As we hit the midway point of college football, that means we are in the think of conference play. These highly contested games always carry a lot of weight which usually yields some of the most fun games of the season. On a week where there are a ton of fun conference match ups, none quite stack up like Texas A&M versus Alabama (3:30 on CBS). First of all, there are a ton of story lines this game. The teams are undefeated, with Texas A&M winning a ton of exciting games while Alabama has just run roughshod through their competition. A&M has a history with 'Bama, since in their debut SEC season, Johnny Manziel, Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies knocked off the then #1 Crimson Tide team IN Tuscaloosa. To make this even juicier, Trevor Knight, the Aggies quarterback, beat the #3 Crimson Tide as a freshmen at Oklahoma before he transferred, throwing four touchdowns on a talented defense. So, needless to say, there are a lot of narratives to follow this game.
Of course, the other thing that makes this game so amazing is the incredible amount of NFL caliber talent on both teams on both sides of the ball.
Jonathan Allen, DL: Allen is among the safer player in this year's draft. He has years of awesome production for the Crimson Tide, good size at 6-3, 280 pounds, versatility, athletic ability, awesome motor and technique to match. There are very few holes in his game and while he might not be the best defender in the game, he looks like a 10 year NFL stud. He will play a pivotal role in keeping the pressure on Trevor Knight all game, but he will be just as important to stopping the Aggies explosive running game.
Tim Williams, EDGE: While Allen is a safe NFL prospect with obvious every down starter ability, Williams is a bit more of a one trick pony. However, his one trick of pass rushing is a damn good one. Honestly, I cannot remember a player who plays so few snaps as a rotational guy and yet is able to cause so much havoc. Williams has great speed off the edge and his few snaps where he will be sprinkled in, he will need his impact to be felt.
Ryan Anderson, EDGE: Ryan Anderson may be the lesser name of Alabama's front seven, but he is still a solid player. He has excellent physicality and plays balanced, yet sometimes unspectacular football. He is not the caliber of disruptor that Williams or Allen is, but he will play in the NFL and will have a pivotal role in stopping the Aggies.
Reuben Foster, LB: Reuben Foster is one of the best defenders in the country. Every year Alabama has some sort of stud linebacker and Foster is one of the most talented ones in memory... That says a lot. Foster has incredible burst, sideline to sideline speed and he plays like his hair is on fire. He is the type of every down defender who can make a massive impact on the secondary and the defensive front. Going up against a Texas A&M backfield that possesses a lot of speed and an offense that loves getting guys in the intermediate passing game, Foster will need a huge night and this will be a great test of his skills.
Marlon Humphrey, CB: The Aggies have a lot of speed at wide receiver so how better to counter that than with the best draft eligible corner in the country. The 6-1, 200 pound corner is physical, fast and aggressive. His intensity makes an impact on receivers at the line while also factoring into defending the run. Defending the perimeter against the run is imperative against Alabama and Humphrey's speed will be key in stopping the explosive passing play that A&M likes to create.
Eddie Jackson, S: Eddie Jackson has turned into a stalwart defender at the back end of the Alabama defense. The six foot, 200 pounder has excellent range and ball skills, playing a very smart brand of football. He will be tested against the speed of Texas A&M's offense and will need to play disciplined football or the Aggies might explode.
Cam Robinson, T: Cam Robinson might have the biggest test of the game going up against the nation's best pass rusher. Robinson is one of the best players in the entire country and figures to be a future top five pick at tackle, but will his size and athletic ability be enough to slow down Texas A&M's pass rush?
OJ Howard, TE: Despite being somewhat underutilized, OJ Howard still is one of the most talented players in the country. The 6-6, 250 pound pass catcher has legendary speed for his size and we have seen in the past the type of damage he can do if involved in the passing game. The Aggies pass rush figures to really get after 'Bama, so an intermediate passing threat who can catch quick passes and make big plays will be incredibly important. I figure a big game is coming for Howard.
Myles Garrett, EDGE: While the Aggies might not have the sheer volume of players that Alabama may have, they still have the best player in the country with Myles Garrett. The athletic freak is a masterful pass rusher and has been incredibly underrated as a run defender. His amazing and balanced skill set will be incredibly important in shutting down Alabama's offense and slowing down their talented freshman quarterback.
Daeshon Hall, EDGE: On the other side of TAMU's defense is their productive senior, Daeshon Hall. Hall has really good size at 6-6, 270 and offers a lot of physicality and high effort disruption on the edge. With Alabama's focus likely on slowing down Garrett, Hall must capitalize on potentially advantageous match ups with blockers to force Alabama to respect him too.
Armani Watts, Safety: Texas A&M has a lot of speed in their secondary, but their most impressive player is their 5-11, 200 pound safety. Watts is not the most imposing player, physically, but he brings all he can on every play. He is a tackle machine with great burst, awareness and strength. He will be incredible important to limiting plays over the middle of the field while also helping out against Alabama's running game.
Avery Gennesy, T: A long line of first round tackles out of Texas A&M will likely continue this year with the 6-3, 315 pound road grader, Avery Gennesy. Gennesy has good athletic ability and technique, but plays with an aggressiveness that other TAMU tackles lacked in college in the past. He has his biggest text of the season tonight and showing out could put him in the conversation for being one of the top tackles in what looks like to be an open class at the position.
Josh Reynolds, WR: Reynolds was probably the least heralded of the TAMU receivers coming out of high school, yet he has been the most productive player of the group so far. The 6-1 receiver is a dependable deep threat with good hands and route running ability. He will likely draw a lot of attention this game and must perform in order to give the Aggies big plays while also opening things up for Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil and the running game.
Other Players to watch...
Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn: Carl Lawson is enjoying what was a much anticipated breakout season as one of the star pass rushers in the country. Lawson faces a great test against a physical Arkansas offensive line (6 PM on ESPN). Showing out against the Razorbacks would do him a lot of favors in terms of putting him in the discussion for being the second best pass rusher in this class.
Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU: LSU is finally starting to look like LSU again, but Tre'Davious white has been playing star caliber football all season. The talented cornerback has been one of the most efficient lock down defenders in the country and this week he will have a huge test against Ole Miss' talented receiver group (9 PM on ESPN)
Pat Elflein, C, OSU: In what figures to be a hotly contested match up between Ohio State and Penn State (8 PM on ABC), Elflein will play a key role in keeping the Buckeye offense on track. The Nittany Lions are strong up front on defense, so Elflein will need to be at his best to keep JT Barrett upright while also paving the way for OSU's running game.
Jordan Thomas, CB, Oklahoma: Jordan Thomas, on the low, has been one of the better cornerbacks in the country. The six foot, 190 pounder has nine pass defenses in just the last three weeks. He will have a massive task slowing down Texas Tech's highly prolific passing game (8 PM on Fox), but he should be up to it and he is poised to have a game that puts him in the national conversation.