- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Tuesdays aren't Spencer Nealy's favorite.
The Texas A&M defensive tackle doesn't always look forward to practices on Tuesday. But with Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country, on deck for a showdown with the Aggies on Saturday, his feeling was different.
"We usually hate Tuesday practices and I'm pretty amped up right now," Nealy said Tuesday. "I don't like taking on those double-teams as much on Tuesdays, but today, we've got to get after them. I'm jacked."
Coach Kevin Sumlin has been adamant about having a consistent approach weekly and keeping the team's routine the same. But there's no denying that the feeling in the pit of the Aggies' stomachs is just a little different with the opportunity that awaits at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When it comes to playing Alabama, the team that has won two of the past three BCS championships and annually produces numerous NFL draft picks, there's often a David-versus-Goliath feel. Coming into this season, that would have applied for Texas A&M, too, when observers looked at the schedule and saw the trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium coming as the third of a three-game SEC road swing.
Expectations for the Aggies weren't extremely high. A seven-win season would have been considered respectable by many pundits nationwide, considering the caliber of the league Texas A&M entered. The Aggies have already met that total and are looking at the possibility of a nine or 10-win campaign.
And what once might have been considered a sure Alabama win is now a game that could very well be anybody's come Saturday.
"It's a big challenge for us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They've got a really good team on both sides of the ball. Really explosive on offense, probably the best offensive team in our league, especially in their presentation, and their quarterback has played phenomenally well for them. Very athletic and it's going to be a real challenge. I think it's a real challenge for anybody that plays against them."
Sitting at 7-2 and second place in the SEC West (4-2), the Aggies have been lauded for what they've done so far but might still be flying under the radar. They're behind three other two-loss teams (LSU, South Carolina and Oklahoma) in the human polls (No. 15) and also behind Stanford in the BCS rankings (also No. 15). They aren't considered juggernauts by any stretch of the imagination.
Part of that could be attributed to the fact that their two losses came at home to two teams that are now ranked in the top 10: Florida (No. 6 BCS, No. 7 AP) and LSU (No. 7 BCS, No. 9 AP). But make no mistake, the Aggies showed they were capable of going toe-to-toe with each.
In both instances, the Aggies led those teams by double digits. In the season opener against Florida, the Aggies took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter. Against LSU, they jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Each team came back to take control, but the Aggies remained in the game until the final minute both times.
With a redshirt freshman at quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and receiver (Mike Evans) and two true freshmen starting on defense (defensive end Julien Obioha and cornerback De'Vante Harris), it hasn't always been perfect. There have undoubtedly been mistakes made, and that's part of the deal when you have young players in key spots, particularly when new schemes are installed, which the Aggies did on both sides of the ball this season. Turnovers were an issue against LSU. Against Florida, the offense stalled and there were many missed tackles on defense.
This is a different team now than it was in Week 1, or even on Oct. 20 when it faced LSU. Sumlin said the Aggies were able to take away something positive from both games.
"I think if there's anything out of it that we've gotten as a team, even though we were disappointed to lose those two games, I think that there's a little bit of confidence out of our football team from being able to handle the physical nature of this league," Sumlin said. "Understanding that Florida and LSU had a lot to do with the mistakes we made, but we can certainly play better. Our guys understand that.
"We haven't played a complete football game yet. I'm not talking about playing a perfect game, I'm talking about playing a complete game. Some of our games, our starters have been out in the third quarter. Other games we've turned the ball over and won or found a variety of ways to win, but we still haven't played a complete game yet. If we can do that, I think we can be dangerous for anybody."
Their past two outings have been resounding road victories at Auburn and Mississippi State. This Saturday's affair will be a completely different animal altogether. The Crimson Tide are the nation's best and right now are the gold standard in college football. Just the thought of the matchup has Nealy and his teammates fired up.
"We talked about it; we haven't played a No. 1 team ever [in our careers]," Nealy said. "Oklahoma State last year, we played them and they were No. , but it didn't feel like that. This is the No. 1 team. We've played the No. 5 team, which was cool. But this is big-time, and we need to come out there and shock the world."
1dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon