After enjoying its bye week, Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC) returns to conference play this weekend when it entertains Mississippi State Saturday night at Kyle Field (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Last year, when the Aggies arrived in Starkville, they were No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff rankings. The 35-28 loss put an end to those playoff hopes and was the start of a 1-4 finish to the campaign.
Here are five things you should know about this matchup:
1. The quarterbacks
Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kellen Mond has bounced back nicely from his dismal effort against UCLA in the opener to put together a solid debut season.
On the year, he’s 96-for-179 passing for 1,225 yards, 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He’s also the team’s third-leading rusher with 318 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He’s a dual-threat quarterback, much like his counterpart for this week, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald. The junior has completed 107 of his 188 passes for 1,179 yards, 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 569 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, which rank eighth and third, respectively, in the conference in yards and touchdowns.
In addition, he piled up 390 yards of total offense and 4 touchdowns in last year’s game.
2. Series history
The two schools have split 10 meetings right down the middle at five wins each. It’s worth noting that the home team has won each of the last four meetings.
3. The opening line
Depending on the book, the game is a pick ’em or Mississippi State is a one-point favorite. The over/under is 56.
4. Player to watch
Senior safety Armani Watts is well acquainted with Mississippi State, having faced them three previous times. He has 26 tackles against the Bulldogs in his career, but has never had an interception.
Only Missouri’s Drew Lock (9) and Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson (8) have served up more of them than Fitzgerald this year, so there could be some chances for him to pick one off this weekend.
5. What’s at stake
If you take a look at the standings, Texas A&M is tied for third in the SEC West with LSU. Auburn has one more league win, but the Aggies face both of the teams ahead of them before the end of the year.
Auburn visits next week, and that game could be huge in the league standings. But it won’t mean nearly as much if Texas A&M can’t collect a home win against Mississippi State Saturday.
It’s virtually a pick ’em, so it’s likely to be a tight game. On defense, forcing Fitzgerald to throw from the pocket and limiting his big gains on the ground will be key. Offensively, taking care of the football and staying out of obvious passing downs would be helpful against coordinator Tood Grantham’s defense.
It comes down to this: Saturday night could be the start of something special for this year’s Aggies, or it could be the beginning of another late-season swoon.