1. Matt Elam, NT
Three years ago, the hulking defensive lineman from Elizabethtown's John Hardin High School was at the center of one of the most hard-fought recruiting battles in all of college football. UK's Mark Stoops wound up beating Bama's Nick Saban for the coveted prospect, and on Saturday he'll face the Tide for the first time in his career. There's no doubt that the 6-foot-7, 360-pound Elam (pictured above) will be amped to face the defending national champions, who will surely try to run the ball early and often against the UK front seven. Last week, Elam was praised by Stoops for playing one of the best games of his college career against South Carolina, helping hold the Gamecocks to 2.6 yards per rushing attempt and recording a sack. Now we'll see if he can build on that effort going against one of the best O-Lines in the country.
2. Landon Young, LT
With Kentucky's quarterback depth situation being in critical condition as Drew Barker continues to rest his ailing back, the importance of the left tackle spot is magnified even higher than its usual standard. Freshman Landon Young has performed well since moving into the starting lineup, but this is obviously his greatest challenge to date. Expect him to clash with Bama senior defensive end Jonathan Allen, who has four quarterback hurries, three sacks and two pass break-ups on the season. Allen has nine sacks in the last 10 games he has played dating back to 2015. One of his highlight reel plays earlier this season was a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Ole Miss, one of a national-high four defensive touchdowns the Tide has scored this season. It's a great matchup for two guys who may eventually line up across from each other at the next level someday. If Young can handle this assignment, there's really no one left on the schedule that should intimidate the former U.S. Army All-American too much.
3. Mike Edwards, S
Alabama seems to have one of the better players in the country at just about every position on the field, but it's especially true at tight end with O.J. Howard. Edwards has to be aware of where Howard is at all times. South Carolina found its tight end, Hayden Hurst, seven times for 84 yards last week. Howard has a modest 10 catches for 152 yards and one touchdown so far this season, so the 6-foot-6, 251-pound athlete with impressive speed is due for a breakout game.
4. Stephen Johnson, QB (assisted by Eddie Gran, OC)
It can be argued that your quarterback should be on this list for every game, and I nearly passed on listing Johnson, but he really does play a key role in this matchup even if he doesn't put up great stats. Johnson has to play mistake-free football -- no self-inflicted errors -- and take advantage of the extremely limited opportunities a defense like Alabama (which has allowed only seven red-zone drives all season) gives an opponent. UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran must do everything possible to keep the juco transfer out of bad situations and ride backs like Boom Williams and Benny Snell Jr. as much as possible. The Cats are expected to run, run, run and run some more in this one, but that's easier said than done against the Tide. Eventually, Johnson will have to convert some passes to loosen the D up and keep the chains moving. One out of every five touchdowns Bama has scored this season has been by the defense.null