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Breaking down Arizona State-Texas A&M: First to 40, wins?

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Pac-12 vs. SEC on display in Houston

Rece Davis puts the spotlight on Saturday's Arizona State-Texas A&M matchup, where the result will affect conference comparisons across the nation.

One of the top non-conference matchups in Week 1 will take place at NRG Stadium in Houston as Arizona State meets Texas A&M in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. To preview the game, Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and SEC reporter Sam Khan Jr. offer up their insights ahead of Saturday's kickoff (7 p.m. ET, ESPN):

Key to the Arizona State offense: It's all about tempo. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell usually likes to script his first set and then react from there. Quarterback Mike Bercovici isn't exactly a newcomer, having helped the Sun Devils to a 2-1 mark last season with wins over USC and Stanford while starter Taylor Kelly recovered from an injury. They are going to come out fast and spread the ball all over the field. And Bercovici has the arm to hit every pass in the playbook. -- Gemmell

Key to the Texas A&M offense: Run the football effectively. The Aggies don't need to go into the I-formation and hand it off 50 times but a good run presence from the duo of Tra Carson and James White would help keep the chains moving and temper some of the aggressiveness expected from the Arizona State defense. In the coach Kevin Sumlin era, the Aggies are 25-3 when rushing for more than 150 yards; 3-8 when finishing with 150 or fewer. -- Khan

Key to the Arizona State defense: Blitz, blitz, blitz. The Sun Devils blitzed more than any team in Power 5 football last season. And the results were outstanding. When bringing extra attackers, the Sun Devils led the country in sacks (32), were third in interceptions (7) and tied for 14th in yards per play (4.5). They'll blitz in nontraditional situations. And with nine starters back on that side of the ball, there is enough experience that first-game jitters shouldn't be an issue. -- Gemmell

Key to the Texas A&M defense: Win third down. The Aggies high-powered offense and up-tempo nature means their defense is on the field a lot, so yardage totals aren't nearly as important as third down conversions. When keeping teams to a less than 40 percent third down conversion rate last year, Texas A&M was 6-1. When the rate hit 40 percent or higher, the Aggies were 2-4. -- Khan

Arizona State X factor: The Sun Devils feel like they can get enough production on the ground out of sophomore running back Demario Richard. So they moved former 1,000-yard rusher D.J. Foster to wide receiver -- plugging a hole that opened up with Jaelen Strong's departure to the NFL. But don't just expect Foster to stand on one side of the field and just do sprints. Norvell will put him all over the field. He'll still play a role in the screen game, but will also be used at every receiver spot. Sometimes as a decoy, sometimes as the primary receiver. -- Gemmell

Texas A&M X factor: In the offseason, the Aggies moved Brandon Williams -- a career running back -- to cornerback. The senior received positive reviews from teammates and coaches during training camp and was even elected a team captain. Either Williams or Nick Harvey will start at the corner spot opposite senior De'Vante Harris, but regardless, Williams will play early and often. How well he adjusts to his new position will impact the Aggies' defensive performance. -- Khan

Predictions:

Gemmell: ESPN's metrics say TAMU has a 74 percent chance of winning. I respectfully disagree. I think it's closer to 50-50, perhaps with a slight edge to A&M given the venue. But with 16 returning starters, an outstanding kicker and some of the more explosive playmakers in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils certainly have a chance to make a splash in Week 1. This is one of the most disciplined teams in the country, so I'll call the ASU upset, 42-35.

Khan: Sumlin's teams tend to start fast and show well right out of the gate. With new defensive coordinator John Chavis making his debut, that unit -- which struggled mightily the past two seasons -- should be much improved. The Aggies are going to score points thanks to quarterback Kyle Allen and a collection of elite receiver talent surrounding him. The Aggies also have 16 returning starters -- the highest number in Sumlin's A&M career -- and will have the crowd edge with the game being in Houston, roughly 90 minutes away from College Station, Texas. Give me the Aggies in a shootout, 45-38.