CFB Crystal Ball: Notre Dame @ Texas A&M - Week 1

Jimbo lurks in fiscal desperation, sabotaging the Midnight Yell. Riley Leonard's ankle re-shatters. Jac Collinsworth incinerates while Chris Fowler explodes on a sleep-deprived Herbie. Marcus Freeman is forced-stoic after a narrow win. We may as well have just played the Ireland Week 0 game.

CFB Crystal Ball: Notre Dame @ Texas A&M - Week 1

This is Part 1 of Robn's CFB Crystal Ball Preview Series, which predicts what will transpire during some of the 2024 season's most compelling matchups. Everything in this prediction will assuredly come true. Just wait. We are really good at this.

Date: August 31, 2024

What We Imagine The Broadcast To Be: 7:30pm ET on ABC

Location: Kyle Field – College Station, Texas

Actual Lookahead Line as of June 1: Texas A&M PK at Caesars; Texas A&M -1 at DraftKings; Texas A&M -1.5 at FanDuel

Let's set the stage.

Two schools that have absolutely nothing to do with one another are kicking off the season on NBC. A top 10 team is playing a school that has a team. A new head coach is coaching against his former quarterback. What a "get" for the Peacock network to jumpstart its 2024 college football coverage, and so early. That Young Collinsworth fellow is very excited to be speaking from a position of pure merit on national TV in that by-now Household Footballdrawl, that voice that sounds like they microwaved his dad for 10 seconds.

He's welcoming viewers to the start of the year, maintaining that placid demeanor in the 6,000-degree College Station heat – his hair broiled and thrust due west all at once, the officious, aquiline nose coronating him as the Adrian Brody of American sportscasting – while his suit nonetheless incinerates, live, on his person. Wait... NBC doesn't have this game? It's on ABC? Notre Dame-Texas A&M is on ABC in August? Just doesn't feel right. Feels like Bjork and Swarbrick did it on a dare. Christ, we can't even get to kickoff in Week 1 before all the change in the college sports landscape is thrust in our face.

The good news is that ABC is telling me this is a premium match up, between two of the sport's premium brands, each with rabid, massive fanbases. It's the ultimate battle of what means more: the SEC or Jesus? Some say it's a draw. But these two schools brands, all of this premium-ness... it's definitely something that I, the random college football viewer who didn't attend either school, care about: vague notions of legacy and overall alumni size determining what I can watch on over-the-air television, which is all I have, because it's no longer affordable in 2024 for me to pay for 19 streaming services that bring me four college football games each. So I just cast my lot with whatever premium games happen to be on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. And the CW (Lol ACC). Thanks Biden.

Wait...what do you mean that this matchup isn't that premium? Texas A&M hasn't finished higher than fourth in the last three years? Like, you mean fourth in the country? Fourth in their division?!? What about before 2022? They've never been to a National Championship Game or a College Football Playoff? Their last title was in 1939?! Well, at least Notre Dame is pretty damn good, I mean they've been to a BCS title game and to two College Football Playoffs in the last 15 years, plus they have their own TV network. Oh, they got absolutely steamrolled all three times? They're 0-7 in BCS or New Year's Six games and have been outscored by 161 points collectively? Because they're the Gonzaga of College Football, just with infinitely more pageantry and resources? I see.

Well, when you don't have titles to focus on, you focus on tradition. Let's see if the broadcast tells us whether Notre Dame is fully recovered after their Week 0 game in Ireland. It must be tough to get on track after traveling 6 times zones to beat some deeply unmarketable school 55-12 at 4am Pacific Time in the dog days of August. I'm sure the equipment guys still haven't quite gotten the Guinness and vomit scrubbed off the cleats yet, but it'll add an exotic spice to their play against the Aggies. If an Irishman steps outside in Texas in August for more than 30 seconds they actually die. Perhaps if you get a little Irish vomit on a Texan in that environment, then they, too, become harmed? Hm, the broadcast still isn't saying anything obnoxious about last week's win or the Irish being "undefeated" so far this year.

