Reporting Matt Ryan
The attention will once again be on the SEC this weekend in the most anticipated matchup of the year. Alabama’s only blemish during their national title repeat from a year ago was a 29-24 loss to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. The Aggies upset win cemented Johnny Manziel’s Heisman campaign and helped put the program on the map in the nation’s toughest conference. Manziel made headlines in the off-season on what seemed like a daily basis for his behavior and comments, most notably an autograph scandal, that forced him to miss the first half of Texas A&M’s season opener against Rice.
Saturday’s matchup will play a large part in how the 2013 season shapes up for both the Crimson Tide and Aggies. A victory for Alabama would keep their bid alive for a three-peat, while another upset win for A&M would silence some of Johnny Manziel’s critics and establish themselves as true national title contenders.
Ticket prices for this game are averaging about $763 on the second-hand ticket market, almost $50 more than the Alabama/LSU game in 2011. While there’s a lot of hype for the showdown in College Station, the third week of the college football season also features intriguing out of conference matchups involving other SEC teams, as well as four matchups between Big Ten and Pac-12 schools.
10. #4 Ohio State at California (7pm, FOX): After a combined 82-27 victory in their first two games, the biggest question mark heading in to the Buckeyes trip to West Coast is the status of Braxton Miller. The junior quarterback is questionable against California, after suffering a sprained ligament in his left knee during Ohio State’s game against San Diego State. Kenny Guiton was prolific off the bench against the Aztecs, putting up 235 offensive yards and three combined touchdowns, in place of Miller. That’s good news for Buckeye fans if their star quarterback is limited in action and bad news for a Golden Bears defense that gave up 74 points in their first two games. On a positive not, California’s freshman quarterback Jared Goff leads the nation in passing yards (935). He will need another big game to help his team pull off a colossal upset at home, against a team riding a 14 game winning streak.
9. #19 Washington vs. Illinois at Soldier Field (6pm, Big Ten Network): Washington opened up the season routing Boise State 38-6 and are now ranked in the polls for consecutive weeks, for the first since September 2003. The Huskies face another difficult test before they begin conference play when take on Illinois in Chicago. The Fighting Illini are coming off a 45-17 win over Cincinnati.
8. #24 TCU at Texas Tech (7:30pm, Thursday, ESPN): Baker Mayfield has gotten the Red Raiders off to a great start during his first year in Lubbock, throwing for 780 yards and seven touchdowns. Texas Tech will begin conference play at home, against a TCU squad that lost to LSU on opening weekend and their starting quarterback last weekend. Casey Pachall will miss the next eight weeks, after fracturing his left arm during the Horned Frogs win over Southeastern Louisiana.
7. Mississippi State at Auburn (7pm, ESPN2): Auburn begins SEC play having lost their last ten conference games. A victory over Mississippi State would match Auburn’s win total of three games from a year ago. The Bulldogs gave up 21 unanswered points to Oklahoma State in their season opener, after being limited to a field goal in the first quarter.
6. Tennessee at #2 Oregon (3:30pm, ABC): With easy wins against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, pre-season is over for the Volunteers as they head out to the Pacific Northwest and face the second-ranked Ducks. Oregon scored a combined 125 points in their first two games of the year and will get one more test before beginning Pac-12 play The trip to Eugene should be a good indicator of how much Tennessee has improved during year one of the Butch Jones regime.
5. #20 Wisconsin at Arizona State (10:30pm, ESPN): Pre-season is also over for the program that has represented the Big Ten in the last three Rose Bowls. The Badgers opened the season with back-to-back shutouts over Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. They now face a formidable Arizona State squad, before conference play begins in another week. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 3039 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes last season. Arizona State could be the dark horse contender in the Pac-12 this year.
4. Vanderbilt at #13 South Carolina (7pm, ESPN): The Commodores and Gamecocks are both coming off losses in their SEC openers. Vanderbilt fell to Ole Miss in a 38-35 shutout, while the Gamecocks saw their three game winning streak against Georgia end in a 41-30 loss. South Carolina surrendered more than 530 offensive yards to the Bulldogs and their offense was unable to keep up the pace by the fourth quarter. Another poor showing from their defense could end their BCS and SEC Championship Game hopes all together.
3. #25 Ole Miss at Texas (8pm, Longhorn Network): The Rebels will go on the road to Austin ranked for the first time since the end of the 2009 season. Ole Miss created a lot of hype in the off-season, after signing a highly touted recruiting class, led by the likes of Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche . While Hugh Freeze and his players look headed towards the right direction in the SEC, the completely opposite can be said about Mack Brown’s squad in the Big 12. Texas fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, only a day after their 40-21 loss to BYU. The Longhorns allowed 550 rushing yards against the Cougars.
2. #16 UCLA at #23 Nebraska (12pm, ABC): The other matchup involving two top 25 teams will begin the de facto Big Ten/Pac-12 football challenge this Saturday. The Bruins could be the toughest test Nebraska faces this season, with no matchup against Ohio State or Wisconsin on schedule. East Coast television viewers will get to see a rare early kickoff, involving Brett Hundley and an UCLA exciting offense that gained more than 300 passing and rushing, in its season opener over Nevada. Jim Mora Jr. has the Bruins headed in the right direction on the gridiron, a stark contrast from what can be said about Lane Kiffin and their crosstown rivals.
Their trip to Lincoln will come less than a week, after redshirt freshman – wide receiver Nick Pasquale was killed after being hit from by a car in his hometown of San Clemente, California. Pasquale will be on the minds of both the Bruins and Cornhuskers this weekend.
1. #1 Alabama at #6 Texas A&M (3:30pm, CBS): Last year’s 29-24 loss to Texas A&M was thought about, by Nick Saban and the entire Alabama program throughout the off-season, especially in the team’s weight room. The game was repeatedly shown on the all the TVs in the team’s training facility and the Texas A&M logo was placed on all the weight stations. Alabama has had quite the success in “revenge games” during the Saban era, including wins over Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game and LSU in the 2012 BCS Championship Game. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 35-10 victory in their opening weekend game over Virginia Tech at the Georgia Dome, but their margin of victory on the scoreboard didn’t reflect their offensive struggles on the field. Alabama was limited to just 206 offensive yards, but was able to score three non-offensive touchdowns.
Their offense should more productive this Saturday, with two weeks of preparation and a matchup against a lackluster defense. While the Aggies had little trouble putting up points against the likes of Rice (52) and Sam Houston State (65), Kevin Sumlin’s squad defense surrendered four touchdowns in both of those games. Giving up easy yards against Alabama could quickly put the Aggies bid for a second straight win in doubt. The key for the game will be how effective Johnny Manziel can play early on. Texas A&M was able to jump out to a 20-0 first quarter lead last year against the Crimson Tide last year. Mobile quarterbacks such as Manziel, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Jordan Jefferson have given Alabama’s defense trouble in the past. Another strong performance for Manziel could end Alabama’s run for a three-peat and potentially land the Aggies atop of the polls.