All Eyez On Us: Say Hello To Alabama And Texas A&M, The Bad Guys


For those yet to read Mark Trible's brilliant piece on Saturday's Alabama vs. Texas A&M game, please do so by clicking here

Ten years ago this month, when 50 Cent was still 50 Cent, he rapped on Obie Trice’s “We All Die One Day”:

“I watch gangsta flicks and root for the bad guy
And turn it off before it ends ‘cause the bad guy die…”

As underrated as a posse cut as it was in 2003 and still is today, not much of the same can be said about Saturday’s anti-Herculean conquest at College Station, a site easily capable of masquerading itself as Mount Olympus this weekend. Texas A&M vs. Alabama isn’t a gangsta movie in the literal sense. Yet, it does house arguably the game’s two most electric, dynamic and provocative — depending who is asked — villains.

In many ways, college football couldn’t have asked for a more perfect storm to momentarily shift attention from scandals to actual games. Alabama unequivocally reigns as the sport’s most dominate entity and unofficial fifth team in the NFC South. The Tide is led by A.J. McCarron, 26-2 in his career with 50 touchdowns as the starting quarterback in Tuscaloosa and perhaps, ironically, the most underrated in the country at his position. Alongside him is the defense, who in its only appearance thus far in 2013 inflicted everything on Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas sans hog-tying him to a chair and forcing him to watch replays of XFL games as he tossed for 59 yards on 5-of-26 passing.

Sitting atop the mantle remains college football's King Jaffe Joffer, more commonly known as Nick Saban. The same Saban who ran last November’s defeat to A&M on loop in the weight room as both a motivational and frustration tactic much of the summer. The same Saban who runs an operation void of feeling and only capable of destruction, sort of like the aliens from Independence Day or Marlo Stanfield from The Wire (this scene in particular). The same Saban who understands how the game operates; a loss Saturday doesn’t dash Alabama’s dream of three consecutive national titles, as it didn’t in 2012. The same Saban who, nevertheless, realizes this game is an opportunity to erase the school’s only blemish in the past 679 days.

Alabama may not elicit the modern-day adoration of a demented, mega-competitive psychopath a la Michael Jordan, but revenge games have become somewhat of a program aphrodisiac. Saban, himself, is 15-2 in rematches since entering the SEC in 2000 with LSU. The Tide is the older sibling who allows a younger brother, sister or cousin to win one game only to evaporate his or her confidence, soul and will to play the next. It'd be damn-near sick if it weren't so captivating to witness. The proof is in the pudding, too. Just ask LSU, Auburn and Florida. This is the same Nick Saban who displays an identical, stoic demeanor as his former Cleveland Browns colleague Bill Belichick.


On the other side awaits Texas A&M, national sports media’s favorite punching bag/search engine-friendly topic. The Aggies are the flashy newcomer who was supposed to merely serve as a stomping mat for the likes of long-tenured SEC teams like Alabama, but did just the opposite. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has already rocketed through the ranks of the country’s most desirable names and will surely command looks from the NFL in 2014. The receiving corps is quietly impressive, led by Mike Evans. Senior tailback Ben Malena is averaging 7.9 yards a carry. And the offensive line boasts another potential top lottery pick in Jake Matthews.

Saban respects Sumlin, the team as a whole, even. Saban attempted to hire him while at LSU. Nevertheless, coaches, players and their scripted, transparent answers be damned. This rematch is personal, and the entire country feels it. For 'Bama, Saturday afternoon centers around winning, but also stopping, muzzling and, within the confines of the rules, inflicting pain upon Johnny Manziel, the one man Saban admitted in May planning for was an “ongoing process.”

Beyond Saturday, beyond the hype and beyond the narratives, however, a nuance lives that isn’t always the main media focus — respect. “I have not seen him get rattled in a game,” Saban said this week. “I really haven’t. And I think the guy’s a great competitor and regardless of any other circumstance that goes on around him, when he’s playing on the field he’s doing everything he can to try to make his team win and trying to make every choice and decision to do it and he is a fierce competitor.”

Months before “Teflon John” was given a 30-minute timeout by the NCAA or became the first college football personality to grace the cover of Time since – wait for it – Alabama’s Bear Bryant in 1980, September 14 had already been circled, stamped and set as a reminder in smartphones nationwide. Manziel/Saban II is the perfect undercard for Mayweather/Canelo later that night. Hell, Manziel/McCarron is, too, stemming from a friendship that may or may not be existent following Johnny’s whirlwind summer and A.J.’s growing frustration having to field questions about it. The personalities are equally as captivating. The stakes nearly as high. And roughly the same amount of people who pray for Mayweather's downfall mirror the number who desire to see Manziel humbled and/or Alabama dethroned.

For Nick Saban, a win adds Manziel’s head to the proverbial “don’t f*ck with me” mantle already boasting Gene Chizik, Tyrann Mathieu, Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow. A win Saturday also leaves one lone item on his proverbial “to-do” list: achieve immortality.

For Manziel, a win elevates his growing rockstar legend to heights unfathomable for a college kid in the social media age. He’s literally a President Obama mention away from having someone walk around campus with him while pealing grapes at his request. A 2-0 record vs. Alabama? Upending Saban at his own mind game? Outsmarting that defense? Establishing an inside track to the SEC title game and potentially another Heisman? If America perceives Johnny Heisman as the modern-day antichrist of college sports now, imagine if he pulls off a “Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock” type of performance on Saturday.

50 Cent, Independence Day, Jimi Hendrix, The Wire, Woodstock, All Eyez On Us — a play off the last Tupac album released while he was alive and today, the 17th anniversary of his death. So many pop culture references are present because at some point between now and last January, the match-up became more than an early September blockbuster. It's a power struggle between old and new, boisterous and calculated, and a seemingly unstoppable force and immovable object (if corny adages are permitted). It’s a game creating even the most biased fans to question allegiances — like Auburn alum Charles Barkley pulling for Alabama because of the Manziel hypebeast. On a Saturday littered with other match-ups, the epicenter of college football sits primarily in College Station. Unlike 50, however, turning A&M vs. Alabama off before it ends only happens in the event of a woodshed beating (which would suck).

A “bad guy” will win Saturday. Which one? Well, we’re all just going to have to watch the end of the movie to find out.

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