Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope (25) reacts after making a critical first down catch in the fourth quarter of a 29-24 win over top ranked Alabama during an NCAA college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As of Sunday, November 11, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Johnny Football and Southeastern Conference newbies Texas A&M took down the biggest bully in their new neighborhood and left No. 1 Alabama with badly bruised national championship hopes. Johnny Manziel staked the 15th-ranked Aggies to a three-TD lead in the first quarter, and A&M held on to beat the Crimson Tide on Saturday.
The Aggies (8-2, 5-2), playing in the SEC for the first season after ditching the Big 12, also might have ended the league's run of BCS titles at six years.
The defending national champion Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1), who have been No. 1 almost all season, didn't go quietly.
AJ McCarron nearly pulled off a second straight scintillating comeback. He threw one touchdown pass and motored the ball downfield before Deshazor Everett stepped in front of his fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:36 left.
Manziel passed for 253 yards and rushed for 92 and led the Aggies to a 20-0 first quarter lead.
"No moment is too big for him," coach Kevin Sumlin said of his remarkable redshirt freshman.
The Aggies had been 1-10 against top-ranked teams with the only previous win coming 30-26 over Oklahoma in 2002, but Manziel and Sumlin have entered the SEC with speed and swagger - and fit right in.
Alabama managed a second-shot national title after losing to LSU just over a year ago in the regular season but seems a longshot to do it again. Alabama would have secured a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory and only Western Carolina and Auburn remaining.
"Two of the three national championship teams that I coached lost a game," Tide coach Nick Saban said, counting one at LSU. "This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There's still a lot for this team to play for."
Now, the Tide will have to beat the Tigers to clinch the West and get into the SEC title game. As for the national title, Alabama will have to hope for another shakeup in the form of losses by Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. If the Tide wins out, and two of those teams go down, a third national championship in four seasons is still in play - along with a seventh straight for the SEC.
For now though, the SEC is on the outside looking in at the BCS title race.
Alabama kept coming back, but never caught up with Manziel and Texas A&M.
The nation's top scoring defense, forced a punt with less than a minute left, but A&M never had to kick it away. The Tide was penalized for offisides, giving Texas A&M a first down and a chance to kneel out the clock.
McCarron breathed life into Alabama with a 54-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to freshman Amari Cooper to make it 29-24 with 4:29 left.
A quick three-and-out by the Aggies put the ball in McCarron's hands again. He opened at the 40 with a 54-yarder to speedster Kenny Bell down to the 6. Two scrambles and an Eddy Lacy run left one final shot from the 2 against a Texas A&M defense often overshadowed by its potent offense.
He had some time on third down, rolling left but finding Lacy well covered and having to try running it, a la Manziel, before Dustin Harris stopped him at the 2.
McCarron had rescued the Tide's national title hopes with a 28-yard screen pass in the final minute for a 21-17 win over No. 9 LSU. The Aggies, nearly two-touchdown underdogs, didn't let him do it again. Everett made the play on a pass toward the front corner of the end zone.
McCarron completed 21 of 34 passes for 309 yard but also was intercepted twice, ending his streak without getting picked off at 291 passes.
Eddie Lacy had 16 carries for 92 yards for Alabama and added 35 yards on four catches. Cooper had six catches for 136 yards a week after missing much the second half of the LSU game with an ankle injury, and failing to make a reception.
The Aggies had already lost to top-10 teams LSU and Florida by a combined eight points, proving they're already challengers in the powerhouse SEC.