The "Game of the Year" between Texas A&M and Alabama got thrown a curveball on Monday, when two Aggie starters were arrested on misdemeanor assault charges.
Cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven were suspended from team activities after being arrested for their roles in an April 7 fight that left two men injured and a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe damaged. The two assault charges are Class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
With their status with the team in doubt, all eyes point to that Sept. 14 matchup with the Crimson Tide and how the Aggies can hang if two starters are either out or coming back from suspension.
It won't matter.
While I'm sure head coach Kevin Sumlin would appreciate Raven and Everett being on the field—provided they do what they have to do to work back from suspension—this game won't be won or lost with A&M's secondary.
It'll be all about the O.
Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban better be prepared for what will be the most prevalent question at SEC Media Days later this month.
"Hey coach, what will you do to make sure Johnny Manziel doesn't run all over you this season?" (or some variation thereof, perhaps one or two starting with "talk about")
That's a loaded question, because Texas A&M's offense is going to be ultra-dynamic this year.
It isn't just "Manziel and everybody else."
The Aggies have four running backs in Ben Malena, Brandon Williams, Trey Williams and Tra Carson who can excel in a variety of ways. The ability of the four-headed monster and Sumlin's creativity will put stress on Alabama's front seven, and if the Aggies can keep Alabama off-balance, it can repeat the feat and topple the Tide for the second straight season.
But it's the passing game where A&M can really exploit Alabama.
The biggest question on Alabama's defense headed into the 2013 season is at cornerback, where Dee Milliner no longer is on the roster and Deion Belue is being asked to step up into more of a leadership role. Saban will be relying on several inexperienced players including Geno Smith, John Fulton and Bradley Sylve.
That means talented wide receivers Mike Evans, LeKendrick Williams and Malcome Kennedy will be lining up opposite boatloads of inexperience. But there's more. Talented newcomers JaQuay Williams, Ricky Seals-Jones and Kyrion Parker—all of whom are 6'3" or taller—are certainly capable of making Alabama's corners sweat.
Who will win on Sept. 14?
For Alabama to get revenge, it will have to get key stops.
That's not to say that Alabama won't benefit from the absence of Raven and Everett if they aren't on the field. It will.
The best defense is a ball-control offense, and Alabama has proven time and time again that it is willing and able to play ground-and-pound better than any team in the country, no matter how the roster turns over from year to year. That puts pressure on the Aggie defense overall, but more so on the front seven than the secondary.
Raven and Everett being in limbo isn't ideal. That goes without saying.
But if they don't suit up for the Aggies on Sept. 14, it won't be the difference between a win and a loss. A&M's offense and its front seven are far more important pieces to that puzzle.