Why a Win for Texas A&M Football This Weekend Dethrones Bama
Really, a win for Texas A&M football in the matchup against Alabama this weekend would be a culmination of a process that has been in motion for quite some time. And yes, I know that some version of this article has been written several times over the past few years or so. Some think that the dynasty is already over—that Kirby winning two titles shows that old man Saban is done for. There’s an element of truth there. This wouldn’t so much be a stunning left hook from the underdog that comes out of nowhere to defeat the heavyweight favorite as much as it would be one final blow to a former champ past his prime.
But this would be the decisive blow. This would be the knife that hurts the most. More than Georgia. More than the upset earlier this year. Let’s discuss why.
“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”
We know that Saban wants to keep Fisher and Texas A&M football down. That much has been clear since Jimbo arrived in College Station.
We know that Saban wants to keep Fisher and Texas A&M football down. That much has been clear since Jimbo arrived in College Station. The reasons for this, perceivably, are several: first, they’re in Bama’s division. Now, make no mistake—there are certainly other well-equipped and threatening programs in the West, LSU chief among them. But when it comes to the Bayou Bengals, there’s only so far they can fall: they have a recruiting monopoly (usually) over a talent-rich state, after all. But the organization there is lacking. They aren’t built to be championship-level for the long term. Les Miles was good, but only rarely great. Coach O had one elite season and then plummeted. Brian Kelly looks like he’s going from fine to… very much not fine, with recruiting starting to tail off. To the eye of an outside observer, LSU is invincible when at their best, but they so often underachieve that mark or downright self-destruct that you just kind of live with it. You can’t stop them if they get rolling, but they get in their own way more often than not.
A similar phenomenon is evident at Texas. The Longhorns are so organizationally dysfunctional that they cannot but challenge for greatness more than once in a blue moon. There are far too many cooks in the kitchen there to use the available resources to their maximum effect. So you let them have their small victories here and there, but, as more than a decade now has proven, you assume the worst until they prove otherwise. They’re a program without sustained success outside of a few coaches in their history; coaches to whose quality their current head man does not rise.
The Aggies are a different beast. They have remarkable institutional alignment when it comes to everything football-related. They have the ability to recruit at a championship level, and a coach who does exactly that. The facilities and home-field advantage are unrivaled in the conference. It used to be Alabama who had a monopoly on the best defensive linemen in the land year in and year out; now, it is Texas A&M football who lands them left and right.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all, though, is the man who leads Texas A&M football. The history between Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban is well-known at this point: Fisher helped bring Saban his first-ever title, and was the first assistant Nick ever had who rivaled his own recruiting acumen and undying perseverance on the trail. Kirby Smart later occupied a similar place for Nick, but being a defensive coordinator rather than offensive, Saban understood him. He felt a particular ownership over the things that Smart was doing; they coordinated the defense together. Thus, once Smart went off on his own, it is only natural that Saban saw him as a miniature version of himself, in a way; he felt responsible for his success.
Jimbo, however, is a different story. The two clashed often at LSU; only natural for an offensive coordinator and a stubborn defensive-minded head coach. Fisher left to go coach under another legend in Bobby Bowden, one completely removed from Saban’s tree and sphere of influence. There, according to Jimbo himself, were his more formative years as a coach. It was there he took the reins and came into his own, building an SEC-championship-level powerhouse down in the ACC years before Clemson began to reach their potential.
The story of why Jimbo was ready to leave FSU for the Texas A&M football job as opposed to Texas or LSU (which, of course, itself speaks to the quality/potential of the one over that of the field, as much as fans of those other schools would like you to forget that fact) has been told already, and better than I can do here. In any case, when Jimbo arrived in College Station, it immediately got Saban’s attention. The phrase “sleeping giant” was thrown around often in regard to Texas A&M football, and such usage reached a fever pitch around this time. Was Jimbo the one who could awaken this slumbering power?
Saban feared that. He still does. He took every chance he had to try and run up the score against the Aggies when they would face off. Kellen Mond-led Aggie teams were not much of a match for Tide squads led by the likes of Tua and Mac Jones, of course, and though Jimbo’s teams were able to punch above their weight when the two programs played, each of the first three meetings went to the Tide.
But then came 2021.
This game still featured a much more talented Crimson Tide team, led this time by a quarterback perhaps even more skilled than either of the two first-rounders who preceded him. The Aggies, on the other hand, were in the middle of a season that seemed to have gone completely awry. Following a top-6 preseason ranking, an injury to starting QB Haynes King forced former three-star Zach Calzada to take the reins. His play was uneven and had led to two straight conference losses to begin the SEC slate for Texas A&M football. This honestly seemed like the biggest mismatch yet between the two.
Not only had Jimbo fulfilled his promise, made earlier the previous year, to beat him on the field, but he had parlayed that into a decisive victory in what had up until that point been entirely Saban’s domain.
