Early Analysis: Mississippi State vs. Texas A&M

No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 15 Mississippi State
Saturday, 12 p.m. ESPN
Line: Texas A&M -7

With both Arkansas and Auburn in the midst of major turnover, the No. 3 spot in the SEC West is sitting up for grabs, and the two teams that seem most likely to take it (Mississippi State and Texas A&M) will play this weekend. For the winner, it’ll put them in the clear position as third best team in this division behind Alabama and LSU, a spot no one thought either would reside in as recently as a few months ago.

Simply put, this isn’t just a huge game for the 2012 season, but the future of these two programs as well.

So who’ll have the edge when Texas A&M’s high-powered passing attack goes against the experienced defensive backfield of Mississippi State?

Let’s take a look:

For Texas A&M to Win: Well, really, they’ve just got to keep doing what they’re doing offensively. Kevin Sumlin has taken the SEC by storm and this is a program which has turned itself into a force in this conference in a very short time; a year after the Aggies couldn’t beat mid-level Big XII teams, now they’re competing with, and beating high-level SEC ones.

What’s most impressive is what they’ve done of late. Taking out the LSU game (since nobody does anything against LSU’s defense), the Aggies are averaging 42 points a game in SEC play and scored at least 30 points in six of their last seven games. The only outlier in those seven games was the Aggies matchup with LSU, a team which just so happens to have the No. 2 defense in college football.

By the way, did I mention that this is still Sumlin’s first year in College Station? Can you imagine what he’ll be able to do when he gets his own recruits in and his current players comfortable in his system?

It’s scary to think about.

This program is undoubtedly on the rise.

For Mississippi State to Win: We all know the best way to slow down a good offense is to keep them off the field, which is why Mississippi State needs to establish the run game early.

Thankfully the Bulldogs have a guy who can do just that in LaDarius Perkins. Despite struggling against Alabama last week (since really, who doesn’t struggle against Alabama?), the junior has been fantastic this season with just under 800 yards rushing, and over 100 yards in four of his last five games.

Slowing down the Texas A&M offense is key, meaning there is no one more valuable to Mississippi State this weekend than Perkins.

Key Player, Texas A&M: Duh, could it be anyone other than Johnny Manziel?

While the answer is obvious, it’s still hard to quantify exactly how much this redshirt freshman means to this team. On the season Manziel has thrown for 16 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more, numbers that are more impressive when you consider that Manziel’s 26 total scores are just two fewer than Heisman favorite Collin Klein of Kansas State.

More importantly, it’s not just the stats, but about the confidence Manziel brings every other guy on the field when he touches the ball. It seems like on every play Manziel is a threat to do something special, be it with his feet, his arm or some combination of the two. You wouldn’t believe how many SEC fans have told me personally, “Man, we just had no answer for that kid.” SEC defensive coordinators are assuredly saying the same.

Don’t expect that to change any time soon, either.

Key Player, Mississippi State: With Manziel running and throwing all over vaunted SEC defenses this year it means that the Bulldogs best player, defensive back Johnthan Banks, will be their most important.

In the same way that Manziel is the great equalizer for the Aggies offense Banks is the same for State’s defense, the player on the field that the other team has no answer for. On the season Banks has four interceptions, meaning that he’ll take on an especially strong role this Saturday against a Texas A&M passing offense that’s as good as any the Bulldogs will see all year.

It’ll be a tall task for Mississippi State, but one Banks should be up to the challenge of.

Key Stat: 1-7, which is Mississippi State’s record against ranked opponents since the beginning of the 2010 season. That sole win came against Florida in 2010, in a season which the Gators finished 8-5 and Urban Meyer left shortly thereafter. State is 22-2 against unranked opponents in that stretch.

The point?

As much as we like State, they’ve still got quite a bit to prove against quality teams.

And we’ve got to wonder how they’ll handle the high-powered passing attack of Texas A&M Saturday.

For all his opinion, insight and analysis please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.