3:30 PM EST, CBS – Line: Texas A&M -7, Over/Under: 58
An SEC clash of teams featured in the Top-Ten in on tap today, though it’s probably not the teams you would think, as the eighth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies host the ninth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field in College Station. However, the hype is real, folks, for this COULD be a preview of November’s SEC Championship Game, as both teams own at the very least a very share of their respective division of the vaunted conference. Hailing from the Eastern Division, Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 in SEC) came into this season with lofty expectations as Head Coach Butch Jones entered his fourth year at the program, looking to build off of solid 9-4 campaign culminating in a 45-6 throttling of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Coupled with the return of star Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, many were calling for the Volunteers to win the SEC East for the first time since… well, let’s just say it’s been a while. However, if one thing has become clear through these first five weeks of the Regular Season, it’s that this team developed a propensity for living dangerously, or in other words found themselves playing to the level of their competition. In four of their first five outings thus far, the Vols have trailed at Halftime or later, and even needed Overtime in the Season Opener to defeat FBS heavyweight Appalachian State (20-13). Furthermore, Jones and his charges have produced miracles in each of their past two victories, a 38-28 win over Florida (their first since 2004) followed by a 34-31 triumph Georgia, which featured not one but TWO Hail Marys. Tennessee trailed 21-3 at the midway point against Florida, yet went on to score thirty-five unanswered points in the second half, in which Dobbs accounted for all five touchdowns; the Senior signal-caller threw four scores, all of twenty yards or more, and rushed for the final one before ending the day with 399 total yards and five touchdowns. A week later they would overcome a 17-7 Halftime deficit only to storm back and take a 28-24 lead with 2:56 remaining. The home side would take a 31-28 lead on a miraculous 47-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Eason to Riley Ridley leaving only ten seconds left on the clock, before more of Dobbs’ late-game magic would occur; the Quarterback heaved a 43-yard prayer from midfield towards the End Zone, only to see his teammate Jauan Jennings come down with the ball sealing yet another unbelievable victory. As a result, the Volunteers have returned to the Top-Ten in turn compiling an eleven-game winning streak, the program’s longest since the 1999 campaign, in which they went on to win their Season Opener after winning their last National Championship in 1998. Dobbs will need to be at his best against a suffocating Aggies’ defense that has been arguably the best in the conference thus far. Through five games, the Senior has completed 57.9% of his passes for 1,035 yards, thirteen touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for another 267 yards and five more scores to boot. However, he’s got to avoid the costly mistakes that have put his team in so many holes this season. In the last two games alone, the Volunteers have committed five total turnovers, and if not for their own defense’s ability to create takeaways themselves (ten), their record coming into tonight would in all likelihood e very different. Keep in mind that Tennessee are only averaging 20.8 more yards than their opponents, which is far to close to comfort when you’re talking about a serious CFP Contender. Both Florida and Georgia and Florida found success rushing (Georgia, 181 yards) and throwing (Florida, 296 yards) against these guys, which doesn’t bode well against an A&M offense that is one of the most explosive in the country.
Meanwhile, as their opponent tonight continues to find meeting high expectations increasingly more difficult, Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0 in SEC) has already exceeded those levied upon them, shattering preseason expectations to this point. Simply put, many folks were down on the Aggies coming into this season, as Kevin Sumlin saw not one, not, but THREE Quarterbacks transfer in the most unlikely of exoduses this past Summer. First it was Kenny Hill, who left to join TCU. Then it was Kyle Allen who picked up his bags and fled for in-state rival Houston. Lastly, Kyler Murray told his Coach deuces, and blazed a trial to Oklahoma, leaving many around College Station pondering just who in the hell was going to lead the Aggies in 2016. Ironically, it would be a transfer from Oklahoma, Trevor Knight that would take the reigns of the offense, and lead it to some startling numbers. Thus far, Sumlin’s offense has averaged 39.2 points (31st Overall) on a whopping 521.0 total yards per game, including 262.4 through the air and another 258.6 on the ground. Now THAT is balance, folks. Like his counterpart in Knoxville, Knight has been lethal with both his arm and his legs; the Senior signal-caller has completed 54.1% of his passes for 1,261 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions, while rushing for another 392 yards and six scores as well. He overcame a relatively poor passing performance in last weekend’s 24-13 victory at South Carolina, in which he completed just 23-of-40 passes for 206 yards and an interception, yet accounted for eighty-four of his team’s 216 rushing yards and one of their three rushing touchdowns. With that said, one of the primary reason that that contest was so close in the first place was the fact that Sumlin’s charges were rather shorthanded; a number of prominent contributors including the likes of Wideouts Speedy Noil (Undisclosed) and Ricky Seals-Jones (Leg), Offensive Lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (Undisclosed), and monster Defensive End Myles Garrett (Ankle) missed the game, leaving their availability for tonight’s tilt in question. The towering Josh Reynolds (6-4, 190 lbs) has more than adequately picked up the slack for his fellow Receivers, reeling in twenty passes for 399 yards (20.0 y/c) and three touchdowns, while Tailback Trayveon Williams has settled into the lead role in the Backfield, rushing for 487 yards and four scores on just fifty carries (9.0 y/c). On the other hand, the void left by Garrett’s absence will be felt in both the running game and the passing game. The Junior Pass-Rusher sits atop many Mock Drafts, and for good reason; Garrett has accumulated 25.5 Sacks in twenty-eight games for the Aggies, along with thirty-seven tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He’s a major reason why this defense has yielded just 15.4 points per game, twelfth-fewest in the nation.
Predicted Outcome: Texas A&M 38, Tennessee 27