By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — When Alabama opened the season ranked first and Texas A&M was sixth, many figured their Week 6 meeting would be a can’t-miss-it showdown.
Now that it’s here, it certainly isn’t the game that was expected.
Alabama is exactly where it was predicted to be, undefeated through five games won mostly with ease. But the Aggies limp into Saturday’s game unranked after consecutive losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State that dashed their goal of finally competing for a national title.
They’ve lost eight straight to Alabama, and the oddsmakers are confident that the skid will stretch to nine with Texas A&M entering the game as 17 ½-point underdogs to the defending national champions.
Despite this, Alabama coach Nick Saban knows the Aggies have too much talent for his team to take them lightly.
“This is a very challenging game that we have coming up against a very good team,” he said. “These guys have 15 starters coming back from one of the best teams in the country last year. This is a very challenging place to play.”
In College Station, coach Jimbo Fisher spent the week challenging his players to clean up their mistakes and rise to the challenge.
“The guys are disappointed and down,” Fisher said. “But they understand there is a lot of football left and a lot of work we can do and a lot of room that we can get better in.”
He hopes the Aggies can ignore the negativity this week.
“People are going to doubt you, they are going to love you, all based off of what you do on a Saturday,” he said. “That’s the world we are in.”
The player who has shouldered most of the blame for A&M’s struggles is quarterback Zach Calzada. The former backup has had a tough time since taking over at halftime of the team’s second game after Haynes King broke his leg.
Calzada has averaged just 143 yards passing with two interceptions with one touchdown in two SEC games.
Fisher said Calzada is making progress and believes the team is behind him. But the veteran coach knows that he’ll face the bulk of the criticism for the team’s problems until they start winning.
“Anytime you are the quarterback and you don’t win, everything is going to be scrutinized — every throw, every time you touch the ball,” Fisher said.
Saban is 24-0 against his former assistants, including a 42-21 win over Lane Kiffin and No. 17 Mississippi last week. Fisher has faced his old boss more than any of the others. He’s met Saban four times with the first coming in 2017 when Fisher coached Florida State and the past three years at Texas A&M.
CLIMBING THE CHARTS
Texas A&M tight end Jalen Wydermyer has the most career touchdown receptions by a tight end in school history with 13. He has 1,129 yards receiving in his career and needs just 52 yards to move into second place on the school’s list of yards receiving by a tight end.
“Jalen is an outstanding player,” Fisher said. “He’s really gotten better and better, he’s progressing as a player.”
BEATING THE UNRANKED
Texas A&M falling from the rankings gives Alabama a chance to extend a record. The Tide has beaten 100 consecutive unranked teams starting with a win over Colorado in the 2007 Independence Bowl to end Saban’s first season.
Alabama will face its first game without No. 2 rusher Jase McClellan, out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. That should create expanded roles for Roydell Williams and Trey Sanders behind Brian Robinson Jr. Five-star freshman Camar Wheaton is also out, leaving the Tide with three healthy scholarship backs.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.
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