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Focus is finally on field for Alabama and Texas A&M

After much talk about Johnny Manziel's shenanigans and possible NCAA trouble at both schools, teams meet in one of the biggest games of the year.

September 13, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will see plenty of TV time Saturday when the Aggies play host to national title contender Alabama.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will see plenty of TV time Saturday… (David J. Phillip / Associated…)

Bear Bryant would have turned 100 this week, and that's fitting because there are about that many story lines leading into Alabama's big game at Texas A&M.

Bryant coached both schools to their most famous football glories.

In one College Station corner you have Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, so talented and polarizing that CBS is devoting an extra camera — the "Johnny Cam" — to follow his every gesture.

This does not necessarily comply with the mantra all coaches preach about selflessness and teamwork.

However, while there is an "eye" in CBS, there is no "i." And the only "team" the network cares about is Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson.

"I don't understand why there's got to be one guy singled out with a camera on him the entire time," Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin grumbled this week. ". . . That's not what we're trying to promote."

In the meantime, CBS, please make that check payable to . . .

We won't bore you with the entire Johnny Football timeline catalog in the months since he pulled off that "signature" win over Alabama last year in Tuscaloosa.

"I think that game put us on the map," Aggies offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi said. "It showed we were a team that came to the SEC ready to play. It showed we could compete with the big boys."

The best way to get a sense of Manziel's off-field life would be to read Ian Fleming or watch one of those most-interesting-man beer commercials.

In a nutshell, the Nov. 10, 2012 win at Alabama cinched the Heisman Trophy for Manziel and unleashed a manic run of jet-setting and autograph signing that led to an NCAA investigation and stuff you just don't normally see.

For instance, Manziel was not made available to the media this week, which is usually the coach's call. Sumlin said the decision was made by Manziel's family and extended family of advisers and lawyers.

Sumlin said he would "respect his wishes on that" before maybe asking Johnny what time he thought the team bus should leave.

Manziel will be in a pass-off against Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who happened to be Manziel's roommate at the off-season Manning Passing Academy camp. You may remember Manziel was sent home from that after missing his wake-up call, and was accused of all sorts of carousing in New Orleans.

McCarron might have nudged Manziel out of his slumber but, in the end, was that really his job?

Alabama, with its rock-solid play and square-jawed coach, was poised to be the white hat headed into Texas A&M this week.

The staples of Nick Saban's teams are consistency, discipline and focus. But that all got shot to Helena when Yahoo Sports dropped a midweek bomb that alleged five SEC players had taken impermissible benefits while still in college. One was former Alabama All-America tackle D.J. Fluker, a starter on the Crimson Tide's last two Bowl Championship Series title teams.

If true, Alabama might be forced to vacate the championships.

Control-freak Saban quickly tried to cut off the media charge. "We do the best we can," he said of trying to keep players away from agents. "It's not what the program's built on."

But Saban became angrier with each follow-up question.

"I made a statement, don't ask me any more questions about this," he said.

When reporters pushed forward, Saban huffed out of the room as he sarcastically said, "Appreciate your interest in the game."

Oh yeah, the game.

It should be a good one, with the winner seizing control of the SEC West on a path that historically has led to the BCS title play-in known as the SEC championship game.

Texas A&M is 2-0 but wasn't tested in easy wins over Rice and Sam Houston State. The Aggies haven't revealed much on tape and played two games without three suspended starters on defense.

Alabama should be bye-week fresh after a tougher-than-expected opening win over Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide won, 35-10, but totaled only 206 yards with three new starters on the offensive line.

The performance gave Saban plenty of motivational fodder to use during the off week.

Texas A&M poses the prickliest kind of challenge for Saban because Manziel is a free-lance driver who never stays in his lane. He riddled Alabama last year with 253 yards passing while also running for 92.

Saban says Manziel's ability to make plays makes Texas A&M perhaps one of the best offensive teams in the history of college football.

Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy offered this vague, though accurate, description of Manziel: "What he does makes him who he is."

There are other angles to follow once the game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. PDT.

If you have to pick one, though, follow the "Johnny Cam."

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