Doubt at this stage from outsiders is fine. Picking against the #1 juggernaut is dicey at the best of times, and picking against them in their own stadium at the height of their prowess against an opponent that still has a few question marks could almost seem hipsterish or avant-garde. Safety is preferable. The heads on GameDay have their doubts, just like all the rest of us.
Hope is what saves us from doubts. It erases them and settles the jangled nerves. Hope is where we’re at right now: reassuring ourselves that this Aggie team is not at all like all those other Aggie teams throughout the years who have crept up to the edge of the big stage only to plunge back off it immediately in an awkward tangle of limbs, shamed and reluctant to build up hope anytime soon in the aftermath. This is a good football team full of good football players. It’s not a measurable thing: you know it when you see it. It’s toughness, precision, selflessness, and a hundred other little things hammered into the psyche in all those treacherous blistering muggy practices out in the thick summer humidity. This groundwork is not required for hope, but it is required for success. Hope is the in-between, where all preparations have been made and you’re just ticking down the hours and minutes until you test yourself.
Adrenaline is the purest human drug. For us, it usually begins when we cross some invisible radius a certain distance from the stadium and our senses are assaulted: buzzing chatter, tinny music, hot breezes ruffling thousands of flags and tents. The enticing aroma of meats and the random team yells peppering the ambiance. For the team it kicks in much later: deep in the bowels of the stadium building, nestled in a hard cocoon that somehow shuts out the entire world and encapsulates it. Minutes remain until kickoff. The drums begin first: primal and booming, an undercurrent that will set the tempo for the next few hours of their lives. The silence of preparation slowly falls away and gives in to the exuberance of readiness. Shoulders and chests are pounded, and the last bits of equipment are affixed firmly into place. There is a speech, and there is a prayer, incongruous amid a riot of noise and emotion. Then there’s an electricity in the air and in the nerves, and the cleats begin clacking on the concrete on the way to the field. Then there is a football game.
This is the biggest non-conference game for the Aggies in decades. It’s what every AD dreams of when they schedule these matchups years in advance. All the cards have fallen into place. Whoever wins this game will do so because they outlasted and survived another very good football team. In a few hours, all the chatter and online noise and accompanying peripheral extras will softly drop away, and a whistle will blow and a player will kick the football, and the culmination of all of that will be a goddamn treat to watch. Beat the hell outta Clemson today.