No. 1 Alabama (1-0) at No. 6 Texas A&M (2-0)
Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, CBS
Line: Alabama -7.5
Love them or hate them, the SEC has delivered some marquee match-ups for the fans very early in the 2013 college football season. In week one, the SEC featured Alabama (vs Virginia Tech), Georgia (at Clemson) and LSU (vs TCU) all in key games. In the second week, two of three biggest games involved SEC teams as Georgia hosted South Carolina and Florida traveled down to Miami. This week it's the game that has been highlighted on many calendars since last year when the Aggies upset the eventual National Champion Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
One guy who has had this date circled on his calendar is Nick Saban. The last team to beat the Tide was the Aggies. The last team to beat the Tide before that? It was LSU in 2011 and we all remember what happened in that game, right? As a quick reminder, the Tide won 21-0 and took home the National Championship. I think LSU is still trying to cross mid-field in that game.
Did I mention that Saban and the coaching staff had a bye last week? I took a quick peak at the Tide's previous schedules dating all the way back to 2002 and I could not find one instance where Alabama took a bye this early in the season. The Tide are laser-focused on this game and that's scary considering how good Saban and his crew are at game planning. Make no mistake about it, ever since the National Championship win, Saban has been getting ready for this game.
For A&M to win: Alabama struggled offensively in their opener against Virginia Tech. I know Kevin Sumlin has been over and over that game film and he's seen some weaknesses in Alabama's armor. The Aggies need to get after AJ McCarron. The Aggies will get back three defensive starters that were suspended for the first two games and Sumlin has said that he plans to open things up on defense. McCarron has been fantastic as a QB in Nick Saban's offense but he's still a riverboat gambler at heart and if the Aggies can force McCarron into some mistakes it will go a long way towards the Aggies second straight victory over the Tide.
For Alabama to win: Control the football and keep it away from Johnny Manziel. Alabama gained just 206 total yards in their 25 point win against the Hokies in week one. Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? Alabama won on defense and special teams in that game but they are going to need some offense to take down the Aggies in College Station. Amari Cooper and TJ Yeldon need to be a bigger part of the game plan and it's important that the Tide get out to a quick lead or at least don't let the Aggies take a multi-TD lead early as the crowd is going to be on fire for this game.
Key Player (A&M): Ben Malena. Just kidding, Malena is important but we know that Johnny Football is the straw that stirs the drink for the Aggies. Manziel doesn't have to have a "Heisman" type game but he needs to do what he did last year against the Tide and that is keep plays alive and make the right plays at the right time.
Key Players (Alabama): The offensive line. This off-season the Tide had two players drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and they also lost Barrett Jones (who was a fourth rounder). Conventional wisdom was that the Tide would take Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen and plug in three new starters and the offensive line would continue to be the wrecking ball that it was in 2012. Arie Kouandjio (LG), Austin Shepherd (RT) and Ryan Kelly (C) have been plugged in but it did work quite like most thought it would in week one. Bama rushed for just 2.53 ypc last week (they averaged 5.59 ypc in 2012) and McCarron was sacked four times in the opener (Bama gave up 1.64 per game in 2012). To say Alabama's offensive line is important in this game is a huge understatement.
Key Stats: The Aggies are 0-2 at home in SEC games against Top 25 teams (losses to Florida and LSU) since joining the conference last season. The Tide have won their last five games they've played against Top 10 teams with their last loss coming to LSU on 11/5/2011.