Kyle Field was expanded for days like this.
No. 9 Texas A&M (5-0), coming off an open date, meets No. 10 Alabama (5-1) in a Saturday showdown that will greatly impact the College Football Playoff race and the SEC West Division standings.
The Aggies own most of the intangible advantages heading into Saturday’s game in College Station (2:30 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11). They’re playing at home, where a crowd in excess of Kyle Field’s listed capacity (102,512) is expected. They’ve had an extra week to prepare. They’re better at protecting the football, based on the teams’ national rankings in turnover margin: plus-2 for A&M (43rd), even for Alabama (73rd).
This qualifies as the statement opportunity A&M has sought since joining the SEC in 2012.
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A win Saturday over Alabama suggests A&M will be a factor in playoff and SEC title discussions through the end of the regular season, when the Aggies close with a Nov. 28 game at No. 6 LSU (5-0). But another loss to the Crimson Tide, which won last year’s meeting by a 59-0 margin, brings back vivid memories of a midseason swoon that turned the 2014 Aggies from a 5-0 front-runner to an 8-5 also-ran in their new neighborhood.
Are these Aggies tougher mentally than the group that cratered at midseason a year ago? Coach Kevin Sumlin will find out Saturday, when A&M seeks to improve on its puzzling 5-7 mark against SEC opponents in the cozy confines of Kyle Field since joining the league in 2012.
We don’t have all the answers yet.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis, on his unit’s improved stats
Sumlin identified personnel changes, on the field and on his coaching staff, as the primary offshoot of last year’s landslide loss to Alabama.
“It’s two different teams,” Sumlin said. “A lot of people played in last year’s game who aren’t even on the field [this season]. This year’s very different.”
But the comparative stats are similar to those that have surfaced heading into this matchup for four consecutive years. A&M produces more yards (480.4 per game) and points (39.2 avg.) each week than Alabama. The Tide is stingier on defense, allowing 110.3 fewer yards each week than the Aggies. A fresh stat twist to watch: In scoring defense, A&M (21.7 avg.) is closer to Alabama (15.7 avg.) than it has been heading into prior matchups.
John Chavis, A&M’s first-year defensive coordinator, has been encouraged by the Aggies’ crunch-time efforts in closing out SEC wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State. But he acknowledged progress must be made this week to knock off Alabama, last year’s league champion.
189 Consecutive minutes of shutout football by the Michigan defense, which has not allowed a point since Sept. 19
“In a lot of ways, we’re a long ways ahead of where I thought we’d be,” said Chavis, who installed his 4-3 scheme in spring drills. “But there’s some areas where we’re not. We don’t have all the answers yet.”
Many of them will surface Saturday.
In other developments destined to impact the playoff and local college football landscapes:
Shaky top spot benefits Baylor. No. 1 Ohio State, a unanimous top pick in The Associated Press’ preseason poll, received only 27 of 60 first-place votes Sunday but held the top spot. Others with double-digit totals for first-place votes included No. 2 Baylor (13) and No. 4 Utah (16). No. 3 TCU received five top votes. Six schools, including No. 9 A&M, received at least one top vote. Chaos could reign when the first playoff rankings are released Nov. 3. Until then, Baylor fans should enjoy the school’s highest-ever football ranking, achieved by Sunday’s climb to No. 2, and realize the Bears (5-0) could grab the top spot soon if Ohio State continues to struggle.
Harbaugh factor is real. First-year coach Jim Harbaugh has No. 12 Michigan (5-1) on a three-game shutout streak heading into Saturday’s game against No. 7 Michigan State (6-0) in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Wolverines have not allowed a point in 189-plus minutes, dating to a 28-7 victory over UNLV on Sept. 19. With consecutive blankings of Brigham Young (31-0), Maryland (28-0) and then-No. 13 Northwestern (38-0), Michigan looms as a threat to Michigan State and Ohio State in efforts to earn a playoff spot and a Big Ten title. After logging two sacks against Northwestern, Michigan defensive tackle Willie Henry said: “We expect to dominate our opponents. We don’t want teams to score.”
Charlie in charge: Texas’ 24-17 upset of then-No. 10 Oklahoma provides relief for coach Charlie Strong and his 2-4 team heading into an open date. School President Greg Fenves posted a congratulatory message to Strong on his Twitter account (@gregfenves) after the game and the Longhorns could make a second-half run toward bowl eligibility with games remaining against Kansas State (3-2), Iowa State (2-3), Kansas (0-5), West Virginia (3-2) and Texas Tech (4-2). In assessing the impact of Saturday’s win on his inconsistent team, Strong said: “One thing they’re not missing is confidence. They can build on something special here.”
Sitting pretty in Stillwater: No. 16 Oklahoma State (6-0, 3-0 in Big 12) holds a share of first place in the league race with road victories against Texas and West Virginia in the rearview mirror. OSU plays four of its last six games at home, with No. 3 TCU (Nov. 7), No. 2 Baylor (Nov. 21) and No. 19 Oklahoma (Nov. 28) all slated to visit Stillwater, Okla., in crunch time.
No. 10 Alabama at No. 9 Texas A&M: The Aggies get a chance to prove their College Football Playoff pedigree Saturday at Kyle Field.
No. 7 Michigan State at No. 12 Michigan: The Wolverines’ defense, which has shut out three consecutive opponents, could derail the Spartans’ undefeated season Saturday.
No. 3 TCU at Iowa State: The Horned Frogs go back on the road Saturday in a season when road wins have been hard earned.