Game of the Week: No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 1 Alabama
From the moment the schedules were released and the preseason rankings were revealed, lofty expectations once again settled in for Alabama. Despite playing in the most grueling conference in the nation where big-time matchups are the focal points of college football every week, the mindset in Tuscaloosa is always championship or bust.
Alabama’s schedule at the onset of the season looked quite lopsided with four conference road games against ranked teams in the heart of its schedule. When the Crimson Tide won the National Championship a year ago, they had to go through nine ranked opponents, setting a record for the most of any championship team in the poll era. Even more impressive is the fact that only two of those games were played in Tuscaloosa. In order to defend its crown, Alabama may break its own record while still only playing two of those games at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Here we are in Week 8 of the season, and the Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) are still undefeated and at the top of college football yet again. Now standing between them and their road to another SEC title is No. 6 ranked Texas A&M (6-0, 4-0 SEC).
The Aggies have been a pleasant surprise this year, beginning the season unranked but posting a 6-0 record so far with big wins against UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Since Kevin Sumlin was hired, the Aggies have always had the firepower to compete in the SEC but have yet to turn the corner. This season is shaping up to be the one where the Aggies take the next step forward. Even if they were to lose to the Tide this week, A&M could still realistically finish the season at 11-1 and qualify for a major bowl game.
Nick Saban’s teams have traditionally dominated its opponents primarily with elite defense and formidable rushing attacks. This year, however, the Tide may have the most explosive and balanced offense that Nick Saban has ever had. A big reason for this upgrade has been the addition of true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is the perfect fit for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s up-tempo spread offense. Hurts has the arm strength to create big plays down the field but is also a dangerous running threat, as he showed last week against Tennessee running for 132 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Tide always have a plethora of sustainable running backs, and this year is no different. Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and Bo Scarbrough have all seen plenty of action, and each averages over six yards per carry.
Alabama defenses are always exceptionally talented, but this group is special. There are several future NFL players on this unit including three potential first-rounders. Jonathan Allen is one of the most devastating pass rushers in the nation, while Tim Williams and Reuben Foster comprise a dominant linebacker unit. As intimidating as the Tide front seven is, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson have been just as impressive in the secondary.
The A&M offense is led by Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, the same quarterback who had the game of his life and toppled Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. He will need to deliver a similar performance in order to have a chance this time around. Knight luckily has a lot of weapons at his disposal. The Aggies have numerous big-play receiving threats including Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones on the outsides, and Speedy Noil and Christian Kirk in the slots. The combination of Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford at running back also adds an excellent running game to balance the offense.
The Aggie defense starts with defensive end Myles Garrett, who is arguably the best prospect at any position in this year’s upcoming NFL Draft. Garrett has the ability to take over a game all by himself, but Alabama is the best offensive line that he will face all year. He will need some help from others such as Daeshon Hall to contain a potent Alabama rushing attack. Other standouts for this unit have been safeties Justin Evans and Armani Watts. Evans leads the team in tackles and has intercepted three passes on the year. The A&M defense is much improved in defensive coordinator John Chavis’ second season in College Station and will have a great opportunity to further prove itself this week.
If Texas A&M is going to have a chance at upsetting the Tide, it is vital that they establish the run. A&M is seventh in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 274.3 yards per game and have topped 200 yards in all six games this season. Meanwhile, Alabama’s defense has allowed 63.9 rushing yards per game, which leads the nation. That means something has to give here. The Aggies also must win the turnover battle, which could be a potential problem as they have already committed 11 this season. Alabama has forced 14 turnovers and scored on eight of them, twice as many as any other team in college football. A&M cannot afford to lose the turnover battle against a team as talented as Alabama.
On the other hand, Alabama should be in good shape if it controls the line of scrimmage and continue to impose its will on the ground. Alabama has rushed for 702 yards in its last two games, including 438 last week at Tennessee. This is a weakness of the A&M defense that the Tide could really expose as the Aggies only rank 68th nationally in defending the run.
Texas A&M has exceeded expectations this season with the 6-0 start and has the firepower to make this one interesting. The Aggies will be well-rested coming off of their bye week, but this Alabama team might be one of the best that Nick Saban has ever coached. The Tide are beginning to heat up at the right time, and this game is arguable their biggest test remaining in the regular season. While Trevor Knight will be hoping for another signature win against Alabama, the Tide’s overall talent and depth will be too much to overcome. Alabama wins big and cruises through the rest of the regular season.
Prediction: Alabama 41, Texas A&M 20
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.