Every game has a matchup within a matchup. For Texas A&M and Georgia in the Independence Bowl that matchup might not be head-to-head, but rather which receiver has the bigger breakout performance.
Both the Bulldogs and Aggies have sophomore receivers oozing with professional potential. Georgia's 6-foot-4, 207-pound A.J. Green missed the final three games of the season with an injury, but still led the Bulldogs with 751 yards on 47 receptions with six touchdowns. The former Rivals.com five-star recruit is already gaining a lot of the hype heading into Shreveport, and he has the Aggies' attention.
"In our conference the people that (Green) kind of reminds you of would be Dez (Bryant) at Oklahoma State, that caliber of guy. He's got all the tools that a wide receiver needs," said A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines. "He's got the height, he's got the speed, he's got the hands and really good speed. He and that youngster over there at Alabama were probably No. 1 and No. 2 in recruiting in a lot of people's minds coming out. He's a classic wide receiver that can really get down the field quick."
The Aggies answer with 6-foot-4, 215-pound Jeff Fuller who missed four games himself after fracturing the fibula in his left leg in the second game of the season against Utah State. He returned to lead the Aggies in receiving touchdowns with seven to go along with 466 yards and 34 receptions.
A lot was expected out of Fuller in his second season, much like Green at Georgia. Fuller broke out as a true freshman with 50 catches for 630 yards and an A&M single-season record nine receiving touchdowns after starting eight games. Throughout spring drills and August training camp, Fuller appeared to have improved his game and was obviously a level higher than anyone on the practice field.
In the season opener he proved the hype by catching 10 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown in manhandling New Mexico, 41-6. After his injury against Utah State the following week, however, Fuller would miss four games. He wouldn't start again for another after returning that as he eased his way back onto the field.
Now with all the hype focused on Green in the Independence Bowl, Fuller will have his chance to make his mark in front of a national audience on ESPN.
"I've kind of been under the radar so this game could do a lot for me if I really come in and perform," Fuller said. "It's a great opportunity to come in and do a great job and maybe get some national recognition, but what's most important is the team getting national recognition. To beat a team like Georgia would be big for us."
Green is a big time deep threat and it's his speed combined with Georgia's running threat that makes him so dangerous in the passing game. He has size that makes him outstanding in the short game as well and in coverage.
"That guy is special. We all know it," said Georgia head coach Mark Richt. "It's going to give A&M something else to think about besides trying to stop the run, so that's what you want. You want a threat to score anytime somebody tries to single cover him and I think A.J. has that ability."
Fuller, however, will provide the same type of problems for Georgia. The Aggie sophomore is known for his hands and ability to come down with the ball in traffic, and now fully healthy he can be a deep threat too. He's also quarterback Jerrod Johnson's go-to receiver when in trouble, which mirrors Green's relationship with Georgia quarterback Joe Cox.
And the two even share the same number - No. 8.
With an expectation for a lot of offense in the Independence Bowl, Fuller and Green both expect to be at the center of the action. And the one-upmanship between the two may be one of the more enjoyable things to watch this bowl season.
"Everybody knows that there are two No. 8s out there and playing against one of them is a big deal," Fuller said. "I'm just going to go out there and have a lot of fun."