The concept of defense winning championships feels a bit archaic.
As rule changes have allowed offenses to become more and more explosive, the point-scoring side of the ball has become just as important as the point-preventing one.
But in the case of Texas A&M, the old adage holds true. Defense is the key to its championship aspirations—both SEC and national (however fleeting)—and despite the heroics of Johnny Manziel, only defense will get it to a BCS bowl.
That became painfully clear against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, in a game the Aggies had been preparing for since the spring. Johnny Football's 562 total yards were the second most in SEC history. Mike Evans hauled in seven catches for 279 yards. The team scored 42 points at home.
But in a microcosm for what the rest of its season might (and probably will) look like, A&M's defense prevented it from realizing its goal.
It's hard for a power-conference team (excluding the AAC) to make a BCS bowl as a fluke. League play poses too tough a test for an outlier defense to succeed.
Here's a look at the BCS teams from the five big conferences last season, with an emphasis on how their defenses ranked in Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings:
|Team||Bowl||Defensive F/+ Rank|
|Alabama||BCS National Championship||1|
|Notre Dame||BCS National Championship||13|
|Kansas State||Fiesta Bowl||16|
|Florida State||Orange Bowl||31|
Only Florida State—which played in the ACC, which had a down year—was able to make a BCS bowl without a top-20 defense, and the Seminoles weren't exactly slouches on that side of the ball. Placing 31st in the country is more than Texas A&M, in present form, could ever hope to achieve.
Here are the Aggies' baseline defensive stats through three weeks:
Points Per Game: 36.0
Yards Per Game: 489.0
Yards Per Play: 6.92
Bear in mind that of that sample, only one game came against a quality opponent, Alabama. Rice and Sam Houston State are both (fairly) capable scrubs, but they're scrubs nonetheless. If A&M can't stop them, it has a massive problem on its hands.
There have been some suspensions, so maybe those numbers are a little bit skewed. But a close-to-full-strength unit didn't look that way against the Tide. An adrenaline rush helped the defense force three-and-outs at the start of both halves. But outside of those instances, Alabama scored six touchdowns on eight possessions.
If not for a T.J. Yeldon goal-line fumble, that easily could have been seven.
Kyle Field provides one of the most dramatic home-turf advantages in football. The Aggies were prepared to leave their hearts on the field and had a raucous venue at their back. Yet Kenny Bell—a guy who retired, for one day, a couple of weeks ago—was still able to glide through the secondary, untouched, for a lead-changing score.
Manziel might be an actual wizard. He proved as much with the "Play of the Year" on Saturday, and generally does so with most of his amazing feats. His shoulders may be slight, but through sheer determination of will, he is able to put a decent team on his back.
Will Texas A&M Make a BCS Bowl in 2013?
But the defense he's trying to carry doesn't look decent. It looks genuinely bad. The burden of carrying that unit will be too much for Johnny Football to bear. Eventually the weight will force his knees to buckle and the load will collapse.
Manziel will continue throwing his body around in service of his team until he is physically incapable of doing so. He cares about winning that much, and he knows that he's good enough to will his team to a victory here and there.
But in the grander scheme of the season, Manziel's skill and spirit might be for naught. Only a BCS bowl will make this season feel like a success, but the Aggies do not have a BCS defense.
Even a legend can only do so much.