It has to be hard for 20 year old to avoid it too. Do you feel like Sumlin has done a great job of that? And that the players are [avoiding it]?

It trickles down from the head coach. The confidence of his players and also in the steadiness. You guys know how consistent Sumlin has been when things are good and when things are bad, he's pretty much always the same. I will say that in talking to Ben Malena he was giving the line that I'm sure Coach Sumlin is happy to give in saying "it's like any other week", but I started asking him about the stage knowing that everybody is watching this game. He said, "Yeah that's what's motivating me". So you have the two sides of it - you're motivated because you know everybody is watching but at the same time you're going to pretend that it's like any other week. There's to sides to that. It's not possible, in my opinion, for a 20 year old to not get a little extra excitement going into this environment because I do. And I know some of our guys do too.


Paul Finebaum

How does the narrative around Texas A&M, and particularly Johnny Manziel, change if he does it again and if A&M beats Alabama again?

I think that if A&M wins the game and Manziel stars, which I think he would have to, would be one of the extraordinary victories in college football history. I think the public around the country is mixed. They really don't know which way they're going [at the start of] the game, but as the game gets underway I think the nation will be pulling for Johnny Manziel. I don't care what I've said or what other people have said, he's just one of the most enigmatic players I've ever seen. I was on SportsCenter this morning and Robert Smith called him "the most exciting player in all of football - both NFL and college - which we'll see if there's anybody quite like him in the future, so a victory tomorrow would elevate him. You say, "how can you elevate someone who is already the most popular athlete, I think, in the world right now?" With all due respect to LeBron whose getting married, Tiger Woods who is struggling on the golf course, there's been more conversation about Johnny Manziel than any player in a long time. And I think he needs that victory. His reputation has certainly taken some hits, but if he knocks off Alabama he'll be in Times Square.

Do you feel Nick Saban has approached this game any different than any other big game of his career?

I think from a preparation standpoint, this is the biggest game in Nick Saban's career since he's been preparing for it since last November. I really believe that Nick Saban has stayed up a little later every night. I've been told that he's brought in X coaches, defensive wizards, consultants from the NFL and college football, they've broken down every game Johnny Manziel has ever played, which isn't that many. He's looked at all kinds of analysis and he's got a gameplan. Now what does that mean tomorrow? I don't have any idea but I think it means that he's never prepared harder and more dilligently for a football game.

In all the games you've covered, is this the most hyped regular season game?

It's interesting, it would be in the top 2. The game in Tuscaloosa two years ago, billed as "the game of the century", I think had more hype because it was #1 vs #2. It was more football though. This is not football we're talking about tomorrow. This is TMZ, this is National Enquirer, this is TIME Magazine, I mean this is unique. And in that game there wasn't one player that the public really cared about or knew about outside of Alabama and LSU. In New York tomorrow, in LA, in Chicago, in Philadelphia, people will be watching at 2:30 to see Johnny Manziel. They're going to say "OK which one is #2" and once the camera focuses on him they'll be transfixed. So I think that makes a difference. When you cover college football, it's usually the rivalries, usually the coaches, it's never the one player. Cam Newton became a big player two years ago at Auburn, but that was late in the season. Johnny Manziel was a big player in this college football season back in May when all this started happening.

So how do you think it unfolds tomorrow?

Well since I'm in Texas, obviously A&M is going to win. Let me give a little back story on myself, because at this point I work for ESPN and the Daily [garbled] News was in Bristol and they asked, this was in late May, "so what's going to happen - Alabama and Texas A&M on September 14th?" And I really wasn't thinking very clearly and I said "Alabama is going to win this game easily", so I was married to that. There's no getting away from that when you announce it on television. I've backed away from "easily" the more I've seen of A&M. I think it'll be a very competitive game. I think Alabama will win, but that's not a prediction you can make and say "I guarantee my life on it" - I'm not sure my life is worth a whole lot - but I really think Alabama has the motivation. I'm not trying to tell you good folks anything you haven't already heard but I don't care how many more defensive players are being added for this game [for A&M], I'm pretty underwhelmed by the Aggies.

[There's one last sentence in the audio but it was incomplete so I left it out]

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