This week, the surprising 7-2 Aggies get a true test of how good they really are when they travel to Tuscaloosa to play the best team in the country.
If Texas A&M ever intends on winning a conference title, all roads to the SEC Championship Game go through Tuscaloosa. In his sixth year as head coach of the Crimson Tide, Nick Saban has brought his program to the pinnacle of college football. His coaching record at the University of Alabama is an astounding 64-12, with half of those losses coming in his very first year in Tuscaloosa.
Saban has won two National Championships (2009,2011) while at Alabama and is currently undefeated in 2012 and ranked #1 in the country. If the Tide are able to win back-to-back titles this year, this current run of success will rank with the best in college football history.
Recruiting is crucial to sustaining a high level of success. According to Rivals.com, Saban’s "worst" recruiting class was his first at Alabama and that class finished 10th in the country. The level of continued dominance he has established on the recruiting trail is really quite remarkable. In the past six recruiting cycles, Alabama has had the number one class in the country four times. The aforementioned tenth ranked class in 2007 and a fifth place finish in 2010 were the outliers. Their 2013 class is also currently ranked fifth.
And while Texas A&M has been a mainstay in the Top 25 recruiting classes, they have never broken into the Top 10. With Alabama blocking the way to Atlanta, that is going to have to change. With the early success on the field this year and brand differentiation from their in-state rivals for the first time in school history, there should be no excuses. Kevin Sumlin is off to a hot start and already using the momentum to his advantage.
The 2013 Aggie recruiting class is currently ranked 10th according to Rivals.com, but they aren’t finished yet. There are numerous undecided blue-chip recruits that are showing a high interest in the school. If the cards fall right, this could end up the highest rated recruiting class to come through Aggieland in a long time. To get to Atlanta, they’ll need it, and more to follow.
On Saturday, two polar opposite philosophies will square off. The Aggies will bring into Bryant-Denny Stadium the number six scoring offense in the country (41.5 points per game). Johnny Manziel and Co. will take on the country’s number one defense that is only giving up 228.9 yards a game.
In his weekly press conference, Saban was very complimentary of Johnny Manziel. When asked who he would use in practice to prepare for him, he replied they didn’t have anybody like him and if they did, "he’d be playing." High praise for a redshirt freshman coming from the coach of the best team in the country.
On top of the mobile Johnny Football, Alabama’s defense will have to prepare for another hurry-up, spread offense. Saban made his dislike of up-tempo offenses known after the Tide’s win over Ole Miss a couple of weeks back. He argued that the tempo increases the risk of injury to players and created an advantage for opposing offenses due to lack of substitutions:
"I just think there’s got to be some fairness in terms of asking, is this what we want football to be?"
Bad news Coach Saban, Texas A&M ran 97 plays last week against a Mississippi State defense that was supposed to be pretty good.
Aggie offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury knows that he doesn’t have an easy task in front of him either:
"Obviously they (Alabama) are the gold standard of college football and have been that way pretty much since (Saban) got there. We’re all chasing Alabama."
When asked what makes this Tide so difficult to move the ball on, Kingsbury’s answer was easy.
"Everything. Great Players. What’s remarkable is they lose basically an entire NFL team last year, come back and they are the number one scoring defense."
The entire country will be eagerly watching how well this offense can play against another elite defense. After struggling against top-tier defenses in the second halves against LSU and Florida, Johnny Football gets a shot at redemption.
Under Kevin Sumlin, it will always be the Aggie offense that sets the ceiling for this team. This week is no different. All eyes will be on a redshirt freshman, and the progress he has made ten games into his career. This week, win or lose, the Aggies get their chance to see exactly how far away the top of the SEC West is.