Opponent preview: Why Texas A&M can and can't beat Alabama football in October
This one is going to be fun.
Both Alabama football and Texas A&M are expected to be among the top teams in the SEC this season. Plus, the Aggies defeated the Crimson Tide 41-38 to snap Nick Saban's 24-0 streak against former assistants and give Alabama its first loss in 19 games last October.
Then, to a Birmingham audience, Saban said the Aggies bought their entire recruiting class. That prompted Jimbo Fisher to call Saban a narcissist who maybe should have been slapped as a child the next morning.
The two coaches threw cold water on the back-and-forth at spring meetings, but fans certainly aren't going to forget Oct. 8 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Throughout the summer, The Tuscaloosa News is looking at each Alabama opponent that has a shot, even if it's slim, to defeat the Crimson Tide. Sorry, Vanderbilt.
This week, we examine Texas A&M, which figures to be one of Alabama's toughest games for 2022. Here's what the Aggies do and don't have going for them against the Crimson Tide.
Why Texas A&M can win:
A good portion of this secondary faced Alabama's offense in 2021.
Among the more experienced players back are Antonio Johnson and Demani Richardson. Bryce Young threw an interception to Richardson on third-and-goal, and Johnson was a member of the Pro Football Focus All-America first team in 2021.
Facing the Heisman Trophy winner won't be an easy task for any secondary, but at least this group has seen him before and won. Familiarity doesn't necessarily translate to success, but experience can breed confidence.
That's an important ingredient when many might be intimidated facing Young.
RB Devon Achane
He led the SEC in yards per rushing attempt (7.0) with 130 attempts. Achane also scored nine touchdowns.
Against Alabama, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and returned a kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown. Texas A&M awarded him the team's offensive most explosive award and offensive skill award. It makes sense that he also runs track for the Aggies.
New young talent
Regardless of how the Aggies compiled the top-ranked recruiting class for 2022 with eight five-star signees, it's undisputable that it added serious talent.
The sixth game might be too early for the additions to be difference-makers, but it might not be. After a strong spring, five-star receiver Evan Stewart is at the front of the list for a team that needs receivers.
Why Texas A&M can't win:
Unproven defensive line
The Aggies swarmed Young well in 2021 with four sacks and 19 pressures, per PFF's charting. But the front four will look much different in 2022.
Gone are DeMarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy, Tyree Johnson and Micheal Clemons, who combined for three of those sacks and 17 of the pressures against Alabama.
The Aggies certainly have talent waiting in the wings. In the freshman class alone, they have four five-star defensive linemen. But being talented doesn't automatically translate to dominating like Texas A&M will likely need to do in the trenches to limit Young and company.
Can Aggies passing offense keep up?
Texas A&M has a three-man battle at quarterback, and how good that winner is remains to be seen. Maybe he's one of the SEC's best, or maybe he's just the best of Texas A&M's trio.
If it's Max Johnson, Alabama has familiarity there. Last season, the Crimson Tide limited the former LSU quarterback to 16 completions on 32 passes for 160 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Texas A&M will also likely need the receivers to perform well. Ainias Smith is back after catching six receptions and two touchdowns against the Crimson Tide, but the other returning receivers had fairly underwhelming seasons.
Good luck beating Alabama twice
Defeating the Crimson Tide once is difficult enough. Saban has 25 losses over his 15 seasons in Tuscaloosa. Defeating Alabama in back-to-back seasons seldom happens.
Of those 23 losses prior to 2021, the Crimson Tide has had a rematch with that team the next season 15 times. Alabama has won 13 of those rematches. And one of those rare instances when the Crimson Tide lost two consecutive regular season games against LSU in 2010 and 2011, there's an asterisk next to it. Alabama defeated the Tigers in the 2011 national championship.
The Aggies could become only the third team to pull this off against Saban's Crimson Tide, but the odds are against them.
Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly