UCLA at Nebraksa.
Washington travels to Chicago to play a surprising Illinois team.
Wisconsin travels to Arizona State.
Thank you college football for these intoxicating early season match ups. Well, thank you, Big Ten and Pac-12.
But at 3:30pm on Saturday, everyone will be watching Alabama at Texas A&M. Here are 5 factors to consider in predicting the outcome of the game.
An elite matchup on one side of the ball
Texas A&M and QB Johnny Manziel have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Based on yards per play adjusted for strength of schedule, they rank 2nd behind Georgia.
However, they face Alabama’s 2nd ranked defense (behind Florida). This is pure strength on strength, although one has to wonder whether 2 weeks of preparation for Alabama coach Nick Saban can tip the balance.
More on that later.
Alabama’s offensive line
If you saw any highlights from Alabama’s opening week win over Virginia Tech, you probably saw QB AJ McCarron getting sacked. Their offense struggled, gaining 3.5 yards per play compared with a 5.73 FBS average.
Alabama had to replace 3 offensive linemen chosen in the NFL draft (2 within the first 11 picks). If the team has any weakness, it’s along this front line.
However, Alabama didn’t protect McCarron that well last season. They gave up sacks on 6.25% of pass attempts, 83rd in the nation. But Alabama did run the ball at will, opening up the play action pass for big gains.
6.21 yards per rush
Texas A&M has played Rice and Sam Houston State, not quite the elite competition they will face in the SEC West. However, they gave up an astounding 6.21 yards per rush in those games. The FBS average is 5.08.
Alabama only rushed for 3.5 yards per rush against Virginia Tech. With all the warnings about small sample size, this looks like weakness against weakness.
The Alabama coach knows how to prepare a team. His teams have played well in the last 3 national title games in which they’ve had over a month to prepare.
Since Alabama didn’t play last week, Saban has had two weeks to develop a defensive scheme to contain Johnny Manziel. I’m guessing this is a huge reason that Alabama is more than a 7 point favorite on the road. Vegas thinks Alabama, despite their troubles in week 1, are 10 points better than Texas A&M.
However, scheme doesn’t always overcome talent. Saban could only watch as Cam Newton, another mobile quarterback, brought Auburn back from a 24-0 deficit to beat Alabama in 2010.
The idiot factor
I’m all about numbers on this site. They are an essential element of understanding football. But numbers will never tell the complete story about football.
And numbers will never quantify what’s going on in Johnny Manziel’s head. He let a player from Rice, who probably spends most of his week on chemical engineering homework, goad him into a unsportsmanlike penalty.
Johnny Manziel has a temper. And I bet that temper might show up if he gets frustrated against Alabama’s defense. Or if a defender takes a shot at his head or knee during the game.
Manziel has lived a college football fantasy, with his Heisman trophy campaign last season. He probably hasn’t been frustrated on the football field since the LSU game last season, before he became a Heisman celebrity.
CBS Sports will have a Johnny cam on the QB during the game. It should be excellent television.
My numbers say Alabama is at most 7 points better than Texas A&M. With 3 points for home field advantage, I predict about a 4 point edge for Alabama in this game.
The Prediction Tracker aggregates many different predictions for college football, and the average prediction is Alabama by 4.2 points.
But there are intangibles to consider, like Nick Saban’s prep time and Johnny Manziel’s temper. These factors are most likely pushing the line to 7.5 points in favor of Alabama. I think it was even higher earlier this week.
All factors point to better than even odds for Alabama to win on the road at Kyle Field.