It's only the third week of the college football season, but fans will already have the pleasure of watching the most important game of the year with the exception of the National Championship Game. The No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies will host the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in a game that could already decide the SEC.
Texas A&M pulled off the upset over 'Bama in its first season in the SEC last year behind the arm and legs of quarterback Johnny Manziel. While Manziel will obviously have a huge say in whether or not the Aggies are able to pull off the upset yet again, there are plenty of under-the-radar players that will make a major impact as well.
Here are the top X-factors that will decide who comes out on top when Alabama travels to College Station to face Texas A&M.
Manziel is clearly the bulk of the Aggies' offense as he is the team's best passer and rusher, but Texas A&M is far more dangerous when Manziel is receiving support from his running backs. Luckily for Manziel, he has a pair of solid backs that will take some of the pressure off him over the course of the season.
Senior Ben Malena is the Aggies' leading rusher so far this season after racking up 808 yards on the ground last year, but Tra Carson is arguably the most important running back on Texas A&M's roster.
Carson was not a factor as a freshman last season, but he has been huge so far in 2013. Carson has totaled 127 rushing yards with an average of 5.5 yards per carry, and he has also found paydirt on four occasions.
At 6'1" and 230 pounds, Carson is an absolute load for opposing defenses to bring down, and he is extremely effective in short yardage situations. Gabe Bock of TexAgs Radio believes that Carson's size and power adds another dimension to the Texas A&M offense.
It is extremely difficult to run on the Alabama defense, but Carson is the type of guy who should be able to do it. Speed backs struggle against Alabama because the Tide swarm to the ball on defense and snuff out off-tackle runs.
Carson is especially good at pounding the ball up the middle and wearing down the defense, and head coach Kevin Sumlin figures to use him in that role on Saturday.
The Alabama defense is stacked with elite talent, so it's very easy for defensive back Vinnie Sunseri to fly under the radar. Sunseri is a heart-and-soul player for Bama, though, and he makes big plays when he needs to.
Sunseri made his presence felt in Alabama's Week 1 victory over Virginia Tech as he picked off a Logan Thomas pass and returned it for a touchdown. It won't be as easy to bait Manziel, but Johnny Football will have to be cognizant of where Sunseri is at all times.
Sunseri made some plays in Alabama's loss to Texas A&M last year as he racked up seven tackles, which was his second-highest total of the season. He'll need to be even better on Saturday, though, both in pass and run coverage. Sunseri is fully aware of what he needs to do against Texas A&M or else he'll face the wrath of head coach Nick Saban, according to Marquavius Burnett of The Anniston Star.
Manziel was absolutely spectacular against Alabama last year as he made the 'Tide defense look ordinary. Sunseri is the glue that holds the Alabama secondary together, and his play on Saturday will have a huge impact on Alabama's success, or lack thereof.
Manziel has a ton of great weapons at his disposal, but one that has really emerged over the past couple of weeks is sophomore wide receiver Sabian Holmes. As a freshman in 2012, Holmes had just six receptions for 48 yards. He has already exceeded those totals through two weeks in 2013, with seven grabs for 81 yards and a score. Ryan Swope gave Alabama some issues last season, but he is no longer in the fold, so somebody like Holmes needs to step up.
With Mike Evans drawing the bulk of the attention from the Alabama secondary, Holmes should draw single coverage for much of the game. The Crimson Tide have some great cover guys who can thrive in one-on-one situations, but the 5'11", 175-pound receiver has speed to burn and the ability to get behind the defense.
There are so many receivers that could potentially break out and make plays against Alabama that it's difficult to predict which one ultimately will.
Based on the way Holmes has looked over the first two weeks of the season, though, he's definitely a guy worth watching, provided he and Manziel find some synergy on Saturday.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!