No. 23 Texas A&M will face No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday night in a key SEC West rivalry game. The annual game played in front of a split crowd at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas, will go a long way in determining which team will be able to challenge Alabama for the division crown. The Aggies are coming off a 17-9 win over then-No. 13 Miami in which its secondary held future NFL Draft pick Tyler Van Dyke in check for the majority of the game. The Razorbacks skated by Missouri State and former coach Bobby Petrino after a 10-point, fourth quarter comeback, to win 38-27.
A win for the Aggies over a ranked division foe, especially if their offense can crank it up, will go a long way toward calming fears in College Station, Texas. Were the Razorbacks looking ahead last week when they struggled with an FCS opponent? Maybe. The loser of this team will be erase any margin for error in the West, so consider this the biggest division matchup of the young season.
Let's preview the matchup and make picks straight-up and against the spread.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: Need to know
Weakness vs. Weakness: The winner of this one might hinge on which team hides its issues the best. The Razorback pass defense is the worst in the nation giving up 352.7 yards per game. That's pretty remarkable since they lead the nation in sacks per game at 5.67 -- a full sack per game ahead of second place USC and Washington State. The secondary is getting plenty of help from its front seven and it has still been dreadful.
The elixir might be Texas A&M's passing offense, which ranks No. 99 in the country averaging 208 yards per game. Coach Jimbo Fisher made a quarterback change from Haynes King to Max Johnson last week, and the only real impact was the lack of interceptions thrown by Johnson in the win over Miami. However, he only completed 10 of his 20 passes for 140 yards, which aren't exactly Heisman Trophy-caliber stats.
Will the real Max Johnson please stand up? Johnson was solid as the starting quarterback at LSU for parts of the last two seasons, and he's going to have to show it on Saturday. He threw for 3,884 yards and 35 touchdowns in those two seasons, and only tossed seven picks in 18 games. That's pretty darn solid, and certainly good enough to keep Texas A&M in contention in the SEC West. We didn't see it last week vs. Miami, though.
Johnson doesn't have to be Johnny Manziel or even Kellen Mond out there. However, he has to provide enough of a threat downfield to keep safeties honest so they don't stack the box to stop Devon Achane and Co.
The battle in the trenches: The Razorbacks have taken on the identity of their coach, Sam Pittman. The former offensive line coach has developed them into one that owns the line of scrimmage. They've only given up four sacks through three games, and have a rushing attack led by tailback Raheim Sanders and quarterback KJ Jefferson that is as punishing as any in the country.
We saw Appalachian State wear down that Aggies defensive front two weeks ago, and there's no doubt that Pittman not only will replicate the Mountaineers' game plan, but has the personnel to do it even better unless Fisher makes adjustments.
How to watch Texas A&M vs. Arkansas live
Date: Saturday, Sept. 24 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium -- Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas prediction, picks
Give me the Hogs, and give them to me big. Sanders, the SEC's leading rusher, has been a terror between the tackles and outside in space. He, along with Jefferson, will wear down this defensive front and pull away late. On the other side of the ball, the stout Razorback pass rush will exploit the struggling Aggies defensive line and put Johnson and the offense behind the sticks. That's a recipe for disaster for Johnson and a passing game that hasn't shown a sign of life yet. Prediction: Arkansas (+1.5)
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