**Note: This was a print-only story**
The Crimson White spoke to Battalion sports editor James Sullivan in College Station, Texas, to get his opinion on Texas A&M’s roster, the highly anticipated Alabama-Texas A&M rematch and, of course, Johnny Manziel.
Crimson White: Alabama’s offense – particularly its offensive line – struggled in its season opener against Virginia Tech’s defense. Who’s a guy(s) on the A&M defense, who could cause similar problems for Alabama?
James Sullivan: Sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha. As the only returning starter on A&M defensive line, Obioha has slid into a veteran role within the unit and looks to have evolved into a threat off the edge. After defensive end Damontre Moore moved on to the NFL following his junior year last season, Obioha takes over the vacant pass rushing position and will have a majority of the responsibility in terms of attacking opposing quarterbacks.
CW: This game has been circled on just about everyone’s calendars ever since last year’s game ended. What’s the talk been like around campus about this game?
JS: While I can’t speak from experience in terms of what it’s like around campus for a national title game (and I know Alabama fans can), this week certainly has what I imagine is that type of atmosphere. The energy from the student body has been electric and everyone from professors to the College Gameday crew has been awaiting arguably this program’s most decisive game in school history.
CW: Outside of Johnny Manziel, who should we be looking out for on the offensive side of the ball?
JS: Considering the number of weapons A&M has around its offense, excluding Johnny Manziel, I’ll have to name off a few just to cover all the bases. Senior running back Ben Malena has shown consistency out of the backfield, adding a solid rushing attack to Manziel’s already potent offensive style. At the same position, sophomore transfer Brandon Williams brings video game speed that many believe allow this already dangerous offense a home run option.
At wide receiver, sophomore Mike Evans remains Manziel’s favorite target and at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, he easily creates matchup problems for any defensive back. Following a minor knee injury against Rice, true freshman wideout Ricky Seals-Jones played it safe on the bench during the Sam Houston State victory, but his return adds another dynamic option for Manziel to stretch the field with.
CW: Speaking of Manziel, he introduced himself to the country last year in the Aggies’ upset of No. 1 Alabama. Now that the Crimson Tide knows what to expect out of him, do you think he can still match – or better – his “Heisman moment” from a year ago?
JS: It’s not going to be an easy task, especially in round two against the Crimson Tide defense. However, Manziel has shown an unmatched ability to perform at the highest level in the biggest games, and I expect nothing less out of the sophomore on national television against the nation’s top-ranked squad.
Personally, my takeaway from last year’s win is this: there is no way Nick Saban and Alabama had no idea what to expect from Manziel – they just couldn’t stop him. As a nation, we may have been mostly oblivious to the coming storm that was Johnny Football, but knowing Saban and his game preparation practices, shutting down Manziel was a real, actual problem him and Kirby Smart just couldn’t solve – at least, not in the one week they had to prepare. The situation may have changed over the offseason, but Manziel remains just as unpredictable as ever and that’s a code not even Saban can decipher.
CW: Manziel has received plenty of scrutiny for his off-the-field issues and most recently for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Rice. We know what the national media thinks of him, but what about the fans? Are they starting to get annoyed or do they still love Johnny Football as much as ever?
JS: Among the student body, I’d say the latter is most definitely true as many of his actions are much more easily understood – or simply forgivable – to a group, which has had similar experiences in terms of Twitter, partying and even the College Station police.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many alumni, who are more concerned with image, have been slightly less accepting of Manziel’s antics, but with the football season underway and most of the quarterback’s actions under direct watch by the A&M athletic department, I expect a more receptive attitude as the wins – not to mention the national exposure – begin to pile up once again.
CW: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
JS: While I guarantee my prediction is strictly professional, I have to stick with Texas A&M over Alabama by the score of 38-31. Don’t get me wrong, this game will come down the wire, much like it did in Tuscaloosa a year ago, but behind Manziel and a fully-loaded offense the Aggies have all the tools to outscore AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide.
Due to the amount of suspensions the A&M defense has been forced to sustain the past two weeks, the unit has looked particularly weak against Rice and Sam Houston State, but with three veterans returning from last year’s defense in senior linebacker Steven Jenkins, sophomore cornerback De’Vante Harris and junior defensive tackle Gavin Stansbury, and many of the young players becoming fully acclimated to the college football scene, I expect much more resistance to Alabama’s offensive weapons. As for Manziel, I don’t believe even an offseason is enough to comprehend his abilities, not even for Nick Saban.