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September 16, 2013

'Bama-A&M face-off may come down to mental game

This is how big Saturday’s showdown between Alabama and Texas A&M is shaping up: Students backing the Crimson Tide are headed to New Orleans to watch the big game.

Nope, that’s not a mistake. Sure the game is in College Station – everybody knows that – but if you can’t get a ticket at Kyle Field, you gotta go somewhere exciting for the action, so The Big Easy seems like the second best place to be.

So bring it on. The Aggies might rule with the 12th Man, but the Tide will stand tall in the land where Bear Bryant – who would have turned 100 years old this week -- also coached.

The Alabama-A&M showdown is much more than a repeat face-off of two Southeastern Conference powers that went a combined 24-3 last year.  It’s more than a game between the country’s No. 1 and No. 6 ranked teams. It’s more than Alabama’s dogged defense versus A&M’s dominating offense.

Storylines are numerous. There’s Alabama’s ultimate challenge of staying focused and being disciplined and A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s ability to manage a game and not succumb to fighting the unrelenting distractions. So in a sport where brute strength and physical combativeness are critical, whoever wins the mental struggle is more likely to win.

It’s hard to say who that favors. Last year A&M rolled into Bryant-Denny Stadium and shocked the Tide, 29-24, because Alabama let Manziel get loose, allowing the defense to make mistakes. Coach Nick Saban and his staff have worked overtime – boosted by an extra week of preparation – to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

His plan is simple. “Everybody has to take care of business,” Saban said at his news conference this week. “We have to be our team, playing our game, taking care of our business. Everybody has to do their job.”

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