The sporting nation’s eyes may be focused on this weekend’s Baton Rouge battle between Alabama and LSU, but ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit is looking one week down the road. In his view, Bama’s greatest challenge will come next Saturday, not this Saturday:
“A&M has been a major beneficiary of being in that state of Texas where high school football is king and having a difference maker on that sweater when they walk into Houston or Dallas or Austin or wherever they are. The fact that they are in the SEC and they can recruit those kind of players I’m telling you it’s a dangerous combination of what they can do in the future…
I’ll say it right now, I think A&M is more of a threat to Alabama than LSU is. You heard it. I think A&M is more of a threat next week to Alabama than LSU is. Even though it’s Tuscaloosa and the reason I say that is because of Johnny Manziel and the style of offense they run…
LSU is going to line up in the i-formation and average 0.3 yards per carry against Alabama. The only chance you have against Alabama size is to spread them from sideline to sideline and try to make plays in coverage against them. If things break down and you an athletic mobile quarterback that gives you a fighting chance.
A&M can hold up defensively and can give you some problems with their offense. I think A&M beats Mississippi State and sets up a big showdown in Tuscaloosa that not a lot of people are thinking about nationally. A&M could give Alabama their biggest test they will face all year before the SEC Championship in Atlanta.”
Herbstreit made his declaration on KESN-FM in Dallas. As for the first part of his statement, we agree wholeheartedly. We’ve repeatedly said that A&M is a goldmine in waiting. It’s LSU pre-Nick Saban. Once the right coach arrives — and that coach might have already arrived in the person of Kevin Sumlin — Aggie football could really take off with that new SEC brand to sell to recruits.
As for Herbstreit’s second point — that A&M will present a tougher challenge for Alabama than LSU — well, that one’s a bit more iffy. Whether LSU lines up in the I-formation or not, its defense is strong and steady. LSU should hang with Bama for four quarters and at that point the magic of a Saturday night game in Death Valley might kick in for the Tigers. They have won 22 in a row at home after all.
But the analyst is right about the Johnny Manziel factor. Remember that in last year’s Tide-Tigers game it was Jordan Jefferson who came in, ran some option, and helped lead LSU to it’s 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa. Against A&M in a week, Bama will also be coming off of its most emotional, most physical game of the year. There’s a chance they could let down or be beaten up when the Aggies roll into Bryant-Denny Stadium.
So, yes, it’s possible that A&M could be the team to spring an upset of Alabama rather than LSU. On paper, however, a road trip to Tiger Stadium still looks tougher than a home game against what’s been — on many occasions — a one-man team. If Manziel sprains an ankle early against Bama, then what?
All that said, you should get ready for the conspiracy theories. It’s inevitable that someone will say/write that ESPN’s Herbstreit is talking down this week’s Alabama-LSU game because it’s a CBS Saturday night affair that will be opposite whatever ABC/ESPN game the affable analyst will be working.