Wait... Notre Dame didn't play in the Ireland game this year? Because everyone except Notre Dame fans couldn't care less about it and watching football played in Ireland is like staring at an overcooked steak before you eat it? But my subconscious says that Notre Dame plays there every year! What do you mean they've only done it three times? And they've played Navy each time? I swear one of the times it was Rutgers. I remember the game with pain. It was the Grape Nuts of football: hard and bad. They only played Rutgers in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl? Well, the Pinstripe Bowl is like the Ireland of bowl games. It doesn't fit. It's on a baseball field. Angles aren't right. Humph.

A housed, possibly tanked Jimbo

Speaking of tradition, ABC sideline reporter Molly McGrath is telling us that the Midnight Yell was especially vicious last night. Usually, the Aggies fans mix in opponent vitriol and good ole buzz-cut-and-overalls fun in equal measure. But last night, per McGrath, was all vitriol. During the middle section of the Yell, about halfway into Joel Osteen territory if Joel Osteen had no sense of rhythm or cadence, the leaders were running the crowd through some brand new chants for the season when the sound system cut out. And then it cut out again. And then a third time.

All assembled were still able to practice their chanting based on the silent entreating hand-signals from the Yell Leaders a la ROTC mime, but the occurrence disgruntled the 12th men and women, and things turned ugly. At first, guilt was assigned to a group of a few of the more "creative" Aggie students, the ones who have hair and can't proudly do 50 push-ups at a moment's notice when you didn't ask them to, who were sitting over by the amplifiers. But this group immediately gestured to a 58-year-old man in a white hat, khakis and maroon wind-breaker, waddling out of sight in the evening haze to a nearby grassy hillside, muttering something about change and adaptability being for losers.

The next day, as fans file in to Kyle Field, a blurry-eyed and almost unrecognizable Jimbo Fisher sits atop the hillside. Deep scruff. Still muttering about change. He has spent the night in a nearby tent. He's observing fans filing through the gates before kickoff. He has hired a team of undocumented folks off of Fiverr to blend in as yellow-jacketed security employees at each entry point and collect The Great Tithe. He's attempting to communicate to them via walkie-talkie, but the boy-band headsets he got for the workers to wear from his friend and fellow former coach Todd Graham are on the fritz, and aren't clearly relaying what he's saying.

Some say Texas A&M is like a cult. It's definitely not. But every single person who is blindly asked to tithe as they enter the stadium, does so.

What no one in the fanbase or the media is aware of is the provision in Jimbo's contract stating that his $72 million buyout would need to be crowdsourced. He peers through binoculars to monitor the workers that are collecting, "his precious," but to his great grief sees that the workers are being found out one by one, and made to confiscate their loot. He frantically starts drawing up new formations by which the remaining workers can disguise themselves and attack the entry-points to Kyle Field in different ways, but the schemes aren't very innovative. He eventually smashes his clipboard in disgust. He looks to the heavens and cries that "Some people think they're God!!!!!"

A 52-year-old female Aggie fan, en route to the stadium with her extended friends and family, comments in disbelief that even Bryan-College Station has to deal these days with, "the homeless."

No homeless in sight

We're reminded far too many times on the broadcast that Mike Elko, the former Aggie defensive coordinator under Jimbo, left Texas A&M in 2021 to take over the head coaching duties at Duke from that librarian-looking old guy who always covered the spread when you needed him to. Citing Duke's effete liberal atmosphere and its existence in the conference that's next up to die, Elko returned to A&M two years later to take over the head coaching role from his former boss.

Today is Elko's Aggie debut. It's good that A&M brought back Jimbo's defensive coordinator, because what A&M definitely needed was more defense from the Jimbo era, says no one on the broadcast.

A few camera angles catch Elko belly laughing on the sideline at the fact that his team isn't losing 16-3 heading into the half, they're losing 23-10 heading into the half. Kirk Herbstreit, on just 30 minutes of Wheels Up sleep in the last 48 hours, reaches a new low in his career by saying the cameras' portrayal of a joyful Elko resembles a "Tickle Me Elko." Chris Fowler remains unsettlingly silent in the wake of this comment, leaving Herbstreit to call the game by himself for about 90 seconds until they mercifully cut to break. Just as they do, we hear the muffled sounds over the lav mic of call sheets being thrown down and a headset being ripped off, before we hear: "You think you're the fuc**** funnyman? This is MY broa-" and then the broadcast jump cuts straight into Loovvvveeeee That Chicken From Poppp-Eyes.

