"For us, this wasn't the end of our season. This wasn't the Super Bowl. This wasn't the last game of the season. Alabama lost a game last year and still went on to win the national championship, they lost to LSU the year before and still went on to go to the national championship. Our season isn't over, anything can happen. This is college football." --Johnny Manziel, post game press conference Saturday night
I heard Johnny Manziel say these words after the game on Saturday afternoon, a highly entertaining 49-42 Alabama win, and my gut reaction was skepticism.
After a game where the Aggies' opponent (albeit the number one team in the country) spent the entire second and third quarters carving up the A&M defense and eventually ending up with 568 yards, and outscoring them 42-7 during the decisive minutes?
After a game in which the entire A&M community invested unconditional emotion for the last nine months? I mean, when your program hasn't been on a stage like this maybe ever, and it's over and it ends like it did on Saturday, where do you go from here? How do you pick up the pieces?
Hearing Johnny Manziel's postgame words, I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to think that we would look back at the Aggies' jumping out to a 14-0 lead on Alabama as the "this is as good as we will ever look" moment for this quarterback/head coach combination.
But the fact of the matter is that there is enough magic in the legs and arms of the redshirt sophomore from Kerrville to think that anything can still happen.
Johnny Manziel's right. This is college football.
Before we get into the specific dynamics of this A&M team, consider the ebb and flow of the schedule the rest of the way. A&M may not completely control its own destiny, but the momentum of what will occur in front of them along with the opportunities on their own plate make it a decent mathematical likelihood that an 11-1 Aggie squad could somehow find its way to the BCS National Title game.
#4 Clemson and #8 Florida State play each other in October. #2 Oregon and #5 Stanford play each other in November. #1 Alabama and #7 LSU play each other in November, as well. A&M themselves play #7 LSU on November 23. An 11-1 A&M team would almost assuredly leap frog an undefeated Louisville. Texas A&M will likely be favored in every game the rest of the way except the trip to Baton Rouge.
In short, because they lost early in the season and lost close to the number one team in the country, the math still works for Texas A&M in the rankings and on the schedule. Unfortunately, there's that small issue of the math in the defensive portion of the NCAA statistics page.
With the Aggie defense as inconsistent and unreliable as it is right now, it's a virtual certainty Kevin Sumlin's squad will find themselves in a couple "whoever has the ball last" shootouts against one or two (or more) of these underdogs, which is a dangerous way to live as a favorite.
(For the record, I'd pencil in back to back weeks in mid-October as the likeliest shootout candidates with a trip to suddenly-for-real Ole Miss and a visit from suddenly-rejuvenated-by-Gus Malzahn Auburn in back to back weeks.)
Conventional wisdom (and the 114th ranked defense in the country) says ultimately this is probably a three loss Texas A&M, when it's all said and done.
Fortunately, for Texas A&M, there is nothing conventional about their quarterback.
Manziel spent the better part of Saturday afternoon running through and throwing over Alabama's defense like they were a bigger, stronger, faster version of Louisiana Tech. 464 yards passing, 98 yards rushing, and about a half dozen plays that will live on for ages in the minds of Aggie fans and through the magic of YouTube.
Did he need some help? Perhaps. Like any comeback, some combination of luck and/or assistance from your opponent is needed along the way. For all of the talk about Manziel putting A&M in position to pull off the upset, the fact is this game was a couple plays away from being a blowout.
Consider the following:
* With Alabama poised to take a four touchdown lead, up 42-21 with the ball near midfield, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier decided to call two pass plays in a row after bulldozing the A&M defense on their previous ten rushing plays for 80 yards. An incomplete pass on 3rd and 4 gave the ball back to A&M with a glimmer of hope.
* Given another shot, ahead 42-28 at this point, Alabama drove the ball inside the A&M five yard line where, poised to go up 49-28, Tide running back T.J. Yeldon fumbled the ball, opening the door for Manziel's memorable 95 yard strike to Mike Evans (who caught seven passes for 279 yards and made about $10 million on Saturday), and unleashing the loudest cacophony of whoops, gigs, hoots, and chants this side of...well, honestly, College Station is the only place that does all that.
Eventually, the sand ran out of the hourglass and Alabama, the better team everywhere on the field except quarterback and number one wide receiver, escaped with the win.
But the story afterward was still Johnny Manziel.
In a game where everyone was waiting for Alabama to chase the "on the field" version of Johnny Football into the obscure college football purgatory where the "off the field" version seems to have sequestered himself, Manziel served up a reminder that the "season's worth of film" that teams now have on him is about as useful as the pictures of Johnny autographing memorabilia that ESPN's Darren Rovell "coincidentally" decided to tweet out the day before the game.
The fifteen games worth of film on Manziel, like those pictures, are irrelevant.
There are no correct answers to the "Stopping Johnny Football" test. The genius himself was handed this Wonderlic on Saturday, and Nick Saban scored a six.
The underlying theme of the last nine months of the Johnny Manziel saga, in particular the last couple months when his adventures crossed over from juvenile kid's games to possible program effecting violations, has been "Enjoy him while you can, Aggie fans."
It doesn't take a draft analyst, an NFL general manager, or the most astute psychologist to figure out that Johnny Manziel, while he might be long for the college lifestyle, is not long for college.
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So while Sunday morning may have felt like December 26 to many of you in Aggieland, the crash landing where you wonder if anything will be as good as the build to last Saturday, especially when God only knows the next time the circus will come to town like it did this past weekend, my advice is to enjoy the rest of this season.
The Amazing Manziel's biggest test is yet to come, because for his next trick he will somehow try to drag that defense along to an 11-1 record. I don't know if there's enough magic in ten Johnny Manziels to do it, but goddamn it'll be fun to watch.
Save any December 26 style depression for January when the real party is over.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.