Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper insists this Texas A&M game is not about revenge.
Nick Saban said it's important to keep the approach businesslike and that the football field is no place for trash talk. Quarterback AJ McCarron believes his friendship with Texas A&M counterpart Johnny Manziel is overblown.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 6 Aggies are finally getting together again Saturday night — this time in College Station. Alabama opened game week trying to shoot down many of the story lines, but stopping Manziel would be easier than deflating this hype.
"Yeah, it's the only game we lost last year," Cooper said on Monday. "To me, it's not a revenge thing because if we wanted to get revenge, we'd have to play that same team last year with the same team we had last year.
"It's really not a revenge thing. If you lose a fight with someone, you don't get revenge from fighting someone else."
Then again, Manziel was the big puncher last season in a game that might have put a reserve on the Heisman Trophy. Sure, the Tide got back up from the 29-24 knockdown and won a second straight national title.
It still seems like a game ripe for overwrought emotions and perhaps some heated smack talk. Saban says not from the Tide.
"It's never a part of our game," he said. "We tell our players, there's no circumstance where you need to talk to another player, and there's been very little of that with our team. Business-like is the way we'd like to approach this game. It's going to be emotional, don't get me wrong. And I'm not trying to minimize the importance when I use the term 'businesslike.'
"People who get emotional sometimes don't make the best decisions."
Saban's strategy has worked so far in grudge matches. Rather, friendly rematches.
His Alabama and LSU teams are 15-2 in avenging losses the following season or later in the same season.
At Alabama, the seven wins in eight tries came by an average score of 33-12 and the lone loss was 9-6 in overtime to LSU. That preceded a 21-0 win in Round 2 for the national title.
The Tide is in very different circumstances this time. Alabama got an off-week after an opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech, when the offense sputtered to 206 yards and a line with three new starters fielded some criticism. Last season, the Tide was coming off a down-to-the-wire win over LSU and fell behind 20-0 after the first quarter.
Saban said that's not an acceptable excuse for the poor start.
"You can't be up or down. People talk about emotion all the time, that creates that," he said. "That was an emotional win for us LSU, but that cannot be an excuse not to be ready to play the next one. It can't be acceptable, especially not in our league."
McCarron, the Tide's quarterback, maintains "it's just another week" except for the fact that Alabama lost the last meeting.
"That's last year," he said. "Turn the page. I don't really focus on what happened last year no matter if we won or we lost. I'm worried about this year and what we need to do to win this year."
As for his friendship with Manziel, he doesn't think that's a big deal.
The two were roommates at the Manning Passing Academy, where Manziel left early and blamed missing activities on oversleeping. McCarron said the two last spoke around SEC media days in July, but wouldn't say if they had exchanged texts since then. Manziel was suspended for a half against Rice for what Texas A&M called "inadvertent" violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
"We're just friends, guys," McCarron said. "Y'all make this thing a lot bigger than it needs to be."
Unlike Manziel, his off-the-field headlines came from his relationship with model and reality TV star Katherine Webb.
McCarron said his philosophy is "just be myself" but said some of the stuff his Texas A&M counterpart gets knocked for is just Johnny being Johnny.
"I've never been one to be in the spotlight," he told reporters. "Everybody lives their lifestyle different. People criticize him for being himself. Everybody's got their opinion on something. That's what y'all get paid for, opinions."