Alabama comes to town Saturday ranked No. 1 for the third time, tying it with Texas for the most appearances by an opponent at Kyle Field as the nation’s best.
Texas did it in 48 games, spanning almost 120 years. Alabama did it in less than a decade.
The Crimson Tide is the college football gold standard by which programs are measured. Look around the Southeastern Conference — everybody is trying to catch it. Georgia, LSU and Florida feel good about the progress they’ve made, but until one of them topples Alabama, they are just the best of the wannabes.
By winning two of the last three national titles, Clemson certainly has put itself even, if not ahead, of Alabama heading into this season. But when the second-ranked Tigers had to stop a two-point conversion to beat North Carolina, they allowed Alabama to take over the top spot.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said rankings only matter when the season’s over and grabbing the No. 1 spot anytime is transitory.
“[It can] slip away very, very quickly, as it did this last week,” Saban said. “It wasn’t even because [Clemson] didn’t win. It must have been someone’s perception of how they played, so it’s not even about winning. It’s about how you play.”
Come January, however, it’s all about winning. Alabama has done that under Saban for 12 seasons. Clemson had a hiccup, and because Alabama is still Alabama, the media and coaches who voted collectively seemed to be saying the Crimson Tide is still the team to beat.
When the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, they thought they weren’t that far behind Alabama with a 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, followed by an entertaining 49-42 loss at Kyle Field the next season. But since then A&M has measured up pretty much like everybody else. One game has been within 18 points, and that was more about what Alabama didn’t do rather than what A&M did.
Alabama is a 17-point favorite Saturday. A good showing by A&M would be a moral victory, and an upset could be a potential program-changer.
“That’s the challenge. That’s the things you look forward to,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That’s why you came in this league. That’s why we come to A&M. You get to play in these games. That’s one of the great things about being in the SEC. You have these great teams coming in each and every week.”
Alabama makes the SEC the nation’s best conference. If Alabama moved to the Big 12, Big Ten or Atlantic Coast conference, the Crimson Tide’s new home instantly would become the best league because of its presence.
Saturday’s game will be the 25th for A&M against a ranked opponent in league play since joining the SEC. With third-ranked Georgia and fifth-ranked LSU looming at the end of the regular season, the Aggies are assured of playing at least three ranked SEC foes for the eighth straight year.
Somewhat surprisingly over its last eight seasons in the Big 12, A&M also played 27 ranked teams in conference play. But there’s one big difference: Alabama. Saturday will mark the sixth time Alabama will be No. 1 when it plays A&M. A&M did not play a conference team ranked No. 1 in its last eight years in the Big 12.
The SEC means more because of Alabama, and when A&M beats Alabama again, the Aggies’ move to the SEC will mean more. If they don’t get it done Saturday, they’ll have another chance next year and the following year and so on.
Alabama’s not going anywhere.