When Alabama rolls into College Station, Texas, on Sept. 14 to take on the Texas A&M, the college football world will be watching.
Will Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel light up the Crimson Tide like he did in the first half of last season's 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa, or will Alabama head coach Nick Saban—with two weeks to prepare—do the near-impossible and shut him down?
Those are two of the biggest questions of the offseason, but they aren't the most important in this particular game.
What's more intriguing and will have more of an impact on the outcome is Alabama's ability—or inability—to shut down Texas A&M's wide receivers.
Mike Evans enters the season as the most overlooked superstar in the SEC. Playing in Manziel's Heisman-shaped shadow for the entire 2012 season, all the 6'5", 222-pounder did as a freshman was catch 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns.
That's not bad, especially if you like big, physical wide receivers with good hands.
Evans has the game-breaking ability to go up top over under-sized cornerbacks, go over the middle as a possession receiver and is a great blocker, as evidenced by his numerous appearances in the video below dedicated to the blocking of A&M's 2012 wide receivers.
But it isn't just Evans who will be an impact receiver for the Aggies this season.
Malcome Kennedy was solid last year in limited action, catching 26 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. LeKendrick Williams looked the part of a star in the spring game, catching seven passes for 105 yards; as did senior Derel Walker, who had five catches for 79 yards.
Running backs Ben Malena, Brandon Williams, Trey Williams and Tra Carson should all feature prominently into the passing attack, with all four adding different dimensions out of the backfield. Malena and Brandon Williams are every-down backs with game-breaking capabilities, and Trey Williams has the top-end speed and quickness to be a true home-run hitter.
But it isn't just the players who contributed last season who will make an impact in the passing game. Several newcomers are expected to be immediate contributors.
JaQuay Williams enrolled at A&M in January from prep school, and has all the makings to be a superstar this season. The 6'4", 204-pounder from Tyrone, Ga., is built like former Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and has the same kind of game-breaking ability. He's a downfield threat, who is also dangerous in space, making him a big-time weapon for head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Ricky Seals-Jones, a 5-star athlete in the 247Sports.com composite, is expected to be an instant impact freshman. The 6'5" 230-pounder arrived on campus on May 31, and aside from being a big target for Manziel, he can serve as the ultimate bail out. Get it in the vicinity, and Seals-Jones can out-jump opposing defensive backs.
That plays directly into one of the bigger question marks on the Alabama roster in 2013. Gone is All-American Dee Milliner. In his place, Deion Belue—who was inconsistent at times last season after transferring from junior college—is being counted on by Saban to take on more of a leadership role in the secondary.
Sophomore Geno Smith will likely slide in and become a regular starter opposite Belue after spending last season playing in the nickel package. Smith is a former 4-star prospect from Atlanta, but doesn't have a ton of experience.
After Smith, junior John Fulton and redshirt freshman Bradley Sylve could contribute to slowing down the A&M wide receivers, especially with safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Vinnie Sunseri keeping one eye on Manziel.
Alabama opens with Virginia Tech and quarterback Logan Thomas in the Georgia Dome in Week 1, but will then have two weeks to prepare for the talented and dynamic Aggies offense. That means those raw, talented and tall Aggies wide receivers will be lining up against a relatively inexperienced group of cornerbacks.
Focus on Manziel if you wish, but the "Game of the Year" in the SEC in 2013 is going to be won or lost based on who wins the battle outside.
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