No. 17 Texas A&M visits Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, in what could be the tensest game of this college football season. It pits two programs that have, at the end of the day, much in common.
Both Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and A&M coach Kevin Sumlin arrived in their jobs and had quick success. Malzahn went to a national championship in his first year at Auburn, 2013,, buoyed by athletic quarterback Kendall Marshall and a brilliant running attack. Sumlin got a Heisman Trophy out of Johnny Manziel in his first year, 2012, and took the Aggies to 11-2.
For both coaches, it's been slowly downhill after that. Malzahn followed 12-2 with 15-11 over the next two years, and Sumlin followed 11-2 with 25-4 over the next three. The result is that if both aren't on what you'd call a "hot seat," they're definitely not far away. Each man needs a good year, and an SEC win over the other would be a huge boon for either. There's more on the line here than a win in the standings.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 7 p.m., ESPN. The broadcasters are Dave Flemming, Brian Griese and Todd McShay.
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Auburn opened as a 4-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. These defenses are good. You don't think of a Malzahn or Sumlin team as a defense-first outfit, but that could be where we're at. Auburn's defense looked incredible two weeks ago against Clemson, while its offense was mostly terrible and still doesn't have an obvious answer at quarterback. A&M's only given up 24 points in two games (all to UCLA in Week 1, because it played an FCS team the next week) and has Myles Garrett, the country's most freakish player, coming off the edge. Points are no guarantee here.
2. Trevor Knight and Christian Kirk are clicking. A&M's starting quarterback, an Oklahoma transfer, has been solid. He's flashed some mobility, which is nice, but he's really looked good alongside No. 1 receiver Christian Kirk. The sophomore has 13 catches for 164 yards and a couple of touchdowns, and he's got the kind of speed to take the lid off of SEC defenses. He'll be a handful for whichever Auburn cornerback draws him.
3. Can Sean White deliver? White has started Auburn's first two games, beating out veteran Jeremy Johnson and the mobile John Franklin III. He did a nice job against a Sun Belt defense, Arkansas State, last week. But he struggled badly against Clemson, and he could stand to show some proficiency against a defense more typical of Auburn's schedule.