This year, Texas A&M looks to finally reassert themselves as one of the top programs in the country after languishing in mediocrity for a few seasons. Similarly, Tennessee looks like a top team despite a slow start to the season and years of being a punchline due to their constant inability to live up to preseason hype. The Volunteers narrowly escaped their game with Georgia last week with an incredible win while the Aggies avoided a let down against South Carolina despite letting them stick around the game for too long. Now, the two top ten teams meet (3:30 on CBS) at Kyle Field in a game that will massively impact each teams playoff chances. With these two top ten teams, there are tons of future NFL difference makers on each side of the ball who will decide the outcome of this game.
Derek Barnett, Edge: The Aggies have a explosive and versatile offense and the Volunteers defense will have a massive task of slowing it down. Barnett, my player of the week last week, is coming of a monstrous performance against UGA and looks to build on it this week. Texas A&M has an outstanding offensive line, so Barnett's impact against their running and passing game will speak a lot to how much a slightly less athletic player like Barnett can succeed in the NFL. With Cam Sutton and Jalen Reeves Maybin out, the Vols really only have Barnett as their one star left on defense. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders, but recent performances show he may be able to handle it.
Josh Dobbs, Quarterback: Josh Dobbs feels a lot like "fetch" to me. I keep trying to make it happen, but it rarely, if ever does. But guys, I swear he has looked good this season. Instead of using him like a glorified running back, Tennessee has been letting their senior passer throw the ball more. Dobbs has looked impressive as a passer the last few weeks, especially in the teams astounding comeback win against Florida. He may not have outstanding tools in terms of arm strength, but his accuracy and decision making give him an excellent chance on every down. Dobbs is not going to be a franchise type prospect by any means, but I am holding out hope that he can grow into a high quality back up who can move the ball with his legs and excellent intelligence at the position. The Texas A&M defense is as talented as it has ever been in the last decade, so if Dobbs can evade their awesome pass rush and make plays against their secondary, he could establish himself as a for real NFL quarterback prospect.
Josh Malone, Wide Receiver: Many people thought Jalen Hurd would be the go to guy among Tennessee's skill players, but the Vol's running back has been underwhelming this season to say the least. Instead, their junior wide receiver, Josh Malone, has emerged as the team's big play threat. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Malone has the size to go up over defensive backs for the ball, but his speed also makes him a big threat down the field, evidenced by the 20 yards he averages on every catch. Malone is scoring touchdowns at a 33% rate, which is marvelously impressive. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound from a down game against Georgia and give Tennessee back a playmaker in this top ten match up.
Myles Garrett, Edge: The obvious headliner for the Aggies is their star defensive end, Myles Garrett. There is not much to say about the future top three pick that has not already been said. Garrett is a beast, a monster, a freak... What else you wanna know? Garrett does it all from the edge of the TAMU defense and he has a great shot at being the top pick in the 2017 draft. Against Tennessee, as the Vols passing game finds its bearings, it will be pivotal for Garrett to turn it on the whole game. If Josh Dobbs is able to feel comfortable in the pocket, he could slice up TAMU's secondary. Myles Garrett will need an all star performance in this match up of elite teams, and bets are that he pulls it off.
Josh Reynolds, Wide Receiver: With all the big name recruits at wide receiver in College Station like Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals Jones, that former three star recruit, Josh Reynolds, is the best of the bunch. The 6-3, 195 pound receiver is crafty, with great technique and is very dependable. He does not have the most mind blowing athletic ability, but he is a high effort player with great quickness to gain separation. His large frame, although he is not muscled up, helps him box out cornerbacks and he does a good job making plays at the catch point. Tennessee has a lot of speed in their secondary, so Reynolds will need to make an impact to give his quarterback his favorite target.
Trevor Knight, Quarterback: Trevor Knight's story is a long one, but it really starts with a promising bowl game many years ago when he beat Alabama while he was with the Oklahoma Sooners. Knight's legend grew over that summer following the game, but he failed to live up to that hype and eventually had to transfer to Texas A&M. So far, Knight has been a game changer for the Aggies. It is worrying that he is completing less than 55% of his passes, but his physical tools and toughness make him an interesting prospect for developmental reasons. It is important that he shows he can be more accurate over the course of the season, so Tennessee will be a very nice test to see if he can be more consistent.
Avery Gennesy, Tackle: Texas A&M has had an offensive lineman go in the first round four years in a row and their star left tackle may make it five years. The 6-5, 305 pounder has all the tools to be a great offensive lineman, but, different than TAMU linemen in the past, Gennesy plays with a ton of power and grit. Usually, Aggie tackles have been awesome athletes who are all finesse while Gennesy wants to punch a defense in the mouth. It is a welcomed mentality in the trenches and it will be fun to see him match up with Tennessee's defensive line.
Daeshawn Hall, Edge: In the absence of Myles Garrett last week, Daeshawn Hall took over the game admirably. The 6-6, 270 pound senior has had a productive career at TAMU and his blend of size and strength make him a dangerous presence on the defensive line. After a big performance last week, he can hopefully use that momentum to deliver again against the Vols.
Armani Watts, Safety: The best player in Texas A&M's secondary is their junior safety, Armani Watts. Watts was a tackle machine last season when the Aggies linebackers could not do anything and this year he is showing that he can play well in coverage. Watts is an aggressive player with keen instincts and good burst. He flies around the back end of the Aggies secondary and makes an impact in all aspects of the game. Against the Vols balanced attack on offense, Watts will need to remained discipline and possibly capitalize on a Josh Dobbs' mistakes to turn the game on its head.
Other players to watch across the country...
Jon Allen, Defensive Line, Alabama: Jon Allen is one of my favorite players in the country and his matchup against Arkansas (7 PM on ESPN) will be his biggest test of the season. Arkansas prides itself on its massive offensive line and power running game and has recently been impressive throwing the football as well. Allen will need one of his signature games to keep the Razorbacks offense off kilter.
Ryan Switzer, Wide Receiver, UNC: Ryan Switzer has been absolutely killing good defenses the last two weeks and is a big reason UNC is back as a ranked team. Switzer will have another tough match up against one of the best secondaries in country with Virginia Tech. Switzer will need to be his dependable self and make the plays he continues to make after the catch to give the Tarheels a good chance against the Hokies' D.
Dan Feeney, Guard, Indiana: Indiana is having themselves another solid season and that is in big part to their offensive line play. Dan Feeney is a stalwart senior guard with a nasty attitude and hulk strength. Against Ohio State (3:30, ESPN), Feeney will have his hands full with Ohio State's loaded defensive front. Big test ahead for one of the most decorated linemen in Indiana's history.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Colorado: Ladies and gentlemen, the Colorado Buffalos are ranked and its in big part to their tough defense. The star on their defense is their senior cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie has ideal size and arm length. He is athletic and very physical with good ball skills. He will have his hands full with Ju Ju Smith Schuster and the USC Trojans (4 PM, Pac 12 Network). The Trojans are regaining footing on offense with a QB change, so Awuzie will need to be on his A game to slow down one of the best receivers in the country.