It’s a heady time to play for Texas A&M and celebrate the maroon and the white.
The sixth-ranked Aggies are 6-0 and off to their best start in more than two decades. The last time A&M was undefeated six games into a football season was in 1994, when coach Kevin Sumlin was in charge of the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ wide receivers and the Aggies were playing in the Southwest Conference.
And now comes a Saturday road trip to big, bad Alabama, the defending national champion. The game will be the focus of ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, and CBS will broadcast the SEC showdown to a national audience. It’s the second time this month such attention has been showered on the Aggies.
“This team has done a great job, not a good job, a great job of blocking out the noise,” Sumlin said. “We haven’t played our best football yet … I think our guys are in a good place, our guys are healthy. From what I’ve seen in practice, I’m not concerned by the enormity (of the game).”
Even if A&M plays its best game, do the Aggies stand a chance against Bama?
They’ve at least tried to build a team worthy of the SEC, with a solid defense and an offense that can dictate play with its running game.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide have won 19 games in a row, with a staggering margin of victory of 25 points. Alabama toyed with the Aggies a year ago in College Station, using three pick-six interception returns for a 41-23 victory. The last time the two teams played in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama humiliated A&M 59-0.
Oddsmakers have established the Tide as a 17-point favorite to extend their victory streak to 20 games.
Yet Alabama coach Nick Saban looks at the Aggies and says they “probably present as many issues as any team we’ve faced all year.”
What’s different about this year’s A&M team than in seasons past, when the Aggies started like gangbusters only to fade as the weather turned cooler?
The Aggies have a solid senior quarterback in Trevor Knight. He’s one of only two active college quarterbacks to have beat the Crimson Tide, albeit when he played for Oklahoma. Mississippi’s Chad Kelly is the other QB with a Bama win on his competitive rèsumè.
The A&M running game is capable of dominating teams and leads the SEC with an average of 274.3 yards per contest. Freshman Trayveon Williams tops the SEC in rushing with 117.3 yards per game, and Saban called Williams the best back Alabama has faced this season. And that might not be pre-game hyperbole. Plus, Knight is good for nearly 84 yards rushing per game. That’s ninth best in the SEC, making Knight is the only quarterback in the top 10.
“We run the football,” said A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “If they stop us, they stop us … The question, if we’re going to run the football, they may stuff our butt, sure, but we’re not going to know until Saturday when we kick this thing off.”
The Aggies’ defense also is better, although A&M’s national ranking took a beating after the team’s 45-38 double-overtime victory over Tennessee. The Volunteers amassed 684 yards, the most ever against A&M. It’s why the Aggies now are 98th in total defense nationally, allowing 437.5 yards per game. The defense is only 12th best in the SEC, ahead of Missouri (438) and Mississippi (446).
“We’ve played, let me put it in this term, we have played extremely hard,” said A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis. “We have played some good football teams. We have not played our best yet. That’s where we are.”