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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Five storylines: Texas A&M vs. Alabama

By Sam Khan Jr.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After a decisive road win over a ranked team, Texas A&M will go into Bryant-Denny Stadium as a hot team that should provide an intriguing matchup for the nation's No. 1 team, Alabama. The No. 15 Aggies (7-2, 4-2 SEC) are second in the SEC West behind the Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0). Here are five storylines to keep an eye on heading into Saturday's showdown:

1. Giant killers?
Texas A&M's only two losses this season came to two teams that are now ranked in the top 10: Florida and LSU. In both games, the Aggies led by double digits in the first half but couldn't quite hang on. The Florida game involved many key players, including quarterback Johnny Manziel, playing for the first time; in the LSU game, turnovers were the killer. But in both cases, the Aggies showed they can be competitive with the SEC's traditional powers. Can they take the next step and not only compete, but pull off the upset against Alabama?

2. Road warriors
After cruising by Mississippi State 38-13 last week, the Aggies remain a perfect 5-0 away from Kyle Field. Two of the Aggies' road wins came against teams that were ranked (Mississippi State last week and Louisiana Tech when the teams met in Shreveport, La., on Oct. 13). Alabama is an entirely different team than both and better than both. But don't expect the Aggies to be intimidated or rattled by what they encounter in Tuscaloosa, Ala. They have a road routine that they stick with, and it has worked to perfection so far.

3. Defensive depth
The Aggies have been a pleasant surprise defensively, but this will be a significant test. Alabama probably has the best offensive line Texas A&M has seen all season, and the collection of skill talent the Crimson Tide has isn't bad either. The Aggies were taxed physically when playing LSU, and that will likely be a factor when playing Alabama this week. They aren't the deepest team out there and not everyone is 100 percent, so if there was ever a game in which the Aggies' defensive depth will be tested, it's this one. That could play a factor in the latter stages of the game.

4. Tempo, tempo, tempo
While the Aggies might not be as big or deep as the Crimson Tide in some areas, one advantage they do have is in their offensive tempo. When the Aggies' offense is clicking, it's hard to defend since it moves at such a fast pace. Mississippi gave Alabama a few headaches when the teams met in October and the Rebels attacked in an up-tempo style, though Alabama won the game 33-14. LSU had some troubles defending the Aggies early as well, though the Tigers adjusted to it in the second half. It's worth watching to see how Alabama deals with it.

5. Manziel vs. Alabama's defense
Alabama is the highest-ranked defense the Aggies have seen to date: the Crimson Tide are No. 2 nationally in total defense. They're big, they're fast and they're good. Manziel has been impressive for much of his inaugural season but he has also had some rough times, particularly against Florida and LSU -- the teams that held him to his lowest rushing totals of the season. He'll have to take care of the football and the decisions he makes will be crucial if the Aggies are to have a chance. Coach Kevin Sumlin often speaks about the offense being "quarterback-friendly" and that the 10 guys around him have to help him if they want to win. Those words will absolutely ring true on Saturday against a defense of this caliber.