As we cut back from commercial, Fowler is beading his forehead with a hanky and Herbstreit, with kleenex stuffed up a nostril and his tie askew, meekly comments that Marcus Freeman, seen on the sidelines stalking about like a panther about to pounce, seems unhappy ("that's better" mutters a gruff Fowler). Freeman appears stoic, but deep down, he is incensed.

His team has to actually play a true road game in front of 102,000 of the other team's fans. It's unthinkable. It's just not right. This must be the reason why they're not comfortably ahead, not the fact that after one hard tackle Riley Leonard is on the sideline holding his glass ankle, questionable to return, and so the New Notre Dame Offense, the one that's installed former LSU coordinator Mike Denbrock, the one that is trying to take a meat and potatoes team and make it run up and down, the one trying to put a V12 engine in a lawnmower, has only future basic white guy Steve Angeli available at quarterback.

Since the Irish don't need a CPA-in-training, but someone who can move the ball vertically, this is a problem. The only two other true road games they have this year, at Purdue and USC, won't be nearly as bad. Purdue is Purdue, and Lincoln's 7-4 ass will be ran out of town long before the Trojans' season finale against Notre Dame. But this... how could the school have scheduled this? A loss today could throw off the whole plan of going 11-2 and losing in the first round of the expanded playoff to Ole Miss.

In a past life, Elko began to realize Leonard's vulnerabilities

McGrath is now reporting mid-broadcast that NCAA officials have begun an internal investigation into whether Elko went full Sean Payton and ordered his players to intentionally try to hurt Leonard. Accusations arising on Notre Dame message boards already hypothesize that Elko, given his and Leonard's close relationship from their time at Duke, knew the quarterback was eminently breakable and in a generally vulnerable state. This will quickly become one of the countless investigations that we hear about starting, but that college football fans never hear about ending, but the engagement-via-outrage that it generates is invaluable to the media, Big Brands, and cardiac surgeons across the U.S.

Cameras capture Leonard yelling across the field to Elko, "how could you?" But Elko's too distracted with another problem to even notice: he has too much talent and too small of a deficit to overcome in order to feel comfortable. The score hasn't changed since mid-first quarter and the live game total is still plummeting at books across the country. This is all suddenly feeling very Ireland. The game is becoming a war of punts; Every A&M defensive play ends in either Nic Scourton or Shemart Stewart assaulting significant portions of the Irish's offensive line and allowing little room for running back Jeremiyah Love. Every A&M offensive play ends in a two-yard escape pass to the flat and Connor Weigman throwing up his hands in disgust.

Eventually, Weigman decides to prove correct all the fans saying 2024 is his breakout year by defying the hungover remnants of Jimbo-era play-calling (new OC Collin Klein is briefly seen wearing one of the Graham boy-band head sets). He audibles both tight ends straight up each seam. He targets Donovan Green on a two-step drop for a passing play of (gasp) 32 whole yards and a touchdown to pull within six points. Aggieland erupts.

The Irish get the ball back when A&M's onside kick is unsuccessful. They need one first down to seal the game. Freeman is doing all sorts of righteous shit. The closer the game gets to being iced, the more wound up he seems to get. Noting his team's lack of a first down in the second half, Freeman furiously draws up an end around trick play to get 10 yards, lining up wide receiver Jaden Greathouse at QB and sending Angeli and others in motion, which only Fowler is quick enough to point out before the snap.

Jac Collinsworth, watching the game from a chaise lounge in the Hamptons so as to Professionally Prepare for next week's showdown with Northern Illinois, readies his pen and yellow legal pad to scrawl notes for his ever-growing file marked, "Marcus Freeman Good Decision Making." Good is underlined so that he remembers to say that the decisions are good.

The end-around play works, though the Irish fumble the ball. Fortunately, they recover their own cough-up in first-down territory, and kneel out the clock.

Notre Dame title-contender hypothesizing begins in earnest until, after an 8-0 start to the year, they get blown out at home by Florida State.

Final Notes:

  • Notre Dame 23, Texas A&M 17
  • Riley Leonard out for four weeks with a high ankle sprain
  • Jimbo Tithe Collection: $412.65 raised out of $72,000,000
  • Fowler apologizes to Herbstreit by gifting him the next tier up of Wheels Up subscription