FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2012, file photo, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) outruns Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard (42) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban doesn't want his defensive backs watching A&M's electric quarterback when he's flushed from the pocket in Saturday's game. Too many things can happen, and most of them bad. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:18AM
Since almost the moment Alabama’s second consecutive national championship season concluded, Sept. 14 has been the next great date on the college football calendar.
We’ve known all along that the 2013 season wouldn’t really get started until Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide got their shot at revenge against Texas A&M, which had the audacity to visit Tuscaloosa last November and leave without bowing at the feet of the Nicktator.
Many of the season’s biggest story lines would be wrapped up in this one matchup.
◆ The Tide dynasty goes for its fourth national titles in five years.
◆ The SEC’s dominion over the rest of college football, as the stronger-than-ever league barrels toward its eighth straight BCS crown and somehow makes every game in every other neck of the woods seem a little less important.
◆ The tug of war between coaches, like the Aggies’ Kevin Sumlin, who want to speed up the game to as hectic a pace as possible, and coaches, like Saban, who want to slow it down so they can see what they’re about to run over.
◆ And, of course, the whole Johnny Manziel thing.
Even before his offseason of semi-scandal, when the only freshman to win a Heisman Trophy became recognized even more for his off-field antics, we knew Manziel would give Texas A&M nearly equal billing with Alabama in this game.
“Two outstanding teams,” Saban said this week. “They obviously had a great year last year and are off to a fantastic start.”
What we couldn’t have seen coming back in January, after the Tide crushed Notre Dame in South Florida, was that, a little more than eight months later, with the champs preparing to storm the field in College Station, Manziel’s name would be alone at the top of the marquee.
This game? It’s not about Alabama’s revenge. It’s not about Saban chasing Bear Bryant. It’s not about fifth-year senior quarterback AJ McCarron, his fistful of rings and his celebrity girlfriend. It’s not about the meteoric rise of the Texas A&M program.
It’s not even about Manziel’s attempt to slay the Alabama dragon twice in a row, which, by the way, would launch him straight to the top of another Heisman race.
No, it’s simply about Manziel himself. About Johnny being Johnny.
About — are you ready for this? — “Johnny Cam.”
Manziel the quarterback, the social-media fiend, the partier, the Manning shirker, the autograph signer, the on-field taunter and trash talker has blown up so big, CBS will have a camera focused solely on him for all 60 minutes of Saturday’s game.
We haven’t officially heard how Manziel feels about all this because everyone surrounding the player, from his family to lawyers to Sumlin, have been desperately trying to muzzle him.
Trust us on this: No one is more excited about the Johnny Cam more than Johnny Look-At-Me.
“Everything that we do here at Texas A&M is about team and about building our team, building our program and not the individual,” Sumlin said. “Saturday afternoon, you’re going to have two football teams, and I just don’t understand why there’s got to be one guy singled out with a camera. That’s not what we try to be about. It’s not what we promote.”
It’s what Manziel has been about since almost the moment his own team’s 2012 season ended. No one has bought into the Johnny Football persona more than Johnny Football himself.
At long last, the Game of the Year is upon us. And the game itself is a sideshow.