There are a lot of things about that game that were completely improbable. But the profoundly shocking result set in motion a chain of events that have shaped each program since then. For starters, this and the following few weeks of home wins cemented what would become the top recruiting class of all time—seven of the record-breaking eight five stars to sign with Texas A&M football in 2022 committed after the Alabama win had taken place. Not only had Jimbo fulfilled his promise, made earlier the previous year, to beat him on the field, but he had parlayed that into a decisive victory in what had up until that point been entirely Saban’s domain. This, in turn, so needled Saban that the Alabama coach felt he had to do something.
“Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things…”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”
So, the coach of the Tide hitched his wagon to a narrative. That Texas A&M football had paid for their class. That it was the unparalleled commitment to NIL that had been the deciding factor in these recruitments—not that the Aggies were building something, and had just given those outside the program a proof of concept that they could believe in. Saban pushed this narrative behind the scenes; to his chagrin, he was caught on camera saying as much. In response, Jimbo called a press conference, and, as I put it in my offseason preview, “all but cut a wrestling promo.”
Saban walked back his comments after this. This was probably the prudent PR move, but the fact is that this whole thing was monumental. Think of the years that LSU was a top competitor for the Tide—even when the Tigers beat them. Even then, they never outstripped Bama when it comes to recruiting. Georgia, conversely, had once taken the recruiting crown, but more often had their own hearts ripped out when they met Alabama on the field. Even when they got their first and (thus far) only victory over Saban of the Kirby Smart era, the Tide had already shown two games previously how that matchup went when their receiving corps was fully healthy. Texas A&M football took down the Tide and immediately parlayed that into recruiting success. Saban could not abide this, and he got caught out and called out.
Something I heard often around that time is that when Saban says things like this, it’s a “warning” to college football. People like to reference his comments about the hurry-up offense that occurred right before he took the Tide uptempo and started rattling off historic offense after historic offense. This was not like that. This was not a calculated move. It was a misstep, and it became obvious that it was a misstep—hence him walking back the comments. But the impact had already been made; the matchup that was to come would be tremendously consequential.
But again, things happened to the Aggies. More specifically, poor offseason coaching decisions offensively led to an ugly loss to Appalachian State in week 2. It was time to reevaluate things in College Station. The Aggies limped into Tuscaloosa bearing a 3-2 record to face off against the 5-0 Tide, and even without Bryce Young ready to go, Alabama was about a 24.5 point favorite. But a funny thing happened: the ragtag group that the Aggies rolled out offensively managed to keep things close—and not just close, but they came two yards from actually felling the Tide for a second straight year.
Of course, that’s not how things happened. Alabama won. Their Barstool affiliate tried to make some money off of the win with merch that referenced the offseason controversy, and it doubtless went over like a lead balloon. The Tide were expecting a dominating win that took out all the frustration of the events of the past year; instead, they barely eked out a victory over a team that ended up not even making a bowl. The very next game, the Tide lost to Tennessee. They would lose at LSU later that year.
The Aggies lost their fair share, too. It wasn’t until the final game against that LSU Tigers team that they really got their mojo and momentum back. All the freshmen began to grow up and show their quality against the team that had clinched the West.
That brings us to the 2023 season, and to this matchup between two teams that are in very different places than each were two years ago. The Aggies were barely holding things together while the Tide were ready to ascend the mountain and crown another champion behind the best QB play that Saban had yet had. When they came into College Station that day, they had not trailed at the end of a quarter for 59 straight quarters. This year, they have already suffered one loss—at home, no less—and spent the lion’s share of a game down in Tampa tied with the University of South Florida. They mustered only 24 points at home against an Ole Miss defense that gave up 49 to LSU in Oxford. They are mortal.
Texas A&M football, though, is surging. All those young five stars are just now beginning to round into form, and the result has been scary for opposing teams. Their defensive front is downright ferocious, and they are ready to feast on the susceptible offensive line for the Tide. Resultantly, Alabama is the smallest favorite they’ve ever been at College Station, and the line has been moving in a maroon direction.
On October 9, 2021, the legend of Alabama was alive and well. The myth and mystique preceded them. But then they faced the Aggies, and they began to come undone.
This is what I mean when I say this game is the culmination of what started two years ago. On October 9, 2021, the legend of Alabama was alive and well. The myth and mystique preceded them. But then they faced the Aggies, and they began to come undone. For the first time, a former Saban assistant defeated the Tide’s head coach—and it has happened twice more since. For the first time since his first season at the helm of Alabama, Saban lost to an unranked opponent, breaking what was by far the longest streak in the nation. The Aggies scored a wound that day that the Tide qua dynasty have still not recovered from. Other programs have lined up and taken their pound of flesh since that day; both Georgia and Tennessee notched their first-ever victories against Saban’s Alabama in the time that has passed. But now it is left to the Aggies to finish the job.
And so the dynasty, wobbling and wearied as it is, comes to Kyle Field to die. Their future has been written; it is only a matter of time that separates them from their sure fate. Nothing beside remains. The axe has been laid at the root. All things must come to an end, and the Tide’s dynasty meets theirs tomorrow; not in grim silence or to sorrowful tones, but before the raucous yells of many thousands who have come to see destiny fulfilled.
Is this the most needlessly dramatic I have ever been? Yes. But it is fitting for a funeral.