The No. 1 team in the nation is facing its toughest test of the season on Saturday. Top-ranked Alabama (5-0) heads to College Station to meet the upset-hungry No. 24 Texas A&M Aggies (3-2).
Last year in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide marched to victory by the score of 45-23, their sixth straight victory over the Aggies. Can Alabama make in seven years in a row and continue its perfect season, or will Texas A&M pull off an upset of epic proportions?
Here is a preview for Saturday’s SEC showdown, including odds, betting trends, and a prediction.
Tua Time For Bama
Nick Saban’s Alabama teams have consistently churned out NFL stars at every position, with the exception of quarterback. But that all may change when Alabama’s current signal-caller, Tua Tagovailoa, goes as early as first overall in next year’s NFL Draft.
Tagovailoa is a Heisman candidate yet again, throwing 23 touchdowns to no interceptions and averaging 12 yards per pass with a completion percentage of over 75 percent. It is arguably the Hawaiian’s best season yet, and it has Alabama’s offense roaring through five weeks.
Tagovailoa has the benefit of multiple receivers to target, all of whom are NFL-level prospects. Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III have combined for 1,386 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Expect Tagovailoa to target all of these receivers and spread the ball around like in last year’s contest, where four different Alabama receivers had at least 50 yards.
As for Alabama’s defense, it is still among the most dominant units in college football, with last week’s 59-31 win over Ole Miss being the only instance the Tide allowed more than 23 points this season.
The biggest key for Alabama will be its pass rush. Texas A&M will do everything in its power to slow the game down and limit the amount of time Tua and company are on the field.
It will be up to the defensive line to blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage, forcing the Aggies into 3rd-and-long situations that will push control back to Saban and Alabama.
Mond Is The Man For A&M
Through five games, Texas A&M has displayed a couple of tendencies. First, the Aggies roll over inferior teams but struggle offensively against top teams, as evidenced by their 24-10 and 28-20 losses to top-10 teams Clemson and Auburn, respectively.
Now A&M will face another elite group in Alabama, putting pressure on quarterback Kellen Mond to have the game of his life. Mond has over 1,300 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, with a couple more TDs on the ground. But he threw for just 571 yards total in both losses, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.
Mond will have to be prepared to scramble and make plays happen on the fly, similar to when Johnny Manziel and the Aggies upset Alabama in 2012. He’ll be sure to target Jhamon Ausbon and Quartney Davis a fair bit, as that duo has combined for 734 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
But against an Alabama team that has struggled over the years against mobile QBs, expect Mond and running back Isaiah Splitter to carry the ball in a slow-and-go style.
Truthfully, Texas A&M needs a few things to go right for it to pull off this upset. In addition to Mond having the game of his life, the defense will have to generate pressure on Tagovailoa and attempt to force turnovers against a team that doesn’t really cough up the football.
A strong defense and perfect running game will give A&M control of the ball, the only thing that can counter Alabama’s quick-strike offense.
Betting Notes and Pick
The Crimson Tide are 16.5-point favorites at College Station, with multiple books hovering in the 17- to 18-point range. The total number of points expected is 61.5, a few points less than we saw in last year’s matchup in Tuscaloosa.
Under coach Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies are 3-2 against the spread as an underdog, including a 1-0 record at home. Meanwhile, Alabama is 3-2 against the spread in road games since Tagovailoa took over as the starter. And finally, over the last three meetings between these two teams at Kyle Field, Alabama has won by an average of 11 points.
This game will be close in the first half, with Alabama having some slow starts this season, and A&M doing its best to grind the game out. However, Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide offense won’t be held in check for the whole game, as a couple of big plays will get Alabama ahead comfortably in the second half.
I’ll pick Alabama to win 35-17, barely covering and the under hitting.