In a game pitting two teams undergoing conference transitions, Texas A&M was the clearly superior program. From the opening kickoff, the Aggies manhandled the undermanned Mustangs -- on offense, defense and special teams.
The talent disparity was disheartening for the SMU faithful who were unimpressive again when presented the opportunity to measure their program's progress against a higher level programs. To some degree the Baylor game could have been chalked up to rust and acclimating a new quarterback to the system in game situations. Saturday was far different; Baylor struggled for a while with an FCS team, and Ford Field revealed a talent gap June Jones' spread offense simply couldn't bridge.
The Aggies' breaking in of a new quarterback was seamless -- Manziel embarrassed an undermanned SMU defense and did whatever he wanted. In a showdown against a former No. 1 QB recruit, he was the superior player.
To be fair, the June Jones experiment with Garret Gilbert faced an unfair challenge in a new SEC team with true SEC players. His "playmakers" couldn't compete with the size or speed of a superior team. Gilbert threw a good ball, but his teammates couldn't find separation against the Aggies. His arm talent is there. The SMU program simply is not, and that fact was on full display Saturday.
Meanwhile, Johnny Manziel looked like a potential Heisman candidate down the road. He ran wild against a C-USA caliber defense and threw with impressive accuracy on the run on the rare occasion he had to expand the pocket to find receivers. As much as it was a test for SMU, it was a showcase for the Aggies' new quarterback. His swagger was unquestionable after he dropped top in police photos during the summer, but his skills were on full display Saturday in Dallas.
Manziel missed on 16 throws, but hit on 20. More importantly, he never made the big mistake.
And while Gilbert struggled to find openings in the Texas A&M defense, Manziel consistently made sound decisions through the air and tucked and ran when he had to. With almost 300 yard through the air, and 124 on the ground, he looked every bit the superstar the program needs to build around.
It's almost unfair to compare the two programs, but the difference between where SMU wants to be and where they are is painfully obvious. While disheartening for the 'Stangs, it was an exciting display for the Aggies.
After their inaugural SEC game against the Florida Gators, the Aggies made it clear they're ready for the big time. They struggled to close against Will Muschamp's team, but the First Half Warriors brought it for the full 60 minutes against SMU. They showed the speed, size, and overall talent they need to compete against the big boys. Combined with their freshman QB's display, the 12th man faithful left Dallas with a reasonable expectation and hope to compete with college football's best.
Outside, the tailgate had the best fireworks, with coeds draping the scenic campus with what can best be described as "clothes". Once inside the stadium, it was a much uglier story. A building program in SMU just wasn't at the same level at a team making a smooth transition to the big time. Kind handshakes turned to long touchdown runs that revealed just how junior the Mustangs were.
As the Mustangs sauntered down the boulevard before the game they struggled to differentiate themselves from the band. The cheers of zealous undergrads quickly morphed to Aggie war cries after the opening kickoff. The rain held off, but Kevin Sumlin's team simply did not, even without their starting running back.
June Jones and his band of Ponies were up for the game, but they just weren't up to the challenge. Jones' attempted exodus to Arizona State may have been a blow for this year's recruiting, but the already acquired talent on the field showed a deeper divide. The teams aren't recruiting the same athletes, and they're simply playing a different game.
In the end, a measuring stick game for both teams was a painful revelation for the Mustangs, and an inspiring display for the Aggies. The progress SMU felt under June Jones was undercut by a genuine example of what a big time program looks like. The building program at SMU has a quarterback to lead, but lacks the athletes to follow. On the other side, A&M looked the part of a program ready to compete against the best programs in the country.