CECIL HURT: Can Texas A&M recapture Manziel Magic when it visits Bryant-Denny Stadium?

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
Alabama's Dylan Moses celebrates his tackle.

One price of the unparalleled success that Alabama Football has enjoyed under Nick Saban is that, since his first season in Tuscaloosa, the most memorable games at Bryant-Denny Stadium have been ones which the visitor has won. That’s not surprising. Alabama has not been a home underdog since Saban’s first season, when eventual national champion LSU was a one-touchdown favorite and won the game 41-34.

Since then, most Alabama home wins have been “dog bites man” efforts of inevitability. There have been close games like Tennessee in 2009 but very few of those. The memorable, history-making games have come when teams have managed the rare fest of escaping Tuscaloosa with a win. Auburn’s 2010 comeback win fits in that category. LSU’s 9-6 win in 2011 set in motion a chain of events that led to a rematch and ultimately the inception of the College Football Playoff. The 2019 game between Alabama and LSU was the Tigers’ major obstacle and while the season-ending injury to Tua Tagovailoa makes projection impossible. The argument can be made, however, that Alabama-LSU was the de facto national championship game. 

There was another memorable game in 2012. That’s the one Texas A&M would love to relive. 

The immediate effect of the Aggies’ 29-24 win in 2012 was obvious: more than any other single game, it lifted Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy. There were other ramifications. While it had less long-term impact on the change from a 2-team playoff to the current 4-team format, the fact that Alabama could survive a home loss in November and still get to the BCS Championship Game with the help of a little chaos (and, to be fair, a memorable SEC Championship Game win over Georgia) did provide some added impetus to the inevitable expansion. 

Oddly, that Aggie victory might have done more for Alabama in the long term than it did for Texas A&M. Manziel wasn’t the only mobile, elusive quarterback that gave Alabama trouble but he was the most memorable one. Near-obituaries appeared in the national media speculating that Nick Saban could never adjust. Of course, Saban adjusted, changing some of his priorities in recruiting, focusing on fast, mobile athletes instead of 350-pound nose tackles. What emerged was a defense that still had occasional issues with ultra-talented quarterbacks (because everyone does) but reduced that vulnerability while simultaneously opening up its own offense. 

Things haven’t worked as well for Texas A&M, which hasn’t beaten Alabama since and has yet to appear in an SEC Championship Game. We know that 2020 is doing strange things, but will it transform Kellen Mond into the sort of quarterback who can forge such an upset?

Coronavirus took a toll on Jimbo Fisher’s plans when the Aggies’ best returning receiver, Jhamon Ausbon, chose to opt out of 2020. That left Mond without a proven deep threat on the outside. Texas A&M was more of a tight end/running back attack in a close opening win over Vanderbilt. It’s hard to foresee a team winning against Alabama that way. No one expects Manziel Magic, but Mond has to hit at least a few big plays if history is going to repeat itself. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt