David J. Phillip, Associated Press
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Everything went right for No. 6 Texas A&M in last year's upset of top-ranked Alabama that helped launch Johnny Manziel's run to the Heisman Trophy.
As the Aggies prepare for the rematch, they insist it's just another game, saying it so much it almost seems as if they are trying to convince themselves.
But no matter how much they repeat the sentiment that's being fed to them by coach Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the staff, everyone knows that it isn't just another game. It's arguably the biggest game in the program's history.
As much as Sumlin tries to downplay the hype surrounding this week, even those in his family aren't buying that it's business as usual. He said his 9- and 11-year-old sons watch television and see all the satellite trucks parked near the stadium.
"They recognize how big things are," he said with a laugh.
Things have changed drastically for the Aggies since last year's meeting with the two-time defending national champion. The biggest difference is the focus on their captivating Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Interest in Manziel has reached such a fever pitch that CBS will have a camera focused solely on him for the entirety of Saturday's game, which they've dubbed the "Johnny Cam."
Sumlin understands the extra attention paid to Manziel. But he certainly doesn't like it.
"Everything that we do here at Texas A&M is about team and it's 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, that's not what we promote."
Manziel spoke after Saturday's win over Sam Houston State for the first time since SEC media day. Many expected him to talk about Alabama on Tuesday, but he was not made available. The reason, according to Sumlin, was out of his hands.
"He and his family and his advisors and lawyers have advised him not to talk and I'll respect his wishes on that," Sumlin said.
Manziel threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 92 more to help A&M to last year's 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa. Manziel was known as an intriguing dual-threat quarterback and dynamic playmaker before that game. But his performance in the win catapulted him to another level, and helped him become the first freshman to win the Heisman.
Running back Ben Malena marveled at how the perception of Manziel changed after that game, and he's eager to face Alabama again.
"Last year the Alabama game was a stage for the whole world to see what kind of player he is," Malena said. "He deserved it along with this team, to be put on a stage to show what we can do and what he can do. I think this Saturday is another similar stage and the world is going to see how much better and how much more he has progressed along with the whole team."
Manziel started on Saturday after sitting out the first half of Texas A&M's opener serving a suspension for what the school called an "inadvertent" violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
Malena believes the offense made strides in the first two weeks, but has to take its play to another level this week.
"We corrected some of the mistakes from Week 1 to Week 2, but we're going to need to correct some more stuff because we know they will be ready," he said.
Texas A&M's defense gave up several big plays in last week's 65-28 win over Sam Houston State while playing without several suspended starters. The unit will be back to full strength this week and the Aggies think that will allow them to get away from the "vanilla" defense they played the first two weeks.
Saturday will be the first full game for cornerback Deshazor Everett, who sat out the first half of Texas A&M's opener serving a suspension for violating team rules, before drawing his targeting penalty and another suspension in the second half against Rice.
He's a junior who started all but one game for Texas A&M last season and intercepted A.J. McCarron's pass near the end zone in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory over the Crimson Tide.
He knows that many think that victory was a fluke, but that doesn't concern him one bit.
"We go into the game thinking we can beat anybody and that's how we're going to approach this game," he said. "When we're the underdogs, we just go in there with a fight mentality and play harder as the underdogs."