- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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We're in the dog days of the offseason, where every little comment or development gets overanalyzed or takes on a life of its own. So why not overanalyze some comments Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman made in jest at the Brazos County A&M Club Coach's Night, an alumni event on Thursday night on campus? He made a joke that went like this, according to the San Antonio Express-News: “What do the moon and Texas A&M have in common? They both control the Tide.”
TideNation's Alex Scarborough: First of all, I'm a little disappointed in Hyman for not getting more creative with his joke. It's good for a chuckle, I suppose, but a half-hearted one at that. There's better material out there to draw on, if you ask me. He could have at least incorporated Nick Saban being the devil into it, like everyone else has done this offseason.
That brings me to my next point: Why even make the joke at all? I'm sure Kevin Sumlin really appreciated him providing the bulletin board material because, you know, Alabama certainly needed fuel to add to its fire. The motivation for revenge might not have been enough. Remember the "never again" poster from Alabama's heartbreaking loss to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in 2010? The Tide have dominated the last two Iron Bowl contests, winning both by a combined score of 91-14. I've got to believe there's a similar poster being constructed now for Texas A&M with Hyman's quote as its centerpiece.
But Sam, when we look at last year's game and Hyman's analysis of the Aggies being able to "control the Tide," do you think there's some truth in it? I look back at the first quarter and agree, but after that I'm not so sure.
GigEmNation's Sam Khan: I think Sumlin agrees with you, even if just a little bit, since he said, "No pressure, Eric. Thank you," when he took the podium. You're right in that the Crimson Tide don't need any additional motivation but I wouldn't overestimate how much that matters. Sumlin is a pretty good motivator himself and I'm sure he'll play up the fact that the whole world expects the Tide to exact revenge on Sept. 14.
As for "controlling the Tide," I do think there's some truth in Hyman's quote. Did the Aggies dominate the game from start to finish? No. Against a team as talented and as deep as Alabama, that's nearly impossible to do. But the Aggies took it to Alabama as well as anybody else has in quite some time with the strong first quarter and a huge last scoring drive. Defensively, the Aggies were solid and opportunistic, coming up with some huge turnovers. Yes, the Tide were one play away from winning, should Deshazor Everett not pull off the interception on fourth-and-goal, but the Aggies win was far from luck or anything of the like.
Here's my question for you, Alex, when it comes to the Crimson Tide. Everyone talks about how Saban and Co. have all offseason to prepare for Johnny Manziel. But it stands to reason that Manziel will improve from Year 1 to Year 2. My question is, how much better prepared are the Crimson Tide going to be for the Aggies' offensive tempo, which seemed to give them significant trouble? Do they face anybody else that plays at that pace?
Scarborough: Therein lies the rub, Sam. You're right about Alabama having all offseason to prepare for what Manziel and the different Texas A&M offensive weapons can do, but until it learns to better handle the uptempo style of play itself, it's a major question mark whether the Tide can consistently handle offenses like the Aggies. After all, Sumlin won't be alone in running the fast-paced spread against Alabama. Virginia Tech will likely push the pace in the season-opener and Ole Miss will definitely look to force the defense's hand in Week 4. Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn will all do the same later on in the schedule as well.
There's no doubt, though, that the biggest challenge to Alabama's defense will be Texas A&M. Even with Luke Joeckel no longer protecting Manziel's blindside and Kliff Kingsbury no longer calling plays, it's hard to imagine the Aggies offense being anything other than dangerous. And it all comes back to what Manziel can do with his feet. Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart can use every minute of the offseason studying film to better prepare for the Aggies, but there is almost no way to stop what Manziel does best: improvise. All Alabama can hope to do is preach containment up front and pray that someone can wrap up the speedy quarterback when the time comes.
That brings me to my final question, Sam: In light of the recent success of the two programs and the buzz suddenly growing around the rematch thanks to Hyman's comments, do you see Alabama-Texas A&M becoming the best rivalry in the SEC West over the next few seasons? As long as Sumlin is around, I imagine Aggies fans are confident in the direction of the program and its ability to compete with the likes of Alabama.
Khan: I think you answered the last question with six key words: "As long as Sumlin is around." The program is moving upward right now and as long as he's in the captain's chair, I think that will continue. Will it become the best rivalry in the SEC West? Perhaps. I think LSU vs. Texas A&M has great rivalry potential also and Alabama-LSU is probably the best one currently going. I think in order for A&M-Bama to be considered "the best," the Aggies will have to pass LSU, which they haven't done yet. The Aggies lost to LSU last year and finished tied with them in the standings. Bama-LSU games have had a national title feel to them; the Aggies will have to legitimately get into the BCS title game chase for that to start happening against Bama. But there's no doubt that by beating the Tide last year, the Aggies have the Crimson Tide's attention.
That brings me to my last question for you: How much do you think Alabama and its fans care about A, what Hyman said; and B, what the Aggies are doing between now and Sept. 14. The Crimson Tide won the national championship. Are the Aggies really that big of a deal to Bama?
Scarborough: To answer your second question first, everything that happens in the SEC is a big deal to Alabama fans. You might think that not much gets to Tide fans these days, but you'd be wrong. Apathy is not something that sits well in these parts. It's partly the environment in the state, with no professional sports franchises to distract the attention away from college football,and partly the attitude Saban has fostered in these parts where even the most minute of details matter. There's interest in anything even tangentially connected to Alabama, even something as innocuous as an athletic director's comment to what amounts to a semi-private gathering of alumni.
That brings me back to whether Alabama fans care about what Hyman said. They most certainly do. The sting of that defeat still doesn't sit well with the Crimson Tide faithful, even though a national championship came after. But the part that I think bothers fans most is the manner in which he said it. Don't tell me Hyman didn't know he would be quoted or that he didn't know exactly what he was saying. He's been doing the job long enough to know a comment like that would come out.
But at the end of the day, as you've said, Sam, this all boils down to a symptom of the offseason where even comments made in jest are overanalyzed. Hyman would probably like to have what he said back, and Sumlin would, too, but overall it was harmless and only serves to make a budding rivalry just a little more entertaining. And as fans of college football, what's really so wrong about that?
920dSam Khan Jr.
921dSam Khan Jr.