The No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide (5-1) and No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies (5-2) began the season as two of the heavily favored squads to take up at least one of the four coveted spots in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Both sides ripped through their September schedules, but have since faltered at the start of SEC play and as of now it appears that only the Tide have a chance at redemption for the national title.
Not all hope is lost for Kevin Sumlin’s crew. Despite their two straight losses, the Aggies could run the table, which would include a win at No. 6 Auburn, and hope for losses from No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Ole Miss for a shot at the SEC West.
But as both squad’s meet Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the victor will hold a decided advantage once the regular season winds down.
Through the first four games of the season head coach Nick Saban’s Alabama squad looked poised for another dominate season, outscoring opponents 168-56 behind the unexpected solid play from quarterback Blake Sims. The senior’s thrown for 1,480 yards and 10 touchdowns after beating out highly touted transfer Jake Coker, and he had arguably the best receiving weapon in the SEC in Amari Cooper.
Then came the loss to Ole Miss in Oxford, a stunning 23-17 letdown that saw one of the top 10 defenses in the country surrender 13 fourth-quarter points and the first loss of the season. Two turnovers cost the Tide that victory, and the mistakes nearly got the best of them again last week.
Alabama lost two of four fumbles, and their offense sputtered once again, but it managed to escape Arkansas 14-13. While the Tide went 4-for-15 on third down, Sims went 11-for-21 for 161 yards and a pair touchdowns, the last one needed early in the fourth quarter to put Alabama up for good.
Cooper did his part, totaling nine receptions for 91 yards. He’s still tops in the SEC with 768 receiving yards and five touchdowns. However he got little help from running backs TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry who could muster only 66 rushing yards combined against a Razorbacks defense that’s allowing 127 yards per game on the ground.
The Tide defense rebounded well against Arkansas. Led by upperclassmen linebackers Reggie Ragland and Xzavier Dickson, they forced three turnovers and held the SEC’s best rushing squad to only 89 yards.
However Alabama’s frontline faces a much stiffer test against the Aggies No. 6 ranked offense. Powered by quarterback Kenny Hill’s 23 touchdowns, and top receivers Josh Reynolds and Edward Pope pulling down 12 of those scores, Texas A&M is averaging 43.9 points per game.
Still the Aggies haven’t looked nearly as sharp as the squad that lit up South Carolina for 52 points in the season opener and put up 58 at SMU. In the last two weeks they’re averaging 25.5 points per game, and Hill’s thrown five of his seven interceptions.
Falling victim to the two upstart Mississippi squads, head coach Kevin Sumlin’s team has also been held to 205 rushing yards the last two weeks. And despite combining for nine touchdowns this season, top running backs Trey Williams and Tra Carson have scored once in the last three games.
Start Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS
Betting Odds: Alabama -13.5
Over/Under: 63.5 points
Prediction: Alabama 37, Texas A&M 27