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Alabama game plan: Run early, often vs. Texas A&M

I've been around a few years, but I've never seen a game receive as much attention as Alabama-Texas A&M is getting. Last year's match drew the fourth-largest TV audience (9.6 million viewers) of the 2012 college football season. I suspect Saturday's game could draw the largest TV audience in a decade.

I just hope it can somehow live up to the hype.

Certainly it will be played better than when the two teams met for the first time in the 1942 Cotton Bowl. A&M had 12 turnovers; Alabama won, 29-21, despite putting up a little more than 100 yards on offense ... and one first down. They've played four times since, which brings us to the Aggies' epic upset of the Crimson Tide last November.

You'll remember A&M scored 20 points in the first quarter, more than Alabama gave up in an entire game to their 11 other regular-season opponents last season. In fact, the Tide defense rolled over its foes, putting up four shutouts and holding nine teams to two touchdowns or less.

Nick Saban will have a great game plan, one you know he's been working on ever since that fateful (but not fatal) loss 10 months ago. For two reasons, I suspect he'll run the ball heavy behind guard Arie Kouandjio early in the game.

For one, Kouandjio is one hell of a player, certainly the Tide's best offensive lineman. And the theory is that the best way to take a home team's crowd out of it is to successfully run the ball, control the clock and keep it out of the opposing team's hands, in this case Manziel's. The second reason I think they'll run the ball is to set up play-action passes to talented WR Amari Cooper.

The Aggies will want to get the ball to WR Mike Evans early and have Manziel run a lot. That could be trouble for Alabama, whose defense isn't as good as it was last year when the Tide gave up just 7.5 points per game in the regular season (minus game vs. A&M).

Final prediction: Alabama 37, Texas A&M 27

Three Week 3 games I'm interested in

1. Louisville at Kentucky: In 1924, Kentucky beat Louisville 24-0. It took another 70 years before they played again. Credit Howard Schnellenberger for bringing the in-state rivalry back in 1994. For the past 19 years, it's been a pretty good series (Cardinals have won 11 of 19). Last year, Louisville got ahead 32-7 and Charlie Strong pulled his starters. They say he didn't want to beat Kentucky too bad because he didn't want the Wildcats to fire coach Joker Phillips. Didn't work. I like Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville in this one.

2. Mississippi at Texas: Texas scored 66 points and put up 676 yards of offense in last year's matchup with Ole Miss. It was the most the Rebels had given up in their modern history. This might be the most important game in Mack Brown's career. There's a groundswell to get him fired. Now I admit up front that Mack is a good friend of mine, so let's get that out there. But I think it would be a huge mistake, the dumbest thing the university could do. In 2011, Georgia started 0-2, got beat by Boise State and South Carolina. They were calling for Mark Richt's head. Same type of criticism. Richt came back and went to the SEC title game in each of the next two years. Last week, Texas had trouble against immobile BYU QB Taysom Hill. On Saturday, the Longhorns face mobile QB Bo Wallace. I like Texas in a close one, 37-35.

3. UCLA at Nebraska: This figures to be a very high-scoring game. UCLA QB Brett Hundley and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez had very similar stats last season with the exception of rushing yards. Martinez ran for more than 1,000 yards. Nebraska used to have a great defense, but now now is offensive-minded. UCLA historically was a running team; now relies on the pass. Taking Nebraska, 42-28.

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Upset special

Kansas over Rice: Last year Rice won at Kansas. But Charlie Weiss is one of the better coaches in college football, and he has better players starting than he did in last year's matchup.

This and that ...

» In 2002, current Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was an assistant coach with the Aggies under R.C. Slocum. When Slocum was fired, Sumlin was looking for a job. Saban, then LSU's head coach, invited Sumlin to his home situated on 20 acres in Baton Rouge. The two talked and afterward Saban offered Sumlin an assistant's job. Sumlin ended up going to Oklahoma and the two coaches met up again in the BCS National Championship Game, where LSU won, 21-14, in New Orleans. Coach Saban was kind enough to send me four tickets to the game.

» USC is 3-0 vs. Boston College. Since 2002, the Trojans are 19-2 at home vs. non-conference foes. Both losses came to Notre Dame.

» Washington travels to Chicago to play Illinois at Soldier Field this week. The Huskies are 1-10 in their last 11 road openers. Last year they lost at LSU, 41-3. The year before, they gave up 51 points to Nebraska.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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